Remembering Godfrey Gao

He would have been 36 today.

I remember how shaken I felt when I heard the news less than a year ago. It felt so unreal, and so unfair. I still feel a wistful pang when I recall his memory, knowing he was taken far too early. He had so much more to be here on Earth.

I believe it was the 2007 TW-drama I Want to Become a Hard Persimmon (我要變成硬柿子) where I first laid eyes on him. If I recall correctly, his Mandarin wasn’t too great back then, but it was part of his charm, what with his soft-spoken personality. Down the rabbit hole I went: frequently perusing this Tumblr fanpage, lingering on his every gaze in the 2012 C-drama The Queen of SOP (勝女的代價), and forcing myself through the atrocious 2013 film The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones in aggravatingly low resolution for what felt like only a few minutes of Godfrey screentime. I think I was more enamored with the type of person he was offscreen, rather than the characters he portrayed.

But then came the 2013 C-webseries Never Give Up, Dodo (錢多多煉愛記), which solidified my love for him as an actor. I’ve written at length on the show in years past so I won’t delve any further, beyond this: farcical, hilarious, bursting at the seams with so much heart on what it means to be a silly young couple on their way to the altar. I had never seen anything so simultaneously crude yet wholesome, and I will love Godfrey forever for letting me experience such a brilliant tongue-in-cheek story in full bloom. It is a shame that he ran out of time to experience such a marriage in his own life. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch any of his posthumous works, but I’m sure he approached every single one with a hardworking, professional attitude as we all knew him to have.

In my early days of discovering Godfrey, I came across one of his English-language interviews on YouTube. Hearing him speak in such a humble, gentle manner was so refreshing, like music to my ears. He was so inexplicably soft and sweet, different from the usual celebrity vibe. And granted, he was still a relative newcomer at the time, but I think he continued to carry that kind of humility in himself throughout his entire career.

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Mr. Fighting (加油,你是最棒的), a ramble

“Fight on, you’re the best.” It’s such a deceptively simple phrase that carries so much weight, but used too often, loses its potency. So, what is it? Empty words of encouragement? A beacon of light at the end of the tunnel? That’s what this show is. Deceptively simple, yet hauntingly beautiful. It’s been a few months since I finished Mr. Fighting (加油,你是最棒的), yet it still resurfaces in my mind from time to time in ripples of introspection.

Hao Zeyu (Deng Lun) is a has-been who debuted through a talent show. He’s been struggling for ten years to make it as an actor, when one day his manager from day one, whom he sees as a mother figure, disappears into thin air and his contract is transferred to someone else. And so his journey begins with his new assistant Fuzi (Sandra Ma), manager Niu Meili (Ni Hongjie), and chauffeur Laofu (Han Tongsheng). His new family.

But he’s already ten years in; he’s already burnt out. He’s not a wide-eyed rookie any longer, yet he keeps taking the brunt of these blows because he has a dream and, now, a new purpose—this family. With each fall, however, it becomes harder to get back up. It’s difficult to muster the courage to try again when you’ve simply failed so many times, too many times even. It’s demoralizing and crippling, but he fights on, begrudgingly so, and a piece of himself gets chipped away each and every time.

What’s brutally realistic is that there is no big baddie that we can pin the blame on for the obstruction of his success. Everyone has their own agenda—neither good nor bad necessarily—and reasons for doing what they do, to fit their own version of the “big picture.” Mr. Fighting is a bleak portrayal of what it means to strive for a seemingly unattainable goal, amidst everyone else’s big pictures. Becoming a mainstream actor in a sea of talent is no easy feat, even if you are a pretty face. One step forward, ten steps back. The struggle is eternal: to keep fighting, feels futile.

And just when it seems that things couldn’t get any worse, he’s met with another roadblock in his journey. Personal success and self-fulfillment are so incredibly important; everyone has a right to pursue their dreams and soar to greater heights. But loyalty… family… love… must it be sacrificed in the process? Are they mutually exclusive with success? Is jumping ship equivalent to burning a bridge, to betrayal? Or is open communication all it takes to let go and move on? But even then, what are you sacrificing? Can you really preserve that palpable affinity with a constructed sense of family, even when you’re not physically there to maintain it? This show explores these questions, this dichotomy.

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academics: of periods, semi-colons, and question marks

Today was my last day at the longest job I’ve ever held. 15 months. Rather short, I know, even by college student standards. Still, it was a defining experience. On my last day, I was by chance assigned the busiest task in my job description (it all depends on the timing of the employee’s entrance alongside the inflow of students)—tutoring multiple students simultaneously at the main instruction table. Two such students toward the latter end of my shift were fantastic kids I don’t always get to work with: a high school girl wise beyond her years, as well as my favorite student, an amiable middle school boy with a complaisant disposition. The girl: a higher-level math student, she asked me a conceptual question regarding a calculus problem from school, unrelated to what we were working on. I told her I’d have to see the problem to give her a definitive answer, and she responded that she’d be sure to bring it in next time—and my heart sank a little. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that this was the last time she’d see me. She reminds me of a far better version of myself, with much greater academic prowess than I could ever achieve. I have no doubt that she will find success in whatever she chooses to do. The boy: he’s a little shy, a little soft-spoken, but not afraid to ask a question when he has one. Of all ~100 students I’ve ever tutored over the course of these 15 months, he’s the one who listens the most closely when I talk. He isn’t the brightest of the kids I’ve taught—just average, and if I recall correctly my boss has once criticized his performance, even if he’s a few years ahead of his grade in math level. But he listens when I talk, he’s genuinely interested in what I have to say, he’s perpetually present-minded and there to learn. And it’s none of that over-the-top, almost contrived, fervent desire for knowledge—it’s a quiet energy I very rarely see in anyone, much less the students I tutor. It was fateful that on my very last day I was assigned to the main instruction table, that these two were sent my way, and then some. I’ve never had any particular attachment to this job, but today, the way everything pieced together in such a comprehensive fashion struck a strong emotional chord. It felt so conclusive, like the period that marks the end of a sentence. Yet it also spoke of a new beginning, like a semi-colon; one, that I’m moving from one stage of life to another, and two, a deep reflection in this transition.

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Les Interprètes (親愛的翻譯官): Musings

It’s been two days since I finished Les Interprètes (親愛的翻譯官) and my heart still aches when it crosses my mind. I’ve had some time to collect my thoughts, and I’ve come to the conclusion that what bothers me the most is that the leads are two very smart people who get caught up in very stupid problems and as a result make very stupid decisions. Yes, my frustration has little to do with how the second half of the show went off into delululand, and everything to do with how the lead characters didn’t live up to their potential. Not even my expectations. Their own damn potential. Cheng Jiayang (Huang Xuan) and Qiao Fei (Yang Mi) are sharp. Really, really sharp. There’s nothing more fulfilling than watching two incredibly talented and intelligent people hurl verbal knives at each other and proceed to fall in love with each other’s wit and spunk. They could’ve been the quintessential power couple, if not for all that good stuff in the way: evil mother, scheming second leads, illness, you name it. We are all familiar with the way the cookie crumbles—indeed, everything goes downhill from here.

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Les Interprètes was, at the outset, very much reminiscent of my favorite 2015 C-drama Grow Up (長大), except instead of the medical field it is set in the world of professional interpretation. Jiayang is to Zhou Ming (Lu Yi) as Qiao Fei is to Ye Chunmeng (Bai Baihe)—I-take-none-of-your-sh*t mentor meets I-take-none-of-yours-either mentee, arguments arise, sparks fly, love happens, tragedy strikes.

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My Amazing Boyfriend (我的奇妙男友): Little Things

So, I finally finished the C-drama My Amazing Boyfriend (我的奇妙男友) after stopping halfway through and sitting on it for quite some time. I’m not really even sure why I chose to watch it in the first place, especially after seeing its super spoilery (though very entertaining) long preview prior to the drama’s premiere. To no one’s surprise, My Amazing Boyfriend is indeed the fun and silly little drama the trailer made it out to be, but I’d only recommend this for those who have nothing better to watch. Which, of course, is a moot point since there’s always something better to watch. Don’t settle, friends. Anyway, that being said, My Amazing Boyfriend‘s not a terrible drama by any means, and the reason I’m even writing about it right now is that there are, despite all odds, a few things I loved or thought were worth pointing out.

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SEVEN THOUGHTS, TIDBITS, & THINGS (in no particular order):

1. Prior to broadcast, there was much speculation over My Amazing Boyfriend being a cheap knockoff of You From Another Star (별에서 온 그대) due to the various similarities in story elements, namely the kooky A-list actress leading lady, the supernatural not-so-human male lead, as well as their embroilment in a cartoonish villain’s evil plot. From the first few minutes of the trailer I too assumed it was perhaps an intentionally poor remake, but I quickly realized that aside from (rather broad strokes of) similarity in setup, My Amazing Boyfriend has by far a color of its own and a very different story to be told.

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Love @ Seventeen (我和我的十七歲): Musings

EBC (東森電視, previously known as ETTV) always does this; that is, present their dramas in the form of what feels like vignetted montages rather than in free flow, streamlined, raw, and unfiltered—choosing to withhold rather than to provide. I first noticed this style of pace with Marry Me or Not? (必娶女人), and sure enough, it carried into Love @ Seventeen (我和我的十七歲) as well. Everything is either too slow or too abrupt; individual frames are edited to slow motion, but frames pieced together creates the effect of jumping from one place to the next—as in, you can see the linear progression of events, just not necessarily the progress itself in the level of depth you’d like. And I let this slide during the teenage portion of the drama since I understood that the focal point of the show is not what happens to them as kids but rather how this changes their dynamic as adults. Yet fast forward thirteen years—and everything is still presented like a montage. Artful, yes, but also stilted. I love this drama, I really do. I really do love everything from the writing and acting to the cinematography and camerawork, but I remain undecided about the editing. This isn’t a superficial rom-com. Why choose to withhold the details and nuances of an experience, when there is so much meat to work with in the foundation? Tell me more about the Alice (Nikki Hsieh) who once laughed but laughs no longer. Tell me more about Peter (Edison Wang) who stayed by her side all these years as he, too, underwent an emotional transformation. Tell me more about He Haoyi (Lego Lee) who abandoned her unwittingly, whose—in his own words—”timing is more ruthless than time,” who paid the price of thirteen years only to see her again as a stiff, robotic workaholic, no longer the sunshine girl of their youth. But by the sixth episode, in an abrupt fashion, thirty-year-old Alice becomes seventeen again, in heart and soul (and most importantly, memory). It’s neither a spoiler nor a shock as this was always a part of the synopsis, but I can’t help but have my reservations as to how unnaturally this occurred—both in the events leading up to the incident and the execution of the incident itself. It’s all a montage. It’s saying, “This happens, this happens, then this happens. You get the gist.” Where’s the transition? Where’s the growth? It’s too bad the editing is frustrating, but it’s also too bad that I love this drama too much to care.

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