Review of the Disney+ series ‘Taiwan Crime Stories’
A woefully inconsistent series about four true crimes in Taiwan.
Taiwan Crime Stories has four true crime stories, each told in three episodes. That has its advantages and disadvantages. If you don’t like a story, the next story might. This is certainly the case because the four stories are told in different ways and one has a clearer aesthetic vision than the other. The downside is that this makes the inconsistency of the series very noticeable and then three episodes that are less suddenly feel like a lot.
The first story is the most original in its theme. Someone derailed a train to commit insurance fraud. You certainly don’t see such a drastic and complex action for insurance money in all truerim dramas. Who exactly committed the fraud remains unclear until the end, either, because while there is soon a clear direction, the exact how and why is much more complicated than authorities expect.
Unfortunately, and this also applies to the following story about a family murder and gangsters, the writers also try to insert lines about family strife and other complications. As a result, the stories seem a bit chaotic and you are left with questions at the end. Both stories also mess up the drama towards the end and add a moral to it, so the balance between the episodes is thrown off.
The second story takes it up a notch when it comes to cinematic inspiration. Namely, a journalist interviews a gangster who is said to have killed an entire family and when they talk about the events of the past, the characters are placed in these scenes. They watch the memories play back, creating some funny scenes. In contrast, the third and fourth stories are told very directly and the pacing is distributed more evenly. Although aesthetically it is a bit more discreet, the content comes out better.
Particularly the third story, gravity of sin, goes beyond a simple story of good versus evil. This is the first real look at what Taiwanese society means when it comes to crime. This story is the most moving because it exposes how sexism is passed down from generation to generation. It also complicates the behavior of killers. Of course what they do is bad, but it is not so simple that only they can be condemned.
Not only because of that depth and social context, but also because of the way the three episodes relate to each other, this is clearly the strongest narrative technique. The second episode takes a step back in time and adds a new perspective. Where the additional characters in the previous two stories caused chaos, this clearly seems like a well thought out move that provides the desired character development.
After this, the last story, about a murder on a military base in which the balance of power between executives and recruits is dissected, is a little less impressive. Fortunately, the writer knows well where the focus is here too, so the last three episodes show a great ending.
It’s hard Taiwan Crime Stories as a whole, because it simply isn’t. The episodes differ from each other in both narrative style and aesthetics. There’s something for everyone, but at the same time a consistently good series for no one. Therefore, it may be advisable to first see which episodes you find most interesting and what is your preference. If you want action and drama, go for the first two stories. If you’re looking for a more elaborate script and deeper moral quandaries, then the second half is better for you.
Taiwan Crime Stories can be seen in Disney+.