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Mark Peters

 

The seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar is known as Ghost Month, a time when restless spirits emerge from the lower realms to loiter in our world. In addition to the burning of fake money and paper iGadgets, one of the Hungry Ghost festival's highlights is high-pitched Chinese opera performed in honour of the pious and charitable deeds of the long departed.

Spooky, spiritual Hong Kong is an apt place for urban explorer Robert Joe to begin his search for the true stories behind Asia's most haunted sites. But, thankfully, the intrepid host of I Wouldn't Go in There (pictured; National Geographic, Friday at 10pm) is no blinkered ghost hunter - fear and superstition tend to mask real historical events and, through good ol' honest detective work, Joe aims to unravel the mysteries behind tales of the paranormal. Starting out at the abandoned Tat Tak School in Ping Shan, an eerie building rumoured to be the site of suicides and mass killings during the Japanese occupation, his investigation into alleged hauntings leads him down some pretty creepy avenues before he alights on a largely forgotten war between a local clan and the British. Joe's sceptical approach is refreshing for this phantasmal genre, and even to a non-believer like me, his storytelling is engrossing and pleasantly surprising - unlike the spectral figure staring intently at me from the corner of the room.

As if we don't have enough maverick detectives running across our screens, this week sees the start of not one but two new crime dramas on Fox Crime (I guess the station's name gives it away). Endgame (Friday at 10.50pm) is a Canadian series starring Shawn Doyle (Desperate Housewives) as Russian Arkady Balagan, a former chess grandmaster who is now agoraphobic after witnessing his fiancée die in a hail of gunfire. Trapped in his hotel, he wanders the corridors in his pyjamas drinking vodka and generally being a bit of a plum. Running low on cash, our prodigy becomes an armchair detective through a fortuitous chain of events, and ends up using his analytical skills to solve crimes and claim the rewards. By imagining every possible scenario, Balagan literally solves the crimes in his head, all the while trying to figure out who killed his beloved.

Unfortunately, whether you enjoy this show or not, its makers were not impressed - they called check mate on it after one season.

The selling point of Jo (Thursday at 10.50pm), meanwhile - other than it stars Gallic movie hero Jean Reno (Leon) - is that it is set in Paris, with each crime centred on a famous landmark. Not a particularly wowing angle unless you happen to really like France - although, even then, Reno is the show's only actor with even a whiff of Frenchness; the rest are all English speakers sporting generic American accents. Reno plays Jo Saint-Clair, a stereotypically griz-zled veteran detective tackling a string of murder cases while battling his own demons and trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter. Of course, this lone ranger comes with a young, by-the-book partner to butt heads with and a boss with whom he shares a tumultuous past. It's all rather clichéd and devoid of character development so it's left to Reno to carry the show - which he almost does, just by being French.

 

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