What I've Been Watching 27/01/2022
Too many C dramas… is the answer right now. The drought that began middle of last year seems to have broken and I’ve even managed to complete two in the past week even if they’re not exactly consistently great dramas. But an entertaining production can cover a multitude of sins.
The only one that I would judge to be consistently good from start to finish in my recent viewing experiences would be Reset which I referred to in my previous post. It’s amazing what 15 episodes can do for pacing and disciplined writing. Many a C drama with promise fall by the wayside because of some ridiculous commercial obligation to air more episodes than the actual story warrants. In many ways I think this drama succeeds because the storytelling is more like a K drama — a well thought out crime series out of one of the cable networks. It also does a good job because it is an exemplar of effective minimalism that manages to convey a high degree of warmth and urgency. Every character under spotlight not only has a story behind the facade but he/she has value as an individual. They might appear to be red-herrings at first but on hindsight the show has things it wants to pontificate over. Therefore it’s not a science fiction show despite the time loop premise but a fable and the moral of the story is this: Life is short. People make mistakes. Most importantly, all lives matter.
The less said the better with a show like this. The twists and turns must be personally experienced to maximize viewing pleasure. Of course I have nothing but praise for the leads Bai Jingting and Zhao Jinmai who are just wonderful as two whippersnappers who find themselves in a mind-blowing predicament and despite all kinds of misgivings answer an unworldly call to save the bus. Who, what, when, why, how… have never been more critical as they work together with the cops to solve the mystery at hand. I am especially in awe of Bai Jingting whose star is on the rise… as they say. His performance here runs the whole gamut from the comedic to the hapless. No doubt he’s blessed with youthful features but his characterization of the everyman is what makes him convincing in his vulnerable moments. The man literally de-ages himself during his performance to match Zhao Jinmai who is almost 10 years his junior. There’s nothing I can fault in terms of acting or production values although inevitably not all difficulties will be dealt with to everyone’s satisfaction.
A worthy standard bearer for the year.
(15 episodes. Complete.)
Enormously addictive is Cupid’s Kitchen starring an irascible Ethan Ruan and the tiny Song Zu’er (who is new to me). It’s Masterchef meets makjang time and the fireworks happen in and out of the kitchen. Maybe it’s the arresting food porn or grumpy but hot Ethan or the chemistry between the leads but I look forward to new episodes every day despite the relentless machinations by the gallery of rogues here. Yes, there be plenty of rogues here — villainous characters written to be hated with vehemence like Oliver’s longtime rival Boris, the obsessive Elise Quentin who will do anything to get her man, Lin Xiaoyu, cousin of Lin Kesong, the female lead. It’s a lunatic asylum worthy of any Korean makjang but dang… the food looks yummy and so does Ethan by the way despite looking like he needs serious time on a barber’s chair.
Cupid’s Kitchen is essentially a Pygmalion story (although it’s looking more and more like A Star is Born in recent days). Most of us ( no doubt I’m showing my age here) will remember the musical My Fair Lady and this drama follows the template. Pygmalion from Greek mythology was a sculptor who carved out his ideal of femininity from a slab of ivory and falls in love with it. The goddess Venus pops around for a visit and zaps Galatea into a living breathing human and they live happily-ever-after. You get the drift.
Ethan’s Oliver aka Jiang Qianfan is a genius chef who is losing his ability to use his taste buds. It’s not hard to see how that’s a problem for a master chef so he’s on the prowl for an apprentice who can make up for his deficiencies. The person he is looking for is Lin Kesong, a tiny snarky hospitality trainee who is a gourmand with highly sensitive taste buds. The melancholic egotistical chef is jubilant that he’s hit the jackpot but there’s another problem: Lin Kesong doesn’t really know her way around a kitchen unless it’s to satisfy her hunger pangs. Undeterred he takes her on as his apprentice vowing to turn her into a fully-fledged chef before the end of a prestigious cooking competition. Because of this, the pair encounter all kinds of obstacles from so-called friends and foes who aren’t particularly enthralled by this partnership. The duo are also off to a rocky start (of course) and like Professor Higgins, Jiang Qianfan is a tyrannical teacher but also moody, temperamental and egotistical. More’s the pity that Lin Kesong doesn’t burst into song plotting revenge but she does give him the cold shoulder from time to time.
This is definitely a slow burn romance but Lin Kesong has a longtime crush to get over and Qianfan needs to swat off unwanted advances from his business partner and munch on some very bitter humble pie. Despite the age gap, physical differences, their chemistry is surprisingly good. Gradually there’s a meeting of minds and there’s the great mellowing from both parties.
Though some might beg to differ, I am enjoying this much more than Dating in the Kitchen. I don’t use the FF “button” quite as much and despite the nuttiness there’s actually more cooking going on in this. I’ve even picked up a tip or two about food preparation that I haven’t picked up from my Jamie Oliver cookbooks. (32 out of 40 episodes)
The Lion’s Secret is one I accidentally stumbled upon and before I knew it I was watching 10 episodes. It stars Zhu Yawen who could easily pass off as Wallace Huo (Huo Jianhua)’s younger brother. He even has many of Wallace’s expressions. The way he smirks, cocks his head and nods. A veritable clone.
It’s billed as a contract marriage which is why I dove right in. I also remembered Zhu Yawen vaguely from The Kidnapping Game. Here Zhu Yawen’s Liu Qing marries Yang Zishan’s Mu Wanqing partly because he’s liked her forever (surprise, surprise they have a childhood connection) and because her dad feels she needs the moral support having taken over the reins of the company dominated by old fogeys. Mu Wanqing (who has no memory of him) finds her new husband hard to fathom at first because he tends to clown around childishly. Unbeknownst to her, Liu Qing used to be a security specialist and after a tragic event he’s now suffering PTSD. He’s a lot shrewder and observant than he pretends to be and not as indifferent as he seems. As she married him under some duress she keeps her distance. When her father insists that she brings the husband to the company to work there, she sends him off to work as a parking attendant in the company building. That suits him to a T because he can see everyone and anyone that comes and goes from the car park in order to put a quick kibosh to any nefarious notions.
Liu Qing is buddies with Mike He’s Lei Shuo and he’s interested in Wanqing’s bestie, Fu Jundie. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Mike in anything and he seems to have been drinking out of the fountain of youth. The past comes back to haunt them both when there’s some behind the scenes maneuvering forcing them to come out in the open. Much of the show seems them both juggling women and foreign operatives who are determined to complicate their lives.
For the most part the show’s a fun watch and good entertainment. As long you’re in the mood for a slow burn romance with espionage style action sequences. The weakest segments are the overseas stints where the cheesy dialogue spoken in English dominate the exchanges somewhere in Europe. The last few episodes in particular feel like a bad parody of a B action flick. The best bits are when the characters do all their talking with guns and/or fists. (33 Episodes. Completed)
In the tradition of A Love So Beautiful and the much emulated Itazura na Kiss before that, is youth drama Our Secret or Secrets in the Lattice. It was the prospect of seeing Chen Zheyuan in a modern drama that piqued my interest. For a 24 episode drama about a group of youngsters who attend the same senior high school, fall in love and transition to adulthood, it’s not a bad watch if you’re more partial to the genre than I am. All the youngish actors are good but the show does belong to Chen Zheyuan and Rainbow Xu as the leads who live in the same neighbourhood and are “deskmates” during their schooldays. It’s fairly obvious and no big secret as far as anyone with eyes can tell that they like each other. The pair aim to attend the same university together but the best laid plans often go awry. It wouldn’t be cut from the same cloth as ItaKiss if the male lead isn’t guilty of some kind of dithering and the female lead of trying too hard to get his attention. There’s also a third party to complicate things for them. In this case it’s when they both end up at university eventually. Highlights for me are the friendship group, the different family dynamics and the leads’ relationship. It does nothing new to be sure and it falls along predictable lines but the characters are charming enough to make this worth wasting 20 plus hours over. (24 episodes. Completed)