One of the many things I love about Asian dramas is that they tend to produce strong emotions - love, hate, or something very close to one or other of those spectrums are the emotions generally produced. Indifference is rare. It's in the nature of the medium - dramas are just long enough (much longer than a film) to produce some strong emotion or another, without being so long as to produce relative indifference to any one season, as is the case with most TV shows. Therefore, when I find a drama I am indifferent to, or which fails to emotionally connect with me, yet has no glaring flaws, I am inclined to analyze why. A drama which has recently produced this reaction is Taiwanese drama Calling for Love
Calling for Love
stars Mike He and Charlene Choi, and is about a popular actor/superstar named Bo Ye (Mike He) who is hiding a dark secret from the rest of the world: he's almost penniless due to paying off the debts of his friends and manager and putting his sister through school. At night, instead of the fancy hotel his driver drops him off at every night, he sneaks off to the tiny house he shares with his manager. When his sister gets into a prestigious art school in France, Bo Ye is desperate to find enough money to pay her way, and when he wins the lottery, all his problems seem to be over. Unfortunately, he loses the ticket to Chen De Xing (Charlene Choi), a taxi driver who's in Taipei looking for the father who abandoned her as a kid.
I really, really wanted to like this drama - I love Mike He and the concept seemed cute and light. And I did like the first episode. But it had certain problems which I hoped would be fixed in the second episode and frankly weren't. I thought a lot about what is missing in Calling for Love
for me - is it the pace, the acting or chemistry, the directing...and finally I decided that, in large part, it's the directing, as well as the plot. Calling for Love
has a great concept - famous star falls for poor girl from Hong Kong who's in Taiwan working as a taxi driver in order to find the father whom she's never met - but that concept, so ripe with dramatic possibility and angst and romantic tension, is poorly executed and very much diluted. The plot meanders - the first two episodes could have been crammed into the first and made for a much funnier, snappier, more entertaining ride. Too much time is spent with uninteresting secondary characters like Mike He's two sidekicks and the secondary girl, who is played by one of my least favorite actresses of all time (I call her the charisma-sucker: when she's onscreen, everything and everyone seems flat). The lottery ticket plot is nonsensical from almost the beginning and makes less and less sense as it goes along - at first the lengths Mike and his friends were willing to go to get the lottery ticket back made sense, but after a while it just became ridiculous - no one in their right mind would believe that De Xing had the ticket and yet hadn't turned it in yet. Everything felt very forced.
I've watched far worse dramas because the main couple worked for me - Love Storm
springs to mind - but while I do love the main couple, I have to say they're not really giving me that spark of magic either. Calling for Love
reminds me of two dramas - Wish To See You Again
and Momo Love
(the latter of which I've discussed on this blog
before). What those two dramas had in common, which Calling for Love
also has, is that it's very low-key. Aside from random frenetic moments like the bank robbery, it's a very very low-key drama - no one's life is in danger, no one has any deep deep emotional issues thus far (De Xing's search for her father is compelling but not enough to ground the entire drama). Charlene Choi's charcter isn't even in the kind of poverty that forces her to work really hard - her job as a taxi driver is shown as something that she enjoys and is good at. More even than this however, both of the main characters have relatively low-key personalities - De Xing especially is very even-tempered and low-maintenance on the whole, and Mike just seems subdued most of the time.
De Xing in this reminds me very much of Michelle Chen's character in Wish to See You Again
- both are calm, capable types on the whole - and I do like this, it's a nice change from the shrill . But WTSYA
worked because the other half of the lead couple, Vic Zhou's character, had an extreme personality - he was deeply eccentric which fueled both the romantic sparks and the angsty misunderstandings between he and Michelle Chen. And that is what Calling for Love
is lacking - Mike He's character is very normal overall, quite well emotionally adjusted, if occasionally a bit impulsive and quick-tempered. And so most of the time when he and Charlene are onscreen together I don't see why they can't just work out their difficulties - I don't have sufficient reason to believe in the way Mike He's character acts in particular. Even Momo Love
worked better on the romance level because Jiro Wang and Cyndi Wang had amazing chemistry and because the drama gave a lovely dreamy wistfulness to all their interactions(the cinematography was amazing).
But Calling for Love
doesn't have that touch, and where Mike He could make up for all of this by being his usual forceful charming charismatic self, they've toned his usual character and natural personality way down in this drama. Obviously I don't think that Mike He should always have to play a variant of his Devil Beside You
and Why Why Love
characters or do I?
, but at the same time, there's a reason he was so popular in those dramas - because that's what he's best at, portraying a playful, domineering badboy with a heart of gold. He has amazing comic timing paired with good dramatic skills. Unfortunately, this drama is utilizing neither, and isn't even allowing his natural charisma to show. It makes sense that his character is subdued to some extent, given that he's heavily in debt, but with no other outstanding personality characteristics, I have nothing to hold on to, and no reason to care. And frankly I don't want to watch a rather uninteresting person whose life is a mess and who can't do anything about it - I can get that in real life.
There was only one moment in the drama thus far that stands out to me as a moment I really emotionally connected with that drama - when De Xing tells Bo Ye (Mike's character) about her father, and for a moment there's genuine emotional depth and a romantic connection between the two. That was good stuff. But drama cannot survive on one scene alone, and I just don't have the patience for an underperforming drama when there are so many better ones out there.
Calling for Love
is not a bad drama. It's even fairly charming in its own low-key way. But a cast of talented actors seems wasted in a drama that can best be described as inoffensive. Currently airing, it will end at the end of this month, and its low ratings seem to bear out my own general lack of interest.