Tuesday, December 27, 2011

first impression: Skip-Beat! (Taiwanese)

Also known as Extravagant Challenge
華麗的挑戰 -- Hua Li De Tiao Zhan

What Taiwan does happen to do well is take a manga story line and adapt it into live action pretty decently. The characters will always stay in character, and the setting doesn't stray far from the original manga story. It's only unfortunate that the embedded humor of Japanese manga cannot seem to be captured very well by Taiwan's adaptations. For instance, Hana Kimi, though having its own charm, was never really able to convey that subtle hilarity and cutesy sweetness that the original manga was loved for. Instead, the supposedly funny moments end up kind of awkward and tacky.

This is one of the things that Taiwanese drama rom-coms have never really been able to capture quite accurately: a sense of actually funny humor. The only series I've seen so far that has been able to do as much is Miss No Good (but only because Rainie Yang is charming and Wilber Pan has a natural sense of comedic timing in his expressions). Brown Sugar Machiatto and its sister(?) production The Legend of Brown Sugar Chivalries were both rather comedic in execution (much more so than most Taiwanese comedies), but I don't really count those two as drama series -- they're more like promotion shows for the young idol groups Lollipop and Hey Girl.

And so we end up with not so much a romantic comedy, but a romance strewn with tacky and awkward moments trying to impersonate humor. And honestly, what good is a romantic comedy if it isn't even really that funny?

When I first heard about Skip Beat! being turned into a live action adaptation by Taiwan, I was curious, only because Skip Beat had been one of my most favorite shoujo manga stories. Taiwan's drama series aren't half bad most of the time and I've already enjoyed a select few during the past year. While they all seem to be the same rom-com formulas with the same over-exaggerated acting and story pacing, there have been some rather good series.

Taiwanese Skip-Beat! doesn't stray far from the typical Taiwannese Idol drama series, show-casing beautiful people in a rom-com aimed at young teenage fangirls. People who are already familiar with Skip Beat! manga already know the details, the story and the character fairly well. For those who haven't been exposed to the original manga, though, here's a short and brief synopsis:

Basically, Mogami Kyoko is a girl who has spent her life devoted to Fuwa Sho, pretty much sacrificing her youth and her time and her energy to take care of his lazy ass so that he can focus on becoming a famous musician. Unfortunately, all Sho has ever thought of her as was just a live-in maid he can boss around regularly. When Kyoko learns of this and how Sho never really cared about her as a girlfriend, she vows vengeance, letting her Pandora's box full of demons out to play. In order to bring him down to nothing, however, Sho challenges her to enter the entertainment industry as well; it will be the only way she'd ever be able to touch him at all.

So what does Kyoko do? She accepts his challenge, but along the way towards her ultimate revenge, she slowly learns to appreciate her own life and her own individual person, finding reason for herself outside of Fuwa Sho.

There are a lot of reasons why Skip Beat! manga was one of my favorite stories. For one, Kyoko isn't your typical pushover of a female protagonist; instead of moping like a damsel, she chooses to take action. Secondly, in the case of the manga, I had loved watching Kyoko grow as a person from someone who has based all of her actions around one man, and into someone who can find her own way in life for herself.

Taiwanese Skip-Beat! is cute. So far this is the only thing I can really say about it. Much like when I watched Hana Kimi's live action adaptation, I found it cute... but that was about it.

Ivy Chen is Gong Xi (Mogami Kyoko) and while her over-the-top performance works quite well for Kyoko's enthusiastic personality it almost seems a bit too much. Still in the process of critiquing her performance, however, I haven't really found much outstanding about it save for the one moment wherein Gong Xi finally breaks down with her crying slash laughter, letting out those anticipated Xiao Xi demons (Kyoko demons). There are moments during Ivy Chen's presentation that I keep thinking about Amber Kuo's role as Wu Shan Bao in Woody Sambo. While it fits Kyoko's personality, I'm hoping that I don't keep flashing images of Wu Shan Bao during my viewing of Skip-Beat!, otherwise it could get a little old. Also, I'm interested to see how Ivy Chen will convey Kyoko's ever changing moods and personalities. Kyoko is essentially an extremely innocent young girl who never got to live her youth to its fullest before being thrust into the world in such a cruel way. Despite her anger and cynicism, there are still a lot of moments when she resembles any other young teenage girl who buries herself in Fairy Tale fantasies. And hopefully Ivy Chen can pick up on this part of Kyoko -- she's not simply a cute and bubbly girl trapped inside a vengeful, angry exterior because she's got so much more depth that slowly form in the inner workings of her mind.

Korean idol group Super Junior lends two of their famous members, Choi Siwon and Lee Dong Hae for the roles of Dun He Lien (Tsuruga Ren) and Bu Po Shang (Fuwa Sho), respectively. The one thing I'd been worried about for these two roles was the need for Mandarin dubbers to cover both men's voices so that there can be consistency. It would be rather strange if our main female lead spoke Mandarin while the two male leads spoke Korean. So far I don't have much of an impression of either Choi Siwon or Lee Dong Hae, and the dubbing doesn't really bug me too much either. The only thing I will mention, though, is that Lee Dong Hae's presentation of Bu Po Shang's strangely cute actions when he's NOT trying to maintain his cool image was actually quite adorable. While I had always found Sho to be an annoyingly irritating rat bastard of a man, I'm somehow finding Bu Po Shang not as detestable. (A salute to the beauty of Korean idols, maybe?)

Choi Siwon radiates Ren's arrogant professionalism quite well. Idol stars have always had disadvantages of being scrutinized for being nothing but a pretty vase. So I look forward to seeing how well he does with Dun He Lien's role since he's had various other acting roles in K-dramas before.

As for the rest of the cast and characters, I'm really much more interested in the appearance of Bianca Bai, who is cast as Jiang Nan Qin (Kotonami Kanae), the girl who joins Kyoko in the LME LoveMe department. Her arrogance and strangely indifferent kick-ass-ness is what I'm looking forward to seeing since I've always enjoyed Kanae's presence as Kyoko's reluctant best friend.

Jin Qin is Dun He Lian's manager, known as Yashiro Yukihito in the original manga, and has alwyas been a great source of comedic relief. Even though it's been a while since I last looked over the manga (about a year or so, methinks), I remember liking this character because he amused me immensely with the way that he easily picked up Ren's feelings and intentions before Ren could even pinpoint them himself. There's nothing more fun than an omnicient manager at hand who also plays the mother hen to an otherwise domestically incompetent superstar who can't even take care of himself properly. Jin Qin was also in the role of Manager Ke Yi Zhi in Taiwanese drama ToGetHer to main character Zhaung Jun Nan and he was a very amusing and awesome person. I think I'm going to like his role here in Skip-Beat! reprising another manager role (especially for one of my more favorable characters from the manga).

Finally, Tsai Yi Chen (better known by her stage name Wu Xiong) is cast in a character role not present in the original manga. She is a girl named Wan Zi who works at the small restaurant called Bu Dao Weng (Darumaya in the manga) with Gong Xi and also seems to be playing the part of Gong Xi's only friend at present. I'm not sure where the series is trying to go with this extra role, but I hope it's a good direction because I like Wu Xiong and I'm hoping that she gets more screen time and continues to be Gong Xi's supporting friend in the background.

Unfortunately, with Wan Zi's presence, it only means that Gong Xi (Kyoko)'s journey to learning how to love herself is a bit stunted. The entire basis of Kyoko's depressing life is that her one and only childhood companion has always been Fuwa Sho -- she has lived her life for Sho, losing out for herself as well as never making any true friends (most of the girls in her childhood hated her because she was close to Sho who happened to be popular among the girls). Her entire life has been devoted to one day becoming Sho's wife and helping his parents take over their inn in Kyoto. Her mother had abandoned her when she was a child and her father has always been absent and so she knows about nothing but her life as the future innkeeper for Sho's family. When Sho betrays her at the beginning of the story, Kyoko loses all faith in any kind of love. For this very reason, she doesn't understand the emotion of love: to be loved by others as well as to be able to love others.

So while I really enjoy Wu Xiong's presence in this series (she's coming off a lot more likable than anyone else in the series as far as Episode One goes) I hope it doesn't deter the personal journey that Gong Xi (Kyoko) must go through to find her way in life.

This first episode of Taiwanese Skip-Beat! had taken me about three separate sittings during the evening to finish watching. I don't know whether it's because I already know the story line really well, whether it's because the anime already did a rather good job capturing the story, or if it could really be that the drama itself isn't conveying the glory of Skip Beat! to a decent enough level. There are a lot of really wacky CG inclusions that make for the cheesiest attempts at humor which kind of bemuses me, but may also end up grating on my nerves. The pacing and editing isn't too bad since it's following the original story line quite closely (aside from Wan Zi's presence); but the acting is almost too exaggerated and may turn out to be a problem for me.

Nonetheless, I will continue to give Skip-Beat! a chance if only because I'm a fan of the original manga. Let's hope that the live action adaptation can do well.

On a side note, the opening theme and the closing theme are both quite catchy -- sung by Super Junior-M and Lee Dong Hae respectively. The insert song, I'm recognizing as A-Lin's voice, but I might be wrong, but it's very pretty and I hope to hear more of it.

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