Blood and Water, Chinese-Canadian crime drama, breaks TV barriers

A new Canadian crime drama is breaking down barriers by mixing Mandarian, Cantonese and English dialogue, with producers hoping to attract new audiences by more accurately reflecting the Canadian populace.

TV series mixes Mandarin, Cantonese and English dialogue

Groundbreaking new Canadian drama integrates English, Mandarin and Cantonese to tell crime story 2:37

The new Canadian TV crime drama Blood and Water is breaking down barriers by integrating Mandarin, Cantonese and English onscreen.

Filmed in Toronto and Vancouver, the series revolves around a young female police detective (Steph Song), who is fighting cancer and trying to solve the murder of a Vancouver billionaire's drug-addicted son.

What sets this show – airing in eight, 30-minute episodes – apart from other crime dramas is that most of the characters are Asian and the dialogue often switches seamlessly between Chinese dialects and English.

Chinese-Canadian crime drama Blood and Water, which features dialogue in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, was filmed in Toronto and Vancouver. (Breakthrough Entertainment)

English subtitles are shown when characters are speaking Mandarin or Cantonese, while Chinese subtitles are shown when characters are speaking English.

Although more than one million Canadians report a Chinese dialect as their mother tongue, the Chinese-speaking market is woefully underserved when it comes to original, Canadian dramas.

Enter Breakthrough Entertainment. Executive producer Diane Boehme calls Blood and Water "the first series originating in North America (or anywhere else as far as we can tell) that is a realistic reflection of those languages as used by the Chinese diaspora."

"Growing up and watching TV, I hardly ever saw people who looked like me and spoke like me," cast member Loretta Yu, born in Montreal and raised in Nova Scotia, recalled to CBC News.

But when the actress, who studied at Acadia University and appeared in such shows as Degrassi: The Next Generation, The Listener and Hemlock Grove, auditioned for Blood and Water, "the first thing I noticed was that it was a predominantly Asian cast," she said.

The drama Blood and Water follows a female police detective (Steph Song, shown on monitors behind the scenes) investigating the murder of a Vancouver billionaire's son. (Breakthrough Entertainment)

"When we got the breakdown for all the characters, I thought 'This is so cool.'"

The groundbreaking production has offered some challenges, according to Simu Liu, who portrays the older brother of the murdered man.

"I knew it would be extremely challenging when we received a full page of Mandarin that we had to perform," said the Chinese-born actor, who came to Canada as a young child and can speak, but not read, the language.

"I had to go to my parents and be like 'Please translate this for me in a way that I can actually memorize it.'"

He's thrilled about the result and hopes the new series reaches viewers who normally wouldn't tune in.

'Growing up and watching TV, I hardly ever saw people who looked like me and spoke like me,' said Montreal-born, Nova Scotia-raised actress Loretta Yu. (Breakthrough Entertainment)

"To be honest, my ideal audience members [are] my parents: people who have given up everything to come to this country, to be a citizen of this country, and who consume media in this country but haven't yet found something they can really, really relate to," he said.

Ben Lu, Blood and Water's producer, agrees.

"The world's changing: we have to create stories that [reflect] the Canadian populace," he said, although he also acknowledged the importance of telling a compelling story that anyone can relate to.  

"I kept telling my writers: us Chinese are just as twisted as everyone else, so go ahead, go to town and write something crazy."

It appears their efforts are paying off. As the first episode is set to air, a second season of Blood and Water is already in the works.

Blood and Water premieres Sunday at 10 pm on Omni Television.