Over the last few months, I’ve been catching up with Mandarin sitcoms, because they’re are interesting cases of soft power- and not in the least because I enjoy soppy sitcoms.
One show that really piqued my interest is called When a Snail Falls in Love (如果蜗牛有爱情). The show is about a team of officers in the Ling Police Department who deal with major crimes particularly drug and human trafficking. It moves into a how a huge family-owned corporation is used as a front for dealing drugs. As networks are often proved for illegal activities overlap, this drug route is also shown to have links with human traffickers across the borders of Thailand and Cambodia. The series ends with a bunch of cliff-hangers in Myanmar where a corrupt military officer with an appetite for violence is seen pitted against our protagonists from the Ling Police Department.
A number of scenes piqued my interest from a geopolitical perspective:
The entire season begins with Captain Ji Bai travelling undercover in a train in Myanmar. When a couple of thugs extort a man on the train, he jumps to the rescue, uses his superior physical prowesses to knock them out. When the police finally arrive on the scene, he flashes his Beijing City Police id card and is walks away scot-free.
In one of the final episodes our heroine, the criminal profiling intern Xu Xu witnesses a cruel officer shooting a Chinese offender in his charge. Xu Xu bursts into a tears and an impassioned speech about how the villain had chosen to abuse his power rather than trust in the rule of law which was always the case in China. This was moving untill I realised that it how the narrative ran contrary to reality. How much ever this show may be fiction, China remains a rule by law and not a rule of law.
The entire show is an interesting study of not only Chinese soft power, but the narratives that it posing. If you watch the show China appears as an Asian power, and its representatives are morally sound and work in a meritocratic system whose efficiency is laudable. Chinese police are easily able to cross borders and track down criminals even if they are embedded in another state’s mechanisms. The police officers travel to Myanmar through Chinese built trains and our leading pair often stares into the sunsets over shots of ports. I don’t doubt that the trains were necessary for the plot and I will assume that ports make for easily framed shots instead of jumping into conclusions about China’s projection of port infrastructure.
Overall, When a Snail Falls in Love is a good watch- it is informative about the way the Chinese perceive themselves and other nations. It is brilliantly shot and the fighting scenes are not over the top (as they usually are in a lot of Asian dramas). When a Snail Falls in love isn’t the fluffy romance that the title suggests (even if the actors are very easy on the eyes) and I would highly recommend you watch it. Here’s the trailer: