When a mysterious woman shows him the picture of a child and asks him to draw him at 35, genius artist Shen Yi (Tan Jian Ci), never thought the portrait he’d draw would be that of an undercover policeman who’d be found dead the next day. Devoured by guilt, he disappears from the artistic scene only to reappear seven years later as a forensic artist. He’s assigned to the unit of Captain Du Cheng (Jin Shi Jia), the former partner of the man who was killed, and who’s very much not happy about this new addition to his team.
I’ve been in a drama slump for months now: I’m just not getting hooked by anything, even those that draw general acclaim such as Reset. It doesn’t help that I’ve been somewhat avoiding Twitter, since global circumstances make it even more anxiety-inducing than usual. Yet, it was on one of my now rare ventures onto the platform that I found a tweet about the stellar bromance in Under the Skin. Like many before me, I’d never even heard of this show before, but I tried it anyway.
One word: go!
Given the increasing restrictions of the Chinese government against any content remotely looking like a BL, I’d (kind of) made my (sorrowful) peace with the fact that China wouldn’t be producing any more of those beautiful bromances they can do so well. (A thought for Immortality and Winner is King.)
But Under the Skin just swans up to the stage like the star that it is, with its gorgeous friendship (if not more) between a genius artist and an experienced, sharp-witted policeman. While Du Cheng still hurts from the loss of his mentor and certainly doesn’t welcome Shen Yi to the team with open arms, he’s quick to realize what a gem he’s just acquired. And while he doesn’t necessarily like Shen Yi, he never doubts his skill.
A testament to his maturity which I frankly wasn’t expecting, and which keeps occuring throughout the show. Both leads, along with their team, are undoubtedly adults, act and react as such, and their mutual respect is quick to turn into esteem, and from there into genuine affection.
In other words, a solid, healthy friendship shown through a myriad of much-appreciated details.
Indeed, it’s from all those little details that Under the Skin draws its strength and organicity. Those small gestures and minute expressions who make the characters and their interactions so powerful and emotionally impactful. Such as the worried glance of a teammember in Shen Yi’s direction during difficult revelations, and the way her body shifts in the background to take his hand under the table. A drawing from our genius portraitist that takes into account its recipient’s disability. A light play session with a cat. Or a shared glance, a tacit agreement, a simple expression of trust.
And of Course, Art
With a portraitist lead, art was to be expected, but I certainly didn’t anticipate it to be so well thought-out, so diverse in both style and medium. I didn’t expect all those works of art to be so different yet special in their own way, or those mind-blowing painting scenes. (Honestly, I had so many screenshots to share, but I don’t want to deprive anyone of the pleasure of discovering the pieces as they watch.)
From the Heart
Last but not least, Under the Skin feels like a cry of rage and helplessness keeps rising from the surprisingly severe portrait the show draws of society through the characters who cross paths with our leading duo. Certain episodes are very taxing emotionally speaking, presenting people who were driven into a corner and who, bereft of help of any kind, abandoned by their fellow Man, had no other way to free themselves than to resort to violence. It’s a terrible denunciation of a society so focused on the individual that it forgot how to be humane, a potent, brutal message which leads the audience to question our values and way of life.
All in All…
The plot is captivating, the characters are likable, the bromance is amazing and the art is gorgeous… It’s incredibly easy, considering all that, to forgive the usual propaganda tied to any and all Chinese police drama. Give me more, please!
Title: Under the Skin
Aired: 03/6/2022 to 03/16/2022
Starring: Tan Jian Ci, Jin Shi Jia, Baby Zhang, Zhu Jia Qi, Lu Yan Qi
Genres: Crime, Mystery, Police, Bromance
My Rating: ★★★★★