Posted in: TV | Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

Parallel World: C-Drama Adventure with The Coolest Heroine on TV

Parallel World is a Chinese Indiana Jones-style high adventure with the coolest heroine on TV giving off serious Lara Croft vibes.

Parallel World is another highlight of the current season of Chinese TV dramas that's a bit different: a contemporary tomb raider fantasy adventure that gives us the coolest heroine currently on TV, played by one of China's biggest movie stars Ni NI. Tomb Raider, Indiana Jones-style adventures have been a mainstay in Chinese novels and television for at least a decade now, which makes it ironic that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny bombed at the Chinese box office because they don't know or care about Indiana Jones when they already have plenty of entries in that genre. And we're always on the lookout for the shows that stand out.

Parallel World: C-Drama Adventure with the Coolest Heroine on TV
Ni Ni in "Parallel World" still: WeTV

You know the score with "tomb raider adventures." They're often an ensemble led by a male hero where the group goes on an expedition to a strange land and encounters supernatural creatures, lost artifacts, and lost civilizations. It's a genre that goes all the way back to Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard, and now it's a popular mainstay in Chinese pop culture. Parallel World, adapted from a bestselling novel by Wei Yu (original title: "West Out of the Jade Passing"), begins with a woman hanging from a noose on a tree in the middle of the desert. When a sleazy smuggler cuts her body down to loot it, she comes back to life and beats the crap out of him before rescuing the woman he kidnapped and getting her out of the trunk of his car. She drives the victim back to the nearest town after calling the cops and grabs food and drink from the first table she sees. She has no memory of who she is or where she came from and picks the name Ye Liu Xi (Ni Ni). She spends the next year in the desert towns picking up odd jobs and side gigs to earn enough money to hire disgraced desert explorer Chang Dong (Bai Yu), still mourning the loss of his party of nineteen people, including his girlfriend, in a doomed expedition two years before. Ye Liu Xi entices Chang Dong with a picture of his girlfriend's body, thought lost in the desert. Chang Dong needs closure by going into the desert to recover her body and his party's and solve the mystery of how the party died. Ye Liu Xi believes this is linked to the mystery of who she is and where she came from. Chang Dong's buddy Fei Tang (Zhao Da), a cowardly antiques dealer and part-time smuggler, tags along before they pick up a gangster's niece (Xia Meng) and her lovelorn bodyguard (Li Yun Rui). They encounter tomb raiders, gangsters, mysterious life-size shadow puppets with a life of their own, living sandstorms, deadly sand zombies, changelings, and, eventually, a portal to a parallel lost world where exiled clans and sorcerers from the Tang Dynasty have created their own society.

Parallel World: C-Drama Adventure with the Coolest Heroine on TV
"Parallel World" poster art: WeTV

Parallel World is unabashed pulp storytelling that drags a bit like all Chinese drama series stretched out to too many episodes, but the exotic real desert locations and epic sense of high adventure keep the attention. There's some cheesy CGI and a lot of dramatic padding, but the real draw is Ni Ni's charisma and her chemistry with Bai Yu, who looks like a younger, more hangdog version of Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. The slowly emerging love story between Chang Dong and Ye Liu Xi is the most surprising adult romance on television right now. There aren't contrived situations to signal sexual tension, only subtle glances and micro reactions between the two leads as they work together, bicker, and needle each other until they finally admit they're in love. Ni Ni was discovered by Zhang Yimou and cast in his WWII drama The Flowers of War with co-lead Christian Bale in 2011 and has been one of China's top movie stars ever since. She would have a huge international career right now if the Western film industry hadn't chosen to ignore Chinese movies. In China, any TV series that lands Ni Ni as a lead is considered a major event, and she's the main attraction in Parallel World. The fact that she gets top billing says it all.

Parallel World is Ni Ni's Show: Everyone Else is Just Along for the Ride

Ye Liu Xi is one of the most unique new heroines in adventure thrillers. Ni Ni invests her with an effortlessly cool and snarky vibe as a tough-as-nails heroine who has no patience for bullshit and looks like she would kick your ass for looking at her the wrong way. She gives off a Lara Croft vibe without looking like anyone was trying to rip off the character. Ye Liu Xi is also unpredictably quirky in her pragmatism. She knows money is needed for everything in life, and when not beating up jerks, she takes on any and every street job she can find, including selling melons on the street, cooking barbequed meat at a stall, and serving as a bodyguard and driver for the local sex workers at night after scaring them about how unsafe the streets are. She beats up a dirtbag for trying to roofie her drink, then forces him to drink it and leaves him naked in his hotel with the window open on a chilly night. Chang Dong (Bai Yu also has a big following as a romantic lead) is amused that she finds a job everywhere they go to shore up on cash, including a temp job as a maid at a hotel they stay at. She plays mahjong while parleying with a gangster because she plans to win some money. Chang Dong tells her, "I don't think you're from our world. Your sense of moral boundaries is different. You're too used to solving problems with violence."

Ni Ni is one of the few actresses who can pull off this character and look cool without coming off like another "tough chick" stereotype. Her glances, attitude, and micro-reactions to everything create a character that feels lived in rather than a trope. The character was created and written by a woman, and as a fan of the book, Ni Ni is invested in making Ye Liu Xi a person rather than a heroic archetype. Her demeanor hints at flaws and secrets that will be revealed when she discovers her past and real identity, and that's when the last act of Parallel World really kicks into High Adventure gear. It just takes a while to get there. What really carries Parallel World is Ni Ni and Bai Yu adding more adlibs and improvisation to their relationship as the series went on. Till then, it's about watching her, and Chang Dong strategize as equals, solve the mysteries of the desert and fall in love in the process.

Parallel World: C-Drama Adventure with the Coolest Heroine on TV
"Parallel World" key art: WeTV

Here's the first episode.

Parallel World is streaming on YouTube and WeTV.

Enjoyed this? Please share on social media!

Stay up-to-date and support the site by following Bleeding Cool on Google News today!

Adi TantimedhAbout Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
Comments will load 20 seconds after page. Click here to load them now.