Bipolar Dramas: Love Storm
Dramas that switch theme or romantic storyline halfway through are an unfortunate but fascinating reality of the Asian drama world. This is the first in a series of posts highlighting dramas that fall in this category (to follow: Tsuki no Koibito and Baker King Kim Tak Gu). The first one I want to look at is Taiwanese drama Love Storm.First let me say that I actually enjoyed Love Storm. Granted, I watched it as a drama newbie, with far fewer dramas under my belt and a great deal more patience, but I found it very fun to watch. However, even then I knew that Love Storm is not a good drama at all. It was then and still is the most bipolar drama I've ever seen, with a storyline that switches theme, tone, style, almost everything possible, about halfway through and never returns to the initial tone or premise. Love Storm stars singer-turned-actress Vivian Hsu and Vic Zhou in his follow-up to the phenomenally popular Meteor Garden. (Vic Zhou's career in my opinion can be divided into two categories: pre-Mars and post-Mars, and Love Storm unfortunately falls in the previous category). This isn't a drama review per se, more of a focused look at one of Love Storm's particular traits, but I'll try to convey my overall impressions of the drama as I go along. For the first 9 episodes or so, the drama is essentially a Taiwanese version of Bridget Jones's Diary/Legally Blonde. The heroine Jia Le (Vivian Hsu) is a ditzy, well-meaning, shallow rich girl with a propensity for cute things and a wardrobe that consists almost entirely of pink. . She has a trio of loyal girlfriends and a childhood friend who's in love with her, and falls for Ling Feng (Vic Zhou), a mysterious man who saves her life on the road one day. The first half is mostly bubbly, fluffy, light romantic comedy (I've never seen so much pink floating around in any other film or television series ever), and succeeds at being very funny at times. Unfortunately, it is also completely ridiculous and nonsensical, almost purposefully so as it follows the trials, travails, and interactions of five young people with their oh-so-serious problems. The plot is almost invariably cheesy, and the production values are bad (though to be fair this is par for the course for dramas of that period). Also, the fact that drama took the attractive Vivian Hsu and dressed her like a doll complete with bangs and hair clips for nine-tenths of the drama is one of the more egregious points I chalk up to its offense. Nevertheless, there are several cute scenes/moments among all the fluff and randomness - Jia Le's childhood friend singing to her to cheer her up, Ling Feng talking about pushing people away with a boy he's befriended and it becoming apparent he’s talking about himself, the girlfriends appearing underneath Jia Le's window to support her. Love Storm, while rarely good, is at its best when it doesn't take itself too seriously. Then, about halfway through, the drama stops, takes a look around at the rom-com territory that it's in, decides that this isn't actually where it wants to be, and switches over into Serious Gangster Drama territory. Say goodbye to the love story, the endearing friendships, and the pink motif, and say hello to the mafia, kidnapping, betrayal, and a little blood-spilling. After so many episodes of light, occasionally tongue-in-cheek comedy, the whiplash engendered by this is enough to give anyone a headache, and I watched with a bewilderment that never quite faded as the drama hurtled forward determinedly into dark gangster mode. The love story becomes less about a shallow but kind-hearted girl falling in love with a emotionally distant man and more about two people trying desperately to stay alive and stay together in the face of violence. To say more, particularly for this drama, would be spoilery, but suffice to say that this darker, second half of the drama is both more and less successful than the first. More successful in that there's greater emotional depth and plot complexity, but less in that the new focus is ultimately unconvincing, because you simply can't build a convincing action/mob drama on a first half that consists of romantic comedy. Love Storm tries to combine two very different genres – the fluffy rom-com and the dark mobster drama ala The Outsiders – and its success, as a result, is sporadic at best. Each separate half of the drama, while flawed, had some promise, but the juxtaposition of the two only threw into relief the failures of an already problematic drama. I give you two quotes to further illustrate the bipolarity of this drama:
“What’s so wrong with being a Barbie doll?” (from the "fluff" half of the drama, and yes, this is literally a quote from the heroine in defense of herself) and
“Living with sorrows isn’t wrong. Living and being ashamed of your decisions is" (from the more serious side).
I did perversely enjoy Love Storm, and must point out that it did have a surprising thread of poetic metaphor running through it. Ling Feng's loneliness and orphan background is portrayed through his connection to the sea in a way that was really quite brilliant and occasionally magical, and which pointed at what the drama could have been. Ultimately, however, I've never seen such an odd and awkward mix of themes and elements. Love Storm suffers from a severe case of identity crisis, and falls in the so-bad-it's-almost-good category as a result.