Top of the Lake: China Girl (DVD)

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Top of the Lake: China Girl (DVD)

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Review of "Top of the Lake: China Girl (DVD)"

published 02/10/2017 | LiveMusicLoverLyn
Member since : 23/03/2014
Reviews : 890
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About me :
“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention” Thanks for all the reads, rates, appreciated esp E rates, every E I give is well deserved.
Pro Further exploration of Robin's character, some beautiful moments
Cons Gruesome and sleazy
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"~ A Strong Feminist Australian Series ~"

Top of the Lake: China Girl (DVD)

Top of the Lake: China Girl (DVD)

Top of the Lake: China Girl

Series only review

Having enjoyed the first series of Australian import Top of the Lake, I was eager to watch the second series subtitled China Girl. However, I missed the first episode and the series was shown on BBC television at a time inconvenient for me and I kept forgetting to download. I have, therefore recently downloaded and watched the whole series in quick succession and here is my review:


Written and directed by Jane Campion
Co-writer: Gerard Lee
Producers: Phillipa Campbell, Libby Sharpe
Executive Producers – Jane Campion; Jamie Laurenson
Music: Mark Bradshaw
Director of Photography: Germain McMicking


Main Cast:

Elizabeth Moss – Robin Griffin
Alice Englert – Mary
David Dencik - Puss
Gwendoline Christie – Miranda Hilmarson
Clayton Jacobson – Adrian Butler
Ewan Leslie – Pike
Nicole Kidman – Julia
Kim Gyngell – Booty
Ling Cooper Tang – Dang
Michelle Ny – Mahlee
Linda Ngo – Sinn
Merlynn Tong – Caramel


When the body of an Asian girl washes up on Bondi Beach in a suitcase, the search begins to identify the victim and to find the killer. Police Detective Robin Griffin discovers a seedy world of prostitution and much more as a sleazy side of Australia is portrayed over the six episodes.


Main Characters:

Robin Griffin: In series one we met troubled detective Robin who’d gone to New Zealand on secondment to spend time with her dying mother. A 12 year old girl is missing and in her search Robin locks horns with a drug baron and visits a new age feminist camp for abused and troubled women. There a lot going on as the viewer must wade through the building of the character and disseminate what is about her character and what is pertinent to the mystery of the missing girl. Robin suffers an horrific attack that knocks her confidence and in series 2, China Girl she has returned to Australia following the death of her mother. Once again Robin is troubled and having raked up the past she is determined to contact her daughter who she gave up for adoption.

Mary: Robin’s long lost daughter who grew up in a loving family home of privilege being the daughter of a lawyer and who at 17 is finding her feet and breaking away from her dysfunctional home arrangement, but her choice of much older narcissistic academic Puss as a boyfriend takes her into a terrifying world that overlaps with Robin’s case.

Puss: Not only is Puss Mary’s boyfriend, but he is a complicated character who is pivotal to much of the plot, Idealist German university lecturer and now a sort of society drop out Puss lives in a brothel, but Robin has to find out what if any is his involvement in the death of China Girl.

Miranda: Tall and clumsy uniformed cop Miranda introduces herself to Robin as a huge fan of the female detective having followed her previous cases and even helps Robin rent a bedsit in the same block as herself. The two are soon partnered up and you can tell Robin has her doubts about the eager young cop, but their relationship builds and Robin is let into a personal secret Miranda is holding that could impact on the case.

Adrian: Robin’s boss and long standing associate, the two clearly have a long standing history and mutual respect. But even Adrian has done something that surprises Robin when she learns the truth.

Pike: Loveable good guy Pike is Mary’s adoptive father and doormat to her adoptive mother, lesbian Julia. Pike though has strong morals and is truly a kind and considerate person.

Julia: Well, capturing Nicole Kidman to play a supporting role as complicated, manipulative adoptive mother Julia certainly adds interest to the show. Julia comes across as fragile, I think she is far stronger than she leads those around her to think and is a manipulative self centred woman who is struggling to face the fact that her little girl has grown up, this is exacerbated by the new involvement of Mary’s birth mother Robin.


What I Think:

Where Top of the Lake the original series developed Robin’s character and thus showed us why Moss played the character the way she did, in China Girl the psyche is still explored largely through Robin’s dreams and nightmares, but the series is more about the parallel lines of her new found motherhood and the China Girl case, which as Robin soon pieces together is not all it first seems.

The viewer is privy to the dumping of the suitcase, so this is not a total mystery show from the perspective of the audience. But for Robin when the body of an Asian girl is found stuffed into a suitcase that washes up on Bondi Beach, Robin has to put her personal demons and torment to one side to work on the case and when DNA throws up some unusual findings, she cannot help but get emotionally involved.

This gruesome case is running alongside Robin’s tentative and touching contact with her long lost daughter and that whole side of the story line brings a huge added dimension to what could otherwise have been a rather flat and uninspiring storyline. Indeed towards the end of the series there is much edge of the seat and stuff as we fear for Mary’s safety and future.

Campion’s second series once again explores the exploitation of Asian women by Australian men, but there is so much more to China Girl than the exploitation. In Australia prostitution is legal, surrogacy is not. Feminist art like this with strong female characters and mostly one dimensional males is highly unusual on main stream television and it is easy to come away with an impression that most Australian men are sex mad deviants and now the strong women are fighting back to help their weaker sisters.

Robin’s character is far more likeable in this series, we have learnt what has created her darkness, her detachment from those around her, we see her vulnerability, her struggle to come to terms with her past and her moralistic stance that even shows a flaw in her character against the two of the few friends she has. The exploration and complicated nature of her character skillfully and sensitively portrayed by Moss leaves the way open for future series and I hope there is more, Robin has so much more to give.

The constant of the entire series is motherhood, Robin has lost her mother and gained her daughter, Miranda is preparing for a baby. Julia has turned to the arms of another woman and is struggling to come to terms with her daughter growing up that is of course exacerbated by the appearance of her daughter’s birth mother in their lives. The fundamental feminist theme of the series is as if Campion has drawn on many cultures and plucked out the relevance of mothers and brought in a strong aborigine influence that can be felt by the felt oppression and the dreams that Robin has.

I like that water again has a huge part to play in the proceedings, in the first series it was the lake, here it’s the ocean and although the conclusion feels a little hurried and underexplored, there can be no mistake that it almost ended on the beach. Of course water symbolises fertility and birth or rebirth in a lot of cultures. Whether this inclusion is deliberate or subconscious I don’t know, but the symbolism is there nevertheless.

There is no doubt that Campion is a skilled writer and director. At times a touch of humour is brought to play as well, which ensures the doom is not so bad and the show does not take itself too seriously. After all in real life there is humour even at the most unlikely times.


Price & Availability:

Top of the Lake: China Girl is available on DVD and Blu-Ray, the DVD can be bought from Amazon at £13.00 whilst the Blu-Ray version is £19.99. Widely available at various prices, so worth checking before you order or travel. (Prices October 2017). I notice there are a few outlets advertising the DVD on this platform.



I liked this series, I am not a natural binge viewer, but we watched the whole over two days and both my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Most of the characters are flawed and to generalise with few exceptions the men in particular are not very nice, I hope this is something to do with Campion and not a true portrayal of Australia, because here it does come across as a particularly sleazy. It is interesting that Campion is happy to explore the darker side of her female characters as well although this is handled much more sensitively. The China Girl case is just a part of a much bigger picture and generally although we know who dumped the suitcase, we don’t know what motivated them to do so. We do learn what motivates some of the players, but generally the viewer is trying to work out whose good and whose bad, what is an unfortunate coincidence and what is highly relevant. I like Moss’ portrayal of the damaged but conscientious detective and the hints of humour that Christie brings to Miranda. I don’t recall seeing Dencik in anything, but I found his portrayal of Puss engaging, but I really do not know how much of it was acting ability or how much was good casting. With Julia played by Kidman though, I had no doubt that the portrayal was good acting, I’d not say she shines in this, but then her character is not supposed to, so fair play to keeping all that star quality under wraps.

I’d say if you want something that is easy to watch and follow with nice characters then this is not for you.

If you enjoyed the first series and for some reason have not seen this then ignore the critics and give it a go. Granted it is not as tense as series 1, but actually, in some ways it is also less complicated, whilst the storyline is not just a straightforward one dimensional who dunnit, the pieces do pull together and the whole is carried by Moss’s sensitive portrayal of our lead character. If you have not seen series 1, I'd strongly suggest doing so first to get the best out of this, althoughit will stand alone, I do think to understand Robin you need to have seen series 1 first.



I think this will gain cult credibility and I am happy to award the full 5 stars.

Thanks for reading


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Comments on this review

  • BlurredLines published 06/10/2017
  • euphie published 05/10/2017
    e :o)
  • IzzyS published 05/10/2017
    Well reviewed.
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Product Information : Top of the Lake: China Girl (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

Genre: Thriller

Actor(s): Elisabeth Moss, Nicole Kidman

DVD Region: DVD

Director(s): Jane Campion, Garth Davis

Classification: 15 years and over

EAN: 5051561042065


Listed on Ciao since: 01/10/2017