Inked: Why Sky’s bittersweet Mandarin dramedy fully deserves its Prime time-slot

REVIEW: The first NZ On Air-funded project predominantly in Mandarin is a winning Kiwi dramedy that deserves to find a wide audience.

Screening to coincide with the current NZ Chinese Language Week, Inked (debuting tonight on Prime at 9.40pm, before hitting Neon on October 7) is the story of Jiayue (Lisa Zhang), a young Aucklander facing an early quarter-life crisis.

Originally conceived as eight, bite-size 15-minute instalments, like last year’s lockdown tale INSiDE, it is now being broadcast as a single package.

Lisa Zhang plays Inked’s aspiring tattoo artist Jiayue.


Lisa Zhang plays Inked’s aspiring tattoo artist Jiayue.

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Three years after striking out on her own, Jiayue has well and truly struck out. She might have escaped the constant glare of her solo dad Rong (Gang Du) and his home acupuncture business, but she’s now broke, single, locked out of her flat and harangued day and night by her landlord Mrs Wang (Grace Sun), a woman eager to recover the more than $1000 she is owed in rent.

Having spent the night of her birthday sleeping in her dad’s sleepout – after picking the lock – and avoiding his dinner requests for more than two months, Jiayue knows she needs to come clean. But how to tell her father that she has no plans to return to university for the final semester of her medical studies? That she’d rather pursue her dream of being a tattoo artist?

Sure, he knows she helps out at her friends’ Breaking Dawn Tattoo Studio, but it’s not exactly a career in his eyes, especially when the business only had one client last week – and that was a touch-up.

However, when she finally fesses up that she and long-term boyfriend Chao (Tianyi Tang) have broken up, Rong’s response isn’t exactly supportive: “What did you do?”

As he then hands out her presents of a set of paints from “her” back in Nanjing and the $8000 to pay for her final tuition, Jiayue’s moral dilemma reaches new unbearable heights, especially with Mrs Wang waiting to pounce and threatening to reclaim her debt from Rong himself.

Inked focuses on the inter-generational tensions between Rong (Gang Du) and Jiayue (Lisa Zhang).


Inked focuses on the inter-generational tensions between Rong (Gang Du) and Jiayue (Lisa Zhang).


Creators Mingjian Cui and Zijun Yang’s absorbing and charming series might be set in New Zealand’s Chinese community, but the struggles and conundrums are universal. This wouldn’t have looked out of place as a sub-plot of one of the Insider’s Guide series back in the mid-noughties.

The pair keep their storytelling taut, while also allowing their characters room to develop and self-effacing humour to shine through.

As shows like Flat 3 and Creamerie have proved in the past couple of years, there is a wealth of Asian New Zealander talent out there just waiting for the chance to be discovered or exposed to the wider populace, and it’s great to see opportunities like this have a platform that also includes an “edge-of-prime-time” screening (for those who still believe in the power of linear television).

Go on, immerse yourself in a slice of contemporary homegrown culture that’s reflective of our constantly evolving country.

In English with Mandarin subtitles and Mandarin with English subtitles. Inked debuts tonight (Tuesday, September 28) on Prime at 9.40pm, before becoming available on SkyGo and hitting Neon on October 7.

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