Oh goodness. It’s Giddens again.
Li Ke (Ah Ke) is a young man who works at an electronics store (he also has a passion for baseball). He has a big crush on his boss, Yu Wenzi.
He wants to confess his feelings on Wenzi’s birthday but, understandably, he’s extremely nervous. Ah Ke’s friend, Bao Luo, recommends that he gets over his nerves by practising – confess his feelings of love to 100 women before he confesses to Wenzi. Since Wenzi’s birthday is just the next day, Ah Ke can’t be picky – he confesses to old women, young girls, basically any female he encounters.
Most of these people reject him as a creep, which suits Ah Ke just fine since he doesn’t want a relationship with them. But – if know anything about romantic comedies, you know this is going to happen – when Ah Ke makes his 100th confession to a pretty young woman called Su Xiaoxue, she accepts.
Oh, and to top it off, another colleague, Meng Xue, does confess his feelings to Wenzi on her birthday.
This idol drama is adapted from the Giddens novel of the same name. I have discussed Giddens before here and here.
This is an early Giddens novel, in fact, I think it’s only the second romance novel he wrote (one of the main characters from his first romance novel makes a cameo appearance in this one). In the introduction, he says that he wrote this novel while his friend was in the hospital, so he wanted to write a light-hearted story.
For an American, I am extremely clueless when it comes to baseball, thus all references to baseball in this story are lost on me. Baseball is actually reasonably popular in Taiwan. Since Taiwan does not have its own major leagues, many Taiwanese baseball fans keep track of the major leagues in the United States (some also choose to keep track of Japanese baseball).
Novel vs. Idol Drama
The fundamental story is mostly intact, but there are actually a lot of changes between the novel and the idol drama, and there is a significant change in the ending. I don’t want to catalogue the differences, so I’ll make general comments instead.
Some of the changes seem to have no point whatsoever. I don’t mind them, since I don’t think they made the story worse, but I also didn’t why they bothered (production reasons)?
Some changes seem to be there to make the story longer i.e. add filler. As far as filler goes, I think most of it is okay, but it also doesn’t improve the story.
I did not like the way they changed the ending. They basically tried to shoehorn the ending into a typical idol-drama ending … and one of the things I liked about the novel is that it did not pick the most conventional ending for a romantic comedy. There are enough idol dramas which follow the standard formula – and do so with more flair – that I don’t think this drama should have forced the story down that route.
Storywise, though, the change I liked the least (spoiler warning, even though I think this is so predictable that it shouldn’t count as a spoiler) was Xiaoxue’s crime spree. In the TV show, she is a graffiti artist. In the novel, she burns mailboxes. I think burning mailboxes is much more interesting. And it also makes more sense in the context of the story – I think a mailbox-arsonist is much more likely to appear in the news multiple times. Furthermore, I think it’s more in character for Xiaoxue to be a mailbox-arsonist than a graffiti artist (okay, maybe I feel that way because I read the novel first). Maybe they changed the crime to graffiti art because they wanted to make Xiaoxue to be more likeable … but I think mailbox-arson adds much more zest to the story.
Actually, I think that reflects the overall change in tone between the novel and the TV show. The novel kept the readers on their toes by inserting all kinds of bumps of while keeping the story coherent. The TV show smooths out the bumps for a more conventional, idol drama ride.
About Bao Luo’s Homosexuality
This is another change from the novel.
In both the novel and the idol drama, Bao Luo identifies as gay. However, in the novel, his romantic/sex life is completely off-screen. I know there are issues with having gay friends in fiction whose romantic/sex lives are never shown, but what the TV show does is definitely worse.
In the TV show, he gets a crush on a woman.
Now, I know that sexuality is fluid, and that sexual orientations are not as fixed as some people claim they are (this is an example). However, this plot change doesn’t seem to come from great sensitivity to the full range of human diversity. Instead, it feels like a denial of Bao Luo’s non-heterosexuality. In other words, the TV show is saying that he’s not *really* gay, and by extension, implies that homosexuality isn’t a *real* sexual orientation.
On the one hand, Taiwan is probably more tolerant towards queer people than any other large society in Asia (this is mainly because that’s a pretty low standard). The Taipei Gay Pride Parade is the largest gay pride parade in Asia, and there are many civil organizations run by and for queer people. Queer people in Taiwan are probably less likely to be targeted for violence on account of their orientation than their peers in the United States. Most Taiwanese people under 30 who I’ve met will at least say that there’s nothing wrong with being gay, even though they sometimes display a certain degree of discomfort.
On the other hand, I have been astonished by how ignorant most Taiwanese people are about queer people. Granted, I grew up in San Francisco, so I may underestimate most of the world’s ignorance of queer people. Still, this ignorance leads many Taiwanese people – even the people who claim that they have nothing against gay people – to enforce heteronormativity. Taiwanese queer people say they still face plenty of discrimination.
I think making a Bao Luo a “gay man” instead of a gay man reflects this ignorance. Thank goodness Giddens didn’t do that in the original novel.
The story is set in Taipei, and as such, much of it is familiar territory to me. What I want to point out is Core Pacific City, which is described by Lonely Planet as:
Some people call it Core Pacific City. We like to think of it as The Great Golf Ball of Taipei. Designed by Jon Jerde, the Pablo Picasso of the architecture world, Core Pacific City is quite probably the weirdest shopping mall in Asia. An inspired (by MC Escher or perhaps LSD) building to say the least, from the outside CPC looks like a gigantic golf ball being embraced by a stone sarcophagus.
Core Pacific City is used as a background for some of the scenes in this TV drama.
I personally was underwhelmed when I visited Core Pacific City, though I thought the puppet museum next door was very informative.
Nonetheless, I think it’s appropriate that Core Pacific City is used as a location for this odd story.
Did I Enjoy Watching This?
The short answer is yes.
Overall, the acting is pretty good, and even the music grew on me after I heard it enough times.
And, to its credit, it actually does not follow the standard idol drama plot formula (despite the last-ditch effort at the end). Plenty of the quirkiness of the novel still comes through, and makes for a refreshing change. But it’s not just the quirkiness. Most of Giddens’ work have a certain sincerity, and I think that’s one of the reasons he’s so popular. The sincerity also comes through in the TV series.
Availability in English
As far as I know, there is no legal way to watch this idol drama or read the novel in English.
I actually do like the novel (quite frankly, I like this novel more than You Are the Apple of My Eye). It’s off-beat and a nice change from what I usually read.
I even like the TV show. While I complained about the changes, I think a lot of what I like about the novel is also present in the TV series. And … I think that there should be more Giddens-inspired idol dramas. He influences the genre in a good way.
Next Time: The Eleventh Son (novel)
Sara K. wishes everybody a happy new year.