Just the tip: New drama series Futmalls.com, the Taiwanese version of Black Mirror

Bryan Chang in Futmalls.com
PHOTO: mm2 Entertainment

So many shows, so little time. How do you know what's hot and what's not?

That's where our first impressions come in, where we watch the first episode of the latest series to hit your screens and tell you whether it's worth your time.

This week, we're looking at...


Futmalls.com (Netflix)

What is it: This is like the Taiwanese version of the hit British sci-fi series Black Mirror but tweaked to the Asian habit — all the mysterious stuff is happening because of an online shopping website.

The synopsis reads: Investigation into a series of strange cases leads police investigator Zhao Xuzhen to a mysterious website called Futmalls.com, which claims to be from the future. Customers can buy anything from the site, including future love, fame, and beauty. The product is non-refundable and the price is unimaginable.

The premise is intriguing enough if you're a fan of science fiction mysteries. (Futmalls, by the way, is short for Future Malls.)

The first episode opens with popular novelist Bai Yongli stressing out from writer's block. Desperate, she enters the Futmalls.com website.

Barely five minutes in, we are shown the first crime scene: her discoloured body has been found at home, bound by red rope into a kneeling prayer position. The pose, we later learn, is featured in her books.

Yongli's sister, influencer Yongxin, is the one who discovered her, even though Yongli's husband was at home the entire time, though supposedly passed out from drinking too much.

Lead police investigator Zhao Xuzhen (Bryan Chang) checks Yongli's laptop and finds she visited Futmalls.com before her death. The page is a dead link now and he doesn't give much thought to it. (Or so we think.)

There are three other stories or cases in the first season of Futmalls.com: influencers are mysteriously kidnapped; a mother who uses special eye drops can suddenly see her long-deceased son; and a man buys a robot who turns out to look exactly like his dream girl.

Actors Ivy Shao, Bryan Chang, and River Huang in Futmalls.com. PHOTO: mm2 Entertainment

All eyes are on: Bryan Chang, the Taiwanese actor playing Xuzhen, who's in the thick of all the mysterious cases. Looking like an upsized version of local actor Pierre Png with the charming intensity of Hong Kong star Tony Leung Chiu Wai, this eye candy is the security blanket shielding us from the spookiness of the creepy murder.

The first episode also subtly reveals he's in a romance with psychologist Yang Nianjun, played by Eugenie Liu, who — of course — treated our dead novelist. After last watching Eugenie as a loud and gungho ah lian in last year's Triad Princess, it's almost unsettling to see her as a quiet and mild-mannered doctor. But I'll bite.

Eugenie Liu in Futmalls.com. PHOTO: mm2 Entertainment

What we like: Right before episode one ended, Xuzhen surreptitiously searched through Yongli's home office and finds, gasp, a hidden and pristine copy of her third book, the one she was slaving over before she went to Futmalls.com and which isn't supposed to exist.

Just at that moment, he spots a man in black running away from the house and gives chase. We'd have to watch the next episode to find out who the intruder is and how Yongli's third book is linked to her death.

Which leads to this question…

To watch or not to watch: Yes, I will put my Lee Joon-gi K-dramas on hold for this. Yongli's spine-chilling death pose and the whole mystery of her third book has piqued my curiosity. Is the murderer someone close to her, or does the website Futmalls.com send out secret digital killers?

The third story of the mother (played by veteran Taiwanese celeb Phoebe Huang) and her dead son should also be a tearjerker.

Bryan Chang in Futmalls.com. PHOTO: mm2 Entertainment

The series has so far shown a strong story-telling element. The high production value is a bonus. Actor Bryan Chang is convincing as a capable and intense investigator and I'm also looking forward to a heart-wrenching performance from Phoebe.

Futmalls.com was just released on China's Youku — which also commissioned the series — and is already trending on the streaming site.

It's now available on Netflix worldwide and myVideo in Taiwan. Two episodes have been released, another four will be out next week, and the last two episodes will be released the following week.

kwokkarpeng@asiaone.com