Thursday, September 26, 2013
Drama Review: They Kiss Again, 2007
Taiwanese romantic comedy
What it’s about
This sequel to 2005’s It Started with a Kiss follows Zhi Shu and Xiang Qin as they settle into married married life and try to find their places in the world.
They Kiss Again starts off a lot like its predecessor—add one part goofy, I Love Lucy-style antics; one part adorable, fanficy love story; and one part taciturn male lead, and you’ve got it exactly. Playing spot-the-grin is quite fun—Zhi Shu might not be fully domesticated yet, but he obviously finds his new wife to be quite amusing. He keeps hiding smiles whenever she does something silly.
The first half of this drama was a pleasure to watch. Its setting and characters were cozy and familiar, and it did a great job of surrounding its lead couple with a constellation of family, friends, and colleagues who provided interesting, almost free-standing, plots for each episode. It was funny and silly and cute, and the couple scenes featuring Zhi Shu and Xiang Qin made my heart go pitter-patter.
But by the time the midpoint rolled around, the same problems that plagued It Started with a Kiss were impossible to ignore. Both shows share a reason for being: the clashing of their diametrically opposed couple. Even after they’re married, Xiang Qin is insecure and obsessed with their relationship, and Zhi Shu doles out affection as if it’s something more costly than diamonds. There’s a lot to enjoy in the episodic stories along the way, but I started to feel like the female lead: I was being strung along by the promise of a love that never really materialized. We’d get a few minutes of adorable snuggling by the leads, but it would be immediately followed by three episodes of Zhi Shu being nasty and cold and harping on Xiang Qin’s eternal failings.
Which is not to say that I wanted this drama to be all unicorns and rainbows—I appreciate that martial discord is great fodder for stories, and They Kiss Again made good use of the device. I enjoyed it a lot whenever the plot skewed toward melodrama. But the show’s merciless depiction of clownishly inept Xiang Qin and the written-in-stone personalities of the lead characters eventually did me in. Like the show itself, they aged and moved forward in their lives, but never really changed or evolved into adulthood.
If you liked the first series, this drama is definitely worth watching just to see more of its lovable cast of characters. But if you’re impatient and prefer shows with strong central narratives (not entirely unlike yours truly), I have an alternate suggestion: watch the first and last episodes and skip everything in between. You’ll miss out on a lot of stories about the peripheral characters, but you’ll see the best the series has to offer, and you might just come away loving Zhi Shu and Xiang Qin instead of being frustrated by them.
• Episode 1. Dramafever has the long versions of this show’s episodes—each one lasts an hour and a half. I much prefer the half-episodes that Sugoideas had for ISWAK. I may have an insane attention span, but even I find these long episodes to be a stretch. On the bright side, Dramafever’s video quality is great. On Sugoideas it was so bad you could barely read people’s facial expressions.
• Episode 1. So in a drama it’s mildly cute if someone insists that their wedding video be played on an airplane’s central entertainment system. In real life, I’ve killed over significantly less obnoxious behavior.
• Episode 1. An embarrassing confession: I was all, “Huh, they speak English in Guam. Who knew?” And then I looked on Wikipedia and realized that there’s an excellent reason for this--it’s an American territory. My lack of knowledge about the modern world—and my own country—is pretty staggering.
• Episode 1. Well, there really is a first time for everything: the 37 thousand gifs I’ve seen of this episode’s big kissing scene don’t even begin to do justice to its epic, scorching hotness. I always suspected this golden-boy character’s natural aptitude for everything ever might not fail him at the key conjugal moment, and I think this ear nuzzling, neck hickeying, hand-wandering make-out session on the balcony proves me right. I genuinely believe this scene would have been too steamy for network TV even in America.
• Episode 2. A lot of people say this sequel is actually better than the original. It’s a bit too soon for me to decide if I agree, but I know one thing for sure: Joe Chen’s hair is about 150 percent less horrifying than it was in ISWAK. Were mullets a thing in 2005 Taiwan?
• Episode 2. All sorts of characters in this episode ran past a sign reading ”Medical Students Only.” You know what you’re likely to see if you do that? Cadavers, that’s what.
• Episode 4. It’s always so weird to see foreigners represented in Asian dramas. The heroine and her friends were just so freaked out by a white girl asking them for directions that they didn’t even realize she was speaking Chinese, not English. This must be the character that showed up in the last few episodes of Playful Kiss—the Westerner who’s destined to be with the second male lead. Impressive that she supposedly speaks great Chinese after just three months of study (and that she can’t speak English, even though she’s supposedly from London.)
• Episode 4. The show is kind of making a joke out of its dim female lead becoming a teacher, but I actually think she’d be great at it. She’s kind and compassionate and unfailingly believes that anything is possible—what more could you ask for an elementary school classroom? She’s definitely out of her league in high school, but that’s not the only game in town.
• Episode 5. This episode really gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “food baby.” It’s also clearly the basis for one of the more wonderful Playful Kiss YouTube episodes.
• Episode 5. According to this show, ”a girl’s best friend” is a euphemism for menstruation. Frenemy would be more appropriate, I think. Also, you don’t get a lot of jokes about period sex on television. Unbeknownst to the writers of They Kiss Again, that might be a good thing.
• Episode 5. A-Jin looks great in sleeveless shirts. I’m not so sure how I feel about them while serving food at the school cafeteria, though. Oh, wait. I am sure how I feel: grossed out. Would you like your soup with a side of armpit hair?
• Episode 6. I liked the later Korean version of this drama well enough, but it’s kind of amazing how many great story lines they let go to waste. The Taiwanese original and its sequel add up to way more hours of television, but they never got repetitive and dull the way Playful Kiss did by the end of its 16-episode run.
• Episode 7. There’s a party scene in this episode where a bunch of characters sit around a birthday cake that mysteriously takes the form of two pink mounds with red bows on top. The question is: Were they supposed to look like like two huge breasts, or is that just a surprise bonus?
• Episode 7. Finally, a drama with a realistic airport scene. Instead of stepping out of a cab just in time to see the person he must stop from boarding a plane meandering toward an easily accessible gate, this guy is wandering through terminal B like Moses through the desert. (Only without mana.)
• Episode 9. This episode’s big enema scene was...unexpected. I could do with less mocking of the female lead and more cuteness, show. The jealousy plotline you seem to have cooking is a big improvement, but no more icky medical treatments played for laughs, okay?
• Episode 12. Hooray for progressive gender politics in dramas. The charter member of the male lead’s fan club is another guy, and one who clearly likes him for more than just his mind. The fact that the guy also wants to be “crowned” as a nurse with the girls in his graduating class is just icing on the cake. (Now if only he’d get himself a cute boyfriend...)
• Episode 12. Like many Taiwanese series, the great thing about this show is how well it handles its extended cast. Kdramas can start to feel claustrophobic with the same few characters filling every minute of air time, but Taiwanese shows are full of secondary characters that seem to be living interesting lives off-screen while we’re watching their friends do something else. They just pop by to break the monotony with an occasional shotgun wedding, job crisis, or tragic breakup.
• Episode 13. At first I was kind of weirded out by the granny who’s obsessed with this show’s male lead. Then I thought about the age difference between me and Lee Hyun Woo, which put it all in perspective. Older women and younger men are totally on trend, right?
• Episode 15. I’ve now officially seen the best piggyback ride Asian drama has to offer. Somewhat unexpectedly, it involves a very small girl and a very large dog. Thank god Cutie Pie is okay—he’s second in my heart only to Sweeper.
• Episode 15. I’ve quite enjoyed this show up until now, but it’s quickly turning into an annoyance. The female lead is still the same idiot she was in episode 1—instead of growing and changing, she’s stuck in a rut of doing stupid things for the sake of her relationship with Zhi Shu. And he still barely tolerates her (although there are some rare moments of cute couple action). Unlike most Asian dramas, They Kiss Again doesn’t really have an overarching, novelistic plot. The leads are already together, so it’s all just wheel spinning to fill screen time. It may yet recover, but as of now I wish the second season had been about 10 episodes long.
• Episode 15. Was Zhi Shu attacked with a weed whacker on his way to the island? That’s the only possible excuse for his jagged rats-nest of a hairdo in this episode.
• Episode 15. After 35 episodes, they changed out the actor who played the younger brother without a word, which is Lynchian in its surreality. I was like...who’s that stranger at the dinner table? I don’t care if the series had a time jump—the original actor should have remained in the role until the end of the show :b
• Episode 20. You know, I’m not crazy about Dramafever’s Google TV app. It almost never tracks the episodes I’ve watched, and I just accidentally skipped from episode 15 to 20 without realizing it because the numbers are these tiny little buttons, rather than being front and center like they are on the website. On the bright side, this drama has a great, 4-hankie finale. That Joe Cheng isn’t the best looking drama hero, but he can convey emotional and physical longing like nobody else. So the question is: do I backtrack to episode 16 after watching this, or move on? [Finale note: I think fate stepped in. It’s time to leave this one behind.]
You might also like
The other dramas based on They Kiss Again’s source material—Korea’s Playful Kiss and Japan’s Playful Kiss—Love in Tokyo
In Time with You, which sees this show’s lead actress playing a capable grownup who gets shit done