What has been billed as one of the most hotly-anticipated series from Taiwan this year has arrived in Singapore via CATCHPLAY through their collaboration with HBO Asia. Featuring 10 hour-long episodes, “The World Between Us” should whet your appetite for Chinese-language long-form dramas centering on numerous strongly-developed characters whose lives would eventually intertwine with each other. With just the first episode, which this review is based on, I am already hooked and cannot wait to devour the rest soon—this is the mark of a potentially unforgettable series in the making.
Titled “The Victims”, the first episode does well to introduce the characters that will define the rest of the series. What is invigorating about this early glimpse is how they are introduced, setting up each key character against not just one but at least two other characters from the onset, a foresighted strategy that will hopefully pave way for the various relational dynamics to develop and counter each other through the series. One can sense that there is enough promising—and explosive—material to sustain the drama for the next nine episodes.
It has been two years since a mass shooting tragedy destroyed the lives of countless families in Taiwan. The first episode begins with a court sentence in which the killer, Li Hsiao-Ming (Wang Ko Yuan), will be given the death penalty. His lawyer, the young and indefatigable Wang She (Wu Kang Jen) who has a family to raise, is happy to defend him, and in fact wants to do more for his client and the case that has shaken the entire country.
Despite mounting pressure from the public to step down and avoid representing ‘a monster’, he decides to do the opposite—to delay the execution for as long as possible, so as to find out the truth and motive of Hsiao-Ming’s irredeemable action that fateful day. (The killer has been silent and even refused any psychological examination by the medical board that could have helped him avoid capital punishment.) This lawyer-and-killer relationship forms one exciting pillar of the narrative.
There are two other equally intriguing pillars. One involves a cold and hard-nosed news editorial director Song Chiao-an (Alyssa Chia), who runs Pin Wei News, and her husband Liu Chao-kuo (James Wen), who runs the competing Internet Herald. Their marriage is on the brink of divorce, a point made clear by their precocious young daughter who favours her father more, but shows early signs of rebelliousness. However, more crucially plot-wise, their son was killed in the aforesaid mass shooting, and after two years, the trauma and impact still linger on, particularly for Chiao-an.
The third pillar centers on Lee Da-chih (Chen Yu), whom I find the most fascinating and I think might be the series’ most pivotal character. She is a young, aspiring and talented broadcast editor, who starts a new job at Pin Wei News under direct supervision by the temperamental Chiao-an no less. She lives with her friendly landlord, Ying Ssu-Yue (Pets Tseng), who takes care of her own reclusive, socially-awkward brother, Ying Ssu-tsung (JC Lin). Da-chih, as we’ll learn in the first episode, hides a secret identity, and it is this plot point that I feel will explode in time to come through a series of dramatic revelations and confrontations.
“The World Between Us” captures the stressful lives of broadcast journalists working round the clock to cover the most sensational—and sometimes the most trivial—of news happening in Taiwan. It is a series about human interest and connectivity, whether is it ‘going live’ or interacting with people face-to-face. It seeks to uncover the links that bind groups of people together (or tear them apart), be it close-knit or problematic families, or tumultuous professional relationships.
Very well-acted by the ensemble cast and presented in a way that is accessible to not just mainstream audiences looking for a consistent dose of entertainment with genuine emotions, but also more sophisticated viewers looking for a quality series that deals thought-provokingly with very current themes that affect the social fabric of a country—through notions of media and legal effects, the nature of violence, guilt and trauma, issues related to mental illness, and an assortment of family dynamics. This is all very believable and very real—and truly a must-watch!