Saturday, March 30, 2013

TDrama Review: It Started With a Kiss

Note: Most of this review will be comparing to the Korean series Playful Kiss. It is strongly recommended that you read that review or watch that show first. This review will cover both seasons 1 and 2 of this show.

The Gist: Yuan Xiang Qin (Ariel Lin) is not good at much of anything, especially studying. That doesn’t keep her from falling for the school brainiac Jiang Zhi Shu (Joe Cheng), who immediately rejects her because he doesn’t like dumb girls. There’s no hope of getting over him, though, when a minor earthquake destroys her house and she, along with her father, move into the Jiang family home. This change irks Zhi Shu, who finds Xiang Qin terribly annoying and distresses classmate Ah Jin (Jiro Wang), who is totally obsessed with Xiang Qin. It’s not long before Zhi Shu realizes that Xiang Qin might have some good qualities, though he is desperate to hide his feelings for her. As they both try to move on, it becomes apparent that they need each other. 


1.The Scope of the Romance

While I have an undying love for the Korean version of this show, I’d always felt it was too short, especially when the manga and even the anime go on for so much longer. With two seasons, we get to see far into Zhi Shu and Xiang Qin’s relationship, farther than any other show I’ve watched before. I love the portion of the show where Xiang Qin is trying to be a nurse to accompany Zhi Shu as a doctor. These episodes only get a brief after the fact special vid in the Korean version. As much as I love getting to the proposal and the wedding, I want to see what happens after too! ISWAK delivers this spectacularly, letting you spend plenty of time with all the characters.

2. Christine

Played by Larisa Bakurova, who I believe is a Russian actress, Christine shows up in the second season as a romance for our dear Ah Jin. He has been thoroughly rejected by Xiang Qin at this point, but it takes him some time to warm up to Christine. Again, the Korean version only squeezes Christine into the last episode, but ISWAK delves into the entirety of their relationship. It’s not as great as the central romance, but it’s still cute and you feel a bit better about where we leave Ah Jin. While you know he wasn’t meant to be with Xiang Qin, you still want him to be happy.
3. The Kiss Scenes

**SPOILERS** I think that ISWAK does its kiss scenes much better than PK. Their first kiss comes after their graduation party. In PK, the kiss is cold and calculated, but in ISWAK you can see Zhi Shu getting frustrated and looking rather perplexed after the fact. I think this show of emotion is a smarter reflection of what is actually going on. Secondly, ISWAK puts a kiss at the hospital after Xiang Qin saves Zhi Shu’s brother. I loved this change. I thought that this moment really was a turning point in how Zhi Shu sees Xiang Qin and a kiss was an appropriate expression of that.


1. The Wedding

**SPOILERS** Ok, actually saying that there's a wedding is probably a spoiler, but whatever. I love that they get married and I love that they're unconventional about it. I don't love the dress swap. It's tacky and weird, detracting from the seriousness of the scene. I feel like I could have moved past it, but then there's this giant picture of them in their room for the entire second season, serving as a constant reminder of just how weird it was. Still, got to love that there is a wedding. It's more than we get out of most dramas. 

2. Production Value

As I said on my Devil Beside You review, Taiwanese dramas tend to be a bit lower budget, so the audio/visual quality is generally pretty low. It's a little jarring when you're not used to it, but you can adapt pretty quickly and ignore it because the show is good. 


1. Zhi Shu's Brother 

Played at first by Zhang Bo Han, Yu Shu isn't nearly as likeable or cute as his Korean counterpart. He seemed sort of spacey and mean, then didn't have the redeeming qualities to balance it out. Then, when maybe you are getting used to it, the actor switches to someone totally different in the middle of season 2. I have no idea why and no one says anything about it, so you're watching thinking, "who the heck is that random guy in their house?" It's bizarre and I didn't really like either actor, so it wasn't exactly a plus. 

2. The Ending

**SPOILERS** Lots of spoilers in this one, I know. For those who don't know, It Started with a Kiss is based on a Japanese manga - Itazura Na Kiss. The author passed away before she finished the story, leaving things hanging awkwardly. That hasn't stopped the popularity, but the writers took honoring that too literally and stop the show exactly where the manga ends. That means, there's a lot of unanswered questions. Xiang Qin is grappling with a serious medical issue and they're having a baby! You never get to see the resolution of either of these things, which I think is a major mistake on the writers' parts. You'll love how much you get to see, but want to actually finish with an ending. 


So... while I wouldn't say I like this installment better than PK, it definitely does quite a bit better than PK. I love how long the story goes on for, getting to see well into their married lives and giving you way more intimacy between our leading characters. There's a few wonky moments, but overall it's a great show.  

Final Grade: A- 


  1. I watched ISWAK season 1 a few years ago, and I'll tell you frankly, I hated it. I mean obviously not enough not to see each of the 30 episodes, but I didn't enjoy it that much. For one reason: Ariel Lin (well, I should say Xiang Qin). She is just unbearable. I get the "not-so-bright but so sweet-and-kind girl that you can't help but like" sort of heroine. It usually works with me. But this was pushing it WAY too far. I remember thinking that she was just a total idiot, and that she had nothing going on for her. The way she endlessly kept going after Zhi Shu, while he kept rejecting her so completely, it was just painful. Most of the time I wanted to slap her hard, and tell her to respect herself, seriously. It's like she doesn't have an inch of pride or a mind of her own. I really couldn't stand her anymore.
    I didn't like how Zhi Shu treated her either, so cold, with no respect at all.
    All in all, I just couldn't believe the romance, and that really pissed me off (even though the kiss scenes were good indeed). I couldn't understand what each of them saw in the other.
    And the wedding... what on earth was that?? you're absolutely right, "weird and tacky". Waiting the whole (long) season for the long-awaited conclusion of a painful-but-finally-starting romance (I know I keep repeating "long" but that word sums up my feeling), and we get that?! Totally DISAPPOINTING. And even now, it's hard to believe that Zhi Shu surrendered to that crazy whim; it just seems out-of-character.

    That's why I couldn't find the courage to watch the second season. I didn't want to relaunch the torture mode. I'm not sure I ever will.

    When I think about it now (and now that I saw the Korean Playful Kiss), I think the main problem (the heroine aside) was the pacing: 30 episodes was just too long. They dragged the love story so much before finally putting them together that the "warming up to each other" part exhausted the potential for tolerance and acceptance: it was just too much to take in.

    After reading your review, I thought that maybe I could appreciate it a little more if I gave it a second chance, but I'm still very perplex. The first experience is hard to overcome. Well, we can't agree all the time :p

  2. Yes, this is 3 years late, but I've just discovered this wonderful blog! Anyway, I have to say that, as far as the male lead's development & relatability I much prefer Joe Chang's Zhi Shu over Kim Hyun Joon's Baek Seung Jo. Joe Chang played him as a human being as opposed to the totally icy Kim Hyun Joon portrayal - and I ADORE Kim Hyun Joon as an actor! You FELT Zhi Shu's growing affection for (the totally too childish, as opposed to child-like) Yuan Xiang Qin (Ariel Lin). I felt Ariel Lin played her as much too JUVENILE. Innocent & a bit dumb is one thing, Xiang Qin was just ANNOYING, and not in a good way, IMHO. I did loved how actor Jiro Wang played the character Ah Jin. He wasn't too "cartoon-y" or over the top as Bong Joon-gu played by Lee Tae-sung. I did, however, prefer Oh Ha-ni's PK girlfriends over TK Xiang Qin's. As many have stated in other reviews I absolutely HATED the wedding in ITWAK! Absolutely and totally OUT OF CHARACTER for Zhi Shu - no matter HOW much he'd softened toward Xiang Qin! VERY DISAPPOINTING! Thank goodness for "They Kiss Again" to help me get over it. Over all, I do prefer ITWAK over PK, but I love this story in ALL it's versions. :)