Thursday, April 18, 2013

Drama Review: Mars (2004)

Grade: C+

Taiwanese romance melodrama

What it’s about
In spite of their many differences—he’s popular and an experienced ladies’ man, she’s painfully shy—a pair of broken college students find themselves drawn together. As their relationship progress, they must overcome their tortured pasts. (And a boatload of crazy, too.)

First impression
As of episode 2, I really like this sweet love story that revolves around a timid, victimized girl and her rebellious classmate. The only thing I could ask for would be better streaming options—every site I can find has the same low-quality video with English subtitles at the top of the screen.

Final verdict
The best thing about Mars is its approach to its lead couple: instead of treading water for 21 episodes of will-they-or-won’t-they wheel-spinning, it actually allows them to have a real relationship. The script deals candidly with two haunted people establishing a serious relationship and learning to navigate life together. (As this drama is Taiwanese, not Korean, it even tackles the issue of sex in a mature way.) Throughout the show, their characters grow and change, but they always have powerful chemistry and believably love each other.

This central relationship and the story’s speedy plotting will keep you watching, but the rest of the drama leaves a bit to be desired. Many of its characterizations are inconsistent: Without comment, a brutal mean girl morphs into the female lead’s smily, protective best friend. And the female lead herself is barely able to speak in front of strangers in one episode, but in the next she’s just a regular girl casually interacting with the people around her.

Also frustrating is the clown-car full of personal demons the male lead is plagued by. I like a show that focuses on its character’s emotions, but this guy really is like an onion: he’s composed of layer after layer of misery. Peel away one horrible personal tragedy and you find another. And another. And another. This leads to a drama with very little action—instead, people sit around having a lot of raw, soul-baring conversations and crying.

Although it’s not exactly perfect, Mars is a refreshing, involving watch. If you’re in the mood for a decent drama with a sweet romance, you could do worse.

Random thoughts
Episode 1. Ah, the fangirl’s dilemma. Do I watch this show on Sugoideas with the English subtitles on the top of the screen (making them supertitles, I guess), or watch it on one-fourth of my television’s screen using Viki. Hmm...what to do?

Episode 2. I hate how long and involved Taiwanese opening credits of this era tend to be—they give away too much of the plot and hog air time that could be spend on storytelling instead of branding.

Episode 2. So if the male lead is afraid of mirrors, how does he maintain his gloriously feathered mullet? It clearly requires a lot of quality time with a blow dryer.

Episode 2. This show’s female lead is the Taiwanese cousin of Flower Boy Next Door’s introverted Dok Mi. While FBND went out of its way to keep Dok Mi’s emotional experience front and center in every scene, Mars lets Qi Luo withdraw into herself in a way that may be more genuine but is less accessible. The actress who plays her is clearly beautiful (that hair!), but the show’s lack of close ups is making her use broad body language to convey emotion rather than the kind of intimate facial expressions Park Shin Hye got to rely on in FBND.

Episode 2. Controversial statement alert: After watching a string of recent Kdramas, it’s a pleasant novelty to see actors who have their mothers to thank for their good looks, not their plastic surgeons.

Episode 3. The most fundamental trait in a Kdrama female lead seems to be a cheerful aptitude for hard work, while Taiwanese dramas want their female leads to be self-sacrificing above all else. Instead of fighting back (or lying), this girl was going to happily allow her career as an artist to be destroyed because she wouldn’t obey a bully. Silly.

Episode 3. What is this, MC Escher University? I’ve never seen so many giant, perilous-looking flights of stairs in my entire life.

Episode 3. Holy second leas syndrome, Batman...

Episode 3. Ask and ye shall receive! Some kind subber has moved the English subtitles to the bottom of the screen in this episode. Here’s hoping it lasts for the rest of the series. [Finale note: It didn’t, but it was less annoying once I got used to it.]

Episode 5.

Dear Mars:
Less racing, more making out, please.

Episode 5. This show has done what I feared so much in FBND: once it became inconvenient for the female lead to have social anxiety, that aspect of her personality pretty much disappeared. She’s still quiet, but now acts more like a regular girl without having earned the change the way Dok Mi did. I guess it’s not that surprising—even over-the-top melodramas can handle only some many damaged characters, and this one clearly has its hands full with its male lead.

Episode 10. Now things are really getting good—their college just got its first flower boy, who seems to be in love with the male lead. Plus, maybe a little crazy.

Episode 10. I don’t know if it’s the male lead’s shaggy hair or the drama’s cheesy graphics, but Mars reminds me of the 1970s after-school specials that used to show in reruns when I was in grade school. I loved them, of course.

Episode 12. I just realized this show’s leads also starred together in Meteor Garden, the Taiwanese version of Hana Yori Dango/Boys over Flowers. Don’t quote me on this, but I think he was that show’s equivalent of Ji Hoo...meaning this is one of those fabulous, Heartstrings-esque rematches were the old second lead gets another shot at the girl. Hooray!

Episode 12. Why is Qi Luo always cooking for Sheng but never eating herself? It’s weird how she sits there and watches him eat.

Episode 13. After a promising start featuring a girl-instigated forehead kiss, this episode took a turn for the horrible and now rivals Que Sera, Sera in the category of regrettable near-rape scenes. Random fact: no girl likes being overpowered and forced into sex, even if she isn’t scarred from previous abuse.

Episode 15. I’d like to believe that in the real world no mother would ever allow this to happen, but I’m afraid the motivating factor is all too realistic: Financial dependence can be an impossible barrier to getting out. I’m definitely going to need a light-as-air Kdrama to recover from this emotional roller-coaster.

Episode 19. Gee. I wonder what companies sponsored this show? My guess would be Fila and Corona, as practically every scene includes at least one of their labels.

Episode 21. For something that’s ostensibly a romance, Mars sure has a lot of creepy parts. I usually watch dramas in the evening with the lights off, but several scenes in this show freaked me out so much I had to turn them back on.

You might also like
Autumn’s Concerto, the queen of Taiwanese melodramas 

Flower Boy Next Door, for its more reasoned and believable take on an introverted character recovering from a difficult past


  1. Mars was not an easy watch for me the first or second time. But it's so compelling and their's just so wonderful watching it bloom and grow in spite of everything around and inside them.

    I've since collected the manga and I've just started reading it. Surprisingly, the drama is pretty much true to the manga. I guess I'm used to movies that are adapted from novels or comics and wreak havoc with the characters and/or story, so it's a nice surprise to me to find that this drama barely deviated from the manga.

    In spite of its flaws, I love this drama to pieces and it will always remain as one of my absolute favorite dramas.

  2. Hehe.. I don't know why, but this drama seriously goes on my "Total Love" list.. flaws and all. Maybe I would think differently now (since I seem to getting more and cynical about dramas), but once I got over the "omg, another layer of misery.. and another!" phase, I just wanted to say 'bring it on!' and watch the couple fight through it together. Crazy. It has so many elements that I hate in other dramas, yet I loved it here. Must be because of the grounding of the main couple. I even liked the whole motorcycle racing aspect of the story (and I hate motorcycles and racing...) Go figure.

  3. I'm sad to hear about the subbed options. And holy moly the opening credits of TWDramas! ISWAK was one minute thirty four seconds. Otherwise known as way too effing long.

    1. I just skipped right over the opening credits :b

      Mars has the added annoyance of incredibly long closing credits—practically the whole first and last video segments were fastfoward-able. It's also weird that the opening credits will include characters that don't even get introduced until the latter part of the show. That's actually confusing if you're watching for the first time.

  4. it's funny how you only found out on episode 12 that he's Hua Zhe Lei..I still havent watched this even with my forever crush on Vic Zhou because its looks deppressing.

    1. I haven't watched any of the Meteor Garden shows...but they're so at the top of my list now. Even a mullet can't hide how smoking hot Vic Zhou is ;)

    2. If you're feeling like a Vic Zhou binge, may I rec Black & White (痞子英雄) again? Lots of hot guys, gangsters and girls with guns.

      Opening song here:

  5. I'm loving this show right now, Amanda, thanks for letting me know your thoughts about it!


  6. This drama is fully packed with LOVE.The main reason I like this drama than usual love stories is the couple is always face tragedies together instead number of breaking ups and re making ups. Thanikng the director ,writer and the cast(specially Vic Shou & Barbie Hsu) for making such a wonderful unique quality product for viewers.

  7. Please recommend me a similar quality Asian drama.I love to watch this type of quality dramas filled with true love....

  8. This drama is fully packed with LOVE.The main reason I like this drama than usual love stories is the couple is always face tragedies together instead number of breaking ups and re making ups. Thanikng the director ,writer and the cast(specially Vic Shou & Barbie Hsu) for making such a wonderful unique quality product for viewers.

  9. I'm watching this drama right and it's going to be one of my favorite T dramas-flaws and all. Their chemistry and their love is definitely hard to resist.Vic is a great actor and they looked so natural together.I loved seeing his character change from tough Casanova type bad boy to a sweet protective patient boyfriend who is head over heels through out the drama.I notice there's a new Japanese version but this will definitely have a special place in my heart