Period drama has long been a staple of Chinese media scene. Touting elaborate costumes, epic fights and thrilling court intrigues, the genre is also a big draw to overseas audience. For this reason, when Netflix made Day and Night (白夜追凶), a 32-episode detective drama its first acquisition of mainland Chinese content back in 2017, it did raise some eyebrows.
I applaud Netflix for doing the homework and for introducing this brilliant production to a broad international audience. This may well be the most critically praised and commercially successful detective drama in the country’s history.
The plot of Day and Night is fresh and captivating, following a police captain turned consultant Guan Hong Feng (关宏峰, the elder Guan) who swaps identity with his fugitive twin brother Guan Hong Yu (关宏宇, the younger Guan) every night due to his severe dark phobia.
The show is packed with details and no detail is too small. If you worry that you may have missed something or have a burning desire to dig deeper after watching the show, I hope this piece will help clear some of your questions and make you sleep better.
So, how did it all start?
The elder Guan’s strong fear of darkness can be traced back to an shooting accident when he and his two colleagues, Zhou Xun (周巡) and Wu Ling Ling (吴玲玲) were on a mission to capture an arms smuggling gang in action. Their whereabouts were mysteriously leaked and they soon came under intense fire from the gang. During a struggle in the darkness, the elder Guan thought he shot Wu Ling Ling by mistake and was overwhelmed by guilt.
To his surprise, he soon found that bizarrely his gun, the one which wrongly fired towards Wu Ling Ling, went missing shortly after the gunfight. After reaching the conclusion that the police force has been infiltrated, he decided to keep the shooting accident to himself and to start an investigation quietly.
Coincidently, Wu Zheng (吴征), a police undercover, also tracked down the information about the moles within the police force. Naturally, he, together with the elder Guan, became a nuisance to the big boss behind the scene, who then came up with an ingenious plan of killing two birds with one stone by murdering Wu Zhen and his family and then framing the elder Guan for the crime. Obsessed with his lost gun, the elder Guan was lured to near Wu Zhen’s home. He soon collapsed. The moment he woke up, he found himself at the crime scene with a bloody knife in his hand.
Then it came the unexpected twist, which derailed the big boss’s plan. The elder Guan immediately recognised his perilous situation. Determined not be implicated so that he could carry on with his investigation, he made an astonishing decision. In an almost ruthless and selfish manner, he got his own twin brother, the younger Guan, to take the blame.
So all of a sudden, the younger Guan became a fugitive on the run. He sought shelter in his brother’s house, oblivious to his scheming.
Who is Wu Ling Ling?
From the elder Guan’s flashback, we can tell that there were only three people aware of the details of their mission. So with Zhou Xun almost certainly ruled out, is Wu Ling Ling the mole? When she was creeping up towards the warehouse with her gun, was she trying to save the elder Guan or to take his life?
I am more inclined towards the latter. It was evident from the scene that she had almost no chance of survival after being hit by the elder Guan. But why did Sister Xia (霞姐), the head of the arms smuggling gand, still want to risk her own life by running her over with a car? I think this seemingly minor detail serves as proof that the gang needed to make sure Wu Ling Ling is dead so that she had no chance to reveal anything to anyone.
And this also leads to another of my bolder speculation: did the elder Guan really kill Wu Ling Ling? He seemed to think so by extrapolating from the fact that he pulled the trigger and he saw Wu Ling Ling passing out. But I think it is not totally unconceivable that his bullet might have missed her in the darkness and she was actually assassinated by someone else lurking outside, perhaps using a gun with a silencer. If this is true, it then better explains why Sister Xia had to make sure Wu Ling Ling is dead as she herself would surely have known where the bullet came from.
Day and Night ending explained
In case you are still wondering, the person sitting in the interrogation room in the final episode, with an enigmatic smile, is actually the younger Guan.
Remember the road accident in the tunnel a while ago? That was when the two brothers got switched, most likely without the prior knowledge of the elder Guan.
You might have already gotten the clue when the camera focused on the “elder Guan” crying out about the tunnel’s darkness. This theatrical act is certainly more in tune with the playful younger Guan, instead of his reticent brother.
This can also be inferred from an earlier conversation between the younger Guan and his girlfriend. The younger Guan looked enlightened and determined as his girlfriend asked him the soul searching question of why his brother would frame him for no good reasons.
The somewhat “cliff hanger” ending caused quite a bit of an uproar when the show was first aired. Nonetheless, it is still a brilliant one in my own subjective eyes.
I am particularly fond of the last 15 minutes of monologue by Captain Zhou Xun to the younger Guan in the interrogation room. Did he know who was really in front of him when he made the speech? I think the answer is yes. My interpretation is that he wanted to take this opportunity to tell the younger Guan that his brother truly deserves his trust despite what he has done to him.
Actor Wang Long Zheng (王泷正) delivered an outstanding performance as Captain Zhou Xun throughout the show. And this extra long monologue, is a true standout which gave me goosebumps. He brought to life an impulsive, ill-mannered and at times cunning police captain Zhou Xun. Also thanks to him, Zhou Xun became such a vivid and beloved character, with his determination to chase truth at all cost earning respect from all.
Who is the big boss?
Sadly, the answer to this million dollar question was never revealed in the show, which largely explained why the fans have been pressing so hard for the second season. While we have no idea who the big boss is, what we do know for sure is that he or she must be someone very high up in the police force.
Shi Guang Ling (施广陵), the city police bureau’s deputy director, is an interesting character. He certainly appeared in the show for a reason but somehow managed to evade attention of many.
I confirmed my suspicion when he was assigned to take charge of the Chang Feng police station, after the captain Zhou Xun was suspended following the poisoning of his deputy Liu Chang Yong (刘长勇). Director Shi soon made an unusual decision of reinstating the elder Guan as the police consultant, and shortly after which the elder Guan was arrested.
You may recall that this was not the first time that Captain Zhou was sabotaged. In fact, he cheated death, not only once but twice in earlier episodes, when his car brake and gun were tempered. As far as I can tell, the sabotage was intended not to silence him, rather to remove him from his captain role, so that the big boss could plant his own people to take over the Chang Feng police station.
If I am proven right, whoever dispatched Director Shi to the Chang Feng Police Station must be the big boss behind the scene.
Why did the big boss not just get rid of the Guan brothers?
The discerning audience would have noticed that there were at least two occasions where the big boss actually helped the Guan brothers. Calling the gang member An Teng to refrain him from finishing off the younger Guan was one and undermining Captain Zhou’s hunt for the elder Guan (who pretended to be the younger Guan at the time) in the alleyways is another.
The logic behind this is pretty straightforward. The ultimate goal of the big boss is to frame the elder Guan for the undercover Wu Zhen’s murder, With this, he would conveniently fulfil his role as scapegoat for the police infiltrator.
The move is necessary as the police were altered of the potential infiltration and has started an internal investigation. This implies that if only the Guan brothers’ identity exchange was exposed, the elder Guan would only be found guilty of helping his fugitive brother. As a result, the younger Guan would still remain the murder suspect and the police would not stop their search for the mole within the organisation. Therefore, as long as everyone is still convinced that the younger Guan is the culprit behind the Wu Zhen murder, neither of the brothers can be caught or killed.
This also explains why the big boss instructed police forensic expert turned criminal Wang Zhi Ge (王志革) to take picture of the Wu Zhen murder case file because he needed to figure out how the elder Guan managed to thwart their framing plot.
Who is the star of the show?
The show’s title “Day and Night” refers to the dual but often interchangeable identities of the two Guan brothers — one ostensibly righteous and embodying justice by day, the other allegedly evil and personifying secrecy at night.
To me, half of the success of the show can be attributed to this original double act premise, and the other half is down to the exceptional performance of the lead actor, Pan Yue Ming (潘粤明) who played both brothers.
To play two brothers, who look the same but otherwise very different, is a tall order. And to play two brothers impersonating each other with varying degree of success under different circumstances is almost a mission impossible.
But Pan breezed through this with his mastery of subtle nuances in micro expressions and body movements. He even adopted different voices for the two brothers. Analysis done by some hardcore fans shows that the reserved and impassive elder Guan had a sonorous voice with more base sound. By contrast, the younger Guan’s cheerful personality sounded more lively with a higher pitch. As a matter of fact, Pan’s acting is so superlative that I can even tell that the younger Guan’s imitation of his older brother was more stiff at the beginning but grew more natural as the show progressed.
For those who are less familiar with Pan’s name, this show is a dramatic comeback for him. Pan, despite his early success, had his career hit a car crash after his controversial divorce with his actress wife Dong Jie (董洁) in 2012. In fact, he has disappeared from the screen and the public spotlight for a very long time before “Day and Night” became a new hit.
Is there anything in the show that I wish to have it played out differently?
None, apart from the tragic fate of the elder Guan’s pet lungfish “Tiger”. Knowing that he would be under arrest and Tiger does not take feed from anyone else apart from himself, the elder Guan turned his pet into a plate of steamed fish, to the sadness of many audience including myself.
Lungfish is actually a remarkably resilient creature which means it could have potentially survived if he just let it go.
Oh well, I wish Tiger, in its next life, would find a better home other than a cold-blooded police detective.