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.
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.
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