Article by Ivan Sison
Edited by Aaron S. Medina
My Roommate is a Detective (民国奇探/ Min Guo Qi Tan) is a 36-episode detective drama set in the 1920s in Shanghai. When genius bank manager Lu Yao (Hu Yitian) is marked the primary suspect of a murder he didn’t commit, British Concession Inspector Qiao Chusheng (Leon Zhang) gives him a chance to prove his innocence by solving the case. After being fired due to his involvement in the case though, Lu Yao reluctantly joins Chusheng’s police force as a consulting detective. Completing the sleuth team is Bai Youning, a friend of Chusheng’s and a feisty journalist with a strong moral compass.
If its 8.3 rating on MyDramaList doesn’t make it apparent yet, this is a very solid detective drama.
My Roommate is a Detective is a mystery show done right — impossible crime scenes, the detective who demystifies everything in spectacular fashion, twists and turns in the investigations, long-term character development, and an overarching narrative that makes sense of all the cases prior. Admittedly though, this show adds little else so it constantly runs into the tropes and formulas of the genre. This is a big turnoff if you’re looking for something unique.
However, cliché isn’t necessarily bad. What makes it worthwhile is its sheer polish in many areas, like its atmosphere. On the one hand, it’s morally gray, mature, and classy. Belonging to a world where Shanghainese elites and foreign capitalists constantly clash for control, the characters aren’t averse to methods like gang connections to get what they want. This gravity is further conveyed through the immersive set and costume designs, the frequent wide shots that showcase them, cuts that linger, and the tasteful use of music and SFX.
At the same time though, it’s a very light-hearted show. On paper, Lu Yao is supposed to be an unlikable character: genius, but insensitive and materialistic. However, actor Hu Yitian plays these traits in an endearing way. His bluntness becomes a source of humor, and his antics come off as foolish/funny rather than malicious. Still, the show plays it cool, with Lu Yao always recovering quickly and only subtle cinematography changes in these comedic moments. Overall, the dual nature of Roommate’s tone allows the show to smoothly switch between comedy and detective drama.
Oh, and where else would the hard logic of this show go without the joy of relationships? Qiao Chusheng is inferior to Lu Yao in investigations, but he is a hardened fighter who knows many things Lu Yao doesn’t. As the show progresses, they become like brothers to each other. The former handles the cases, while the latter protects the other, with many moments of friendship in between.
If that’s not your cup of tea, then how about the romance between Youning and Lu Yao? After running away from her father (who is, incidentally, the oligarch who made Chusheng an inspector), she finds herself renting a place with Lu Yao. If Lu Yao is insensitive and materialistic, Youning is his other half who always knocks him back in place and recognizes his inner goodness. She will be irritating to some (another turnoff), but she will grow on you if you give her and Lu Yao a chance to grow closer.
I highly recommend My Roommate is a Detective to anyone who likes detective stories and Asian dramas, especially light-hearted ones. It may feel commonplace to the experienced because it’s nothing revolutionary. It may also feel daunting to beginners due to its length. But I suggest you give it a shot, and let this fun class in detective drama endear you every episode of the way.