Where do your loyalties lie — with the people who share your genetics or the people with whom you’ve shared your life? Thus asks SundanceTV’s gripping two-night miniseries One Child, in which a Chinese-born woman goes on a dangerous journey of discovery when she gets a plea for help from half a world away.
Mei Ashley (Katie Leung) is a promising British university student and the beloved adopted daughter of academics (Elizabeth Perkins and Donald Sumpter). Her life goes into a tailspin when she gets a desperate message: Her birth mother begs for help as Mei’s brother has been wrongly accused of murder and is facing execution. Mei rushes to these strangers in China, lured by the opportunity to meet the mother who gave her away and compelled to help the family she’s never known.
In China, with her senses assaulted by mobbed streets, rampant poverty and her mother’s humble apartment, Mei meets the woman who gave her up for adoption due to China’s One Child policy and a demand that she bear a son. Mei realizes the shocking dichotomy of the life she’s led and the one she would have faced had she not been born female. “She begins to feel a sense of guilt for having left behind a family that has lost all hope and is in such desperate need for help,” explains Leung. The scenes between Mei and her birth mother are gutting and the series’ best.
Leung was inspired by the powerful documentary Somewhere Between, about young Chinese women who were given up due to China’s One Child policy. She says, “Many of them, given the opportunity, would absolutely want to meet their birth mother whether it be to gain closure or to rekindle any kind of relationship. As Mei gets this rare chance, I wanted to express her desire and yet dilemma of heading to China for that reason. It was so admirable to observe the hugely positive and ambitious personalities of these teenage individuals who lead life with such hope and yet heartbreaking to know that this perhaps resulted from accepting and suppressing the sense of rejection from such a young age. From this discovery I wanted Mei to have the same determination when she attempts to rescue her brother from execution.”
Leung (the Harry Potter films) is captivating as Mei, and her struggle to discover where she stands in two contrasting families is riveting to watch. It’s an enthralling glimpse into the internal struggles of an adopted child who yearns to please both of her families.
It’s interesting that Mei’s university studies are in astrophysics — the study of the universe and humanity’s place within it — because in One Child, Mei’s journey to China is her own search for where she belongs.
One Child > SundanceTV > Dec. 5-6 9pmET/ 8pm CT