This review may contain spoilersOld Boy is the first slice-of-life drama that I've seen come from China. This genre is done well in Japan and Korea, but for it to really work for Chinese dramas, they are going to have to cut the episode count. There is a lot to enjoy about Old Boy but the episode #, as well as a late (last 10 or so episodes) move toward the normal cliches/tropes seen in Asian dramas soured my enjoyment of this series. Honestly, before the last episodes this would have been an 8 but that is what happens when filler and cliches take over a script.
What I liked:
Actors: All solid and really written well though I think the female lead was a bit of a princess but I love the actress so much, it was easy to overlook.
Story: You get it all: romance, bromance, father/son, girl friendship, student/teacher etc. With 45 episodes (not 47 listed on MDL), there is bound to be a storyline here and there that doesn't totally work or one finds boring and this did happen but the main friendships and such worked for me enough to overlook or judiciously fast forward.
Music: Love it.
Production Value: The best I've seen in a contemporary Chinese drama. Money was spent on this and I wanted to get on a plane and go to Shanghai.
What I liked the best: The relateability. For slice-of-life to work for an international viewer like myself, I have to be able to relate to it on some level and the drama does this well with relationship and job woes. Did they all work that way, no, but enough did and generally didn't go so over-the-top as to be silly. Also, none of the characters are perfect, they all have their flaws and we get frustrated with them but that's reality so it works here.
Special Shoutout: The father/son relationship was handled in a non-makjang (to borrow the Korean word) way. The young man who played the son was great, and I think it is my favorite relationship story out of all of them.
What didn't work:
As mentioned before, with so many stories going on, there were a few that didn't do much for me.
Job Scenarios: We see career woes that the main characters have happen, which is fair as they tend to happen to us all. I thought some of them, especially regarding the pilot were on the contrived side. Also the job situations that popped up with the lead female character could have been handled better as well as she sometimes seemed to not know her own mind on what she wanted to do which wasn't believable to how her character had been written in the beginning.
Last 10 episodes: So while the writer did a nice job on many relationshps like the bromance etc, after the romance gets going it goes into the normal cliches that one sees in so many Asian dramas. I was so disappointed. The writer also throws in a bunch of drama where there needn't have been any in this genre especially when there are real issues that any modern couple would face. I don't want to do spoilers but it shows how in a rut the writers are when it comes to romance storylines. I freely admit, I had to fast forward through a lot of the last 10 episodes because of my frustration.
What else you need to know:
Romance: it doesn't get started until halfway through so if you have to have that genre right away, this isn't for you.
Full Disclosure: Pacing: It is not a fast paced drama. I'm moody about this and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. At around episode 15, I turned this into a background drama and watched while doing other things and actually saved this drama for an evening of laundry or some organizational chore and still found it easy to keep up on the events of the drama. This works for me but might not be how others want to view dramas.
So overall this was a solid, but overlong, drama. It's relateable and I enjoyed getting to know all the characters. The modern vibe and flawed but likeable characters made it easy to get into but it easily could have dumped a few storylines, done a better job when the romance actually got going instead of relying on tired tropes and cut the episode count. Nonetheless, it's beautifully filmed, no dubbing, solid acting and if anyone ever told me I'd see Irish clogging in a Chinese drama, I would never have believed them but here we are. Hope this gives the reader some insight as to whether this is their cup of tea. I don't regret watching it but wish they could have stuck with the same tone of the first 35 episodes in the last 10 episodes.
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At the outset I was very apprehensive about watching a 45-episode drama that is billed in the "Romance" genre. Most of the Korean and Taiwanese dramas that we are accustomed to watching are perhaps 13, 16, 20 or at most 26 episodes long. Typically the part of a drama that lets me down is the dragginess and poor pacing. For example, mid-way through a drama one could feel that its too draggy, the writers purposely added parts to extend the length of the drama, etc.
Old Boy amazingly has very little of such issues. The first 10-20 episodes are sufficiently interesting and captivating as they hold your interest and build a solid foundation of the plot line. The longer and deeper the back story, the punchier the climaxes are. The writers here really know what they are doing as when the romance bit fires up midway through the series, it really gets going. The writers wrote this perfectly for 45-episodes, and you don't get the feeling that they are trying to "fill" stuff here and there.
I'm not too familiar with the famous Liu Ye from the mainland, but he pulled off a fantastic job. Ariel Lin is great as always, despite her age she looks young, beautiful and irresistible. Too bad she had to tweak her natural accent for the mainland China market.
Loved the story. Cried at the end. And I'm not someone who normally cries after watching a typical heart-wrenching k-drama. The characters have tremendous depth and they make you want to root for them. Mainland China dramas differ from the typical Taiwan or Korean drama in the moral aspect, the storyline will include some moments where there are examples of absurd immorality that may be realistic for the mainland, but ridiculous everywhere else. Still loved it.
Why I liked it:
- Very good pacing for a 45-episode drama
- Fantastic acting and chemistry
- Great storyline
Why I disliked it:
- If only Ariel Lin could use her natural accent
- Certain aspects of the story appear contrived
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