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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today I randomly played a Zhong Wuyan (鍾無艷) scene because I felt like revisiting the 2010 TW-drama’s oh-so memorable OST, and miraculously chanced upon an instrumental whose source I had been trying to recall for years. I was pretty emotional to say the least, and from here I rediscovered the song behind the instrumental that pops into my head every once in a blue moon. Figured I’d share it here just so that I don’t lose it again, if you know what I mean.
In truth, Zhong Wuyan is not a drama I’d typically recommend to anyone; the narrative was drawn out far too long for its own good, yet even so, after all these years I only look back on it fondly. I think it’s because if you dig deeper into the story, it becomes evident that the show is characteristically unconventional for an idol drama—everyone, bar none, is broken in some way or another. No one’s dysfunctional per se, but Ming Dao has daddy issues, Cheryl Yang‘s got image and self-esteem issues, and the second leads, whether amiable or antagonistic, are no exception to this brokenness. Chris Wu lives alone in blind darkness, and Jenna Wang‘s inferiority complex puts the leading lady’s to shame. The vulnerability is very, very real. It says a lot about the writing when you’re able to sympathize with every single character, because their motives and actions aren’t dictated by the hand of a caricature but that of a true-to-life human being—because you can see where they’ve come from, and why that makes them do what they do now. Happiness is not a word I’d ever associate with this drama (not in the immediate sense, anyway), but I think there was beauty in the way these characters addressed their problems; it was sad, flawed, but very much human.
Queenie Lin – “Countdown (倒數)”
And so another issue gets added to my neverending S-POP 華流 collection, marking exactly two years since I got my very first S-POP magazine, August 2013’s Issue No. 8 (which is in fact my favorite to date!). This month, the spotlight’s on Jasper Liu and Mandy Wei, the leads of Sunday SETTV drama When I See You Again (他看她的第2眼). Jasper’s a charming fella, and Mandy… I just really, really like her. She doesn’t seem to be as warmly received by the English-speaking drama community, but personally I find her acting natural and personality refreshing. Mandy once remarked that she regrets debuting with a sexy concept, and I agree with that in a general sense (if as a newcomer you come across too fierce, you risk alienating your fans), but also with respect to her as an individual. Her physique may be smokin’ hot, while her nature is anything but—cute and bubbly girl-next-door is a better fit, which is exactly why she’s kept her hair short IRL ever since doing I Do² (再說一次我願意).
As for the drama itself, When I See You Again has been consistently good for the past twelve weeks, which in context is pretty amazing because SETTV’s crappy Sunday drama streak of three years may finally be coming to an end. I assumed When I See You Again‘s timeslot predecessor Someone Like You (聽見幸福) was an outlier that probably wouldn’t follow through with future Sunday dramas, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m being proven wrong and the magic is working! I haven’t seen Episode 13 yet, but Episode 12 was D’OMG ASDFGHJKL; so emotionally on point and could not be more perfect—I might’ve even shed a tear or two. The narrative buildup has been oh so wonderfully paced thus far, and seeing a critical part of that tension unravel itself in last week’s episode was an absolutely rewarding experience. Many SETTV dramas are devoid of substance, but with When I See You Again I at least don’t feel like I’m being fed with filler. The past is such an integral part to this story, and the seamlessly-integrated flashbacks do it justice without coming off as pointless or contrived. Nearly every scene serves some kind of purpose in fleshing out our characters, their backstories, their interpersonal dynamics, and what-have-yous. It’s the good kind of fluff, because everything feels organic. Rather than being bluntly characterized, everyone in the drama is empathetically relatable on some level, from An Xi’s chirpily over-the-top colleagues (yes, even you, flirtatious Zhilin!) to supporting characters with an antagonistic edge, such as Jiang Haikuo, Hu Yanze, and even Hu Yongqing. With several weeks to go, there is still the possibility that things will go awry, but I sincerely hope this drama will do well for the remainder of its run.