Chinese Communist Party has no shortage of criminal laws, but you wouldn’t call
it a justice system. The guilty can freely buy their way out of prosecution and
the wronged often spend decades fruitlessly petitioning the government for redress.
Overturning an unjust capital conviction is not merely difficult, it is downright
Kafkaesque. Nonetheless, that is the position a British adoptee finds herself
in when she agrees to help her birthmother try to save the brother she never
knew in the two-night mini-series One Child (promo
premieres on SundanceTV this Friday and Saturday.
Ashley was put up for adoption as an infant, because she was a girl. Happily
raised by her provincial middle class parents, Jim and Katherine Ashley, she
is a rather well-adjusted, thoroughly English astrophysics student, until she
gets a call out of the blue from China. Having traced her from the orphanage, journalist
Qianyi implores her to come to China to help save her brother Li Jun. He
happened to be at the wrong club on the wrong night, when the entitled son of a
Guangzhou oligarch killed a Nigerian trader while on a drug-fueled rage.
Ordinarily, his father would simply pay off the victim’s family, but since the
Nigerian government demanded a prosecution, Li Jun was framed in his place.
Ashleylacks the connections Qiangyi hoped for, but she comes to Guangzhou
anyway, neglecting to explain the full circumstances of the trip to her
protective parents. The first meeting with her birthmother is highly awkward,
but when she visits her brother in prison, they share an instant connection.
Much to the abject horror of the local British consular officer, Ashley gets
involved with a group of dissident attorneys, hoping they can overturn Li Jun’s
death sentence. To do so, they will have to convince eleven Chinese witnesses
and four Nigerians to recant their testimony.
Guy Hibbert shows a keen understanding of the ruthlessness and arbitrary
application of principle in the Party’s courts. There are scenes that directly
echo Zhao Liang’s devastating documentary Petition,
while the ticking clock generates just as much suspense as any well-executed (an
unfortunate choice of words) death-row thriller. Yet frustratingly, One Child comes to a screeching halt
whenever it cuts back to Mr. and Mrs. Ashley for another session of their
Leung plays Mei Ashley as a reasonably down-to-earth fish-out-of-water,
without becoming annoyingly helpless. As Qiangyi, Linh Dan Pham is a smart and
intriguing screen presence, while Junix Inocian steals scene after scene as Mr.
Lin, a dodgy private investigator. Kunjue Li will also make some viewers wish human
rights attorney Cheng hua has more screen time. However, Mardy Ma delivers the
real punch to the solar plexus as Ashley’s achingly distraught birthmother,
a true proletarian repeatedly victimized by the Party’s policies and
when the Ashleys are not whining, One
Child is a tight, tense, and topical international legal drama. Although One
Child does not belabor the titular policy, the pain and guilt it causes are
reflected with great sensitivity in every one of Ma’s scenes. It is also an opportune
reminder how dangerous it is to practice law in an honest and independent
manner under the CCP. Just ask Ai Weiwei’s former lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, currently
in prison, awaiting prosecution on highly specious charges. One Child gives viewers a sneak peak at
the sort of challenges his defense team will face. Highly recommended as a
gripping indictment of corruption and a complicated portrait of a post-“One
Child Policy” family, One Child parts
one and two air this Friday (12/5) and Saturday (12/6) on SundanceTV.
Labels: Katie Leung, One Child Policy, SundanceTV