Thursday, August 11, 2011

thoughts: Hanazakarino Kimitachie (Taiwanese)

Also known as Hua Yang Xiao Nian Xiao Nu


This article may contain spoilers. For a less detailed summary and thoughts post, please refer to: intro info: Hanazakarino Kimitachie aka Hua Yang Xiao Nian Xia Nu.


There is no doubt in my mind that Hana Kimi is one of my favorite shoujo manga storylines. The idea of a cross-dressing girl hiding herself in a school full of hormone raging males and one gay school doctor is more fun than anyone could possibly take. But nonetheless, I never tire of the story line.

After watching the more recent Japanese version starring Ikuta Toma, Horikita Maki and Oguri Shun -- as well as subsequent television specials, behind the scenes and various interviews -- I was tempted to pick up the Taiwanese version of Hana Kimi. Of course, I hadn't officially done so until I saw a brief interview of the two main male casts, Wu Chun and Jiro Wang, introducing themselves to the cast of the Japanese live action Ikemen Paradise. Few snippets of the series piqued my interest enough for me to immediately track down the series and debate watching it. But as I was in a Japanese drama funk of all things related to Ikuta Toma-sama, it would be quite a while before I even began to watch the Taiwanese version of Hanazakarino Kimitachihe.

To backtrack, I'd always been adverse to watching Taiwanese drama in the specific genre that they like to call "Idol Drama." I've always felt that these were cheesy eye-candy series meant for young teenagers who enjoyed seeing their favorite idols on the television screen try to act. I'd been a prominent viewer of TVB dramas in which I've enjoyed the wonderful acting and storylines of since I could remember in my childhood.

Hana Kimi seems to be my cure all for anything and everything related to those pre-judgements I've made. Hana Kimi got me started in on rapidly inhaling various shoujo manga stories. Hana Kimi introduced me to the possibilities of live action Japanese Dorama. And then Hana Kimi easily hooked me to the wonderful fun that is Taiwanese Idol Dramas. While everyone else may have started their liking of Taiwanese Idol Dramas due to manga adaptation from such series as It Started with a Kiss or Meteor Garden or Devil Beside You, I chose Hana Kimi. In a separate world, while Hana Kimi didn't quite play a role, a series involving a girl disguising herself as a guy also introduced me to possibilites of Korean drama; on another note, a different series involving a girl disguising herself as a guy finally got me hooked onto Korean drama and Korean music.

Life may just become a more colorful place for me as my mind opens up to things I had never before thought to pay attention to.

But enough of my revelations...

What I have to say about the Taiwanese version of Hana Kimi could possibly expand into pages worth of praise, criticism, and fangirl kya-ing galore.

I had always enjoyed the subject of a girl cross dressing as a boy for her own reasons and the guys around her having a hard time because of it. This type of storyline has so much potential to spiral into various interesting plots within plots upon side plots. As cliched as the idea is, I'm so excited that there could be so many possibilities of a crossdressing storyline. After all, in history there has been Mulan, and in present there have been many other less popular, but equally entertaining stories. There is always the suspense of the girl doing what she can to keep her identity a secret and all the embarrassing antics that come across such as changing rooms, bathing and the like that might involve skin exposure. And then there are also the weird feelings and sensations that the boys around her get, not quite understanding why they are feeling that way because they think that she's a boy. And then there is always that first person who finds out her secret, and then the second, and then finally the built up thrill of not knowing when she'll finally be found out and how everyone will react.

Finally, there's that turmoil of our cross dressing heroine falling for one of the guys she either lives with or sees all the time. He either knows she's a girl and is keeping the secret for her without her knowledge, or he doesn't know and so we have some sexual orientation struggles to overcome. Or he knows she's a girl, she knows that he knows she's a girl, and so the two go through a lot of sweet little scenes wherein they slowly fall in love with each other. The formula is rather predictable, but the journey to play out that story line, whichever one is chosen, can be expanded in so many different ways.

The Taiwanese version of Hana Kimi definitely does well to follow the plot of the original manga very well. While some things are out of sequence and certain scenes and details may have been changed to the liking of Taiwanese idol drama producers, there is no way any fan of Hana Kimi couldn't enjoy or even fall in love with this series.

I remember a long time ago when I first heard of this particular series, I wasn't exactly a fan of manga yet and hadn't heard of Hana Kimi. I was a fan of wuxia and watched everything Jin Yong as well as crunched TVB series with an unhealthy bias. But the series was rather popular and talked about by netizens of the Asian drama viewing world and even mentioned in Hong Kong entertainment news. Sadly, the story never appealed to me enough to watch it at the time of it's release. The main male cast were simply "no talent" pretty boys and the girl didn't seem to look right. Also, the idea that the main girl disguised herself as a boy to enter an all boy's school for the sake of seeing the guy of her dreams because he'd given her the motivation to lose a lot of weight seemed overly superficial.

I had absolutely NOT been interested in the storyline at all.

To top off my bias, I was never really that interested in watching anything in a language that I couldn't understand; I especially hate dubbed shows because I feel like it takes out a lot of the intended emotion and acting that the original actor's voice could convey. Dubbers, in my opinion, sometimes tend to go a little overboard.

But my love for Hana Kimi overruled a lot of things. It also helped that I presently have a soft spot in my heart for all things romantic comedy that leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Picking up the Taiwanese version was one of the best things I could have ever done to expand my options as far as television series go for great entertainment. It also helped me improve my conversational Mandarin (which shouldn't have been hard in the first place, but I'd never tried before).

Moving back to the series itself, as I had mentioned already, this particular series, unlike the Japanese version, follows the original manga storyline quite strictly. I especially would love to point out the sweet and cute, sugary relationship between our two favorite main protagonists, Ashiya Mizuki and Sano Izumi, or rather, in a close rough translation to Chinese, Lu Rui Xi and Zuo Yi Quan. Where the Japanese version had been lacking in all of the sweet, romantic moments that made manga readers all over fall in love with the Mizuki/Sano love story, the Taiwanese version does not disappoint at all.

As far as the storyline goes, following so strictly with the original manga storyline would never disappoint me. A few scenes are changed, but are still incorporated rather neatly, although it would have been nice if they had been kept the same as the manga. For instance, parts of the school festival are changed, some of which I would have liked if they kept the original and some that I thought worked out rather well. During the last race of the festival, I liked the change in that Quan was part of the race passing the baton to Rui Xi who had painfully twisted her ankle but proceeded to finish the race despite the pain-- it feels a little more meaningful than having Nakatsu be the one who sprained his ankle and couldn't race, thus forcing Nanba to join.

The last few episodes of the series also leaves the storyline open-ended for a sequel rather than finalizing the series in the same fashion as the original manga storyline. There is much left to be desired about the ending as far as the relationship between Rui Xi and Quan; although this version seems to attempt an incorporation as to why the series ended the way it did. The series, towards the end, promotes the ideal that "the journey" is much more desirable than an anticipated ending. While I am a strong supporter of "the journey" being more attractive than the final destination, it was hard for me not to feel slightly disappointed at the open ending since I already knew the ending of Hana Kimi and had read it over many many times already.

But as far as the rest of the series is concerned, character portrayals were really good; and probably the only complaint I have outside of the series' ending would be Wu Chun's lack of roundness as both an actor and a character. As I will begin talking about the casting and portrayals, I will leave this statement untouched for a while.

The casting of Ella Chen of popular Taiwanese idol pop group S.H.E. was a rather ideal pick for the role of Ashiya Mizuki. My only complaint about her is that somehow, this series does not do Ella any justice concerning her beauty or her cuteness. She completely transforms into a boy and I had a little trouble getting into the series because I kept feeling that Ella didn't really fit the description of Ashiya Mizuki-- then again, I was also comparing her to Horikita Maki who is absolutely adorable, although bordering more on the girly side than was required.

Ashiya Mizuki is a girl pretending to be a boy, but had also been classified as "a boy pretty enough to be a girl" by her fellow classmates. She also acted the part as well, being the right amount of cute and the right amount of effeminate to make all the guys around her ask questions. Ella Chen, unfortunately, sometimes gets a little too manly for her own good, and her hair style pretty much transforms her into a boy altogether.

But after a couple of episodes, I totally accepted Ella Chen and decided that her portrayal of Lu Rui Xi was very great. It is unfortunate, however, that I still don't quite feel that she is the only one out there who could portray this character as I've often imagined others who might be up for the position. But Ella does great in her scenes as she has many emotional and many comedic ones. While not the most memorable character, I still very much enjoyed her presence.

As of present, I'm almost hoping that maybe Korea will do a remake of this series; there have been two so far that I've seen where a girl crossdresses as a boy. And both of these girls actually do rather well, giving off the right amount of cute and the right amount of tomboyish-ness, and the right amount of girly. In fact, Park Shin Hye who portrayed a cross dressing girl in You're Beautiful actually would fit this role pretty well as she doesn't completely turn into a guy for her character, but she also pulls off being a boy pretty well.

Nonetheless, Ella Chen still did a great job becoming Lu Rui Xi and making the character her very own.

Coming back to Wu Chun, the first thing I need to say about him, is that while not in this series in particular, Wu Chun is easily the most handsome, attractive man I have ever laid eyes on. Seeming more boyish than handsome in this series, it was almost a little hard for me to get passed that flower vase role and give him a fighting chance as an actor portraying one of the most monotonous characters in the manga world. It isn't really that hard to pull Sano Izumi out and become him-- Sano is an all-around nice guy who just wants to protect the girl he loves while struggling with family issues and his renewed high jumping career. Sano Izumi is carbon-copy material for all "nice guy" actors in the world. Sano Izumi is every girl's favorite "Prince Charming" character. Wu Chun has no challenge portraying Sano Izumi, but his monotony as well as the character's own monotony does not help his performance stand out or leave an impression.

But don't get me wrong, I love both Wu Chun and Sano Izumi. Once again, Sano Izumi is my dream prince character-- every girl should have someone like him in their lives, even if just as a friend. And Wu Chun is definitely the most handsome, most attractive man I have ever seen (and I repeat myself again and again.) I just wish that there was a way that Wu Chun could have made Sano stand out a little more. In a sense, I think I almost preferred Oguri Shun's portrayal of Sano just because he brought out a more characteristic side of Sano outside of "nice guy". The Japanese version focused a lot more on the bitterness that Sano Izumi felt due to his inability to continue high jump as well as the brewing hostilities between himself and his father. The Taiwanese version merely brought Sano/Quan out to be the "Prince" character with a few faults and a charming sense of anger-- just like in the manga. But in the manga, it worked; in live action, it seemed to dull in comparison.

But as I had always believed, and lacking a better, much more professional way of saying this, the story of Hana Kimi fluorishes on the love story surrounding Mizuki and Sano more than anything else. This is the typical romantic comedy of a love story where the main focus is romance and everything else simply happens to occur around the love story. What the Taiwanese version of Hana Kimi does is exactly that-- it gives the fans what they want out of Hana Kimi. Without the excellent chemistry between Wu Chun and Ella, the relationship between Lu Rui Xi and Zuo Yi Quan could have been hollow and disappointing. But while the two as individuals were no fun to follow, the two as a couple made watching the entire series to the end so worthwhile. And as the original storyline fluorishes with the love story, the Taiwanese adaptation survives on it.

Sadly, even as the love story was what kept me going for the original manga, the side characters and other plot devices were just as enjoyable and added onto the fun that was Hana Kimi in all it's glory. But the Taiwanese drama would not have been such a success had it not been for everyone's favorite main couple, Wu Chun and Ella Chen, presenting such great chemistry that up to this day they are still being rumored to be a couple hiding a big secret from their audience. I almost wish that the side characters and some of the side plots could have been given a bit of focus, enough to convey the life of Hana Kimi throughout the original manga storyline. Because after reading the manga, even the reader begins to relate, not only to our main couple, but also to the rest of the characters.

While Takashima Daiki had been one of my utmost favorite side characters, his Taiwanese live-action counter part, Da Shu, just did not appeal to me at all, and instead seemed more or less annoying and flat. While I thought that the little first-year Shotaro Kadoma was the cutest and most adorable thing to ever try to enter a karate club, the Taiwanese live-action counter part Men Zhen did not give me that same feel.

On a side note, having seen a lot more young Taiwanese male celebrities in their rising and development phase, it made me wonder why some of these boys were not cast as Men Zhen instead. After all, the role is very "flower-vase" and doesn't really require skilled acting; the boy really only needs to look cute both as a young boy as well as in female attire and act like his own cute self, which is not hard to do. Men Zhen doesn't even really get that much screen time anyway and so it wasn't like there would be too much focus on him. Even so, the person who ended up cast as him really made me feel a little squeamish (no offense to him, of course.) In contrast, another lesser role, Quan's little brother, Shin, was portrayed by a young boy who is both cute and small and could be pretty; he had come from the ever so popular Mo Fan Bang Bang Tang that had captured young teenage girls' hearts all over Taiwan because the program boasted some of Taiwan's most handsome young boys as they developed into entertainers in the industry. Why then, I kept asking myself, weren't any of these boys chosen to be in a series where apparently all the boys in the school are oozing with good-looks, beauty, hotness, or the like?

I digress.

And as stated before, my beloved Umeda Hokuto-sensei who oozes with sexy hotness in the manga just doesn't seem to be able to be recreated in real life. With both versions, Japanese and Taiwanese, neither of the two cast as the lovely homosexual school doctor seems to stand a chance against the beautiful 2D version who sports a pair of glasses and the most mesmerizing gaze anyone has ever seen from a fictional caricature. It really could just be the exaggerated and unpredictable and extreme personality that Umeda-sensei blows up the storyline with that made him as sexy as he is. Maybe the actors couldn't quite grasp that spirit or maybe the actors couldn't quite let themselves fully become Umeda-sensei. After all, Asian drama is rather conservative and a flambuoyantly homosexual school doctor isn't really that easy to make yourself get into character with.

Whatever it was, I will definitely pledge undying loyalty to any man out there who will one day be able to bring out the life and sexiness that makes Umeda Hokuto the 2D homesexual manga man I love so much.

Anyway, the adaptation left much to be desired. Comedic antics, of course, did not quite match up to those of the Japanese version. But the chemistry between the entirety of the cast did not lose short from the Japanese version. Interaction between the actors as their character brings life to any story and the Taiwanese version succeeds in this aspect. I also was more accepting of the character of Julia in this version than the Japanese version, even IF Julia didn't have the blonde hair that was what made her stand out the most. But the storyline changed her background so that she ended up being a part-Asian part-American who spoke sporadic mandarin and english. I kind of liked that.

On yet another side note, the Taiwan entertainment industry seems very adept at finding actors who are able to let rip perfect English when required of them for a particular character. Very impressive, as it goes to show that not all Asian people speak broken English-- I personally don't have a problem with broken English as Chinese and English are two very, very different languages after all. But I know that lots of people out there are always criticizing the way that Asians speak "fluent" English in television series and movies. I admit that I wince whenever I hear broken English spoken by an actor who is supposed to be portraying a character with excellent English who supposedly came home from America after a long time. I also wince at the proposed cultural behavior that these people give off, claiming that they do stuff like that in America all the time.

As an example, hugging, kissing, and just simply being all over each other. We claim in Asian culture that this is rather untraditional and people don't like to see it. But they claim that in America, everyone is like that. Now between girls, maybe that's the case, but I don't necessarily see it all the time. Between guys, good luck getting two to even touch each other, nonetheless give each other hugs. And then there's dressing all skimpy and flashy-- yea, that's not every girl and if it is, then you're probably in some sort of dance club at night when all the girls are drunk to the point of no return. In contrast, you're more likely to see friendly hugs between men in Asian culture than you'd ever see in American culture. Of course, you WOULD be less likely to see friendly hugs between a man and a woman despite their level of friendship, in Asian culture than in American culture. Maybe that's where it comes from... Who knows?

But I digress... again; while it bugs me a little bit about cultural portrayals and broken English, it's not like it kills me. Give it a break people, they're trying their best. You try speaking Chinese without a foreign accent and we'll talk. And yes, you DO sound funny when you're trying to speak Chinese; don't claim that you're saying it the same way I am cause it really isn't true.

A lot of Taiwanese actors and actresses seem rather fluent in English. A lot of them had been born and raised in America and returned to Taiwan to join the entertainment industry. This is something that I always felt that TVB lacked in their own celebrities-- a little bit of multicultural backgrounds. Thus, the annoying broken English and the odd personality traits that they say they picked up while living in America.

But anyway, back to the subject at hand, I was not a hundred percent pre-judging when I decided that Taiwanese Idol Dramas were merely what they were called: drama series with everyone's favorite idols thrown into situations appealing to a young audience. There is definitely more eye candy in the Taiwanese community than I'd ever seen in the Hong Kong entertainment industry. Korean entertainment boasts the same amount of eye-candy as well-- Japanese is a little different and I haven't quite gotten the grasp of their eye candy yet. Despite having watched Hong Kong series my entire life, I still have to admit that the number of good looking Taiwanese idols are so much more. Wu Chun is a prime example of one of the most handsome men in the world. Danson Tang who plays the Taiwanese counterpart of Nanba is also very pretty for male standards.

Other Taiwanese actresses who aren't in this series, such as Rainie Yang, Ariel Lin and more are very pretty and very cute women.

While this is probably not the best way to see it, the biggest impression that Wu Chun had made on me throughout the series was when his character was about to make his high jump in the only competition we see him in in the entire series, and he is wearing a tank top rather than just another t-shirt with short sleeves. The muscles on this man made me catch my breath as you would have never paired off his angelic, boyish, beautiful looking face to a set of man muscles as attractive as his. As superficial as this detail seems, I cannot keep from admitting that I was immediately drawn to him.

Coming to a point where this thoughts post should probably roll to an end, I realize that I should probably mention other aspects of the series such as the minor characters, the music, and our infamous third member of the main cast, Jiro Wang.

Portraying Jin Xiu Yi (Nakatsu Shuichi), Jiro was lively and energetic and cheery just as Nakatsu is supposed to be. He shows his undying love for Rui Xi just as he should, and he exerts his passion for friends and soccer just as Nakatsu Shuichi should do as per the original manga. He shows very well the conflict that Xiu Yi has as he realizes that he is falling in love with Rui Xi, who is still very much a boy to him. The idea that he could be homosexual drives the poor soccer boy crazy, and his comedic antics flair to the utmost best because of all of this. But that's about it for him. While Jiro Wang portrays great skills as compared to Wu Chun's monotony, the character of Jin Xiu Yi also does not quite leave an impression. He brings the original manga version of Nakatsu into the live action arena, but unlike Ikuta Toma, Jiro does not breath life into the character of Nakatsu. While Ikuta Toma made the character of Nakatsu his own, Jiro Wang merely turned into Jin Xiu Yi as he needed to.

The minor characters of Hanazakarino Kimitachihe are rather one-dimensional and flat. Even the school's idol, Nakao or Yang Yang, does not bring forth his touching storyline of admiring and loving Nanba. Liang Si Nan (Nanba Minami) doesn't quite shoot off his playing, flirting, pretty boy personality as necessary.
However, Ethan Ruan as Shen Le (Kagurazaka) actually does quite well being the all around antagonistic asshole versus Sano in the high jump arena; I enjoyed his presence very much, what little there was of it.

As for technique, direction, and music, the series does excellently. The soundtrack boasts music by S.H.E., Fahrenheit and Tank. The opening was very catchy and the ending theme was very moving. Insert songs were enjoyable as well.

Hanazakarino Kimitachie isn't exactly the best series there is to offer in the Asian television drama arena. But as far as the storyline goes concerning it's faithfulness and it's circling around the love relationship between Rui Xi and Quan, the series is a definite lovely watch. I wouldn't mind rewatching this series at all. For the most part, it is extremely enjoyable and the fact that the series has the eye-candy of all eye-candy in the Taiwanese world makes the series so much more enjoyable.

Take it or leave it: these series aren't for everyone, but they are defintely a new match up for myself.

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