A Look Back: Fall 2009's Taiwanese Dramas
Now that the three Taiwanese dramas I highlighted in A Look at Fall 2009's Taiwanese Dramas are nearing their conclusions or have already ended, I'd like to weigh back in on how they turned out.
WARNING: May contain spoilers for Autumn's Concerto.First up, Autumn's Concerto. Most of what I said about Autumn's Concerto - both its strengths and weaknesses - still holds true a few episodes away from its finale. Its strengths are giddy, unabashed romance, excellent acting, and good character development, and its weaknesses are pace and plot. Had Autumn's Concerto been 12 episodes, it would have been a nearly perfect drama. Unfortunately, its plot is stretched out to 20 episodes, and there just isn't enough that happens plot-wise to justify such length. The drama rides on two central tensions - the separation of Mu Cheng and Guang Xi, his subsequent amnesia, and his inability to forgive her after he does remember her. The first of these is stretched out far too long - Guang Xi doesn't remember Mu Cheng until almost two-thirds of the way through the drama - and the result is that we get the traditional (but still highly disappointing, especially in a drama of this calibre) mid-drama slump. The first six or so episodes covering Mu Cheng and Guang Xi's first meeting/original love story were absolutely fantastic and riveting, and even the episodes which immediately followed and set up the characters' lives after the time jump were necessary, if not quite as satisfying. But the drama meanders between around episodes 9 and 13, stretching out over five episodes what could have fit into two. It does pick up speed again however when the second avenue of tension and angst finally kicks in (his anger at her), and things have been looking upward ever since. AC, overall, is one of the best Taiwanese dramas I've seen - such a perfect fairytale grounded in such resonant emotions and the ever-fizzing chemistry between Wu and An - and perhaps unfairly, this is why I am so frustrated over its slump in the middle - something which almost inevitably dogs Taiwanese dramas in particular but which I had hoped that AC, in particular, would overcome. Having said that, Autumn's Concerto is well worth the watch - even its music is amazing, particularly Ding Dang's ethereally lovely opening song for each episode (listen here and wait for the chorus). I continue to highly recommend it (and its ratings support me; it's been easily dominating for almost its entire run). And now, Momo Love. Oh, Momo Love. How you broke my heart. I love Jiro Wang and I love Cyndi Wang - let's just get that out of the way as soon as possible. And I liked the sound of the plot - guy falls in love with girl who lives a virtually imprisoned life under the watchful eye of four highly overprotective brothers. On the other hand, there was also a possibility for this particular plot to go highly over the top (it's based on a popular manga). So I began Momo Love without sky-high expectations but certainly with the expectation that I would enjoy it. And I did enjoy it - in the first 6 or so episodes, Momo Love was a rather lovely little affair, certainly not groundbreaking or epic but often amusing and featuring a love story which won me over with its delicacy and wistfulness. Cyndi Wang's character in particular was spot-on in her portrayal of a rather sheltered, innocent young girl caught in the throes of heady, burgeoning first love and its attendant emotions (heartbreak, rejection, joy). Jiro and Cyndi, moreover, had an ephemeral, adolescent but ever-present chemistry which really helped ground some of the drama's more over-the-top moments (which it did indeed have many of). Unfortunately, the storyline with her brothers was rather frentically exhausting and over the top, and only by dint of much fast-forwarding was I able to get through most of it. As episodes 7-9 came around, however, I grew increasingly impatient with the drama, with its unevenness, its awkward juxtaposition of family story and romance/brothers versus boyfriend, and its continued over-the-top elements. I wanted it to settle down and start making sense. Alas, it was not to be, and I can't say I was even particularly surprised when the drama threw in the glove entirely in episode 9 (with that ridiculous trip to the woods and its attendant random! ghost and random! shooter) and just completely stopped making sense. If unities existed for Asian dramas (time, place, action, etc.) Momo Love would break all of them, and what it certainly did break is any narrative logic or flow it had built up until that point. Suspension of disbelief only works so far,and Momo Love just stopped even trying to be believable. I am tempted to blame most of this on the manga, which I assume they are following rather closely (I can't imagine anyone in their right minds actually writing this mess), but this only makes me wonder if this wouldn't have been a rather excellent drama if they'd just taken the promising basic premise and then written their own story. It's a pity, because Momo Love had a lot going for it - excellent leads with good chemistry, visuals and music which gave perfect (undeserved) dimension to its fairy-tale-ish atmosphere, and a decent concept. But I haven't seen such a waste of talent and production effort since Take Care of the Young Lady. And it appears that most of Taiwan agrees with me as its ratings (not outstanding to begin with) fell and fell over the course of the drama and it ended on January 10th with a miserable 1.0 average in ratings. Finally, Hi My Sweetheart. Oh dear. Do I even need to talk about Hi My Sweetheart? They finally gave Rainie Yang a role in which she was not strenuously cutesy and bubbly and over the top (her lovely role in the excellent ToGetHer finally expanded a bit on her range) - and then they gave her a strenuously cute, bubbly, over the top male lead!!! I love Show Luo and Rainie Yang even more than I love Jiro Wang and Cyndi Wang, but their considerable talents , not to mention the charm, screen presence, and chemistry they possess in abundance, were even more wasted than Jiro's and Cyndi's. Increase Momo Love's dismaying over-the-top characteristics by about 20% and you have Hi My Sweetheart. My hope in the earlier post was that as the drama progressed it would settle down and get more serious and allow its leads to really work with what they've got. Having grown quickly tired of the drama's ridiculousness in its first three episodes, I pinned my hopes on the time when Da Lang (Show's character) returns as a hunk. To my dismay, however, I discovered that when he did, they hadn't let Da Lang thoroughly grow up and that in many ways he'd only changed externally. Whenever he and Bao Zhu (Rainie's character) were onscreen together, he and the show would return to the ridiculous inner monologues/cartoon scenarios of the story's beginning. This has very gradually decreased over time, so that things are actually on the whole quite pleasingly adult and angsty from around episode 11 on - but it comes far too late to save the drama on the whole. I can really only recommend the last few episodes of Hi My Sweetheart, in which the two leads begin to have adult confrontations, conversations, and reactions and the drama finally allows Da Lang to grow up almost completely. Some of my favorite scenes include ones in which Hsueh Hai tells Bao Zhu, not in anger or pain, but with quiet determination and certainty, that the Da Lang she knew is gone forever and she needs to let him go (because he has become Hsueh Hai). The drama wrapped two days ago with ratings which were much higher than Momo Love but still far below ratings giant Autumn's Concerto, and I would say that for once ratings for all three of these dramas have proved to be a fairly accurate gauge of their quality. The only thing this drama has left me with is a burning desire for Show to stop taking on comedic roles and do something more along the lines of his gangster character in The Outsiders 2 . He's shown he can take on more serious dramatic roles - so why doesn't he? All in all, the fall 2009 batch of Taiwanese dramas was a rather bleak one for me (of the ones which I attempted), which leaves me looking forward to Summer's Desire, Down with Love, and Extravagant Challenge all the more!