Friday, August 2, 2013

news: Drama Bites

Asian drama land has been a bit promising lately.  Not that it’s been completely down in the dumps, but if I’ve read about sixty books to the one (or maybe two) drama series I’ve watched in the past few months, then either I’m really just a professional book nerd (which I am, I don’t deny that) or drama land has been a bit bland since the year started.

Going back and trying to review the first half of this year, it seems like I’ve really averaged about one drama series (from South Korea) per month, if even that many.  And if my viewing stats on is any indication, I’ve really only watched two full drama series all year to completion, both from South Korea.

Hong Kong has long since dropped off of my radar (or well, let’s just say that I still pay some attention, but I’ve been avoiding them like the plague), and Taiwanese series are hit-or-miss for me since I finally grew out of all that “Idol Drama” stuff after immersing in it for so long.  Japanese dorama was really only a one time Ikuta Toma-sama fangirl phase...

In fact, aside from being oh so excited about a new book release, my wall of anticipatory drama series looks like child’s play.  The ratio comparison:  I’m anticipating the release air date of two drama series as compared to the eight books I’m looking forward to reading for the rest of the year.

Yea... I think drama viewing has been quite bland.

The last week, however, has proven to be a little different for me, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve burned out on books (pfft, as if that could happen!), or because there are actually some series that are catching my (overly snobbish) eyes... finally.  In total, I’ve been hooked to one K-drama that will be ending this week, and I’ve picked up several other dramas (both Hong Kong and Taiwan) which are in their debut weeks right now.  And I haven’t been excited about several Asian dramas all at once in a long time.

It may not sound like a big deal, but this is very big for me.

I mean, yes, I get excited about one or two series every so often, and they’re usually from South Korea and there are usually less than two.  All year, so far, it’s been like that, with Gu Family Book, with Flower Boy Next Door...  (which are the only two series I’ve actually watched ALL of...)

Anyway...  This is in no way a return to regular drama blogging for me.  I think I always try too hard to make things structured in my own logic that I get overwhelmed and start to sway.  Which explains the extended hiatus.  So I’m just going to treat this like my own personal blog now (which, technically, it is), and just chit-chat dramas, movies, and general entertainment industry galore and news whenever I feel like it.  Seems simple enough.

Moving along to the Drama Bites part:

Accordingly, I have listed three series I’m currently watching.  I usually only do this if I have the intention of continuing to watch the series.  Whether or not I finish them is something entirely different.  And as opposed to reading books, I can drop a drama series so quickly that you don’t even realize I’d even started watching at all.  (Books, I tend to try to give more of a chance and will very rarely drop unless I’m just really NOT getting into it and realize that I have no idea where the plot is going.)  In fact, I had never liked the idea of dropping drama series before and will trudge all the way until the end so that I don’t miss the opportunity for a series to get better and prove me wrong.  As a lot of other bloggers out there point out, I don’t go into a series expecting it to fail; I would rather go into a series hoping that it’s excellent.  But there’s nothing worse than always expecting a series to fail because things just aren’t up to standard anymore.

So I remain hopeful.  

Just as I continue to remain hopeful that one day I can revive my love for Hong Kong TVB’s productions.  I grew up with TVB and they are my life; I used to know all the pop culture surrounding everything that had to do with ANYTHING in TVB.  I knew all the actors and all their roles, I knew who was a newbie in improvement, I knew who attracted the best ratings, I knew whenever a newbie was being promoted heavily (as per TV politics).  But lately, I can’t even tell a newbie from someone who’s been acting for a full year in TVB productions and who is just a singer trying their luck as an actor... and vice versa.

So with Triumph in the Skies II, I really continue to hope that my love can soar (terrible pun intended, don'cha know) again.  The last time I even made mention of a series from TVB, it was Three Kingdoms RPG, and well... since I don’t blog as often anymore, let’s just say that that experience was a major heartbreak for me.  And I don’t like heartbreak when it comes to TVB because I love TVB so much that it hurts to be disappointed over and over again.  I had all my hopes set on that series because it was an interesting concept, and it starred my all-time favorite TVB artists of my generation: Raymond Lam and Tavia Yeung.  The disappointment still stings a bit.

I get my TVB sampling snippets from my parents whenever I’m randomly wandering around the living room.  My parents are still avid TVB fans, if only because it’s more preferential to them to watch drama series in their own native tongue.  They are of the “I hate having to read while watching television so I will sit through crappy dubbing as long as it’s in my language” camp.  I’m in the “I would rather see the series in its original glory and so would prefer subtitles” camp.  Besides, after you watch enough series in a foreign language, you start to pick up recycled phrases and a pretty hefty vocabulary, even if you can’t quite string together a proper complete sentence.

But nonetheless, I digress...

Whenever I see a TVB series that strikes me as potentially good, I read up on it and consider watching it.  But that’s really as far as it goes, because it doesn’t strike my fancy enough to actually take the time to watch it.  After all, there are so many drama series to watch and so many books to read and so little time to accomplish both that I’ve become pretty picky about my viewing standards.  Each episode of a series is approximately one hour long.  I’m sleeping at least six of the twenty four hours daily and I’m working for eight hours.  It takes half an hour for me to drive to and from work.  I need to filter out time to eat and shower and take care of household chores.

So in essence, I may be left with little less than four to six hours of drama series viewing time.  And that’s assuming that I actually feel like watching an episode at that moment.

There just aren’t enough hours in a day for everything I’d like to be doing.  Unless I’m hooked and I end up doing a marathon and get no sleep over it.

So what finally drew me back into a TVB series after so many years?  I’m going to be totally honest about this, but it was a rather superficial reason: In the second episode of Triumph in the Skies II, Chilam Cheung’s character Jayden Koo says the following line with all of his charm, smarm and witty delivery:  “I might be a pretty boy, but I’m not an idiot.”  And it wasn’t just the line itself, since the words are rather mundane.  It was the way in which Chilam delivered his line along with the perfect facial expression (even behind a freakin’ hot pair of shades) and the tone of voice that does it for me.  In that one line alone, I already pegged his character and fell in love with him.

I mean, it’s freakin’ Chilam Cheung (Julian Cheung for those of you not familiar with his Chinese name), and not only is he eternally baby-faced and handsome, but he’s never failed to be a good actor, in my eyes.  He’s of the older generation level of actors (which to me, means that I’ve been watching him since I was a tween back in the good ol’ days of Condor Heroes glory and the like, as opposed to the actors I started watching when I was in college who were more my age, such as Tavia and Raymond), and to be honest, sometimes these guys just do it right.

Anyway, I’m only three episodes into this series, but it seems promising so far and I intend to continue on.  The chemistry and witty banter between the characters (yes, I’m in it now for more than just Chilam’s smarmy charm alone) is so much fun and hilarity that I’ve been doing a lot of laughing out loud.  I haven’t done a lot of laughing out loud in a long time to certain drama series and I honestly appreciate a series with heart that can also make me laugh out loud due to witty banter.  

As an added bonus, one thing that Hong Kong definitely DOES do properly is their research and their attention to detail concerning their television drama series.  When they latch onto a specific profession or a genre as the central theme of a series, they put so much attention to detail into it that it isn’t outrageously obvious that the central theme is just there as a background.  No, in Hong Kong series, the central theme has enough footing to stand on its own and you don’t find yourself questioning the integrity too much, even if a few flaws tend to surface every so often; which is more than we can say about some other series’ (**coughcoughKdramacoughcough**) and their handle on certain professions in the drama world.  Because in K-dramas, even if I love the series, sometimes I still end up questioning the dramaverse background professional logic; but in TVB dramas, I don’t think I’ve ever truly had to question their dramaverse background professional logic as much.  In fact, Hong Kong is also known for their brief “informercial” material at the end of certain series that are based on some present-day issues, so we know they’ve put a lot of effort into making the series as realistic as possible without actually putting their writers and actors through the true professional training.

As an example:  I Can Hear Your Voice is a K-drama I’m obsessed with right now.  However, our professionals, the public defenders as well as the rest of the legal system makes me a little worried for South Korea as a country if THAT is how law enforcement really proceeds with their work.  I mean, a murderer who is only given ten years in prison?  Police officers who treat proper citizens like they’re the criminals and don’t take threats seriously and who lose their guns?  Criminal court cases that aren’t thoroughly investigated properly before going to court?  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a criminal case in real life that was completed within one day and I’m not sure I’ve seen criminal cases in court where the investigating detective wasn’t involved.

But I digress...  again...

As far as TVB goes, I’m still setting a probational eye on their productions.  But my parents have informed me of the series they think is where TVB “got their groove back”, called A Change of Heart starring Michael Miu, Bosco Wong, and Niki Chow.  And the premise sounds intriguing, and Niki and Bosco are both also two of my favorite TVB artists of my generation... so I’m considering.  Otherwise, that’s all there is right now.

As for the Taiwanese front, I’ve recently taken interest in two particular series.  I’ve always been on the lookout for something in the Idol Dramas arena that would catch my eye, cause something always does.  You can’t say no to an interesting, light, breezy rom-com even if you tried, and when all the right elements line up, I will most certainly cave and give the series a chance to entertain me.  Yes, I’m still extremely biased against Idol Dramas because they are exactly as they are depicted: Idol Dramas have always been light fare, showcasing beautiful people in beautiful romance stories, meant to hook the fangirls.  They recycle the same formulas (although I will argue that the love lines in Taiwanese dramas have thus far been more desirable than what I’ve been seeing in Korean dramas) with the same types of plot twists.

BUT, they are enjoyable in a lot of their stilted glory.  I watch them for fun, not for inspiration, but I become quite elated when I DO get inspiration.  And to be totally honest, with the exception of few, Taiwanese idol actors are some of the least natural actors I’ve come across.  I haven’t been able to pinpoint why, but sometimes I can’t quite take them seriously because they’re either too over exaggerated, or way under emotive.

I’ve picked up Just You starring Aaron Yan and Puff Kuo.  And yes, my main reason for picking up this series might be due to Aaron Yan.  I mean... Aaron Yan!  I love him.  He’s so cute and adorable, and now he’s all grown up out of his initial Fahrenheit, baby idol role.  But his small eyes and his small mouth... and his cuteness...  And now I’m gushing!  But I’m not going to deny that his acting is still a bit wooden at times and over-the-top at others, and all around a bit unnatural..  I mean, he’s as natural as the rest of the Taiwan acting standard; he’s decent enough to lead a series with great facial expressions every so often... but I’ve seen better.  He knows what he’s doing and he knows how to do it, and yet I still get the feeling that he’s too over-conscious about his own acting.  Like, you can actually see the gears turning in his mind trying to figure out how to look handsome and act well at the same time (which sometimes doesn’t mesh well).  

Just... OMG!  So cute!

But still... Aaron... sigh...  

I don’t know who Puff Kuo is, but I’m sure to find out soon, though this series may possibly be one of the worst examples of good acting representation since it’s a standard rom-com and girls are always expected to be cutesy and over-the-top and loud and excited... as she is proving so far.  It just bugs me a little bit with the loud baby voice in a lot of the girls... though I suspect it’s a “thing” in Taiwan right now.  I will reserve other comments for after I’ve watched a few more episodes.

Also, what's up with that bowl cut-do?  O.o

The other series I’m considering picking up is Fabulous Boys, which is the Taiwanese remake of K-drama You’re Beautiful.  I’m conflicted.  You’re Beautiful was so much fun despite the standard rom-com stereotypes.  And I love Park Shin Hye!  And the best parts of You’re Beautiful had been the comedy, honestly.  And Taiwanese drama series tend to lack a distinct laugh-out-loud humor factor (with few exceptions) and instead end up being kind of tacky, half-assed humor.  And of the first few minutes of the first episode I watched so far, my first chuckle came about due to Park Shin Hye’s guest appearance as the girl in the church listening to loud music; and then her sad puppy declaration of “This isn’t how You’re Beautiful starts.  Hyung-nim...”  Again, I’ll reserve my criticism of the series for when I actually start watching it officially.

But until then, I’m just commenting as someone who is familiar with Jiro Wang acting (I’ve watched three of his series so far).  And to be honest, out of the four member boy band Fahrenheit, he has the best acting skills.  But that really isn’t saying much in terms of “in comparison with the rest of the acting community just in Taiwan alone”.  I mean, in his defense, he knows what he’s doing and he does it properly, much like his fellow group mate, Aaron.  He exhibits the emotions he requires and he becomes the character he’s playing -- unlike Aaron, I don’t see as much of the gears turning to calculate the best acting tacts.  But that’s pretty much it, because in the end, I really still only see his characters as “Jiro Wang playing such and such character”.  I’m not seeing the character by himself (something that an extremely talented actor is able to do is bring a character so much to life that you no longer see the actor anymore and sometimes forget that this guy also played so-and-so in that other drama series; awesome example: Chilam Cheung in Triumph in the Skies II who so thoroughly becomes Jayden Koo and brings Jayden Koo to life that I forget that he’s really Chilam Cheung).  And unfortunately, I haven’t gotten that vibe from Jiro yet.  Now, the girl, Su Li Wen, who gets to be our cross-dressing heroine seems rather promising (in fact a lot of the Taiwanese female artists seem more promising when paired with a really popular male idol) and I’m interested to see her take on Gao Mei Nan (Go Minam’s Taiwanese alter ego).

So... we’ll see how this goes.

Finally, in the K-drama front... well, I’ve always followed K-drama news ever since I first started watching them like an addiction.  So there’s really little news except for a brief shout out to Lee Jung Seok and the series he’s currently headlining, I Can Hear Your Voice (which I used in an example above).  This series is so seriously awesome that I have no words.  It’s almost over, and I can’t contain my excitement for the finale week since we’ve got conclusions and promises and reveals and an end to the ongoing conflict.

There are other series that seem promising, for instance I’m interested in Who Are You and Master’s Sun, both with the same premise of the female lead being able to see dead people.  This will be interesting, cause as much of a weenie as I am when it comes to horror, I love me a good ghost story... always!


Asian dramaland, here I return!

You're welcome.

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