Background on the Actors
For an idol drama, this drama has remarkably few idols. It rose to popularity mainly on the strength of the story. The only actor who really qualifies as an idol is Jimmy Lin, who plays Zhong Tianqi. This role was pretty made for him, for in addition to being an actor, he is a real-life professional car racer. However, his most famous role as a actor was not in an idol drama, but in wuxia (specifically, he played Duan Yu in the 2003 version of Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils).
Arguably, Leon Jay Williams (who plays Zhong Tianjun) is also a quasi-idol, since he is a professional model, and quite easy on the eyes, even compared to most idol drama stars.
Interestingly, they cast a Korean actress, Yoo Ha-na, to play Xia Zhixing, which occasionally happens in Taiwanese television. It seems that her lines were dubbed, and I’m not sure who the dub artist (which I think is a pity, since the dub artist deserves as much credit as Yoo Ha-na). While I think their acting is okay, I think there are a number of Taiwanese actresses who could have played the role even better (I would have cast Barbie Hsu). There is a scene where Zhong Tianqi overhears some very soap-opera-ish dialogue, and Xia Zhixing claims “Oh, it’s just a K-drama.” I found that line doubly funny because the very character claiming that it was just a K-drama was being played by a Korean actress.
Location Location Location!
This drama features Ruifang, Wulai, and Pingxi, three of the top tourist attractions in the Taipei region.
However, rather than setting the story in Ruifang/Wulai/Pingxi, the story combines all three of them into the fictional village of “Mingde,” which is Xia Zhixing’s hometown. As someone who is familiar with Ruifang, Wulai, and Pingxi, this is a bit confusing, since sometimes the characters are in Ruifang one moment, and then they are in Pingxi the next moment.
Actually, Ruifang, Wulai, and Pingxi are more than just tourist attractions: they are important symbols of Taiwanese culture. Pingxi is often held up as being an idyllic Taiwanese rural town, which is why is it often featured in commercials, movies, etc (part of You Are the Apple of My Eye is set in Jingtong, which is in the Pingxi district). Wulai is the location of northern Taiwan’s highest waterfall.
However, Ruifang in particular has an important place in Taiwanese culture. The towns of Jiufen, Jinguashi, and Shuinandong are all in the Ruifang district. Jiufen was once so prominent as a cultural center that it was called “little Shanghai.” As I’ve mentioned before, Jiufen and Jinguashi are the location of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s A City of Sadness, which not only a famous Taiwanese film, it’s often ranked as one of the best Chinese-language movies ever made. Furthermore, Jiufen inspired Hayao Miyazaki to make Spirited Away, which is why the town is almost always full of Japanese tourists.
The “Thirteen Levels,” one of Taiwan’s most recognizable landmarks, is in Shuinandong, and it appears in this drama (it also appears in Fated to Love You). One of my favorite works of art in the Tapei Fine Arts Museum permanent collection depicts the Thirteen Levels, and it’s featured in many films, both professional and amateur. I have never been inside the Thirteen Levels since it’s technically forbidden to enter, but I know someone who has been inside, and he said that he saw other people inside too, so apparently a lot of people ignore the restrictions.
In other words, watching this drama is a bit like taking a tour of the most popular destinations in rural Taipei.
I mostly find the costuming choices in Taiwanese idol dramas uninteresting, but this drama is definitely the exception, which is what you would expect from a drama which deals a lot with jewelry. And the guys’ clothes are just as interesting as the girls’ clothes.
See Zhong Tianqi and Xia Zhixing together. They’re clothes are not boring. I think Zhong Tianqi’s checkered collar is a particularly nice touch.
See Xia Zhixing and Han Zhiyin together. Again, their clothes are not boring.
Xia Zhixing and Han Zhiyin together, again. You can’t tell from this picture, but this outfit makes Xia Zhixing look a little pregnant. I actually like that, since it emphasizes her motherly qualities.
The Silliness and the Sadness
Whereas Fated to Love You has tongue-in-cheek humor, this drama is straight-up silly. In fact, part of the appeal for me is seeing just how far the drama will go. Just as protagonists are fearlessly themselves, this drama is fearless in is silliness.
(Tangent: in a world free of rape culture, I would think it is totally funny that certain things the characters happen to be doing seem to be sexual assault, even though that is not the character’s intent at all, just I would think it’s funny if the characters seemed to be murdering somebody when actually it’s just an innocent mistake. But victims of sexual assault are so often disbelieved and told that the assault was “just a misunderstanding,” in fact, I can tell you from personal experience that victims sometimes tell themselves that it’s just a misunderstanding so that they don’t have to face that they are victims of harassment/assault, that I’m not completely comfortable with laughing when it’s revealed what certain characters *reasonably* suspect is sexual assault really turns out to be a misunderstanding).
Some of it gets pretty corny, but that, weirdly, is part of the charm.
It’s also full of melodrama (this fan music video, featuring the theme song, offers a good taste of the melodrama). Many of the plot twists are awfully cliché, but, well, it’s boldly cliché. And considering that a five-year-old girl gets Xia Zhixing to spend 8 hours publicly handcuffed to the hot and handsome Han Zhiyin, I am willing to overlook a couple cliches.
And I think this drama just might have the saddest moment of any idol drama I’ve watched. Specifically, the scene where Ou Yaruo listens to the MP3 player.
Why is listening to the contents of an MP3 player sad? Part of me wants to explain the context, but I do hope that this drama will eventually get licensed in English, so I don’t want to spoil it.
Someone on Youtube claims that (spoiler warning, especially if you understand Mandarin) this is the most moving scene in My Lucky Star, but I found it too cliché. Okay, I’ll be honest, I got totally emotionally invested in that scene too, but at least I’m embarrassed that such cliché melodrama got to me.
However, the moment which really got my tears flowing was when Xia Zhixing falls down on the road between Jinguashi and Shuinandong (even though I know this is supposed to the fictional village Mingde, I still can’t help but think of these places as being Ruifang/Pingxi/Wulai). There is nothing original at all about this scene, but the story is so bold, and so sincere, in its melodrama, that I really could not help myself. Even if I forget everything else in this drama, I don’t think I’ll ever forget this particular moment.
Availability in English
Currently, there is no legal way to watch this drama in English. It would be really nice if someone changed this state of affairs.
When I first started watching idol dramas, I stuck with idol dramas adapted from Japanese manga, since the stories were familiar to me, and I didn’t have enough confidence in my Mandarin comprehension skills to delve into completely new territory (and how is it that I have yet to discuss a single idol drama adapted from manga?)
This is the first idol drama I watched which a) was not adapted from a manga and b) had a plot that was totally unknown to me. I was not just concerned about my language skills, I was also concerned about whether or not it would be a good story (if I had read the manga, at least I could reasonably predict whether or not I would like the drama). Not only was I totally capable of understanding this drama, I fell in love with it.
It definitely has its flaws, and overall, I have to say that Fated to Love You is a higher-quality production. Nonetheless, this is one of my top favorite idol dramas, and when I say that somebody should license this in English, I’m serious.
Next time: The Nine Provinces (novel)
An earthquake is happening right now as Sara K. is writing this. Many Taiwanese people expect Sara K. to be freaked out at every single earthquake. Sara K. then points out that she grew up in San Francisco. She does feel a lot less earthquakes in Taoyuan than in other parts of Taiwan (such as Taipei and Hualien), most likely because Taoyuan has more stable ground than Taipei, and the faults around Hualien are more active.