(Sorta) mini drama reviews of some of the things I’ve watched and am currently watching! Inspired by F’s spring & summer samplers over at ASTROMANTIC ♡ (only mine kind of got out of hand. Like 2800+ words out of hand.) One k-drama, but lots and lots of HK TVB dramas if you’re into them~
· THE GOOD ·
I finally caught the finale episode of Monstar after being reluctant to both start and finish it for the longest time. Despite some of it’s lulls, I think it was overall a dreamy, sweet drama with all of the earnestness and nostalgia that accompanies memories of the school years. It lost a bit of that spark in the latter episodes, but that doesn’t diminish how it wretched at my heart for our little band of misfits and their journey together. The comparison to Reply 1997 is unavoidable – I adored the historical accuracy in Reply 1997, but found Shi-Won and Eun-Jae to be so unlikeable by the end of it that I was relieved when it ended. Monstar had none of that and only bared skimmed the idol-life story, but I love so many of the characters even now that it’s ended.
I loved the spunk and sass of Seyi (Ha Yeon Soo) as well as her willingness to stand up for what she believed in and her undying dedication to her friends. The wide-eyed staring and indecisiveness when it came to Seol Chan (Beast’s Yong Junhyung) and Sun Woo (Kang Ha Neul) was awwwwwwwwful, though, and I wish she could have kicked that foolishness to the curb sooner. Seyi and Seol-chan are the absolute cutest and my heart did triple axel jumps during the scene where Seyi can’t get this amazing cover of Busker Busker’s First Love by Jo Moon Geun & Kim Ji Soo out of her head and groans in defeat because she has a cruuuuush on a boyyyy. How sweet was the scene where Seyi and Seol-chan walk back and forth between her house and his car just so they can spend more time together. MY SCHOOLGIRL HEART. Sun-woo was a blob of unrequited feelings that I stopped rooting for pretty quickly because of how afraid of everything he was. Mostly I was annoyed by how he refused to stop the bullying that went on in the classroom and how he pretended Nana’s (GLAM’s Kim Dahee) feelings for him didn’t exist. Super relieved that Nana basically ended up telling him he was a dumb jerk and how she was over his shit. The rich boy and the rebel girl is a million k-drama cliches, but not this one!
MY FAVORITE MOMENTS/PEOPLE had to be the relationship between Kyu Dong (Kang Ui-Sik) and Do Nam (Park Kyu Sun). They both stole my heart, broke it and then put it back together :( Kyu Dong’s suicide attempt was some heavy material and when Seyi told Do Nam that “it’s the same as if you pushed him,” I gasped! I really enjoyed there being a backstory that explained why their friendship fell apart and it was wonderful to see them slowly learn to be friends again. It gave us an AWESOME BEATBOX PERFORMANCE of 2NE1’s I am the Best. I also really loved the moment when Eunha (Kim Min Young) breaks her silence and tells Seyi how she’s been feeling about being left out; It was such a honest moment between best friends. My final favorite moment had to be the first Color Bars’ first stage where they absolutely rocked the performance Don’t Make Me Cry. Kickass!
I didn’t care for the parents’ storyline even though I know it was central to the whole plot of the drama. There was so much great stuff happening with the kids, that I just couldn’t get emotionally invested in it. So much of it happened in the last few episodes that it made the whole ending feel rushed. I wish Monstar had gotten the full 16-episode treatment because the plotholes would have been filled better. For example, I got Kyu Dong and Do Nam – why couldn’t I also get Seol Chan and Sun Woo? It feels like I’ve been cheated out of seeing them resolve their differences because they never actually talk about it. I JUST WANT BROS LOVING EACH OTHER. I also thought Eunha’s role in the drama was a missed opportunity and I’m angry for Kim Min Young getting little to no screen time in a show about music when she has a background in musicals?! UGH. Surprisingly, however, I have no problems with the open ending. A part of me wishes I could have that neat tied-up package ending, but I also like that the vague ending implies that each of our characters’ stories will continue on. I know some people were frustrated not knowing which team actually won the competition, but I think the point of leaving it untold is that the winning aspect of it was never the most important thing. It was always about how music brought together a group of unlikely friends and gave them memories for a lifetime.
Triumph in the Skies II (衝上雲霄 II)
Triumph in the Skies II is pulling in its final week and my feelings are mixed, but leaning positive. The slower pacing of Triumph II (I’m not abbreviating the title lmao) hasn’t really bothered me that much, but I think it’s because I made a conscious decision to think about it as a supplement to Triumph I rather than a sequel. Imagine if it were an extended epilogue. I appreciate that the slow pace means the writers could give us time to understand what Zoe’s death meant to Sam (Francis Ng) and how not dealing with his grief has led to him punishing himself for living. It seems like Holiday (Fala Chen) is going to be the one that puts him back together again and I am on boarddddd. I thought Jayden (Chilam Cheung) and Holiday made a great pair at the start of the series, but Sam and Holiday has grown on me because they’re just so cute together (“Tell me you like me” / “If I don’t, will you run away again? I like you I like you I like you”). It’s fun watching Sam, likewise Francis, break away from his stoic disciplinary character and just be ~a fool in love~. I just hope that Jayden gets his groove back soon because Jayden “Captain Cool” Koo was so much more fun than Jayden “Moping Around After Girls” Koo.
Overall, I think the focus in Triumph II has been on relationships and I’m okay with it. I love Roy (Kenneth Ma) and Heather (Elena Kong) because it’s not only super cute, but it confronts a lot of stereotypes about relationships between older women and younger men. I was relieved that Roy x Heather wasn’t a byproduct of an affair, because I actually liked Tony x Heather a lot as well. The two of them are such great outstanding characters – they genuinely care about each other enough to want the best for them. I hope Roy and Heather get with dealing with their feelings soon because their flirting is the cutest thing. THEY’RE ENDGAME. I CAN SEE IT. Sorry, Adrian.
Another couple I’m rooting for is Coco (Nancy Wu) and Jim Jim (Him Law)! How sweet is it that Coco is Jim Jim’s childhood crush & hero?? I think Coco’s willingness to be a surrogate for her best friend is incredibly selfless and I really really really need this drama to not end it in a “told you she’d regret it” kind of way because I think what she’s done is awesome. I also get sweet feelings about Coco, Sam and Isaac’s makeshift family. It’s so heartwarming how Sam and Isaac think of Coco as their little sister and how they make sure she never feels the absence of her brother. Sam being in charge of her wedding talk and having little talks with her and being the first to support her decision to be a surrogate T_T Also their stupid Three Kingdoms trading card games omg.
I love Roy (Kenneth Ma) and Heather (Elena Kong) together and was so relieved that Roy and Heather weren’t involved in An Affair that ruined a strong marriage. Tony and Heather are probably two of the most outstanding characters in Triumph because their honesty and actual genuine care for each others happiness is so admirable. I’m glad they separated on good terms, but I’m sad that Roy and Heather still can’t admit their feelings to each other because their flirting is the cutest thing. ENDGAME I CAN SEE IT SORRY ADRIAN. The love triangle between Isaac (Ron Ng) and Summer (Myolie Wu) and Josie (Kelly Fu)… is what it is. I’m not so attached to it because it’s gone nowhere. I’m side-eyeing Isaac’s willingness to date Josie because it’s clearly an act of pity after finding out she’s dying of a terminal illness. I hope Josie’s suspicions will propel the three of them forward and that she doesn’t become a terrible cliche in the storyline. Another relationship I’m feeling – Jim Jim (Him Law) and Coco (Nancy Wu! How sweet is it that Coco is Jim Jim’s childhood crush/hero?? I think Coco’s willingness to be surrogate for her best friend is incredibly selfless and I really really really need this drama to not end it in a “told you she’d regret it” kind of way because I think what she’s done is awesome. Finally to bring everyone back full circle – I absolutely love the makeshift family that Sam, Isaac and Coco have. It’s so heartwarming how Sam and Isaac have taken Coco in as their little sister (after Vincent’s death) and it’s evident how much they care about her. Sam being in charge of her wedding talk and having little talks with her and being the first to support her decision to be a surrogate T_T Also their stupid Three Kingdoms trading card games omg.
Speaking of Isaac – The love triangle between Isaac (Ron Ng) and Summer (Myolie Wu) and Josie (Kelly Fu)… is what it is. I have no attachment for it because it’s going nowhere. I’m also giving Isaac some serious side-eye about his willingness to date Josie under the guise of helping her accomplish her bucket list. Is it a pity date? How are you going to kiss the Josie, but tell Summer you have no feelings for her??? I’d punch him in the FACE. I hope Josie follows through on her suspicions and it moves us forward without her becoming some noble cliche sacrifice. Their relationship is just so … boring. It narrowly beat out the fact that I don’t really care enough about any of the cadets in this cycle, which probably means that a part 3 won’t be likely since there won’t be any interesting untold stories left. I think it’s been detrimental that Triumph II doesn’t have a plot arc beyond the training of new cadets; It’s the same plot from part 1 and it makes the sequel forgettable. I don’t feel invested enough in any of the new characters (the cadets and the stewardesses) enough to want to watch another 40-episode drama about them. Still, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a great ending and hoping the 2-hour finale will give it a nice farewell.
PS: The theme song ended up growing on me.
Always and Ever (情逆三世缘)
THIS SHOW IS PRECIOUS. There’s been a bunch of dramas lately focused on karmic love and I’m loving every bit of it. I always settle in for a good cheesy ~love you throughout time~ story. Always and Ever is probably my second most looked forward to drama release this year because I get Bobby Au-Yeung and Esther Kwan on my screen again as a couple!! My golden OTP reunited in a decade?! Their chemistry with each other is so natural and their experience in the industry and comfort with each other really shows. I love that the writers acknowledge this with bits of meta by referencing Armed Reaction through their shared hobbies and photographs in their home. Icing on my enormous cake of feelings. Also, how clever was the word play with Au-Yeung Village and Kwan Wing River AHAHA HA HA HA HAHAHAH
Always and Ever probably isn’t the most inventive or original storyline out there. The cross-generational love story reminds me of Maiden’s Vow and the “guy from the modern era travels to ancient China and doesn’t know how to deal” is clearly influenced by, the ultimate time travel classic, A Step Into the Past (the same producer actually!). What I like, however, is how the time skips are approached with comedy and how The Big Conflict isn’t “DON’T CHANGE HISTORY!!” It’s always the big moral obstacle in time-travel related dramas and it’s constricting because you know it only ends one of two ways – you either change the future or you don’t. It’s entirely predictable and boring so it’s nice having a drama that has both time travel and doesn’t use a recycled plot dilemma.
The Song Dynasty arc was over-the-top and ridiculous, but in a good way. I don’t believe for a second that an average CIB inspector knows how to draft and build a spring mattress, a functioning music box or a telescope (?!), but I can accept it for the laugh factor of watching old-timey folks make “what is this fantasmical contraption” faces. AND OH MAN the plot holes are as deep as my emotions, but again I deal because the cast is so great. I’m excited to see what the 50’s era will bring, especially with Circle meeting his father (played by Pierre Ngo who’s been playing some knockout roles these days) and this reincarnation of Phoenix as a triad leader? Badasssssss.
· THE ALRIGHT ·
A Change of Heart (好心作怪)
BOSCO BOSCO BOSCO WONG. I’ll admit that the whole literal change of heart → change of personality concept was reallll gimmicky, but I ended up sailing off on that ship anyway because I am weak for Bosco. It got infinitely better once Yut San was killed off (oops) because Bosco Wong, playing identical twins lmao, fit the role of Yuet San a thousand times more than he did the goody-two-shoes brother. Siu Kut (Nicki Chow) made a mediocre girlfriend because of her baggage, but also kind of a lame police officer tbh. I was surprisingly down with Sin Hang (Joey Meng) and Chi Lik’s (Michael Miu) Bonny & Clyde love story, but I hated the redemption arc Sin Hang got in the last episode. In fact, the finale ep really left the whole thing feeling kind of underwhelming because everything fell into cookie cutter places. I guessed from the first few episodes that she was the one who killed Yut San so it wasn’t much of a reveal for me in the finale. I thought it was ridiculous that Chi Lik would come across a woman who looks exactly like his dead wife at the very end though. TVB pls. Luckily, or sadly, I don’t remember most of the ending. Rather, I have a longer lasting impression of how much I loved the troublesome trio of Yuet San, Eason (Vincent Wong) and Sze Ka Che (Mandy Wong) and their misguided concern for Siu Kut. Aww friendship! It also slayed me a bit that the rather well-groomed officer was named Oppa. KILLING ME. The humor was really well done even when it was kind of slapstick-y.
Beauty At War (金枝慾孽貳 or War And Beauty II)
It gets me down talking about Beauty At War because I always end up debating what it could have been vs. what it turned out to be. We could have had it alllllll – an incredible cast of actors, phenomenal storytelling and some of the best cinematography that I’ve seen from TVB in years (not to mention an extensive promotional budget and an enthusiastic fanbase) – but instead we’re rolling in the deep end of disappointment. I commend TVB on trying new things and tackling dramas with “substance”, but it seems they’ve either forgotten, no longer understand or are completely disregarding the demographics that make up their audience. The majority of TVB’s viewers have always been middle-class working families; these are people who don’t have the luxury of time to spend on dissecting a drama in order to understand it (ex. what is the significance of using red light in this particular scene? what did that subtle lingering stare imply?). It’s also borderline insulting that everything coming from Jonathan Chik & co. involves monologues about the human condition. Don’t preach pseudo-philosophical bullshit about humanity and mortality to people who work a million hours per week trying to get by feeding their family and putting their kids in good school – they don’t need to be lectured to. I could write SO MUCH about how Beauty At War is a perfect reflection of everything that is wrong with TVB, but I won’t because it’d go on forever. However, I just have to bring up the “SURPRISE IT WAS AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE AND THE ORIGINAL UNIVERSE IS LEAKING THROUGH” spin as a big wtf because I can’t have been the only person who missed the memo. I honestly thought the entire time that Beauty At War was a reboot like the Rosy Business series. I love a great AU, but this really should not have been one. War And Beauty was just so good that this is a pale imitation in comparison.
But GOD how incredible was Ada Choi as Buyamuci Seung Ling. Ada is just so good at what she does and it only makes it that more obvious what TVB is lacking in their artist roster. The moment Seung Ling learns that her children have been dead all the years she has spent inside the Forbidden City tending to another woman’s child (the crown prince, who is ALSO dead) and the pain she emotes when she has to come to terms with the loss of four children in a week…. goodness. I thought Sheren Tang and Christine Ng were also exceptional even if I didn’t buy the whole sisterly betrayal backstory – I really truly felt the sense of loneliness that Consort Dowager Shun must have felt having to resign to a life of solitude in the palace. Moses Chan was an noncommital “meh”, but color me beige because he’s been bland and drab for a while so I wasn’t all that surprised.
Honorable Mentions: Seasons of Love (CONCEPT = GOOD, EXECUTION = BAD) & Inbound Troubles (RIDICULOUS BUT FUN)
· THE NO GOOD VERY BAD ·
Bullet Brain (神探高倫布; lit. “Great Detective Columbo”)
This was, by far, the worst thing I’ve had the displeasure of watching this year. Even the likes of Wayne Lai and Pierre Ngo couldn’t save it from the depths of fiery drama hell. In fact, Wayne probably made it worse by saying he literally did not care if the show was cancelled. What on EARTH was this terrible campy mess of body switching, alter egos, superhuman healing powers, telepathy, dreamsharing, long lost children, government corruption, amnesia, murder, cannibalism and kitschy fight sequences? I couldn’t even watch it for the train-wreck factor because none of these things happened in a mockingly self-aware kind of way. For a drama titled after a detective, there was laughably little detective work. I’m willing to suspend belief for a lot of stuff that happens in dramaland, but this was a looooooooooong stretch. I hope it gets a nomination at the end of the year for the worst thing ever.
Dishonorable Mentions: Artfully Lawful (WHAT A MESS), Karma Rider (NO, JUST NO)
Anyway, really liking both of the dramas I’m currently watching even with their faults because the roundup of dramas this year have been so mediocre. They’re dim but steady lights in the darkness of HK television. Rumor is that the executive making broadcast decisions has changed recently and a different lineup is in play, which is a RELIEF because if I have to hear one more soapbox life lesson this year, I’m going to quit this game.