“Less is More” is a common enough phrase, but rarely is it shown well in TV land. TV and movies more often than not, live in excess, clocking in far longer than the stories warrant and sometimes turning amazing shows at the beginning into shallow shells of themselves at the end. Romances or romantic comedies can be especially troublesome with this, throwing obstacle after more bizarre obstacle in front of the would-be happy couple in order to get in just one more episode.
The Chinese drama When a Snail Falls in Love, makes all the right moves where others fail. First off, the episodes are short, only thirty minutes, instantly increasing the pace compared to other shows. Second, although it’s a love story, that part is sparse at best, making the romantic moments that much sweeter, subtle though they may be. In fact, the ending may be the only glaring part in the romance with (spoilers) a sudden kiss and proposal. At the same time, though, the couple has earned it by sticking to the case and having each other’s back. Thirdly, the main story is a police crime drama, not merely a cover story for the romance. Despite the cute drawings the main character does, the story is anything but fluffy, with a ton of great action scenes and amazing cinematography that screams awards shows. It is also helps that the setting is somewhat exotic–southeast China (I think), and Myanmar.
The “snail” in the story is Xu Xu a psychological profiler, played by Wang Zi Wen. Xu Xu’s deduction skills are top notch, but she’s not super athletic and is continually at risk for not being able to meet the physical standards of the police force. She isn’t a bad cartoonist either, and quickly makes an animal cartoon character for each of her coworkers, including the boss, Ji Bai, who is her “lion.” Ji Bai (played by Wang Kai) is both good at his job and is also very athletic. His action scenes are pretty awesome as he uses his long legs to kick in one bad guy after another.
Xu Xu didn’t seem terribly interesting at first, but by the end she’s grown into her own and the audience can see why she deserves a spot on the force. Not only does she strive to meet the physical standards, but she is an intuitive detective, spotting things others don’t and having a sixth sense for when something is off. She is also courageous and bold at unexpected times, like when infiltrating a gambling den. Her alien watchfulness at the beginning (think Sherlock Holmes) becomes more feeling and animated by the end, perhaps due to her finding love.
Ji Bai is a good leader admired by women and respected by his colleagues. He is one of those all around good guys and if he’s a little eager to rush into danger, it’s because he likes and is good at doing his job. He has movie star looks and skinny arms that are somehow endearing. His weakness for a childhood friend is shown to be just that as she (again, spoiler) turns out to be one thread in an entire carpet of swindlers, drug dealers, traffickers, and near-do-wells, all of which he presumably had no idea.
The best thing about When a Snails Falls in Love is its unpredictability. One starts watching thinking it’s going to be a typical romance with a sheen of police drama over the top. Oh no. The police investigation IS the story, and how refreshing it is. One crime after another is woven together in a way that makes the show feel more like a very long movie than just a show. In fact, the investigation pushes the romance story line to the side pretty fast, making the cartoon drawings with the theme song extremely out of place until they are finally dropped and preserved in Xu Xu’s comic book diary.
When a Snail Falls in love has less running time that other shows, but does far more with it. A shout out to the editors and the director Zhang Kai Zhou. They know how to get the most out of their actors and quickly get to the heart of scenes instead of wasting time with filler. The choice to put the focus on the crime solving is what makes it stand out in a sea of romance dramas. When a Snail Falls in Love is available on dramafever.com and viki.com.