The Gist: Small town girl, Jia En (Kirsten Ren), can't stand it when her long time best friend Ren Wei decides to head to Taipei for college. After deciding to go with him, Ren Wei alters her college applications and she doesn't get into any schools. Lonely and sad, Jia En heads to Taipei to study for next year's entrance exams. Unfortunately, Ren Wei (Jay Shih) is dodging her calls, she didn't call ahead to her family, and suddenly Jia En is stranded on campus with nowhere to stay. Law student Liu Chuan (Lego Li) takes pity on her and sneaks her into his dorm for the night. This starts Jia En's adventures in Taipei, where under Liu Chuan's tutelage, she attends that college next year and joins the treasure hunting club with Liu Chuan's friends (think F4, but with 3), her own friends, a new mentor Bai Xue (Smile Weng), and Ren Wei's own crew, the Men of Steel. The friends live out their college days, struggling with romance, family hardships, and academic issues in this sweet, warm drama.
1. Bai Xue
I really like a lot of characters on this show, but Bai Xue is far and away my favorite. I love that she doesn't resort to rival status when it's clear that she's fighting (and losing to) Jia En for Liu Chuan's affection. She always takes the mature route, no matter how hard it is. I also think she has an admirable trajectory of self-acceptance throughout the show that makes her a stronger character. I also really enjoy that thought she has to keep turning Ren Wei down, they develop a really nice friendship.
While we'll get to why the pacing of the relationships were off, I still really enjoyed the (possibly too matchy matchy) romances with our main characters. Liu Chuan and Jia En had great chemistry from the pilot - what a great pilot! I also liked seeing their friends work out their own relationships with really opposite problems. While it certainly ends up a little neatly, besides poor Ren Wei, its all very cute and just feel good.
3. Let's Learn Things!
As an ever ignorant American, I really thought the freedom theme of this show was a typical teenagers breaking out into the world type theme. *Minor Spoilers* However, as we learn more about Liu Chuan's family, we learn how the White Terror influenced not only this fictional family, but the real Taiwan. Viewers watching this should be aware of the White Terror and how the recent cultural memory of this people is to be afraid of being smart or different, living freely. When the Chinese took over regulating Taiwan after the Japanese lost WWII, citizens who were deemed as a threat could be kidnapped for no reason at all. I honestly didn't know a thing about this until I Googled it after watching the show and it gave me a new appreciation for the pursuit of freedom for Taiwan and her people.
I'm going to preface this by saying this show is long, like, really really long. It clocks in at 26 1.5 hours episodes, which means, wow, this show is not going anywhere fast. The first ten episodes are leisurely but enjoyable and the rest are definitely dragging. I'd say this show is perfect for when you have a lot of time to kill and aren't worried about the plot as much as the character development. I think this show spent too much time on unimportant details. Like, how many times did we watch a character sitting, contemplating life while staring into the distance for whole minutes at a time? Too many. Also, there's a lot of side plots, I just don't care about because they take up large slices of an otherwise interesting episode. The show is still enjoyable, just definitely slow.
I think the romance on this show had decent chemistry, but the intimacy left me so wanting! I go to my Taiwanese shows when I want skinship and lots of steam. Considering this show was juggling at least three solid romances, I'm a little let down by the intimacy. I mean, we even had a whole episode talking about baseball euphemisms and Jia En buying new underwear, but all we ever really get out of our main and side duos is a little kiss here and there, and not ones with feeling either! I feel for a show about college students and a Taiwanese one at that, this show is a little shy. Not to mention it takes a whopping 18 episodes for Liu Chuan to kiss that poor girl. Again with the pacing issues.
3. That Ending!
*Spoilers* So, wow. For a show that stayed pretty mellow that ending takes a real sharp turn. This also has undertones in the pacing issue. I feel if the show was going to break up our main couple, they should have done so about 2 episodes before the end, to give them adequate time to patch things back up. The weirdly ambivalent ending had me feeling very odd when I finished it. I was hoping that the show would end after Jia En comes back and sees what everyone is up to. I think this show would have been stronger ending on a flash forward. I feel so sad for Liu Chuan, who after all the freedom chasing, still ends up shackled to his dad without Jia En. Honestly, I think it was trying to end on a hopeful note, but just left me feeling a little depressed.
1. Ren Wei
This may seem harsh, but at the end of the show, despite all his growth, I was really just over Ren Wei. He treats Jia En so terribly at the start of the show, so singularly consumed with Bai Xue. *Minor Spoilers* Just when we think it'll work out, he suddenly decides he loves Jia En, who's been there all along, right when he can't have her. This plot point drove me crazy. I really liked Jia En and Ren Wei as platonic friends and I'm sad it went this predictably. I am glad at least he never made it a big issue. He's also just an annoying guy. He is terrible with money and then indignant about being terrible with money, abuses his friends, and is a terrible student. He's a nice guy and all, who is a loyal friend, but I wouldn't touch Ren Wei with a ten foot pole in real life. He drove me nuts.
So... after all the really positive hype this show got, I wasn't blown away. I think it's simple and sweet, but way too long for what it is. It's got cute romances that are unfortunately lacking a lot of intimacy in my book. They may be matchy matchy but don't think about it too much. All in all, I don't want those hours of my life back, but I wouldn't watch this show again.
But also, Momo is super cute.
Final Grade: C+