One Child is a penetrating look into the corrupt world of the Chinese government, although, anyone following the news in the U.S. these days could say that that the communists aren’t that much different that the rich and powerful in the United States. Money equals power, and power can have whatever it wants, even if that means sending an innocent man to his death for a murder he did not commit. This two-part miniseries airs on Sundance TV December 5th and 6th.
Written by Guy Hibbert and directed by John Alexander, One Child tells the story of a Chinese born woman, Mei (Katie Leung, Harry Potter), who lives with her adoptive parents (Elizabeth Perkins and Donald Sumpter) in the UK. Mei is contacted by her birth mother and is asked to come to China. Mei’s mother is hoping that her daughter, which she gave up for adoption when she was a baby, will be able to help her son, Ajun, the brother Mei never knew she had, get out of prison. Ajun has been wrongly accused of murder and faces execution. The real killer is a Chinese rich kid whose father controls all business in Guangzhou, China, and whose uncle is the chief of police.
Mei is torn. She wants to help, and meet her birth mother, but she feels as if she’s being used for one purpose. Still, she decides to go to Guangzhou to see what she can do. A journalist and a dissident group who hope to use Ajun’s case to bring light to the corruption in the Chinese government meet her. They tell her, “If we expose the truths of our society in the court, case by case, we may see the beginning of profound change in civic society.”
After wrestling with her conscience and accepting her mother’s reasons for why she gave up Mei for adoption, the young woman commits everything she has, body, soul and pocketbook, to help gain her brother’s freedom. With each sense of progress they make, another wall gets thrown in front of them. Mei’s sanity is tested and she discovers that not only can she forgive her birth mother; she can grow to love her, too.
One Child excels on all counts. The writing, production values and acting are all superb. As Mei, Leung is required to carry the entire 3-hour series on her shoulders and ride a rollercoaster of emotions. She proves up to the task and gives an honest and heart wrenching performance. The scenes with her brother are the most powerful. These siblings, who’ve never known each other, become bonded over a deadly lie. Whether they’ll ever be able to embrace one another is one mystery that carries throughout the series.
If there is one part of the series that doesn’t quite work it’s the scenes with Mei’s parents. Perkins and Sumpter (who has appeared on Game of Thrones) are great actors. However, their scenes are primarily the two of them speaking into a computer screen, Skyping with Mei, or talking to a telephone. The two actors try to bring much needed emotion to their roles, but they don’t quite succeed.
That said, this TV event on Sundance offers a rare glimpse into the world of modern China and provides an alternative to the flashy historical mini-series we get on the other cable networks. Bravo to Sundance for pushing the boundaries of television and not only broadcasting independent film, but independent TV as well.