If you’re in the mood for a gripping historical drama with a moving gay romance – and who isn’t, really – check out “Killer and Healer”, a new 2021 Chinese series that has just recently dropped and currently free to watch with subtitles on YouTube.
The 37-episode show is about a brilliant but manic depressive cop who teams up with a compassionate doctor to take down an opium syndicate in 1930s China, only to discover a larger and more nefarious plot.
While one of the series’ many pleasures is watching Jiang Yue Lou, the cop played by actor Mao Zi Jun, live up to his reputation as a gifted and dogged detective as he investigates the syndicate and unmasks its mastermind, it is his relationship with Doctor Chen Yu Zhi, played by singer and actor Ian Yi, that is the crux and heart of the story.
Although the two meet under a cloud of suspicion during a drug bust, the cop mistaking the doctor for an opium smuggler even though he just stumbled across the scene, the truth quickly emerges, and they become each other’s rock and confidante as they bond over their respective crime-related family tragedies and work together to end the syndicate.
The series treads lightly in depicting physical affection and attraction between the two men – there are 20 minutes of teasing and tantalising scenes cut due to China’s censorship, and compiled into a bonus clip for international audiences – but their growing closeness is pivotal to the plot and underlined in moments big and small.
When a rich woman used to getting her way presents Yue Lou with an expensive tie to signal her interest in him, he literally turns around and re-gifts it to Yu Zhi over her protests, leaning into Yu Zhi to put the tie on, his cheeky wink to Yu Zhi and Yu Zhi’s pleased but embarrassed look away a funny highlight.
As the hunt for the syndicate mastermind becomes more treacherous, the two men also risk their lives to help and save one another, aided by others, including Yue Lou’s mentor and subordinates, who recognise and respect their importance to each other.
The head of the syndicate is as cunning and thorough as he is cold-blooded towards his enemies, resulting in many wrenching but satisfying scenes as he forces Yue Lou and Yu Zhi into tight corners and desperate decisions. A mini arc involving a female assassin hired to kill Yue Lou, in particular, is stunning in its viciousness and fallout.
The series has shortcomings, including the second-rate storylines given to its female lead, a university student turned journalist who falls in unrequited love with Yue Lou, befriends Yu Zhi, supports them individually and as a couple, and – that’s about it.
But I was both gutted and comforted by the end of the final episode (and its addendum), the former because the series was over, and the latter as it lives on online, ready for a re-watch and, hopefully, new viewers drawn by recommendations like this one.
Whether as a historical drama, a heartfelt albeit chaste romance, or even just a mostly-well-told story featuring gorgeous costuming and cinematography, “Killer and Healer” hits the mark. Not putting it on your watch-list would be the real crime.
Zengkun is a freelance writer based in Singapore who covers a wide range of topics, including science, environment and culture.