When A Snail Falls in Love – This is my court and I control the balls on it ….

Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze.
Carolyn Gold Heilbrun

When A Snail Falls in Love  (2016)
 Crime, Romance, Thriller
Written by
  Zhu Zhu 
Directed by
 Zhang Kaizhou 
Country of Origin

oh! … brief

Xu Xu, a psychologist and new intern to the Violent Crime Unit lead by stony-faced Captain Ji Bai, is tasked with solving a series of crimes that are mysteriously connected. As time and the investigation progress, Xu Xu and Ji Bai develop an attraction and feelings towards each other. Xu Xu who also sketches, draws comic panels of her developing relationship with Ji Bai. Ji Bai is a lion in her comic and she is a snail.

oh! … talks drama

If you’re expecting this cdrama to be an outright romance story, think again! Yes, there is romantic tension and ultimately the two leads fall in love with each other, but the trailers released were deceptive as most of the story, in fact, focuses on the investigation into the entangled crimes. I liked that!

Author Ding Mo, who also wrote the story that another of my favourite cdrama’s is based on (Love Me If You Dare) penned the novel When a Snail Loves, and scriptwriter Zhu Zhu based this cdrama on that novel. So, if you’re planning on watching this drama because you think it will be a lighthearted romance, I’d take pause to understand that romance is you’ll be in surprise with the amount of action, the building suspense, and all the thrilling aspects. The slow-burning romance just adds to the story!

Zhu Zhu’s script stays true to the novel and I enjoyed how the initial start of the story comes across as a feuding family, where money and position are the driving missions that lead to betrayal and death. However, the truth is far darker and the developing cases take the viewer into an authentic drama-styled exploration of the seedy world of drugs and human trafficking in China, Thailand and Myanmar. The scheming and plotting to cover the tracks of the criminals is remarkably well developed in the script, with equal attention paid to the characters’ development and the narrative. I think Zhu Zhu was able to accurately convey realistic police work while keeping the audience guessing at the identity of the true criminals. I think that Zhu Zhu’s tightly woven plot and rendering of Ding Mo’s suspenseful novel was worthy of the final outcome 200 million online hits in the first week and more than 1 billion views online. The stats speak for themselves!

If I have one criticism of the writing of the script, it would be pacing. The script appears to be written as if for film, so more like a screenplay. There are episodes which seem off-centre with little happening and lots of focus on serious-faced police, but little else. This is not true drama-styled script writing where each episode has a development or surprise and leaves you hanging. The episodes in this cdrama don’t do that. Instead, there are some episodes jam-packed with action or intensity and others that are humdrum and don’t make sense. It’s almost as if the director took the script and filmed the scenes without understanding the cut-off points or the most appropriate cliff-hangers to achieve. It’s not distracting, but it just seems odd.

I really enjoyed the lead characters and found their individual eccentricities – Xu Xu’s initial arrogance and superiority mixed with a huge dose of social awkwardness, Ji Bai’s unwavering and relentless pursuit physical perfection for his team members, Yao Meng’s bubbly exuberance and smitten adoration of the Captain, and Zhao Han’s incredible insight and understanding of human nature, but shy, reserved demeanour. How these characters develop and grow changes their traits and mannerisms and brings them close together as ‘couples’ but also as a team.

I appreciated that Zhu Zhu could have taken the romantic tension and emotions or even used a repressed sexual underpinning charged with angst as a constant tone throughout and I’m glad that wasn’t the route taken. Far too many drama scriptwriters go that direction and their dramas turn into the same boring, mind-numbing melodramatic bullshit, no matter the story or genre.

As I alluded to earlier, Zhu Zhu was able to convey the traditional investigative work mixed with professional profiling tactics realistically and it made for some interesting discussion between the Xu Xu and Ji Bai and highlighted the differences in their approach to investigating the crimes. And there was a myriad of crimes – everything from kidnapping, murder, cover-ups, drug and human trafficking, embezzlement etc. All of the crimes seem to lead back to one powerhouse family.

Interestingly, Zhu Zhu’s script also explores human nature elements like loss, guilt, courage, acceptance, family and friendship. There’s more depth to this cdrama than expected and the title, When A Snail Falls in Love, is as deceptive as the trailers. This production was far more insightful and engaging at an intellectual level than I think the scriptwriter intended.  Even the symbolism with the animal representations that Xu Xu uses, which were part of Ding Mo’s novel was included, but not as well as I expected. I think Zhu Zhu could have devised a better plan for inclusion or a better way to use them other than drive the romantic tension between Xu Xu and Ji Bai.

Zhang Kaizhou, director for the production did a really good job of taking the script and developing it into a visual narrative. The camerawork was slick, this is definitely a production where time, though, and energy was paid to cinematography, in particular, the amazing aerial shots were done in Burma and the close-up or frame-by-frame setup for the action and chase scenes. It was very impressive because the production quality, editing and filming choreography were at the same professional level as a high-end film! Scene transition was smooth, the attention to detail was noticeable – including the amazing background scenery of East Asia.

The choreography for the action scenes which included significant martial artistry was exciting and if you’re a fan of action you easily notice when the scenes have been badly pulled together and the stunts are body-doubled. I’m glad to report that if Wang Kai and the others did use body-doubles, the editing was so seamless you won’t notice it. In fact, for a short production like this one, there is a lot of action, a lot of combat, more than a few chase scenes and tons of excitement and thrills. I guess this is another of the script writer’s successes, but, also a success on the part of the cameramen and the director. They captured it all!

The wardrobe for the cast was fitting, but then again Wang Kai, Wang Ziwen, Xu Yue and Yu Heng would look good in just about anything. This happens when you cast dashing you men and beautiful women as your leads! The accompanying soundtrack was filled with mostly instrumental music, but also included A Snail’s Walk by Yu Zijiang and A Happiness’s Final Destination by Zeng Lian and Wang Ziwen, both good tracks.

I think the director cast the right actors and actresses for this production. The supporting cast did a fine job in holding the story together, but the leads, they were all outstanding in their individual roles and worked cohesively as a team.

Ever impressive Wang Kai plays the formidable Ji Bai. I really enjoyed Wang Kai’s interpretation of Ji Bai – the tough as nails Captain of the Violent Crime Unit, with a talent for investigation old-school style. I enjoyed watching this character because Ji Bai was perhaps the most stable of the leads, not because of his rank, but because of his experience in the field and his balanced approach to his profession and personal life. Ji Bai oozes manly smarts and sexiness but comes across as emotionally closed-off, but not awkward. I think Wang Kai’s performance was as genuine as it could be. I also liked the fact that this character kept his emotions well hidden, they didn’t muddy the waters and add additional angst. Wang Kai is a consummate professional and his performance speaks for itself and for this production his experience in action martial arts was undoubtedly a bonus. Very engaging performance!

Wang Ziwen’s performance as Xu Xu was another win for her. She delivered incredible insight with her interpretation of her character’s initial introduction – emotionally detached but with a no-nonsense attitude and an extra dose of arrogance. It was perfection! I enjoyed how the camera lenses fully captured the facial expressions of Xu Xu as she explores each scene and you can almost hear the wheels spinning as she analyzes and interprets the information she is hearing or seeing. It was well done, but the performance was strong which made the visual narration that much easier. What I most enjoyed about Wang Ziwen’s performance was the very natural and instinctive acceptance the character Xu Xu has when she faces her own flaws and failings which cost the team, the breakdown and tear-filled scene was so authentic I was deeply moved.

The chemistry between Ji Bai and Xu Xu was natural and instinctual. The opposites that the two appear to be initially is almost farcical but on closer inspection and as the two grow together professionally, you find that in fact, the two are more alike than initially portrayed. They certainly both have a softness to their spirits that each hides well.

The lack of a contrived love triangle present between our four main leads was also quite refreshing to see. Each of these characters had distinctive relationships with each other – be it role model, mentor, crush, or friend – and none overlapped for needless drama. I also appreciated that the second leads had their own personal struggles on the side, independent of the main love story. Yao Meng’s issues towards the latter half of the drama, in particular, are just one aspect of this drama that really made me appreciate it for being something bigger than a thriller. She is introduced as a kick-ass police officer in a sort of foil to Xu Xu’s character. But one bad decision will throw this all into question and we as the audience must watch as Yao Meng relearn to build her confidence. It’s important that this occurs as Xu Xu is reaching her peak physical strength and pushing boundaries in her police work as well. There’s an interesting role dynamic swap there that I think was quite intentional.

Yu Heng’s character Zhao Han was my favourite in this cdrama. I found this character, or rather Yu Heng’s interpretation and performance delivery to be spectacular. I know I may be alone in this, but this guy (Zhao Han) kept things professional with his balanced approach to Xu Xu’s skill as a criminal profiler and conveying this to his superior. I liked that! I also liked that this character who was hopelessly smitten with Yao Meng, maintained his workplace ethics while trying to reveal his romantic persuasion. It was adorable! But, I think that what I most appreciated was how natural and down-to-earth Yu Heng’s interpretation of his character was. Did he out-act the leads? Maybe for me, he did. I mean it’s hard to out-act Wang Kai, I just felt more of a connection with Zhao Han than I did with Ji Bai.

Xu Yue who played Yao Meng, the character that seemed to have the most ‘fun’ in the production with her positive can-do attitude and bubbly personality, gave an equally strong performance to that of the other leads. I enjoyed Xu Yue’s interpretation and delivery, especially following the accident that nearly kills her and Zhao Han. I think she does an amazing job of delivering a post-traumatic stress disorder character who has to work hard to overcome her new fears. I enjoyed this performance, perhaps not as much as all the other leads, but she was strong and unflappable as Yao Meng.

oh! … sidekicks

Zhao Yuanyuan as Ye Zixi, Ji Bai’s childhood friend and a member of the ominous Ye family was interesting. Her role, while minor, was crucial to the overall story and ultimately the case surrounding her mysterious death, reveals many family secrets. But Zhao Yuanyuan’s performance was not as strong or as believable as the leads. I found the performance rather bland and I honestly didn’t believe that this woman was a mastermind for embezzlement while maintaining this long-time friendship with an astute Captain of the Violent Crime Unit.

Likewise, Wu Xiaoyu’s character Ye Qiao, heiress to the Ye Corporation, gave a performance that didn’t meet the same standard set by the cast leads. Her interpretation of a scorned woman hell-bent on revenge fell flat. Not that I didn’t believe her performance to be good, it just wasn’t at the same level or standard that the leads delivered. Also, the character was annoying, but this type typically is for me.

Some of the other members of the Ye family gave strong performances and were great in their supporting roles. The cast overall did a great job. There are always stronger performances, and surprisingly they aren’t always the leads, but in this case, the leads set the standard and the supporting cast tried vainly to meet them.

oh! … that’s a wrap

I really do understand why this cdrama had success among viewers. The script was strong based on a really solid novel, Ding Mo’s stories are always amazingly complex and you have to unravel them. The cinematography was above average for this production and supported by a strong lead cast.

I appreciated that the visual production brought together the script and painted the dark seedy tale of investigation precisely. I think Ding Mo would have been happy with the outcome. Was he?

Above all else, I enjoy a slow burner, I may have changed the ending personally, because I’m not really into corny happy endings, but it worked well enough here.

I do recommend this cdrama, even though I am not likely to watch it again. I will add it to my collection though because I never know when a sudden urge for some Wang Kai might overtake me.

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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