One Child follows Mei Ashley, who is a 22 year old student living in London. Adopted at a young age, Mei transitioned from China to London to live with a British American couple. After she is contacted by her birth mother, Mei must travel back to Guangzhou to help her biological mother save her son, who has been wrongfully accused of murder.
When the show opens, a young Chinese man, Ajun, is enjoying his time, at a club. At the same time, a group head into the VIP section and begin drinking and doing coke. One of the men from the group attempts to harass one of the dancers, but is immediately thrown out by the bouncer. Outside, the struggle continues, as the bouncer is stabbed in the neck, by one of the men from the VIP section. Ajun witnesses the attack, before heading home. The next day, he is asked to provide testimony as a witness.
Next, we’re introduced to Mei Ashely (Karie Leung, Harry Potter), who is contacted by a journalist, Qianyi Pan, regarding an incident in Gangzhou. Mei makes contact with the mysterious individual and receives a message from her birth mother, who needs her help. The journalist tells Mei that her brother has been convicted of a crime that he did not commit. The family has three weeks to save their son, before he is executed. Mei is given access to a report regarding her brother’s trial. Within the report, she discovers pictures of her mother and brother.
Afterwards, we’re introduced to Mei’s adopted parents, Katherine (Elizabeth Perkins) and Jim Ashley (Donald Sumpter, Game of Thrones). Mei discusses her birth mother attempting to contact her. They are suspicious and believe it could be a scam, but come around and support her decision to visit her birth mother. Of course, Mei conveniently leaves out the details of her brother’s criminal conviction.
With her parent’s support and money, Mei quickly flies to China, where she meets with Qianyi. The women go on a tour of the city, before making contact with Mei’s mother, Li Ying (Mardy Ma), who is very stand offish and only speaks through Qianyi. The group read the court documents and discover that there are 15 witnesses against Ajun. They also discuss the possibility of another man committing the murder. The women claim Ajun is being framed by a rich and powerful businessman.
Mei gets angry and leaves the house, where Qianyi stops her and suggests she is the one that initiated the contact and hoped Mei would have political connections in England. Afterwards, Mei contacts her adoptive parents and tells them the truth and the secret of her brother’s conviction, which she originally hid from them. Despite her parent’s urges to help, she suggests the hotel will change her ticket, she’ll travel home and forget any of this ever happened.
Qianyi hasn’t given up yet and makes contact with Mei. She suggests making contact with Mei’s brother in prison, before she leaves. Qianyi was able to get her permission to visit her brother. Before she can decide what to do, her adoptive parents contact her and tell her to not meddle in Chinese affairs, before coming home. Despite their warnings, Mei agrees to visit her brother, who is currently up for appeal.
Despite his status, Ajun is surprising upbeat and happy to meet Mei. Ajun promises he didn’t commit the crime and asks Mei to make contact with a couple of different people, who will make a statement on his behalf. Mei agrees to help and the siblings discuss a future in London, where Ajun would like to become a DJ. Afterwards, Mei is led outside, where she tells Qianyi that she wants to speak with her brother’s lawyer.
When they speak with Ajun’s lawyer, he tells them it is impossible to win the case. Dongping (Nicholas Gah) has too much money, which leaves the lawyer powerless. Afterwards, the pair visit the British Consulate, where they’re told nothing can be done. The pair head back to Li Ying’s place. Mei tells her mother that she believes in her brothers innocence. She responds, by telling Mei about her father, who forced her to give her up, due to China’s One Child Law. After seeing Mei’s burn mark, Li Ying breaks down and begins to sob. She shows Mei some family photographs, a few of Ajun’s childish toys and a small lock of Mei’s baby hair.
Qianyi leads Mei to a group of activists and journalist, The Citizens Justice Movement, which was setup to campaign against corruption in the courts. They hope to be able to bring down Guan Peng, the police of chief, by helping Ajun. They hope to use Mei, as leverage, to convince one witness to change their statement. Afterwards, Mei receives a call from her adoptive parents, who urge her to return home right away. After a call from her parents, Mei is contacted by an official from the British consulate, who tells her to stay out of Chinese affairs and offers her an emergency flight back home. After she refuses, he tells her to not go to the media.
Qianyi and Mei begin a search for Samuel Abulu (Emmanuel Ighodaro) in an African neighborhood in Guangzhou. After locating Samuel, Mei attempts to get him to change his statement, but he demands she leave. When the pair leave, they’re given a note, which instructs them to make contract with Mr. Ojo. Ojo fears for the safety of his people and threatens to make contact with authorities, if Mei doesn’t stop speaking with witnesses. Next, Mei, Li and Qianyi visit Ajun’s old friend, who witnessed the attack. They beg him to change his state, but he refuses. Afterwards, Mei visits Ajun’s DJ friend, but he refuses to help and cites the brutality towards immigrants, as his reason.
Next, Qianyi suggests making contact with a private investigator, Mr. Lin (Junix Inocian), who suggests they’ll need to have all of the witnesses change their statements. He requests 500,000 pounds to help the cause. After a little negotiating, Mei is able to bring the price down to 50,000 pounds. Afterwards, Mei has a video chat session with her adoptive parents and tells them she needs 50,000 pounds. Jim suggests that is all they have left from their life savings. Mei suggests she won’t come back home, unless they send the money. Despite their regrets and reservations, they send the money, while Katherine suggests traveling to China.
After the money has been paid, Lin immediately begins working on the case, by targeting an African cocaine smuggler. He reveals the penalty of smuggling drugs is death, which gives them the upper hand. Lin suggests sending one of the girls into a coke-fueled sex party, in order to record compromising evidence, which they’ll be able to use against the African leader. He suggests bringing down both leaders will influence the other witnesses to toll the line. Qianyi insists there must be another way.
Mei and Li visit the orphanage, where Li left her, as a baby. Mei agrees to follow through with Lin’s plan.
One Child is an interesting study of the criminal justice system of China, which is similar but different from that of the United States. It should be noted that injustice and corruption is everywhere. This just happens to be one of the many stories of injustice. So how was the first part of One Child?
Don’t expect to witness much action here. Instead, you get a slow burning drama that is filled with dialogue, emotions and personal struggle. While there were a few flat actors, most performed their roles very well. Donald Sumpter was excellent as usual. Sebastian So played a compelling Ajun, who is on the verge of being executed. I would’ve like to have seen more of his struggle behind bars though. Katie Leung, despite the shaky premise, played the role of Mei excellently, as well.
Now, getting to the premise. Some of it seems a little far fetched. Mei’s involvement and actions are questionable, but I still felt compelled to continue watching. At this point, I am wholly interested in discovering the fate of Ajun and Mei. Will the brother and sister pair be able to leave China behind together? How low is Mei willing to sink, in order to help her brother escape the death penalty? Although One Child isn’t perfect, it is a wonderful study for anyone that likes stories of injustice and criminal justice. One Child Part 1 deserves an 8 out of 10.