A Murderous Affair at Horizon Tower might be China's answer to Broadchurch. Adapted from a novel by Chen Xue, two homicide detectives investigate a murder in a luxury apartment building in which virtually everyone living in it is a suspect. A beautiful woman is found dead in her apartment in an upmarket building on the night of a blackout. Zhong Mei Bao (Angelababy) was the owner of the building's café that everyone drank at. And all the men in the building seemed to be in love with her, which did not make their wives happy.
Who would hate her enough to kill her? Or was she killed by someone she turned down? But was she really a homewrecker or a misunderstood saint? Why did the agoraphobic novelist in the building throw her latest manuscript out the window the night of the murder? And was she really an outsider in the building's social circles as the detectives were led to believe? What are the residents really hiding? What does a young concert pianist have to do with the murder?
The series uses the murder mystery to break down social, class, and gender divisions in modern-day China. The apartment building becomes a microcosm of Chinese society with its tensions, secrets, and class divisions. The murder investigation becomes a framework for examining the suspects and their secrets, which involving anxieties about social mobility, money, sex, property, lies, guilt, and madness. The show is actually reminiscent of British mystery shows and Scandinoir shows. What sets it apart from other Chinese crime shows is how deeply it delves into the cracks in Chinese society.
The Whodunnit is Always Political
The 16 episodes of the series devote two episodes to the story of the suspect being questioned, exposing a different part of the social system. There's the doorman with rage issues, the architect trying to build and maintain his reputation, his frustrated and more talented wife, the hilariously sleazy real estate agent, the female lawyer who enjoys sex without guilt or shame, The first six episodes of the show are the best, with moments of humor and social satire. The senior detective is under investigation for sexual harassment. His junior is wary and increasingly on the verge of going rogue.
The second half collapses into mawkish melodrama full of plot and logic holes and characters making incredibly stupid decisions in order for the Plot to happen. It also spends a lot of time pushing the most cartoonishly evil character in a TV show anywhere for possibly decades. That said, the show offers a critique of sexism and discrimination in Chinese society through the genre. Its portrayal of the suffering and martyrdom of Chinese women as they bear the burdens of society's sins is actually a common trope in Asian melodrama for at least a hundred years now.
The murder mystery, like cop shows, is a fantasy of control, that chaos can be held at bay and good prevails at the end. Chinese censorship laws demand that evil never wins and Law and Order win out, so of course the genre would be approved in China. Zhang Mei Bao's presence hangs over the story after her death like a martyred saint designed to wring as many tears from viewers as possible, which makes it similar to shows like This is Us and Broadchurch. Flaws – and there are many – aside, it's a relief to see a Chinese TV drama that's for adults instead of another adolescent fantasy about swords people with superpowers.
All 16 episodes of A Murderous Affair in Horizon Tower are streaming for free on Tencent's official YouTube Channel with subtitles.