Compared to the last two years, a great thing this year is that I don’t have to work between Christmas and New Years! I was hoping to catch up on some dramas – as you’ll see below I’ve started a few with the ‘intention’ of continuing on but then life just got in the way, but then the hot weather here is making me so lazy LOL (or want to hide in air-conditioned shopping centres…). Anyway – personally, 2014 was another change for me (job wise) which means no extended holidays *sad face* and no serious fangirling activity! I’m disappointed in myself. Hopefully I can rectify that in 2015.
Overall, I don’t feel like I’ve watched that many dramas. Or at least I’m not watching enough (in terms of numbers and variety) to merit a drama blog. Well, I never said I was an expert in the land of dramas. 😉 I just happen to watch them and I like to write (or fangirl depending on the mood). HOWEVER, Obsessions of Line has a mega year end review post (which includes a couple of the reviews here) so head over if you want to read more opinions on this year’s Taiwanese, Chinese, Korean and Japanese dramas.
This list includes everything I’ve started and/or completed in 2014. So it includes older dramas and not just the ones aired in 2014. I’ve used the ratings I put down over at MyDramaList.com to keep things consistent.
HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!
A Good Wife (2013)
Rating – 9/10
[Previous Posts – Thoughts on episodes 1 to 11]
Based on the rating this is my favourite drama of the year. However, I didn’t ‘enjoy’ it and I don’t really want to watch it again. Sounds awful right? But it’s not! Since it earnt Best Acting nominations for both leads (and a win for Christopher Lee), needless to say, the actors did a great job here. But the storyline of a seemingly perfect marriage and subsequent hardships the leads go through is a painful journey. It explores the life after a ‘happy ending’. When you married your prince charming, living in a big castle but is that really the life you wanted? What if you fall in love with someone else?
TW dramas are mostly known to be fluffy, illogical rom-coms with brainless female leads and your stereotypical rich heir male lead. A Good Wife is none of these as it examines realistic situations, raw emotions and a somewhat taboo topic of an affair. However, the ‘affair’ itself is hardly hot and steamy. It probably does a better job questioning what exactly constitutes an affair. The soundtrack is just as heartbreaking as the story. Everytime I listen to Aska Yang’s subtheme songs I can still feel the pain of these characters.
It’s subbed on Viki by the way – so there’s no excuse not to watch it!
Marry or Not (2013)
Rating – 8.5/10
I previously wrote a detailed review for this already but to sum it up – I think this drama has a decent storyline with likeable leads. Surprisingly what kept me watching was the two secondary couples which had good chemistry and enjoyable development. A lot of times their interactions overshadowed the main pair. Maybe it’s because the main couple of Tian Xin and Xiu Jie Kai got together quite early and the difficulties they encounter in their relationship were either boring family drama or a mentally unstable ex-girlfriend. Luckily, they were not over the top to the point where it would spoil the drama completely. In a way, there were so few lovey dovey scenes between Tian Xin and Xiu Jie Kai it was definitely a missed opportunity. Or they were all concentrated towards the beginning of the drama that by the end I finished it, I had forgotten already. (Since it took me some 8 months to watch 40 episodes…)
Overall, I would still recommend this. Although this drama is called ‘Marry or Not’ I don’t think I’ve gained new perspectives on marriage (like I did with A Good Wife!), but I guess it’s rare to find a longer drama where the three main couples were all likeable.
Pleasantly Surprised / Love Myself or You (2014)
Rating – 7/10
If I was rating this drama for the plot alone it would barely be a 5. The main ideas of switching the stereotypes (instead of nice girl/mean guy we now have mean girl/good guy) and setting the story around French cuisine are good. However, in your typical film-as-you-air fashion, the attention to details which would make this a great drama is definitely lacking. I guess SETTV’s method to compensate the audience is good looking leads. It’s no secret that this drama turned my casual liking of Jolin Chien into full blown fangirl mode. His character, Cheng Hao Wei earnt himself a place as one of the most self sacrificing second leads despite a rocky start. To be honest, Hao Wei was the one who kept me watching every week and I even made a whole set of gifsets because I was that addicted!
So back to the leads. Jasper Liu and Puff Guo are both very likeable and Puff has improved a lot since Just You. I’ve only seen a few episodes of Jasper’s earlier drama Amour et Patisserie so I can’t comment on his acting progress but his character Ah Jie fits his happy, sweet image. Maybe it’s my bias talking but Ah Jie started off strongly but his character faded away as the story progressed into less enjoyable territory. Pleasantly Surprised is more memorable than your run of the mill idol drama because not only the main leads had great chemistry, but every staff member at Figaro Cuisine (the restaurant this drama is set in) had this family feeling – you can see that all of the cast members worked well together through the behind the scenes videos and their frequent postings on social media. As a testament of this, the cast is still having regular get togethers, eating hot pot together, going to watch Jasper’s band Morning Call in concert… So despite the illogical plot at times it was like visiting your favourite family members every week and enjoying their interactions.
The most annoying thing though, was some unresolved matters at the end. (eg. Le Xuan’s lost of taste) I can accept the messy kidnapping, sudden pairings of the Figaro Cuisine staff but writers – at least get your act together so we tie up ALL the loose ends?
Rock n’ Road (2014)
Rating – 7/10
Bell curve drama. That’s what it was. OK start which builds up to some of its best episodes in the middle and then ran out of ideas in the end. Kimi Hsia’s character was annoying at first (she was the stereotypical loud and naive female lead) but luckily it tones down to a reasonable level as her character matures and goes on a journey to become an A-lister. Chris Wu is charismatic as the successful music producer who lost his career and his long-term girlfriend then hedges his bet on the ever optimistic dreamer. Even though Chris and Kimi are now dating (not sure whether they started during or after filming?!), I didn’t really feel any “explosive” chemistry between them. They were an enjoyable pairing, but I didn’t ship them.
Since this is a drama based around the music industry, Rock N’Road had a great soundtrack. The shortcoming was the leads are not singers and they had to lip sync most of their performances. That was kinda weird. When they sang in their original voices though, it propels the scene to a new level giving it a genuine quality.
For Taiwanese dramas, SETTV has pretty much dominated the overseas market but it’s great to see TVBS promoting its dramas to an international audience as well. I feel that the difference between SETTV and TVBS dramas is that TVBS has more attention to detail and feels more sincere. (Whilst I get the feeling SETTV churn out idol dramas like a factory line.) In terms of the story, Rock N’Road suffers towards the end but I really loved the episodes in the middle during the road trip to promote Wei Zhen (Kimi Hsia)’s album. At least the ending did not disappoint.
Summer Fever (2012)
Rating – 7.5/10
I watched it since it was airing on J2 (Hong Kong TVB’s 2nd channel) but it was Cantonese dubbed, which was weird at first but I got used to it. Watching it in winter really made me miss summer because this drama was about the sunshine, happiness, sweet first love… flowers and bunnies. George Hu and Gui Gui were a really cute pair and I loved their chemistry. However, the last 10 episodes had a significant switch to a darker tone which ruins the earlier setup. I can understand that life is tough so they can’t be the happy couple forever, and I can even accept the clingy second female lead, the melodramatic accident which made her blind… then George takes care of her out of guilt… and even Gui Gui’s illness I can accept since that was revealed to the audience at the very beginning and we knew the story was headed there. However, what completely annoyed me was the twin story. It’s just too weird and a total cop out.
Kinmen looks beautiful in this drama though. Wonderful scenery, beautiful leads.Too bad the story wasn’t consistent enough to make this a great drama. Two-thirds of it was enjoyable though.
The Pursuit of Happiness (2013)
Rating – 7/10
Since this was the first drama I completed in 2014 it feels like so long ago now. There is a more detailed review here which covered everything I wanted to say. Whilst Sonia Sui and Tony Yang were both great leads and had a lot of chemistry, I also had a lot of issues with regards to how much the story focused on Sonia’s character. Tony’s character was left with being just another good guy whose only flaw was possibly – being too nice. There was also a lot of potential in terms of the supporting characters (Sonia’s best friends) to show some different perspectives on love but that potential was wasted. All in all, it looked great, the soundtrack was lovely and despite my issues with the plot, at least it was short (13 episodes), otherwise I might’ve given up.
Love Cheque Charge (2014) – dropped after 20 episodes
[Previous Posts – Filming news]
I like George Hu, a lot. He’s probably not the strongest actor out there but he’s quite natural. Did I mention he has a cute accent AND he speaks a lot of English in this? What an incentive to start watching right? But to sustain a viewer’s interest for 74 episodes I really need to like the leads AND at least one supporting couple to go the distance of approximately 48 minutes x 74 episodes = 3552 minutes or 59 hours. Unfortunately when I decided to drop this it was mostly because George’s nitpicky character, his refusal to admit he’s wrong and just his overall pride and stubbornness was actually getting on my nerves. In addition, I don’t think I ever warmed towards Phoebe Yuan’s character – the not the most intelligent but hard working older sister who will do anything for her three very young siblings aka the damsel in distress who needs rescuing… I don’t think one would expect SETTV daily dramas to have ‘inspiring’ storylines but I’m just not really in the mindset of watching this for another 50+ episodes.
The other deciding factor was the other couples – Jay Shih and Smile Weng were cute but I find the premise of their story rather thin. (ie. He falls in love with her because she looks like an anime character.) Also, from the first episode I had some hope in Jet Chao (who plays George’s brother)’s storyline, but they dashed my hopes very quickly by turning him into a lovesick puppy. I guess overall there doesn’t seem to be enough incentive to go the long long distance.
You Light Up My Star (2014) – dropped after 2 episodes
[Previous Posts – Story Outline and Teasers]
To be honest I had hopes for this drama but it didn’t grab me after 2 episodes. I applaud the production team for trying to do something different though. Maybe it was too ambitious and ended up failing to deliver.
IN PROGRESS & ACTUALLY MIGHT COMPLETE
Dear Mom (2014) – up to episode 11
This is the drama which followed Love Cheque Charge – an film-as-you-air daily which will probably be around 70 episodes in total. I usually loathe dramas which has such a short turnaround time because it probably means the crew hardly have time to edit let alone write properly. Plus as you get towards the end the actors are likely to be rather burnt out as well. However, this drama focuses on a family with four daughters with different personalities and of course, their respective relationships. So I guess variety is good. In addition, you know I’m watching for the guys – Xiu Jie Kai, Melvin Sia and Jack Lee in the same drama is definitely a win.
So far, the story focuses a lot on the Joanne Tseng/Melvin Sia pair and they’re totally cute. Also, Xiu’s character is the kind and caring type so you can’t go wrong there. Even the Beatrice Fang/Jack Lee pair is showing potential. If I lasted 20 episodes with Love Cheque Charge I will at least better that with Dear Mom.
Mr Right Wanted (2014) – up to episode 2
[Previous Posts – Filming news and story outline]
Really loved the first two episodes – from the actors (Sonia!) to the writing to the themesong, I totally ‘get’ Sonia’s character here but for whatever reason I just haven’t found the time to keep watching. I was planning to pick this up again but got sucked into another series…
PMAM (2013) – up to episode 14
[Previous Posts – Episodes 1 to 10 thoughts]
I’m still optimistic about finishing this drama (technically, it’s a web series but I couldn’t be bothered starting a new category for it) because I loved the humour, the leads (Beatrice Fang and Xiu Jie Kai) and the more unconventional storyline. Most dramas feature leads (at least the girls) that are rather pure and innocent, but PMAM talks about the lives of partygoers, which seem promiscuous on the outside but I suspect some still hold traditional values on the inside. I just hope it keeps up with its edginess and freshness though.
The Way We Were (2014) – up to episode 5
Just like Mr Right Wanted, this is another drama I loved but just haven’t found the time to finish. Unfortunately I’ve read some spoilers which dampens my enthusiasm for it. I’m still in the 90s era which I guess was the most carefree, innocent parts of the characters’ lives and it probably gets worse from here. Yikes.
I MIGHT FINISH THEM SOMEDAY…
Apple in your eye (2014)
The Game of Lies / X Lies (2014)
[Previous Posts – The Game of Lies story outline and teasers]
Both of these dramas I watched the first episode of but haven’t really had the time to make any progress. I think I’m going to watch The Game of Lies first because (again) I saw some spoilers for Apple in your eye which isn’t making me rush out to watch it. The Game of Lies, however, had a pretty decent start and it’s more of a mystery, a darker series so it’s a nice change.
HONG KONG DRAMAS
A Time of Love (2014)
Rating – 7/10
Four short stories with a cast from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Korea, A Time of Love is a rarity from TVB. Why? Because it actually looked like people made an effort. From the different filming locations (including Malaysia, Singapore, Korea and Japan) to the interesting collaborations (eg. Kate Tsui with Chris Wang and James Wen, Linda Chung with Yeon Jung Hoon), this drama shows TVB has the potential to come up with something good but for whatever reason (monetary they always say), they choose not to. The episodes themselves were decent, not spectacular. For a 45 minute story you can’t expect much else. My favourite was probably episode 1. Not sure if this was successful enough that TVB would make something similar again, but it was a good try.
Bounty Lady (2013)
Rating – 7/10
I had high expectations for this. But now I’ve learnt that high expectations usually end up in its equivalent in disappointment. Well, maybe I wasn’t spectacularly disappointed with Bounty Lady but everytime I made a comment on it I just never had any particular strong feelings about it. It was kinda funny and I liked most of the casts. Maybe it’s because we started off on the wrong foot, I did not like the first story featuring May Chan (because I didn’t think it was funny) so recovering from it was difficult.
Line Walker (2014)
Rating – 8/10
Learning from my previous mistakes I didn’t have much expectation for this drama. So I really liked the beginning (I think the 3rd week – episodes 11 to 15 were the best episodes) but as TVB likes to do, things started to go downhill from there. At least it held itself together in the end – barely. I think the writers were trying to be too smart and the plot became way too complicated with twists and turns in every episode. It became confusing and exhausting! The premise itself was a bit far fetched in the first place. And please, stop making everyone an undercover (especially Foon Hei Gor) because then… who is actually the bad guy?
Maybe I was a bit harsh on the rating (since it probably deserves the same rating as Ruse of Engagement) but it’s probably because it started off so well and then just progressively got worse towards the end.
Ruse of Engagement (2014)
Rating – 8.5/10
Despite its poor start, Ruse of Engagement was surprisingly good. It still suffers from TVB’s habit of having questionable endings but overall it had some intense cliffhangers and I was hooked from about episodes 11 to 21. The story is not perfect but most of the action scenes were done well (like the low budget stuff is good, but the high budget explosions, car chases etc were only so-so) and I was really drawn towards one character. For a change it’s not the good looking guy – it was actually Yoyo Mung’s character. That’s another surprise on its own because I’ve never really liked her as an actress. I’ve come to appreciate Ruco Chan via this series. (For some reason, I was neutral towards him in The Other Truth.)
My original rating on MyDramaList is quite high though, I’m still wondering whether I liked this more than Line Walker.
The Borderline (2014)
Rating – 8.5/10
Since the first episode was released in June 2013, I had been waiting for this series for a long time. Did it deliver? Yes and no. Some of the casts were great (Liu Kai Chi and Dominic Lam in particular) but the weak link was definitely Lawrence Chou. I thought he’s an experienced actor but when he’s angry, he’s wayyyy over the top. It was like pulling a rubber band and you know eventually, that rubber band is about to snap and it’ll hurt. Seeing Leila Tong again was a delight but unfortunately her character was 80% annoying. I grew to like her relationship with Calvin Lui Hei (Tyson) though. They were a really cute pair.
As for the story itself, it’s definitely not perfect and suffers from inconsistency. The first episode, was really really good but as it progressed, some elements were rather far fetched. There were convenient plot devices (found a few long lost family members along the way) and ultimately, the ending had me scratching my head wondering where the heck it came from. I’m probably extremely generous with its 8.5 rating but I guess it was for – Liu Kai Chi, the cinematography and the real filming locations. Oh and of course, support for the new HKTV.
Black Heart White Soul (2014)
I only watched this series from about episode 19 onwards but from what I saw, I would probably rate this as a better series than Line Walker? As least the ending was actually reasonable and great acting from the leads. I would’ve gone back to watch the beginning if I had all the time in the world.
Overachievers (2014) – dropped after 10 episodes
I don’t know why I started this. This is NOT my type of series at all and the casts are not my cup of tea either. I have a huge bias against Wayne Lai so… let’s not go there. I liked Raymond Wong and Nancy Wu’s relationship developments though. Grace Chan is surprisingly good for a newbie and I wouldn’t mind seeing her in another series. (Looks like there’ll be many to choose from in the future since TVB is heavily promoting her.)
IN PROGRESS & ACTUALLY MIGHT COMPLETE
The Election (2014) – up to episode 7
[Previous Posts – Episodes 1 to 4 thoughts]
I did start this with the intention of just supporting HKTV but The Election turned out to be so much better. The political theme might be a turn off for some (probably including myself) but I feel that the heart of the story is about the struggle for power, money and fame which has universal appeal. It’s refreshing to see Angelica Lee in a TV drama and of course, Liu Kai Chi doesn’t disappoint. Watching The Borderline and The Election at the same time was not an issue at all because you can’t tell Liu Kai Chi is in both dramas. As Angelica’s most trusted advisor, Gregory Wong is a welcomed (re)discovery. My only issue with this drama is that it only airs once per week!
To Be or Not To Be (2014) – up to episode 9
When I first read the synopsis I wasn’t interested in this series at all. The story of two sisters, one went to Hong Kong in search for a better life while the other stayed in a village in China. Old grudges and bitterness resurface when they meet again 30 years later… I would usually run far, far away from these stories but I’m glad I didn’t. The sisters’ struggles actually flesh out the identity crisis the people of Hong Kong are having at the moment – and it asks an interesting question: In the next life, will you still want to be HK-er? Or will there be no difference? The overarching plot might seem stereotypical but the observations about HK/China cultural differences, the way HK-er see themselves and those from Mainland China, and the way Mainland Chinese see themselves and HK-ers are very interesting and thought provoking.
Seeing Maggie Cheung Hor Yee back on screen is definitely welcomed. I forgot how good she is compared to the current TVB ‘fa dans’. Poon Chan Leung (who plays Au Yeung San aka Hill) is also great to watch – he is a veteran stage actor and although this is his first TV series, the transition is seamless. Prudence Liew is also a rare sight on TV (or whatever electronic device you’re watching from!) and she plays her role so well. The only ‘weak link’ seems to be the story about the two younger people in the office. They just seem detached from the rest of the story. However, there is some rumour injected into their parts so it’s not a huge turn off.
Overall, I love this drama so far and can’t wait to see how it develops.
Shining Days (2013)
Rating – 5/10
I think I’m being way too generous giving this a 5. Name a drama troupe and Shining Days probably had it. Babies switched at birth? Check. Some sort of revenge plot? Check. Super evil and irredeemable character? Check. Super angelic female lead who can do no wrong? Check. Two girls fighting the same man? Check. Blindness? Check. Pretending to be blind to hang onto a guy? Check. Rich guy hung up on some girl from his childhood? Check. I can go on but you get the point.
The Virtuous Queen of Han (2014)
Rating – 7/10
[Previous Posts – Songs from the drama & photos from promo event]
I haven’t watched that many Chinese dramas this year mostly because it would require a lot to tempt me. Usually, that means a cast consisting of some favourites. For The Virtuous Queen of Han, that was of course Raymond Lam although I like Niki Chow in general. The story is ok – nothing new and if you’ve seen Beyond the Realm of Conscience (BTROC), some elements are very similar. Considering this is Mui Siu Ching & Lau Ka Ho’s first series since leaving TVB, that is expected. Like BTROC, The Virtuous Queen of Han tries to convey a positive message of doing good deeds. I have no objections to this but what about if it means sacrificing historical accuracy? I only read Wei Zi Fu’s story from Wikipedia (so I can’t guarantee it’s 100% accurate) but there appears to be some alarming omissions of her life in this series, the parts which would contradict the overall ‘positive’ message this drama is trying to portray. Right or wrong? I’m not sure. I just feel uneasy about it because if you’re going to have a drama based around Wei Zifu’s life, I don’t expect every single detail to be correct but at least the overall gist should be.
Historical accuracy aside, the story in general was quite restricted. I mean that for a 47 episode drama, there aren’t that many supporting characters or subplots. Issues were always resolved in the same way. Since Wei Zifu was the ultimate good character, there was hardly any development. She was the kind soul from beginning to end. Luckily, two of the supporting characters really shone. That’s Niki Chow’s Princess Pingyang and her real life beau, Jeremy Tsui who plays Duan Hong. Duan Hong is your self-sacrificing second lead whom you can’t help falling for, while Princess Pingyang is a strong character despite all the hardships she had to endure. The sets and costumes are what you would expect in a palace drama these days – nothing extraordinary but does the job. But of course I’m biased towards Raymond Lam’s opening and ending theme songs, I probably like the opening song more.
Shenzhen aka Shenzhen Roommate Diaries (2014) – dropped after 8 episodes
I can probably sum up my reasons for dropping this drama after 8 episodes in 10 words. Not funny, and not interested in the upcoming melodramatic storylines. That’s why I ran away from this. Sometimes I wonder, did Show Lo read the script and thought – wow this is a great story so I want to be in this? Or did he just look at the money being offered? I firmly believe that if you want to make a slapstick type comedy, then commit to it. However, Shenzhen Roommate Diaries switches between lighthearted situations Show Lo’s character encounters moving into an apartment with three girls, to your typical c-drama power struggle plot involving some rich guy hung up over the female lead and Show’s ex-girlfriend who dumped him for a rich guy. It’s tiring just to type it out. Imagine watching it for another 40 plus episodes.
Sad thing is I rather liked the cast – I meant Show Lo + Gui Gui + Ao Quan. But both Show and Gui Gui looked like they seriously need to catch up on some sleep, so they didn’t have that energy and seemed rather dull. Ao Quan was surprisingly funny, although he didn’t have a lot to do in the episodes I watched. I guess it’s possible Shenzhen improved in future episodes, but I ran out of patience to find out.