It’s hard to imagine I’d managed to avoid the cdrama bug until now. Though I speak Mandarin and Cantonese, albeit in broken form, I’d had very little interest in cdramas. Superior perhaps for its wuxia or historicals, where action packed fighting sequences reign supreme, but alas, its contemporary counterparts felt cheesy and overly dramatic. Or so I thought.
Until… the day my twin came across a cdrama that caught her eye while flipping through channels after a tiring day scouring the sights of Beijing. Except for Boss and Me where the swoon-worthy Darcy-like Feng Teng held my interest, I had stayed away. But when Park Hae Jin gleamed across the small screen looking dreamy and ever so handsome, that was enough to make me sit up and pay attention.
“That’s the Korean dude from My Love From Another Star!” I exclaimed from my sitting position on the bed. A quick yahoo search later confirmed that yes, this was Park Hae Jin in his cdrama Far Away Love which was filmed in 2013 but aired in 2016.
So here begins the birth of my sustained interest in cdramas.
Perhaps, cdramas are slowly emerging as a legit contender in the saturated Asian drama world. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Korean drama craze in China is forcing the Mainland studios to step up their game and copy the same successful formulae that won drooling fans all over China and overseas.
So, here’s a brief look at the three cdramas I completed in recent months.
Far Away Love
On the surface this is a classic rich man poor girl story (which I happen to enjoy). Cliche maybe but what distinguishes a masterpiece from a dud is how the trope is constructed. And staple among this trope is the bickering between the OTP. And this one is no different. Heated arguments, hate at first sight run-ins dominate the first few episodes.
Shen An is the handsome, haughty heir to Shen Food Empire with a troubled past. The female protagonist, Meng Chu Xia, is a kind, but not so elegant single mother raising her nephew while struggling to keep a job.
The story did not start out well for me. The OTP moments to build up that tension energy felt too unrealistic for the practical me. Stolen bike incident, oh well, I’ll let that one go. The mistaken mistress scene, ok, I can believe that. But when Chu Xia tried to cover up the ripped jacket with a bedsheet and thinks she can get away with it, I was like “Really? Are you serious?”
But the story grew on me from there. The comradeship between Chu Xia and her best friend, Ruo Nan (my favorite character on this show) touches me immensely. In the midst of the cartoony beginning, this friendship gives the show a human touch, that love and selflessness conquers all.
And it wouldn’t be a melodrama without the evil mother dishing out her commands to the sidekick with a conscience, a triangle love story with a deserving second male lead, a spoiled brat drama queen in sheep’s clothing and your usual dose of bffs that give the show its layers and added richness.
Unlike many cinderella stories, where the girl falls for the handsome prince almost from the start, Chu Xia only learns to love Shen An after she gets to know him and sees his innate goodness. The feminist in us may protest at the way Shen An stalks after Chu Xia and tricks her into marriage. But let’s face it, it’s fiction and not real life. The chemistry between Park Hae Jin and Li Fei Er is an added bonus. Despite the language barrier, their scenes together are well acted and they look very comfortable with each other. She’s pretty and cute with the ‘girl next door’ appeal which makes her character believable.
Despite the almost silly beginning, I was pleasantly surprised with the middle arc and throughout most of the 34 episodes. I could do away with the revenge trope in the last quarter of the show but then again, the show needed a closure to bring the past and present together into a neat tidy bow.
Overall, an enjoyable romantic melo with emotional depth and grit akin to old school kdramas. (8/10)
A Mobile Love Story
I decided to check this one out based on a tweet that came across my feeds. After two promising cdramas, I was ready to give another one a look. A tale of a love triangle that begins with a text message.
Lu Yun Fei, a US graduate and marketing whiz runs a successful advertising agency. Left at the altar by the love of his life, Su Fei, he smothers his loneliness into his work and is known as a mean boss to his employees. Mu Bei Bei is the new graduate in advertising and through her good friend, Lili, snagged a position as an apprentice at Lu’s company. Unbeknownst to both, Bei Bei is the other woman at the end of their digital relationship. The relationship arc gets complicated in the form of Lin Li Zhong, a good-hearted Singaporean businessman looking to free himself from his parents’ clutch. Through a mix up, Lin was introduced to Bei Bei, fell in love and moved to Shanghai to pursue her.
As a 2008 drama, the show is understandably dated and the melo is comparable to kdrama makjangs. You have all the classic melo tropes intertwined in one complicated relationship story: bitchy, revengeful best friend turn adversary, noble idiocy, terminal illness, missed coincidences, and constant misunderstandings.
As a makjang-type drama, the premise of the story is not that farfetched. What makes it less believable for me is the acting of the lead actress, Han Xue. She failed to make me believe in her pain, her struggles or even her happiness. Her character maybe a Mother Theresa but where’s the emotion? When her best friend betrays her over and over again, she’s got the same wooden expression. Bei Bei wants to project a modern, confident woman and yet she keeps accepting Lin’s help and sending him mixed signals. Luo Shan Shan did a great job making viewers hate her character and Su Fei is perhaps the saddest character of the drama. I find the chemistry between Yvonne Lim and Wallace Huo more compelling than that of the main OTP.
I’m pleasantly surprised I finished the drama. I think Wallace Huo did enough to keep me glued with his portrayal of a man plagued with tremendous sadness. But in the end, manufactured angst trumps substance on this one. (6/10)
This drama is definitely a departure from its competition. No, it is far from perfect. It is just different but refreshingly so. Yes, just like many other dramas, you have your charming, adorable, good looking leads but all other similarities stop there.
Xiao Nai is the perfect young man with utterly no flaws. He’s every campus girl’s dream boyfriend: good looks, smart, athletic, principled, and he’s no pauper either. And though Bei Wei Wei is also singularly beautiful, she’s not your typical wallflower. What’s not to like about a beautiful, intelligent female character that can compete among the best testosterone plagued, over confident gamers in Internet land. And she is also no slouch when it comes to the male dominated, geeky computer science types and is capable of swapping out a faulty motherboard!
I gotta admit I’m not a gamer so the online role playing stuff did bore me a bit but it is central to the story. Technically Xiao Nai and Wei Wei did not meet in the virtual world; it is her prowess at gaming that caught his eye whereas Wei Wei already had a crush on the campus heartthrob before the reveal.
What I appreciate about this drama is its simplicity. There is no head banging, tiresome birth secrets, backstabbing, evil in-laws etc. The plots are ordinary to a fault.
Xiao Nai and Wei Wei are completely honest with each other. Except in the beginning when Xiao Nai stalked Wei Wei until the big reveal, he has never been shy about expressing his desires and being open about how much he loves and cares for her. Some of his actions may come across as patronizing but he delivers them in such non-patronizing ways with twinkles in his eyes and sincerity in his voice that conveys to her that all he wants is to protect her.
The bitchiest character of the entire show may be Yao Yao and her groupies but thank goodness the show is 80% sweetness and 20% villainous.
My absolute favourite moment is when Wei Wei PK Yao Yao and her meanies at the guild meetup! And I was cheering with my pom pom when Xiao Nai walked up and escorted Wei Wei to his car amidst all the hateful stares.
Of course, the show isn’t complete without its complement of sidekicks. Xiao Nai’s trio of buddies is endearingly funny and without them the show would be like a bright cloudless night without the stars. Wei Wei’s girlfriends are less prominent except for Er Yi but to be honest, I’m not a fan of the bubbly but naive Er Yi. Her acting reminds me of what I didn’t like of cdramas, a tad on the cheesy side.
The production is not as polished as it could be. There are some choppy scenes where one minute the characters are starting a meal and in the next frame the same characters are walking away. It feels very abrupt. Another minor complaint is the monologues and extended online conversations which require the actors to act out those thoughts. In the hands of some actors, those scenes feel contrived and unnatural.
But, on the whole the good outweighs the bad by a whopping mile. If you want an effortless, stress free and soothing love story, search no further than Love 020. (8/10)