Sunday, June 05, 2022

Tiananmen Square on TV: Old Wounds

You would think film and television writers would often "rip-from-the-headlines" reference some of the biggest stories of late 1980s and early 1990s, like say the First Gulf War, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and the dissolution of the Soviet Bloc. Yet, you will find precious few dramas addressing the Tiananmen Square Massacre, despite audiences’ familiarity of the iconic images of Tank Man and the Goddess of Democracy statue. It is slim pickings, but the Canadian X-Files knock-off PSI Factor joined MacGyver and Touched by an Angel, by producing the Tiananmen-themed episode “Old Wounds” (S3E13), which currently streams on multiple sites.

Honestly, this show wasn’t very good, but the premise of “Old Wounds” is somewhat interesting. Matt Prager’s paranormal investigative team has been summoned to look into an incident at a tech firm with shady government connections. Adia Carling was testing an immersive VR game when she suffered real world injuries during the in-game battle. Weirder still, wounds spontaneously healed.

The team quickly sleuths out Carling is not from Hong Kong. She is, in fact, an illegal alien living under an assumed name, who was imprisoned and tortured in China for her role in the Democracy protests. Somehow, the VR game reopened the old wounds she suffered while in custody, including the horrific burning of her left arm. She has the psychic powers to physically heal them, but the team’s good Dr. Anton Hendricks must hypnotize her, to help her heal her emotional wounds.

Ideally, one would prefer to see a serious subject like the Tiananmen Square Massacre addressed in a more reflective, less exploitative manner, but there are not a lot of examples out there. Anyone who knows of a Tiananmen Square-themed TV episode, beyond this
MacGyver, or Angel, please shoot me an email. Writers Jim Purdy & Paula J. Smith treatment of the Massacre and the subsequent brutal crackdown are not exactly inspired, but director Luc Chalifour manages to convey the cruelty of CCP torture techniques, while adhering to commercial broadcast standards.

Guest star Marie V. Cruz portrays Carling with a great deal of sensitivity. Likewise,
PSI Factor cast-member Colin Fox is surprisingly compelling treating her as Dr. Hendricks. Unfortunately, Dan Aykroyd’s warp-arounds as the series host are laughable, in a bad way. Matt Frewer is earnest enough as Prager, but this episode never taps into his facility for comedy. As for the various “Cigarette-Smoking Man” clones, they are as dull and cliched as you might fear.

“Old Wounds” is not great, but it has more guts dozens of TV shows that willing consigned Tiananmen Square to the Orwellian memory hole, just like the CCP wanted. For the curious, it currently streams on Freevee, Pluto, and Peacock. Again, it is our duty to remember and what happened in Beijing in 1989, especially since Hongkongers are now forbidden.