Checkmate (2022) 民国大侦探
Summary: Set in Republican Era (民国) China between 1911-1949, we follow the lawyer turned detective Si Tu Yan (ft Hu Yi Tian 胡一天) and his wealthy police best friend Lu Shao Chuan (ft Zhang Yun Long 张云龙) solve mysterious murders and crimes in the northeast city of Harbin 哈尔滨. They, along with an insightful young woman Zhou Mo Wan (ft Zhang Xin Yu 张馨予) and local reporter Jin Qi Ming (ft Xuan Yan 宣言), comprise of a motley crew to solve some of the trickiest murders in the city. Checkmate is billed as the first Chinese adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot stories
Total Episode Count: 24
Initial Airing Date: Aug 10, 2022
Initial Rating: 7.5/10
Initial thoughts [12 episodes]: This is a pretty serviceable adaptation of the adventures of Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple. It reunites Hu Yi Tian (胡一天) and Zhang Yun Long (张云龙) back together again after their surprising 2020 hit My Roommate is a Detective (民国奇探). They bring back they easy bromance and partnership back in this drama which makes it easy to draw the viewer in. The show will cover 8 “murders” or mysteries, which is quite brisk for a 24 episode show. That averages to around 3 episodes per mystery. The first mystery is an adaptation of perhaps one of Agatha Christie’s most famous mystery, Murder on the Orient Express. I won’t spoil the rest of the mysteries but it’s fun to guess which of the stories ties to the corresponding Agatha Christie mystery.
The setting of Harbin 哈尔滨 during the Republican Era 民国时期 adds a lot of unique flavor to the drama. Being in the northeast part of China, Harbin had a mélange of Manchu, Han and European influences. The Russian influences are especially obvious in the city’s architecture. This backdrop allows for some of the more “Western” mysteries to unfold in this multicultural city.
Final Rating 7.5/10
I’ll keep my 7.5 rating of the show. It was a fun and short summer watch of a drama.
This drama got rather mixed reviews while it was airing and didn’t get great viewership but both Karen and I thoroughly enjoyed it and also recommended this to our mom. This won’t be as thrilling as some other detective stories or even the latest installments of Poirot by Kenneth Branagh in his films Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile but because the cases are so short, you don’t have too much time to think about big plot holes. That made this a very easy and intriguing watch.
I think Hu Yi Tian does a great job adding warmth to the role as the detective. He’s never overbearing and subtly tries to find the solution to each mystery. He and Zhang Yun Long have great chemistry since this is their second drama together as leads and so they play off each other seamlessly. Honestly their chemistry was better than their chemistry with their respective romances. The acting overall is good, the stories are gripping (I mean, it’s Agatha Christie so I don’t think they will be too bad), and the fashion is gorgeous. Check it out if you enjoy some murder mysteries!
The writers do a clever job of creating a Big Bad that becomes clearer and clearer towards the end of the drama. But they did have me guessing on who the culprit ultimately was in the final episodes. However, I’m not sure if it really landed with the rest of the viewers. If you want something that is intriguing but isn’t too heavy and want to see a Republican Era show with beautiful people, this is the one for you.
SiTu Yan 司徒颜 ft Hu Yi Tian 胡一天
The Hercule Poirot of the series. He was a lawyer in Beiping but after a failed case in the opening scenes of the series, he travels to the city of 哈尔滨. On the trip to Harbin, he encounters Luo Shao Chuan and his first “murder mystery”. After arriving in Harbin, he quickly establishes proves himself as a brilliant detective when tasked with solving a wide array of mysteries.
Luo Shao Chuan 骆少川 ft Zhang Yun Long 张云龙
A policeman who is also the son of the wealthiest man in Harbin. After meeting Si Tu Yan, they solve their first murder mystery together. The two quickly become friends and become an excellent duo in solving crimes and mysteries. Luo Shao Chuan’s father is mysteriously murdered and Luo Shao Chuan requests Si Tu Yan to help solve the mystery.
Zhou Mo Wan 周墨婉 ft Zhang Xin Yu 张馨予
A mysterious beauty with an outgoing personality, she is introduced as a music teacher for an all-girls school. She first meets Si Tu Yan at a restaurant and they bicker about Si Tu Yan’s penchant for cleanliness. She gets wrapped into supporting Si Tu Yan on some of his murder mysteries while having several mysteries of her own.
Zou Jing Xuan 邹静萱 ft Shen Yu Jie 沈羽洁
Luo Shao Chuan’s fiancée, she grew up as a relatively sheltered socialite. She is related to Luo Shao Chuan and they grew up together. Luo Shao Chuan however, doesn’t want to be tied down with this marriage. When Luo Shao Chuan’s father was mysteriously murdered, she provided crucial evidence to help his case. Over the course of the series, she gradually becomes an independent woman who finally captures the gaze of Luo Shao Chuan.
Jin Qi Ming 金启明 ft Xuan Yan 宣言
A reporter that Si Tu Yan and Luo Shao Chuan encounter on their trip to Harbin. He helps the two solve murder mysteries by providing helpful background information from the newspaper archives. However, just like all the characters in the drama, Jin Qi Ming has several secrets on his own.
It’s the 1920s in BeiPing (present day Beijing). The young lawyer SiTu Yan loses his job due to a failed murder case that impacts him heavily. He makes his way up to Harbin in hopes of starting afresh and to visit his mentor – Mr. Shen. Before leaving however, he encounters Luo Shao Chuan, a young police officer and they get into a small argument. On the train ride, he becomes a suspect in a mysterious murder that occurs in the first class cabins. He’s surprisingly on the same train as Luo Shao Chuan. To prove his innocence, SiTu Yan agrees to find the real culprit. Using his impeccable skills of deduction and observation and some help with a local journalist on the train Jin Qi Min, SiTu Yan solves the case.
The train arrives in Harbin and SiTu Yan leaves the case to the local authorities for final judgment. In Harbin, SiTu Yan arrives to find that his mentor Mr. Shen has shockingly died of a heart attack, leaving a widow behind. He agrees to stay with her while trying to find employment as she is also an important mentor of sorts to him. Soon after, SiTu Yan, who gained the respect of Luo Shao Chuan, is introduced to Luo Shao Chuan’s family. Luo Shao Chuan’s father is the wealthiest man in Harbin. An aunt and her adoptive daughter Zou Jing Xuan also lives with the Luo Family. Zou Jing Xuan is Luo Shao Chuan’s fiancée but Luo Shao Chuan makes it clear that he views Zou Jing Xuan as a sister.
On an exploration of the city, Situ Yan encounters the attractive Zhou Mo Wan at a fusion restaurant. The two get into a minor squabble and part ways but leave a lasting impression on each other. Elsewhere, Luo Shao Chuan gets into an intense argument with his father which results in Luo Shao Chuan leaving their house to drown his sorrows in drink. The next day, servants arrive to find Luo Shao Chuan’s father, Mr. Luo dead in his room. All evidence point to Luo Shao Chuan as the culprit. With no one to turn to, Luo Shao Chuan asks SiTu Yan for help to clear his name.
It takes some time but SiTu Yan is ultimately able to help Luao Shao Chuan clear his name. After solving the mystery of the true culprit, Luo Shao Chuan nudges SiTu Yan into opening a detective agency to solve crimes. Seeing that he doesn’t want to be a lawyer anymore and in need of an income, Situ Yan agrees. The next case quickly arrives in the form of a mysterious death at a prestigious all-girl’s school. Zhou Mo Wan just so happens to be a music teacher at this school. Her skills of deduction an logic impress SiTu Yan and he brings her along as they try to solve this case.
Over the course of the show, SiTu Yan, Luo Shao Chuan, Zhou Mo Wan, Zou Jing Xuan, and Jin Qi Ming basically form a small detective force as they solve murder cases. However, as SiTu Yan continues to solve cases, he find subtle hints of a larger force working behind the scenes. Somehow, it seems like all of the cases are related. While solving his murder cases, he must also find the larger organization and mastermind behind these cases. What does he find? How will that impact him? Watch and find out!
For those of you who are Agatha Christie fans, these are the stories that get adapted for this drama.
- Murder on the Orient Express
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
- Cat Among the Pigeons
- One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
- Five Little Pigs
- The Kidnapped Prime Minister
- Three Act Tragedy
What I liked
There is great chemistry with the leads. Perhaps it’s because this is the second time around for Hu Yi Tian and Zhang Yun Long, but I was quickly and easily won over by their frenemies turned best friend rapport. The romance aspect of the show between the characters was subtle enough but I thought they also moved appropriately. There’s also a wide supporting cast of characters for the different mysteries. There are some heavy hitters in the cast so it was great for me to see many familiar faces in the show.
Also, the show looks great! In recent years, studios and production companies have built several Republican era sets and the abundance of sets and sound stages really add to the effect of bringing forth a dramatized version of Harbin in that ear. A big plus is that the series was filmed in the winter, so when the actors and actresses wore furs and jackets, it added more realism because Harbin is famous for being called the Ice City in China. I do also quite like that they emphasized being in Harbin and made it an important aspect of the drama because I feel like most shows are set in BeiPing or ShangHai to show off the grandeur of the time, especially Shang Hai, but that doesn’t mean other cities weren’t interesting. Having Harbin be the primary setting for this drama added a differentiating factor to this drama.
And the best thing going for this show is that it moves at a really brisk pace. It’s only 24 episodes with 8 mysteries so it’s around 2.5-3 episodes per mystery. Perhaps due to the source material, there isn’t much screen time wasted on any superfluous plot. It’s a refreshing and gripping 24 episode watch. This fast pace is I think it’s saving grace. Many of the dramas this year have felt too long or else I lost interest midway through and struggled to finish watching but this drama, because it’s so short, felt much more “doable”. If you’re familiar with the source material, it’s a serviceable adaptation. If you aren’t, then have some fun trying to guess the murderer!
What I didn’t like
I just mentioned how the show looks great. But, this is a broad nitpick to all shows set in the Republican area, everything just seems WAY too Western. Now Harbin might get a pass because of its Western and Russian influences but I personally don’t like how all these shows set in the Republican era are just like a glorified backdrop for Chinese dramas as a way to use Western technologies. It’s still very much a fairy type air for these dramas set in this time period.
While we praised the two male leads, the two female leads I do think left me wanting more. Particularly Zhang Xin Yu. She is absolutely stunning in this drama but her beauty almost is at odds with her character. Perhaps it’s because my impression of her is still left in the gorgeous and extravagant outfits from the Tang Dynasty from previous dramas. Her character is complex but I’m not certain she fully sticks the landing. Though, Zhang Xin Yu left a 1000 or so word essay on weibo after the drama aired explaining her interpretation of her character and I felt it was quite thoughtful. But again, I don’t know if it fully sticks for me.
I also don’t know how well the Big Bad in the drama worked. I had my suspicions during the course of the drama but they did throw several red herrings to throw me off. When the big bad was revealed in like the last 15 minutes, I was like – wait, what’s the resolution!