Netflix Sets ‘Bardo’; First Chinese-Language Original Is Karmic Jailbreak Thriller


Amid the flurry of new international originals announced by Netflix this week comes word of its first Chinese-language series. Hailing from Taiwan and director Sam Quah, Bardo is billed as a jailbreak thriller with a karmic dimension. The eight-episode project is in the shooting prep stage, and when completed will be made available for streaming globally. Last April, Netflix finally unlocked a gateway into China via a licensing deal with iQiyi.

Singapore-HQ’d IFA Media, whose recent credits include Taiwanese series The Teenage Psychic, is producing Bardo. Quah is a Malaysian-born filmmaker who has long resided in Taipei. His The Free Man was shortlisted for a Live Action Short Oscar in 2015. He is also writing Bardo which has been developed with Taiwanese lead writer, Lily Chen.

Bardo follows the journey of Ah Quan, a good man who has descended into crime and now awaits execution in prison. An encounter with a mysterious inmate causes him to experience events from alternative timelines. Learning that his son is in danger, Ah Quan escapes to protect his family only to discover he is a pawn in a much larger game. Blending Taiwanese aboriginal mysticism and karmic destiny, Bardo — which describes state of existence between life and death — is Ah Quan’s search for redemption.

“A supernatural premise, a production team that’s created regional hits, and an up and coming director who’s received international acclaim — all of this has Netflix excited about Bardo.” said Erik Barmack, vice president of international original series at Netflix.

Use of the term “supernatural” is interesting given Chinese censors have previously taken issue with ghosts and superstitious beliefs. Fantasy is OK.

In another register, Netflix has reportedly already fallen foul of local censors. Satire Bojack Horseman was pulled from iQiyi’s platform in China after airing for just two days because “adjustments” needed to be made to the content.

Quah says Bardo originates from current issues in modern society regarding real-life prisoners on death row, and “addresses the beliefs these prisoners have regarding their own freedom.”

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