Tuesday, September 24, 2013

TDrama Review: Meteor Garden

The Gist: Poor girl Shan Cai (Barbie Hsu) has always been an outsider in the wealthy university, Ying De, but her life becomes unbearable when she draws the wrath of F4. Comprised on the sons of Taiwan’s most financially affluent families, F4 is led by temperamental Dao Ming Si (Jerry Yan), followed by quiet Hua Ze Lei (Vic Zhou), and playboys Xi Men (Ken Zhu) and Mei Zuo (Van Ness Wu).  As Dao Ming Si attempts to bend Shan Cai to his will, he becomes impressed by her stamina and strength of will. Frustrated by her lot, Shan Cai becomes immersed in Hua Ze Lei’s kindness when he interferes on her behalf. Yet, as Dao Ming Si grows to admire Shan Cai’s unwavering character, a rift is drawn in F4. Helped by best friend Xia You (Rainie Yang), Shan Cai tries to sort out her own feelings without hurting anyone else. 


1.Dao Ming Si and Hua Ze Lei

 As someone who not only loves the original Hana Yori Dango, but also staunchly loves Matsujun’s Domyouji, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I like Dao Ming Si. His earnestness shines through way more than in other adaptations, constantly giving into his likable side rather than the fiery temper. He was astonishingly open about his feelings, never giving Shan Cai any reason to doubt. I loved this interpretation. Next, I loved this Hua Ze Lei. Oguri Shun’s Hanazawa Rui was lovable, but was always a little off putting to me. Hua Ze Lei doesn’t fight Dao Ming Si for Shan Cai (much), but rather is an amazing support for both of them. His genuine warmth and quietness made me shocked to realize he played the lead in Mars (opposite Barbie Hsu!). Either way both were as good as their Japanese counterparts and much better than the Korean. 

2. Affection

If there’s one thing I always go back to in Taiwanese dramas, it’s the physical intimacy their Korean and Japanese parts fail to bring. You don’t have to wait too long for the first intimate moment between Dao Ming Si and Shan Cai. In fact, even her kiss with Hua Ze Lei was incredibly touching. With emotions running wild, it’s nice to get people to kiss like they mean it and on that note, Meteor Garden definitely delivers. 

3. Aging Up

Probably my favorite major change in this show was putting the characters in college, instead of high school. The age bump makes their problems more adult and their destinies closer at hand. Also, we can add a little alcohol in the mix, living a little dangerously. It’s nice to put this story in the context of young adults rather than teens, even if most of our characters are still kids at heart. 


1.The Length

 About halfway through this series, I was ready to put the length of this show in the love category. Before Dao Ming Si’s mother steps up, the show adds the length in all the right places. You get a lot of extra time building the relationship between F4 and how Shan Cai fits in with them. If I’d watched this version first, I’d be pissed about how much the Japanese leaves out. Still, the show really starts to wear on when Dao Ming Si is giving his life for Shan Cai and she just won’t confess. Just tell him you love him already! 

2.Qing He(Edward Ou)

I can see why every version leaves him out. He adds nothing to the story and you really just end up feeling bad for the poor fellow. He’s not as suave as F4 and never ends up fitting in anywhere. It would have been an easy write out. For that matter, there are just way too many extra guys in general – the fast food worker, Dao Ming Si’s supposed cousin, and the beach guy. All too much. It just gets repetitive. 



Even when things seem to be going smoothly Dao Ming Si and Shan Cai just can’t seem to get along. I understand the growing pains at first, but even when Dao Ming Si is being incredibly sincere, Shan Cai can’t be serious and the whole thing falls apart. This is exemplified later by a scene where Xiao You and Xi Men set up a date for the two of them and despite the incredibly romantic atmosphere, the two break into a screaming match. Obvious the conflict is needed for the show, but I thought the conflict needed to be turned outward way sooner, getting them to sort out how to like each other.


So… for someone who holds Hana Yori Dango near and dear to her heart (and was incredibly disappointed by Boys over Flowers), I was impressed by Meteor Garden. I think they got the spirit of the show just right and it’s like getting a little extra from a favorite story. It’s a little disorienting how they order events, some things happen way sooner and later than in HYD, but it all makes sense if you’re open to it. As always, the Taiwanese dramas are a little low quality and this one’s got a few years on it, but I found that easy to overlook. Maybe a touch too long, but I can’t complain.

Final Grade: A

Thursday, September 12, 2013

KDrama Review: Full House Take 2

The Gist: Jang Man Ok (Hwang Jung Eum) is finally free to pursue her fashion dreams when her strict grandfather, a hapkido master, leaves for a few months. Her dreams quickly sour when she posts a picture of Lee Tae Ik (No Min Woo), one half of the super popular group Take One, to her shopping mall page. In order to avoid getting sued, Man Ok agrees to become the group’s stylist at the urging of member Won Kang Hwi (Park Ki Woong), who loves her store’s vibe. Things are not easy for Man Ok as Tae Ik is stylist’s worst nightmare and a scandal finds her agreeing to become contractually engaged to him. Eventually Tae Ik warms to Man Ok, but that puts extra strain on the already tenuous relationship between him and Kang Hwi, who also vies for Man Ok’s affection.



Ok, so this one comes with a sort of condition. Yes, as far as the romance goes, it’s perfectly obvious where this show is going from day one, but the journey getting there is windy and full of surprises. Many episodes would come and at the end, I’d have no idea where we were going next. This could be a bit confusing or irritating, but FHT2 does it well, keeping the twists refreshing and the focus tight on the characters. I like a show that keeps me guessing a bit, while still managing to tell a coherent story.


Each episode of this show is broken up into two parts, which is an unusual technique but sets it apart when it comes to the pacing of the show. Instead of having little episode arcs, the whole thing really feels like one continuous thought, almost like a super long movie. I found that despite having 32 half hour episodes, it didn’t feel long and I powered through them quickly. 


Yay! Slight spoilers ahead. I am so sick of shows that separate our main leads at the end or just don’t quite wrap things up. It’s so nice to just have a cotton candy sweet ending that leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy on the inside. Almost all of our main characters get what they want in the end and while that may seem a bit predictable, the show does it well enough that I don’t mind at all.


1.Basement Time!

So one of the things I was really looking forward in this show was the repairing of the friendship between Tae Ik and Kang Hwi. Yet, the show pushes it off as far as possible by never having the two of them in the same place at the same time. Kang Hwi spends way too long exiled in the basement, hiding from everyone and as soon as he’s out, Tae Ik takes off for Japan. The overall story is done well, but I think this aspect could have had more progression. It’s obvious the two care about each other in the first episodes, but that just devolves into straight hate for the duration of the show. I would have liked to see a little more affection between these two as the show went on and not just wrapped up at the end. 

Oh my gosh. Man Ok has the worst personal style of anyone I’ve ever seen. Her hair is a messy fro and most of the time she looks like she got dressed in the dark. Now, in any other drama I’d chalk it up to being a quirky side choice, but she is a stylist. It’s her job to dress well. The choices for this character were totally unfathomable to me. Tae Ik’s style was a little better but his hair looked so ridiculous that you could really only appreciate it when it was flattened out for a performance. Luckily you get used to it until about ¾ through the series when Man Ok seems to magically remember how to dress herself , but it’s definitely distracting.

3.Jin Se Ryung (Yoo Seol Ah)

Honestly, for a show with characters that are layered, Se Ryung felt so one dimensional. If she wasn’t pouting and demanding things her way, she wouldn’t be in the scene. They could have given her a chance to grow a bit, but really she stays pretty one note until she leaves the show again. I get that the rivalry adds some extra tension to Man Ok and Tae Ik’s relationship, but there were already so many obstacles that I found it a bit unnecessary. She’s more of a plot device than a character.


1.Han Ga Ryun (Kim Do Yun)

If you want to talk about annoying characters, Se Ryung doesn’t hold a candle to Ga Ryun. She is probably the worst best friend I’ve ever seen on pretty much any show ever (second only to what’s her face on Personal Taste). Not only is she unsupportive of Man Ok, she hits her up for money, freaks out on her, then pretty much actively tries to destroy her life. Man Ok has to keep things a secret from Ga Ryun, but there is no understanding at all. If Ga Ryun was a more decent friend, she probably could have seen her beloved Kang Hwi more than once in a blue moon. Once again, Ga Ryun feels more like a plot device than an actual character who really just left a bad taste in my mouth. 


For a show about an idol band, FHT2 is pretty slim on music. They really just play one song over and over and over again. The song’s fine, but the boys are terrible at lip syncing, making their performances a little cringe worthy. Not to mention anytime Tae Ik sang a cappella, it was obvious how much he can’t sing, which is amazing, since Min Woo is actually a singer. Maybe I’m just a little bit spoiled, but with all the excellent music dramas out there, FHT2 needed to step it up.


So… Full House Take 2 was almost exactly what I was expecting. Light and enjoyable, this show is like popcorn, where you can just watch episodes back to back. The small cast made the characters very dynamic and the plot went in directions I wasn’t expecting, which is a nice change of pace. All of it wraps up nicely in a cute ending that didn’t make me crazy.

Final Grade: A-