Review and Essence of the Story: Derailment Chinese Drama

Derailment Chinese drama review

Derailment is a Chinese science fiction drama aired on Youku from December 14, 2023 to January 2, 2024 with 30 episodes The story is based on the book, Derail, written by Priest. It stars Lin Yi and Liu Hao Cun. 

I don't usually watch cheesy idol romance dramas. The silliness of the youth and the hugging and kissing every second without substance exasperate me to no end, so I always avoid this genre.

Derailment Chinese drama review
Liu Haocun and Lin Yi

However, Derailment is different. Despite being starred by young actors - Lin Yi and Liu Hao Cun, it's not a typical youth drama of exploring romances and dating, it talks about serious life issues and a scientific experiment that went wrong. 

Derailment Chinese drama review

It has no kissing scenes or hugging or bed scenes. In fact, Qi Lian and Jiang Xiaoyuan didn't talk about romance (until the later part) or engage in whispering sweet-little-nothings that are prevalent in all modern youth romance dramas. It's a story about a life that has been derailed, unable to move forward. 

Although it was promoted as a modern romance series it did not focus on the romance angle but on issues that matter - resolving the mysterious identity of the female lead character and who is responsible, which is good because it allows the story to progress smoothly, focusing on the main plot.

Derailment Chinese drama review

The first five episodes really got me hooked because the script was catchy. It confronts the question of what's beyond our universe or what's on the other side of life. Can we really travel in another time and space? How? Where? When? So I followed more episodes.

At first, I thought this drama was a time-travel story or some kind of parallel universe where the rich father of Jiang Xiaoyuan commissioned a time device to keep his daughter alive after she "died" from a car accident. 

Then she traveled back in time to process her life or figure out who she is. And along her journey, she encountered a mysterious guy with a questionable motive. I thought she was in a coma or just dreaming or lying in a time-altering device haha!

Derailment Chinese drama review

But, none of the viewers' early speculations hit the mark as the story, in fact, was entirely different. Jiang Xiaoyuan didn't time travel, she just joined a beta testing neuro science experiment that went wrong. 

The promotion of Youku was also misleading as they marketed this drama as a time travel series. But well, anyway, they successfully caught drama fans' attention. 

Derailment Chinese drama review

Warning: This review contains spoilers! And very very long 😂


The year 2025. Jiang Xiaoyuan (Liu Hao Cun) is a rude and arrogant rich girl whose wealthy father owns a company. She has an assistant named Mr. Xu. She has a best friend named Feng Rui Xue (Fang Shi Ran), and a rich boyfriend Huo Boyu (Wanyan Luo Rong).

Meanwhile, in another year, 2012, Qi Lian (Lin Yi) and his friend, Xu Jingyang (Li Tian Nuo), scuffled with gangs, and Xu Jingyang was badly injured protecting Qi Lian. He was rushed to the hospital. 

Later, at the rooftop of the hospital while Xu Jingyang was sitting in a wheelchair, he suddenly disappeared without a trace and the only thing left was a mobile phone.

In the year 2025, Jiang Xiaoyuan was devastated when she found out that her boyfriend and her best friend were cheating on her. Then while confronting Feng Rui Xue on the bridge, the girl also suddenly disappeared. 

Mr. Xu gave Xiaoyuan a mobile phone to be used as their main line of communication while they traced the whereabouts of Feng Rui Xue. Later, Jiang Xiaoyuan received a call to rush to the pier within 15 minutes. 

Xiaoyuan was in a hurry to reach the pier, when her car flipped and crashed, throwing her off the bridge. When she woke up, she found herself in a remote village. Worst, it was in another year, 2018 and she was homeless! 

She also discovered that her life in the current world (2018) was the exact opposite of her life in the world she knew (2025). 

While living in a strange world, trying to make sense of her environment and struggling how to get back to her rich world,  she met the mysterious Qi Lian. 

Qi Lian was still searching for his lost friend, Xu Jingyang but the police investigator couldn't trace Jingyang as no records of him existed in the present time. 

Jiang Xiaoyuan became increasingly annoyed with Qi Lian's presence. He also insisted they were friends, something Xiaoyuan couldn't remember. Later, a misunderstanding occurred between them and they constantly bickered. 

But Xiaoyuan realized that only Qi Lian could help her figure out who she is and how to return to her real world so she welcomed him as her new friend, they became close and worked together to uncover the mystery around her real identity. 

However, as events slowly unfolded, a dangerous scheme that could potentially end their respective lives, gradually surfaced.

Derailment Chinese drama review

Our Review:

Generally speaking, Derailment talks about a life that has been "derailed", that is, being stuck somewhere, unable to move on, unable to figure out what happened. So the characters must ponder what things need to be worked out, to get back on the right track, and move forward without regrets.

Derailment offers a fresh idea of a virtual reality world and its effect on human, which is a rarity in a Chinese drama. At first I was confused if the story follows the concept of time traveling, but later, I discovered it was not.

Jiang Xiaoyuan is a strong female character who fights her way out to be heard, to insist on her independence and courage, and discover the truth about her life. 

I like the fact that she is a strong woman trying to keep her sanity intact while grasping for survival in two different worlds that do not seem intersect. 

But Jiang Xiaoyuan is also a character of so many contradictions. You will admire her courage to live independently armed only with her survival instinct, but you will also get annoyed at some point by her recklessness and unreasonable self-importance. 

Nonetheless, Liu Hao Cun delivered a strong acting performance that made Jiang Xiaoyuan a steadfast character. The way she pulled emotions in every scene is so amazing for an actress who just debuted on the small screen.

Lin Yi as Qi Lian is a feast to the eyes. He looked so dapper at every turn! He wore suits like those top-notch CEOs in the real corporate world. 

This role is best suited to Lin Yi as he dressed like a top corporate executive, debonair, and a serious-looking guy whose mind is hard to read. His height is always a great asset. Plus, he is so handsome and her appearance is very much upper-class.

The plot progressed accordingly, and though some drama viewers were irritated by the makeup arc as it took so much screen time for the drama to progress, I convinced that was necessary. 

Through the makeup/salon arc, we saw how the character of Jiang Xiaoyuan developed. This arc made the story move forward. She was able to build a self-confidence, develop her own personality, discover her potential, and find meaning in life. 

Before her salon job, she seemed like a lost soul, suicidal, disturbed, depressed, unable to figure out what's going on, who she is and where she came from. She seemed on the verge of losing her mind and just living an aimless life.

When she started working in the salon, we saw how her character progressed in the story. She became more confident and able to figure out how to fit in the current world. Her salon job brought her back to life. 

She discovered a lot about her personality and how to express herself in the real world. She also discovered how to make friends and how to acknowledge their presence. 

The story developed at a steady pace and focused on the main plot of uncovering the mystery behind Jiang Xiaoyuan's existence, her growth, her realization, and the wisdom she learned along the way. 

It was a good decision for the scriptwriter to never focus on the romance arc to keep the idea intact without so many diversions and subplots, making the plot development consistent with the main plot. 

But just like in most dramas that were stretched, Derailment has shortcomings too. For instance, it lacks surprising highlights as the finale approached and the energy of the story seemed withered towards the end. In fact, the last five episodes seemed forced and dull. The tension built in the first half of the story was not sustained. 

The character of Jiang Bo (Huang Sheng Chi) seemed unnecessary and the most useless character in the story. Even if you take him out, the drama still looks fine. 

Derailment actually started well and was interesting but lost the excitement in the middle of the story when the audience found out it was not a time travel scheme but a laboratory experiment that aims to alter someone's memory. From then on everything went downhill. 

But what I like about this drama is the focus on the main plot and on resolving the mystery presented in the first few episodes. There's a consistency in the storytelling although it lacks build-up of more exciting twists. 

However, this drama was rescued from going to the pit by having a good ending. It was a satisfying finale as the drama follows a realization ending. 

Jiang Xiaoyuan and Qi Lian acknowledged what they went through and realized how a "derailed" life brought them together and became each other's "savior".

The finale presented an explanation (through the dialogues of Lin Yi and Liu Hao Cun) of what really "Derailment" means, the essence of the word, and its connection to the lives of Jiang Xiaoyuan and Qi Lian.

Xiaoyuan also acknowledged the big role of Qi Lian in her life and how he rescued her during the time she was "derailed" or walking on the wrong track. He was instrumental in keeping her alive and safe. 

The ending was satisfying as the story was wrapped up justly. Jiang Xiaoyuan and Qi Lian got their happy ending and were able to resolve the mysteries of their existence and move on from their painful past.

They were able to tie the loose ends of their respective lives and relationship, discard regrets, and acknowledge what they would do in case one of them got "derailed" again. 

The ending where they were walking in the train tracks was symbolic as it has something to do with the meaning of the word "derail". 

If a train runs on the wrong tracks, it will surely be derailed. But if it runs on the right track, it will smoothly reach its destination on time. Just like life, as Jiang Xiaoyuan realized. 

Story concept Explained 

But if you are still confused about how this drama was told and all those events that happened which seemed confusing to you, here's the detailed illustration:

Qi Lian suffered depression after his friend (the friend he believed was Xu Jingyang) was killed in 2012 during a riot. He brought him to the hospital but did not survive (in episode 1 we saw Xu Jingyang survived but it was only Qi Lian's illusion). 

Around this time, Noah (the face of Xu Jingyang), who owned a laboratory in the field of neuroscience, was creating a neuroscience capsule called Lighthouse System.

The purpose of the Lighthouse System capsule was to ease the grief of people who were tormented by painful memories, by wiping off those memories and replacing by the reality of their dreams (whatever life they desired to live - rich and happy). 

Noah's first tester was Qi Lian. He signed for this experiment to forget his painful memories of losing his best friend. Through the system, Noah created an imaginary best friend - Xu Jingyang, who is actually Noah, for Qi Lian who would give him an illusion that his deceased best friend survived the riot. He was also the same Mr. Xu in Jiang Xiaoyuan's new memory (2025).

The system only erased Qi Lian's painful memory about his deceased best friend, but the rest of his memory - high school life with Jiang Xiaoyuan, his father, his other friends, and his life, remained intact.

Jiang Xiaoyuan on the other hand lived in a difficult situation. After her parents died in 2009, she was brought up by her grandmother who struggled financially.

Before college graduation, her grandmother needed to undergo surgery so Jiang Xiaoyuan participated (with Huo Boyu) to become a tester in the new Lighthouse Project to pay for her grandmother's medical bills. 

The new Lighthouse System, which was originally owned by Noah, was taken over by Fan Xiaoxiao (mother of Jiang Bo) to be revived and was secretly operating without the knowledge of authorities.

However, during the process of wiping off the painful memories of Jiang Xiaoyuan and Huo Boyu, the system encountered errors, making Huo Boyu delirious and disoriented. Jiang Xiaoyuan became disoriented also but her mind was able to enter the system.

As the experiment backfired, both Huo Boyu and Jiang Xiaoyuan were able to escape. That's when the time she was found on the road and began her journey to discover her identity. 


So Derailment is not a time travel story. It is simply a neuroscience experiment that backfired. An experiment/research of discovering and testing a device that could alter the memory of humans, but the system encountered glitches that brought horrifying consequences to the testers - Huo Boyu went paranoid, and Jiang Xiaoyuan was left in limbo as her memory struggled to resist the process. 

It was successful in Qi Lian because the project was still under Noah, who was the original creator of the system and whose intention was good. When it was taken over by Fan Xiaoxiao illegally, she launched the system prematurely and thus encountered glitches.

Moral lessons:

Greed always brings disastrous outcome that can potentially harm others, such as Fan Xiaoxiao's too ambitious nature. Although her past of being a tormented wife was painful and needed some healing time, it should not be used as a reason to be abusive and cruel.

At some point in our life, we encountered challenges and personal crisis, we would hit the lowest point of our existence, we would experience a "derailed" life journey. But we need to face whatever life has to offer, work out those kinks to move forward, and keep walking on the right track of life. 

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