Amazon’s White Dragon, premiering Feb. 8, comes to the streaming service a few months after airing in the UK under the name Strangers. The show follows Professor Jonah Mulray, played by Doctor Who‘s John Simm, on a conspiracy-filled journey through Hong Kong to uncover the truth about his wife’s death. And while White Dragon isn’t based on a true story, it does have one true-to-life influence: Hong Kong itself.
White Dragon isn’t the first Western production to film in Hong Kong, but is a rarity in that it’s an TV series there as opposed to a big-budget film. The city has served as the backdrop for some of the last two decade’s biggest movies, including The Dark Knight, Pacific Rim, and Doctor Strange. While the idea of a major productions filming in Hong Kong is nothing new at this point,White Dragon is exploring whether or not the Hollywood-favored could also serve as the backdrop for lower-budget TV dramas.
During a September interview with The Independent, Simm said that filming in Hong Kong proved to be a unique, if challenging, experience. He described the city as "an intense place to shoot" because "it’s so busy," and spoke for the rest of the cast and crew by saying, "We are all out of our comfort zone here."
While the experience of shooting in Hong Kong may have been difficult, Simm explained that the setting is crucial to the tone of White Dragon. After overcoming his fear of flying to get to the city and identify his wife’s body, his character, Professor Mulray, uncovers a number of shocking secrets that reveal his wife was actually living a double life. As he struggles to get to the bottom of what happened, the local authorities prove to be far less trustworthy than they present themselves, and the deeper Mulwray digs, the more befuddled he becomes.
"The Hong Kong setting only adds to Jonah’s sense of disorientation, and it really helps me with the character," Simm told The Independent. "He’s completely bewildered and discombobulated by Hong Kong. He feels very ill at ease. The whole drama has an unsettling quality, and the setting enhances that."
He added that, he’s "got form when it comes to wandering around looking confused in a city" he doesn’t recognize. "Maybe that’s why they cast me!" he joked.
So while White Dragon isn’t based on a true story, it does owe a lot to the very real city it’s based in, both in terms of its gripping narrative and the history surrounding it — the show is indebted to decades of gritty Hong Kong crime dramas that came before it. Perhaps if White Dragon is successful internationally, it will inspire others to use Hong Kong to tell smaller, more personal tales rather than pitting the city against apocalyptic, monstrous forces as in the bigger movies that have filmed there. Hell, maybe it will even prompt someone to try setting a comedy there! It’s a city worth seeing, but we shouldn’t just get one image of it. White Dragon is helping to change that.
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