I have no idea why this drama is called Autumn’s Concerto in English. I much prefer the Mandarin title Xiàyīzhàn, Xìngfú (Next Stop, Happiness).
Anyway, this is widely considered to be one of the best idol dramas ever filmed.
Liang Mucheng is an orphan raised by her aunt and uncle-in-law who run a lunch box business on a university campus. Her uncle-in-law tries to peek at her whenever she changes her clothes, secretly takes sexual pictures of her, and seems to be waiting for an opportunity to sexually abuse her in a more severe way. Meanwhile, Mucheng encounters one of the university’s most brilliant law students, Ren Guangxi, who is also the son of one of the univerisity’s trustees. He acts like a playboy, but has actually lost sight of the point of life. His mother wants him to marry the daughter of a business tycoon, He Yiqian, who also happens to be a brilliant medical student herself. Mucheng is also friends with another law student, Hua Tuoye, who secretly has a crush on Mucheng. Sadly for Tuoye, there is no doubt in the viewers’ minds who the main couple is going to be as soon as Mucheng and Guangxi meet each other.
It is hard to say more than that without getting into spoiler territory, but the above feels a bit too incomplete to me, so I feel the need to say [SPOILER WARNING] Ren Guangxi loses his memory. Six years later, a village hires him as a lawyer to defend them from the corporation that wants to buy them out and evict them. This happens to be the village where Tuoye grew up, and Mucheng also happens to live there with her son, Liang Xiaole. The mayor asks Mucheng to act as Guangxi’s host while he stays in the village. He has instant rapport with Xiaole, but he is unaware that he had previously met Mucheng and finds her behavior really strange. Little does he know that he is, in fact, Xiaole’s biological father. [END SPOILER WARNING]
Connections to Other Idol Dramas
First of all, there are quite a few connections between The Outsiders and Autumn’s Concerto. The most obvious is that the female leads of both dramas are played by Ady An … but it’s more than that. For one thing, in both dramas, she plays a character who knows how to play the piano. And Autumn’s Concerto recycles some of the soundtrack from The Outsiders (since The Outisders has one of the best idol drama soundtracks, it is a good source for recyclable material).
On the other hand, Vanness Wu, who plays Ren Guangxi, played one of the F4 in Meteor Garden (the Taiwanese version of Boys Over Flowers), which is the mother of all idol dramas. Meteor Garden launched the acting careers of three of the most prominent idol drama stars (Barbie Xu, Vic Chou, and Rainie Yang), but Vanness Wu rose to acting stardom relatively late for a Meteor Garden actor … in fact, he didn’t become a proper acting star in his own right until he was case as Ren Guangxi. Fun fact about Vanness Wu: he was born and raised in California and is a native English speaker who learned Mandarin as a second language, just like me.
Tiffany Hsu, who plays Ren Guangxi’s fiancee He Yiqian, also performed in It Started With A Kiss (Itazura na Kiss), where she also played the male lead’s alternative romantic interest.
Other connections to other idol drama is right in script, or cinematography. At one point, one of the villagers mentioned that they can resist the corporation just like the village that resisted the Senwell corporation, and another villager points out that they don’t have a cuckoo flower. This is, of course, a reference to the story Prince Turns Into Frog in which the Senwell coproration’s plans to buy out a village are foiled by the discovery of the endangered cuckoo flower within village limits. Prince Turns To Frog is one of the most popular idol dramas ever made. At one point in the story the Ren family gets inquiries from iFound, where My Queen’s Shan Wushuang works. Yet another My Queen connection is that, in the last episode, there is a magazine featuring He Yiqian as a star doctor … the other doctor featured is Lucas, My Queen’s male lead.
Location, Location, Location
Many of the early scenes seem to take place in the fishing villages on the north coast (probably in Shimen or Sanzhi) where Mucheng has to help her uncle-in-law at a fish market. I suppose it might be in Danshui, though it seems a bit too sparsely populated to be Danshui to me (I happened to mention Danshui’s Fort San Domingo last week).
Some scenes are also set in Minsheng Hospital which is in … Taoyuan City. Hey, I’m in Taoyuan City too! While I’ve never entered Minsheng Hospital, I have shopped at the Carrefour across the street. Minsheng Hospital is, among other things, a medical tourism hospital, and generally caters to people willing to pay a little extra money for nicer care (me, I go to Taoyuan Veterans’ Hospital for my medical needs, which is quite close to one of the locations where My Queen was shot).
And at least some of the village scenes were shot in Daxi township which … is in Taoyuan county. Daxi has such an interesting history that I do not have space to discuss it in full detail, but I have to mention that Fong Fei-fei was born and raised in Daxi township. Like the village in the drama, one of Daxi’s main industries is growing ornamental flowers. The “flower fields” in Autumn Concerto look like they were filmed at the Dasi Flower Oasis, which is “the holy land of idol dramas” and a tourist trap farm. Dasi Flower Oasis is in a part of Daxi called Cihu, which has a lot of interesting history in its own right. Personally, I think the coolest thing about Cihu history is that there is a former secret military headquarters which was built in case People’s Republic of China troops ever landed in Taiwan (the headquarters was built to be difficult to detect so that military leaders could direct troops in safety).
A Few Words About the Opening
Unlike most idol dramas, Autumn’s Concerto does not have an opening per se. Right after the recap of the previous episode, it jumps straight back into the action. It has an opening song, but it’s always played in the background as the story gets moving. “I Love Him” is a beautiful, haunting song which fits the theme of the drama very well.
The Symptoms of Idol Drama Jadedness
While watching this drama, I kept on thinking “this is just like what happened in drama x.” There is ONE basic standard idol drama plot which all but a few dramas follow. Autumn’s Concerto follows it so closely that when somebody told me about some of the later events before I got that far in the drama, I could not even claim that it was a spoiler. I have seen so many idol dramas that any drama which follows this plot too closely—unless it puts a truly fresh spin on the plot or is very well suited to my tastes—will trigger Idol Drama Jadedness Syndrome in me. Autumn’s Concerto is so well-made that it maintained my interest in spite of seeming completely unoriginal to me, but my jadedness is so deep that I could only like it, not love it. It seemed more like going through a ritual drill than discovering something exciting or new. The very fact that I am spending so many words discussing the location and other meta instead of the actual story is a symptom of Idol Drama Jadedness Syndrome.
Then Xiaole appeared.
At the time I was watching the drama, Xiaole was the only thing which made the drama seem truly alive to me and not just the product of skilled story-crafters. Xiao Bin Bin is a delightful child actor, and … well, I love kids. Xiaole’s scenes are definitely the ones I enjoyed the most, and the only ones which did not make me think about other idol dramas or make me think more about the meta than the actual storyline. Well, that’s unfair, I did get involved in the story, I just did not lose myself to it.
The last story arc irritated me, mainly because Ren Guangxi turned into an asshole, but Mucheng was annoying stubborn too. If you must turn your male lead into an assole, at least make him a gloriously fun asshole (I am referring to one of my favorite idol dramas, which handles the male-lead-turns-into-asshole gambit a lot better).
But the last story arc still has Xiaole, so I shouldn’t complain too much.
Much as Xiaole was the most enjoyable part of the drama for me at the time, reflecting back on the drama, Xiaole is not what stays with me the most. It’s the theme.
It took me a while to consciously realize it, but Autumn’s Concerto has a very consistent theme, which is: it is better to tell the painful truth than to cover it up with lies. Aside from Xiaole (who is too young to lie), pretty much every main character (and some minor characters) at some point lies in order to “protect” someone from a harsh reality. In fact, Xiaole’s simple honesty serves as a sharp contrast to the adults’ contorted thinking. Mucheng’s aunt tells herself that Mucheng seduced her husband so she won’t have to admit that she’s married to a sexual predator; Guangxi tells Mucheng that he doesn’t love her so that her heart won’t be broken when she finds out that he is going to die in a month; the corporation tells the villagers that it needs them to leave their lands so the villagers won’t find out that the corporation poisoned the water; Mucheng tells Xiaole that his father is an extrateresstial so she won’t have to tell him about what really happened with his father; and if I tried to list every lie told in the course of the drama, this list would be really long (and extremely spoilerful). And the lying … generally does not work out well. I can only think of one lie in the entire drama which has a partially positive outcome. On the other hand, when the characters choose to come clean, even though there is initial pain, things tend to improve. This is the theme which keeps the story glued together, and makes the difference between a series of soap operatic events and a memorable story.
Anyway, that’s rather serious, so here is some more Xiaole as an antidote.
Availability and Accessibility
Autumn’s Concerto is available for streaming with English subtitles in North and South America via Dramafever.
If you don’t live in North or South America, YesAsia sells the Malaysian DVD set which supposedly has English subtitles.
Also, for Chinese learners … I have to disagree with Jade and say this is actually good for Mandarin practice. I would say only 10-15% of the drama is in Taiwanese (I don’t know why Jade says half of it is in Taiwanese), and I think anybody whose Mandarin-listening ability is at B2 or higher would do just fine.
I favor idol dramas which are either a) mischevieously screwbally or b) seriously dark. Autumn’s Concerto does not fall into either category, therefore it is not one of my personal favorites. Still, even though I’ve only seen the drama straight-through once, I re-watched many parts in the process of preparing this post, and some scenes are more enjoyable the second time around. I have to admit that this is indeed one of the finest idol dramas out there. Even if you suffer from Idol Drama Jadedness Syndrome like me, you should watch it. Recommended.
Now I Have a Dilemma…
Ever since I started this column, I’ve really wanted to discuss [Drama A]. In fact, I planned to make it the second idol drama I reviewed after The Outsiders. [Drama A] happens to be legally available with English subtitles. But then I decided I had to discuss My Queen because it was a new addition to Dramafever, then I felt I had to discuss Autumn’s Concerto because it was another new addition to Dramafever, so my post about [Drama A] got delayed twice. Even though [Drama A] is not a personal favorite, I think [Drama A] is up there with Meteor Garden among one of the most important idol dramas ever made—certainly more important than The Outsiders, My Queen, and Autumn’s Concerto, and I really want to discuss it. It was next on the list … until I just discovered that [Drama B] one of my favorite idol dramas has JUST BEEN LICENCED!!!! I want to celebrate the licensing of [Drama B] by putting it next on the list and finally squeeing about it and getting the Manga Bookshelf community to watch it … but I am loathe to delay discussing [Drama A] yet a third time. So here is the question for you…
Do you want the next idol drama post to be about [Drama A], or [Drama B]?
Next time: The Fox Volant of Snow Mountain (novel)
Readers of this column might be under the impression that Sara K. speaks good Chinese. They can disabuse themselves of this notion by signing up at Lang-8 and reading Sara K.’s Chinese-language journal entries (even people who don’t know Chinese can see how much her Chinese needs to be corrected). To the best of her knowledge, she is the only Lang-8 user who talks about gardening in San Francisco. Manga Bookshelf readers who are brushing up their Japanese, please note that Lang-8 has many Japanese users.