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[Current Mainland Chinese Drama 2019] Unknown Number 时空来电

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Cr avirtualvoyage


Chinese title: 时空来电
English title: Unknown Number 

Genre: Crime, Fiction

Episodes: 32


Broadcast Period: 10/23/2019



 Li Xiao Ran

Du Chun

Wang Tian Chen


A mysterious walkie talkie allows a detective in the year 2000 to communicate with a cold case profiler from 2015; with the power of fore and hindsight the two not only solve crimes but prevent them from ever taking place. However, a long-standing murder case is closer to home than either realizes. A detective tries to create a world where those who have done wrong deserve punishment, but a huge force interferes with it.

(Douban and Wikipedia) 

**Please use spoiler tags for those who have not seen the episodes yet**

[spoiler ]enter your spoiler here without the spaces inside the brackets[ /spoiler]




Coming soon...


Additional Links:

Signal 시그널 Official Soompi Thread


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@angelangie l LavelyShai

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On 10/24/2019 at 11:06 PM, angelangie said:

this is the Mainland remake of Kdrama - Signal right?

Yup youre right!

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Thank you for creating this thread @sugarplum892! Had almost given up hope that it would air, with all the clampdown on drama content in China this year, and was blindsighted when it did air because they changed the Chinese title too, which is why I didn't realise it finally aired on 23 Oct - from what was originally 信号 Signal, it is now 时空来电 (literal title "Incoming Call from Time and Space"). 32 episodes of 30mins each... which might add up to roughly the duration of the original, so perhaps we will see all the cases adapted after all, unlike the J-remake, which dropped 2 cases (Shin Da Hye and Hongwon Dong murders)


Watched the first case, and halfway through the 2nd (up to Ep7), and having mixed feelings about it so far. Very glad to see that this is not a cut-and-paste adaptation, but one that takes the essence of the original and puts their spin on it. This is evident in the use of a 1998 disposed Motorola MicroTAC GC-87C flip phone that no longer works (the cellphone shows "Unknown Number" when it rings, hence the English title), vs the original police-issued walkie-talkie, the difference in backstories, the case details etc. As such, I do not quite know what to expect in each case, which is great.


What irks me is (unless I missed it) the lack of credits to the original scriptwriter Kim Eun Hee, and blatant use of the original soundtrack throughout the drama. Were rights officially obtained for this adaptation? The J-remake specifically credited Kim Eun Hee, and features their own song and instrumental soundtrack, hence my question. Kim Yuna's "The Road" from Signal OST is featured with a Mandarin cover version by 弦子 Stringer, also entitled 路 "Road", though the rest of the soundtracks that I've heard to date are original compositions.

Will put down my thoughts on the individual cases later, but just a (not-so-brief) note to say just how glad I am that this thread is created and I have an outlet for my ramblings (or rants!) :P 

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At last, what had been bothering me incessantly throughout my viewing of the drama has finally been cleared up. An article that vehemently defended the production against netizen accusations of plagiarising Signal without obtaining the proper rights led me to dig into the credits once more to see what I might have missed. According to the article, the producer 权香兰 Quan Xianglan, general manager of Tencent Penguin Pictures' Korean Copyright Center, is the key link between Unknown Number and Signal. Since joining Tencent in 2016, she has been working on copyright development and resource expansion of Korean TV dramas. In this case, she obtained the rights for Signal and adapted it into the Unknown Number of today.


What had really irked me previously were the fact that soundtracks (instrumental and songs) were credited to Studio Curiosity and Movie Closer, unfamiliar names to me. This is particularly so when even the C-covers of Kim Yuna's "The Road" (路), and Lee Seung Yol's "As Flower Blooms" (待到花开 "Waiting until Flower Blooms" covered by 杜淳 Du Chun) were credited (lyrics and songs) to Studio Curiosity, when the originals were released under CJ E&M. Knowing now that Unknown Number has obtained rights to the production, I dug further and realised that Movie Closer is the record label under music directors Kim Jungseok and Jung Serin, which houses various talented instrumental music composers whose works have graced so many well-loved dramas, including Signal. Studio Curiosity is the record label that produced the soundtracks, Signal being one of them, that has made our viewing experience that much more unforgettable. 


I cannot begin to express how glad I am that all this is cleared up. Just this knowledge alone lends an added credibility to this adaptation that it previously lacked when I wrongly thought the OST was ripped, which in turn removes the niggling discomfort that had prevented me from enjoying the drama as much as I could have.


Du Chun's cover "Waiting until Flower Blooms":



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The remaining soundtracks:


必须走 ”I Must Go"   [Opening Theme]
Singer: Du Chun

Music: Studio Curiosity;  Lyrics: 王海笑 Wang Haixiao



投影中的你 ”You in the Projection"    [Ending Theme]

Singer: 杨宝心 Yang Baoxin

Music: Studio Curiosity;  Lyrics: 王海笑 Wang Haixiao



挥之不去 "Lingering"

Singer: 张恋歌 Zhang Liange

Music: Studio Curiosity;  Lyrics: 王海笑 Wang Haixiao


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I don't think it possible to watch a Signal adaptation without the kneejerk reaction of comparing it to the original, and the same can be said for Unknown Number. The widespread use of the familiar soundtrack, instrumental and songs serves as a constant reminder and the basic structure remains intact. Its element of surprise comes in the form of the case details and backstories, which is a welcome spin of what is already a well known, well-loved premise among Signal fans. Some of the cases are similar with variations, while others take a vastly different route from the original cases, with at least one that is based on a real unsolved case in Chongqing. The cultural and historical references is distinct to China, which lends a stamp of authenticity that I appreciate. There is also novelty in seeing sequences or dialogue from the original being integrated differently in this version, either in different cases or context. How well everything works in the overall scheme, be it through the lens of an adaptation, or a drama in its own right is an interesting question.


Here's a comparison of the characters between the original and C-remake, for those who have watched the original:




Case #1 幼女失踪被害案 Missing Girl Case

Eps 1-4

Gu Mingzhe, then a policeman in 8 Sep 2018, receives his first call from the past with Cao Zheng in 12 Jan 2003, through a disposed Motorola flip phone that no longer works, leading to the discovery of his classmate Ma Xiaojing's remains in an air raid shelter at the abandoned Huadu Park after she had gone missing for 15 years. Blood strains on a spike ring that he gave her as a child and traces of sodium nitrite in her hair and teeth would finally lead the investigative team to the killer, who continues to play a game of cat and mouse with them with misdirection and taunts, until the fateful evidence that would finally nail him turns up in the location that he thought had been buried forever. 


Thoughts: I like the fact that the killer, motive and methods are vastly different from the original. The uncovering of the evidence is a clever plot twist, with a second location that is out of sight, something that did not occur to them if not for the tell-tale broken hooks at what they thought was the scene of the crime. The deliberate introduction of the red herring that could not dispute what is being accused works rather well too. The narcissistic and cunning tendencies of the killer mirrors Yoon Soo Ah though I must admit staring in disbelief that someone on the run would be able to disguise himself as a member of the press to confirm that he is off the hook. Also am not quite as convinced about the pretext of collecting blood and fingerprints for registration records to procure DNA samples of the suspects, though the way they identified the same suspects through the Y-chromosome DNA found on the spike ring is fascinating.


What does disappoint me is that there was never any race against time to beat the statute of limitations, so the only urgency is to obtain the evidence that would convict the killer within a 24-hour timeframe given by Deputy Director Sun, who is furious that they failed to procure evidence before interrupting the press conference about the case, resulting in embarrassment for the bureau. In that sense, the palpable tension that drove the original, is lost. The overly drawn-out chase scenes of the suspect also quickly outlived its welcome for me. Am not as wowed by the fact that Gu Mingzhe is simply introduced as a highly observant know-it-all who stumbles upon a suspect that would lead to the cracking of the cold case. Not to mention the blatant PPL that would be seen throughout the drama, particularly the mind-boggling fact that a mere policeman is equipped with a fancy car with the latest technology.


In terms of performances, none leave me emotionally invested yet by the end of the case, and Wang Tianchen's incredibly stilted Gu Mingzhe does not help. As excellent as Li Xiaoran is as an actress, I find her He Jun to be too weak thus far, without the badass toughness that I have come to associate with CSH in the original, thus unconvincing. Perhaps of the three, what little we see of Du Chun's Cao Zheng is probably the most reminiscent of the doggedly tenacious LJH in the original, though there is insufficient time to really warm to him yet. 


There are pros and cons to this adaptation, and I am likely not the best person to give an unbiased opinion. Nonetheless, the first case, and indeed subsequent ones, do provide sufficient element of surprise to keep me watching. 

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Case #2 浅滩连环杀人案 Sandbank Serial Murders

Eps 4-10

Gu Mingzhe, Dets. Wu Qingshan and Zhao Jianxiong are reassigned to the Cold Case team under He Jun. The first case they work on is the 20-year-old Sandbank Serial Murders, where 9 female victims were killed over 7 months - hit over the head, tied with knots impossible for them to undo, put into woven bags and thrown into the river to die of asphyxia. The phone calls resume, the past timeline having shifted back 5 years with Cao Zheng in 1998, also working on the same case. We see how Cao Zheng first came about the fateful phone - a secondhand Motorola phone which his father had repaired and gave to him. Through their joint efforts, the original timeline changes, and with the exception of Cao Zheng's sweetheart who still could not be saved, one attempted victim now survives, while 2 more are never attacked. Nonetheless, in both timelines, the final victim remains the same except with a 5-year delay. This and gingko seeds would become the clues that finally reveal the backstory, motives and painstaking plan that went into the killings, amid red herrings, sacrifice, setbacks, twist upon twist leading up to the final reveal.



This case is an interesting amalgamation of the South Gyeonggi serial murders and Hongwon-dong serial murders of the original, and I applaud the ingenuity of merging the two murderers into one, to provide a backstory and impetus for the killings. Various themes are at work here. Vicious child abuse which twists the child's psyche beyond redemption, remains a terrifying trauma even after the child becomes an adult, and the instinctive fear that has haunted him as a child, still grips him when faced with the source of his abuse. A father whose guilt for unwittingly allowing his son to be abused, deliberately commits a similar crime with the intent of being caught, and by admitting to his son's crimes, pays for it by execution by a firing squad. A son who has lost all sense of humanity, and remains matter-of-fact all the way to the end at his father's sacrifice, reveling only in the fact that he is safe because of it. A man, callous about all the victims who had to die so that he could rehearse the murder he intends to commit a thousand times in his mind, and the sheer tenacity that drives him to overcome his crippled state so as to fulfill that obsession. The poignancy of seeing the spared original victims who regardless of their situations in present day, have hope in their lives, by virtue of the simple fact that they are still alive, intertwined with the dawning comprehension why the final victim Jia Huiping is not spared. It is a case that horrifies us at the brutality of the crimes, and while we have sympathy for the killer over the abuse he had suffered, both as a child and even as a man, the chilling realisation that there is not an iota of remorse in him, fills us with revulsion and horror.


The overall flow and logic of the case is a persuasive one. Gingko seeds from a tree planted by Cao Zheng's parents, a symbol of unwavering love and a lifetime of waiting, becomes a gift of love from him to his sweetheart Wen Jingya, not knowing that the trees that would grow from them would be instrumental in locating the evidence that nails her killer 20 years later. A makeshift windmill from the wheel of a wheelchair, a disturbing trophy for the killer to relive his achievements would also tie him to his last victim, and hearken back to his earlier ones. Nonetheless, I do find certain aspects to be overly contrived. Huge, blooming gingko trees to have grown from the seeds in the shattered glass bottle feels rather far-fetched. In addition, the last murder in the new timeline seems highly implausible to have a crippled man commit a murder, prep the body in the same M.O and dump it into the Yangtze river in a brief 10min cable car ride. Also, some dialogue from the original feels awkwardly, almost haphazardly inserted into scenes, such as having Gu Mingzhe rushing out to confront the killer about his lack of remorse, just minutes before he is led out of the police station. It would have made more sense if it had been done as part of the interrogation process, but this feels more like an afterthought, which is annoying.


Du Chun nails it as the lovelorn, awkward suitor, and later the grief-stricken bereaved lover, the sweet, poignant interactions between him and Chen Yanqian's Wen Jingya makes me wish there were more, and ache for them for all that could have been. I wish I could say the same for the other two leads. The contrast between the rookie He Jun and team leader of today is not as pronounced - the goofiness of her younger version sometimes feels out of place, while the present seasoned detective lacks the edge that should define someone with 20 years' experience in the field. The weakest remains the portrayal of Gu Mingzhe, including the delivery of his dialogue with Cao Zheng, which feels flat. This is really a shame because ideally the urgency, frustration and bond between the two men should be conveyed to the viewers based on the strength of their voices alone, as if we, the viewers, too are the ones at the other end of the phone call.


Reproduced iconic scenes from the original:


Cao Zheng mourning Wen Jingya as he listens to her walkman in a cable car ride, reliving the times when they would take the same ride in the mornings. This is the equivalent of the heartbreaking cinema scene in Signal:



The stairwell scene, when Cao Zheng imparts the importance of them finding a way to cope with the horror and grief in their work, so that they can pick themselves up and do their jobs once more to return justice to the victims:



The hilarious photoshoot, which would become the only source of comfort for He Jun as she waits for him for years:


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Cases 3 and 4 are so closely intertwined that it is not easy to discuss them separately. To begin with, the victim in the 4th case, meets her fate during the course of the 3rd case, but remains an unsolved mystery until the 4th case was investigated. In addition, the victims in both cases are related, and certain events of the 3rd case took place because of the 4th case. 


Case #3 别墅连环盗窃案 Villa Serial Burglaries

Eps 11-14

A previously unsolved serial burglary case involving homes of 4 friends is suddenly cracked in the past timeline with the discovery of an ex-burglar Song Bo's partial print at the gate of one of the houses, a photo-identification by one of the burglary victims Zhen Shi'an and a stolen mala prayer bead bracelet found at the suspect's vehicle. The same day Song Bo is arrested for the burglaries, the timeline shifts, and a cold case of a boy in red is now changed to that of a girl in red, the victim being his daughter. Upon his release in present day, Song Bo kidnaps Zhen Shi'an's daughter, ties her up in the same way his daughter was found dead 20 years ago, and initiates a cat and mouse game to lure Zhen Shi'an to the location where he plans to exact revenge, which ends in tragedy, both for him and innocent bystanders. A stolen diamond necklace set that turns up in the past becomes the key to exonerating the innocent and undoing the tragedy in the present. However, irrespective of their efforts, certain events could not be changed, and some tragic fates could not be escaped.



While similar to the Gaesu-dong Serial Burglary case of the original, it cleverly incorporates elements of a real unsolved case in Chongqing (where the drama is filmed) into the narrative which would tie in with the 4th case, and explain Song Bo's actions in present day. Just as in the original, there is no true closure or satisfaction on the part of the team that worked on the case, by virtue of the fact that no matter how hard they try, tragedy cannot be averted, and the innocent will remain victims regardless. The horror of Song Bo's loss is no less than Oh Kyung Tae with the devastating discovery of his daughter's body in his home only to be forcibly dragged away moments later for a crime he is falsely accused of. Likewise Cao Zheng's terrible guilt, believing that he inadvertently facilitated the murder of the young girl by causing her to wait in vain at the school due to his pursuit of her father. We instinctively realise there is more to Zhen Shi'an and his wife than meets the eye, yet there is nothing yet that would explain their shifty behaviour. The manner with which Zhen Shi'an's daughter is dressed and tied up during her kidnapping, combined with the trap that is laid for her father, indicates Song Bo's intention to shed light as to why Zhen Shi'an had to die. And as the case draws to a close with the capture of the real burglar, is Song Bo's unchanging dogged determination in both realities to target Zhen Shi'an out of revenge for his false accusation, or is the truth behind it all far more sinister than we realise, with his cryptic last words? This is where this adaptation shines - in showing a plausible explanation for all that transpires, while subtly giving hints that all is not quite what it seems.


If I have one complaint, it would be that this case feels rushed through, events leading one to another with very little breathing space. Yet, in hindsight, I can understand why that is, since it is ultimately a part of a larger picture, which, when taken as a whole, finally explains why things happened the way they did. As it is, overall, it delivers performance and narrative-wise, and I like how light-hearted, warm moments are interspaced through He Jun and Cao Zheng's interactions - his gruff exterior belying his guidance to a rookie officer he has grudgingly taken under his wing.


Recreation of scenes from the original:


Cao Zheng's devastated grief as he listens to the cassette Song Fang Fang recorded for him, mirroring LJH's anguish in Signal:



The fateful moment when He Jun is warned too late of the danger:


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Case #4 红衣小女孩死亡案 Case of the Murdered Girl in Red Dress

Eps 14-17

Traumatised by the unpredictable consequences of their calls,  Gu Mingzhe deliberately terminates contact with Cao Zheng and throws the phone away. Still, unable to walk away from it all, both men begin initiating their own investigations in their respective timelines. Cao Zheng's investigation is cut short when he is transferred to Jiutang village, and the trail goes cold in the past. Nonetheless, He Jun's memories from their secret joint investigation of an unusual necklace and the strange bond between the 4 families sets the Cold Case team on the right track to finally reveal the terrible truth - the appalling significance of the case's change from the Boy in Red Dress, to the Girl in Red Dress - bound to occult practices perpetrated by the unconscionable selfishness of the rich to protect their loved ones at the expense of those they deem insignificant. Then it is a race against time as the team attempts to obtain definitive proof of the perpetrator's guilt before he leaves the country and is out of reach of the law.


The case is adapted from Chongqing's unsolved The Boy in the Red Dress case, and expands on one of the theories on that case which has to do with the occult practice for prolonging a person's life. It is with sickening realisation that it dawns on us just how faithful the details are to the actual 10-year-old case and I commend the scriptwriter for a compelling script that ties both cases together believably, while highlighting the unspeakable evil of a crime committed against defenseless victims. I really appreciate how the unanswered questions and loose ends from Case #3 are tied up by the end of this case. The real reasons for the burglaries are convincingly accounted for, likewise the possibility of the Cold Case team coming across video evidence of the insidious ritual, even though the original recording has been destroyed in accordance with the agreement made between the guilty parties. The discovery of DNA evidence from talismans created from the ritual is also a clever plot device, as is the choice of victims based on the same birthdates, and the reason the Song family is targeted rather than another victim who would have raised far less notice. Last but certainly not least, is the explanation why the original victim changed from a boy to a girl - that there were at least two victims, the first of which is a boy (a homage to the victim of the actual case), whose DNA and video footage would finally be instrumental in revealing the terrible truth of the crimes that were committed.


That said, I am less convinced about how other elements are tied together in the narrative. The ease with which the definitive equipment used in the ritual is discovered feels overly convenient. Similarly, though we finally understand why Zhen Shi'an's daughter was dressed up in the same manner during the kidnapping, it is never explained how, in that particular timeline, did Song Bo find out the real reason his daughter died, when in the revised timeline, he overheard the guilty parties talking about it as they congratulated themselves on their narrow escape and success. It also feels too easy that He Jun would remember a necklace seen partially in passing after 20 years, and tie it back to the case they are reopening. We finally have a similar countdown to Signal in terms of deadline, though this is more to do with obtaining clear evidence before the perpetrator leaves the country and is out of reach of the law. Nonetheless, the urgency is still not quite the same, even if I really like how Gu Mingzhe took matters into his own hands (or fists!) and bought them much needed time. 


Regardless of some questionable plotholes and overacting from the actor who plays the main antagonist, this still remains a haunting case, one that is well adapted and merged with its predecessor, respectful of the source material upon which it is based. Well done.


As always, scenes also from the original:


"Though I don't know why the transmissions started nor why it is between the two of us, I feel that it is time these transmissions came to an end."



The disastrous driving lesson:


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