by cityhunter, October 24, 2017

City’s Top 6 Taiwanese Dramas

If you’ve spent any time poking around you will have probably come across complaints about cheesiness and overacting in Tw-dramas.

As you’ve probably surmised I have thoughts about this.

The first is that the majority of what international fans have access to are Idol Dramas. Their job is to be fun and sleek and pretty to look at. The stories aren’t very deep and sometimes an actor's  sole qualification is that they too are pretty to look at. You don’t go to McDonald’s and try to order Froi Gras. Take your greasy French fries and hush. They’re delicious.   

My second thought is that like every other country Taiwan has its own style. It is a style of exaggerated emotion. In the past performers painted their faces with exaggerated makeup to make sure people way in the back could see them and I don’t think the Tw-drama style of acting is much different. There are people who do it really well and there are people who don’t do it well, just like every other country.

If you are someone who has been put off by bad acting or cheesy plot lines read on and let me convince you. If you’re already a Tw-drama lover, let’s dish.  

Down With Love

So much cute.

I’ll start with a classic. Down With Love was one of my first Tw-dramas. it’s an older drama (2010) so there’s the prerequisite screeching and moments of soap opera-esque ridiculousness. The writers and actors rise above though and bring us a surprisingly sweet story.

Tomboy Yang Gau (Chen Ella) is all of us who have ever felt awkward and not good enough in front of a really dreamy guy/girl and drives most of the comedy. Yu Ping (Yan Jerry) is a cold, ill-tempered lawyer at first but it quickly melts away to reveal a loyal, considerate, and attentive male lead who has moments where he too feels like an awkward mess who isn’t good enough for the girl he loves. There are moments of remarkable reality in Ella Chen’s portrayal. Jerry Yan, especially 2010 Jerry Yan, is probably not getting invited to work with the Royal Shakespeare company, but he does his thing and he does it well. He sells the emotions and the romance, even when he flounders and looks confused and you find yourself wondering if it’s part of the performance. If it’s not it’s still pretty cute.

The supporting cast is a mixed bag - some are fantastic, some are tiresome, so it evens out. There aren’t a lot of side stories. Where they exist they mostly serve the main plot or are woven deftly around it so you don’t feel like you’re wasting time on them. The main plot can get a smidge frustrating but just imagine how our leads must feel at that moment?  The soundtrack is appropriate but not remarkable. I gave Down With Love a 10 and have watched it three times.

Autumn's Concerto

I have seen this picture a hundred times and just realized how unhappy she looks!

Another Tw-drama classic that gets recommended a lot is Autumn’s Concerto.

Amnesia is usually relegated to the land of episode extensions, momentary distractions and unnecessary plot twists. I think this is why so many drama fans are annoyed by the trope. It’s an afterthought, a symptom of lazy writing and unimaginative storytelling. In Autumn’s Concerto amnesia is the plot and it is done well.     This show is intense. Honestly maybe a little too intense for some viewers. Just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, the misery and the awful were expertly punctuated with joy and adorableness so I never felt like I was drowning in it.

Even though this is an older drama as well (2009-2010), aside from the fashion it holds up really well. Probably because nothing feels like an afterthought - every plot development and a bit of dialogue is a deliberate choice.  Taking into consideration when and where the drama was made the performances are almost universally stellar. Wu Vaness holds his own with the well-established, more experienced An Ady. Their chemistry is amazing. The adorable Wen Benny has a habit of upstaging his adult co-stars. And don’t forget young Wu Chris. His turn as the second male lead here, very early in his career, was just a taste of the awesomeness to come.    

This show gets a 9 from me and I’ve watched it twice.

Back to 1989

I was not this fashionable in 1989.

Time Travel is a highly divisive genre. Some can’t get enough and others are sick to death of it. I don’t mind it personally as long as it’s well done, and Back to 1989 is certainly well done. It balances the time travel with romance, family, and friendship storylines in a way that keeps you interested and entertained. Some time travel dramas plop their leads in the past and promptly forget about it unless the plot needs to be rescued from itself. Not so with Back to 1989. The mystery and mechanics of how Chen Che (Chang Marcus) found himself in the decade of synth pop are never far from the forefront.

By and large, the mechanics of the time travel and even the reason for it are very well expressed and don’t feel like a gimmick. They do have to massage it a little to get the ending but it’s gratifying so you aren’t left feeling robbed.

This is yet another show that challenges the assertion that the acting is not good in Tw-dramas. Our main characters are all portrayed by actors in their late 20s to early 30s with a decent amount of experience and it really shows. No one is completely out of their depth or playing a role that doesn’t suit them. There is something about the way the writer and director have portrayed family life and friendships that I find uniquely endearing. It feels warm and inviting and very homey and is something many Tw-dramas do really well.

I gave this show an 8.5 and I’m probably going to go rewatch it now. Seriously, leave me alone and let me watch my dramas!  

Office Girls

It's not true love until someone wears a costume.

You can’t get more standard-issue than Office Girls. Here we have an idol rom-com featuring a rich heir and a frugal hard working employee who teaches him how the real world works and how to fall in love. I know you’ve seen a dozen dramas just like it and you’re asking me, “City, what could possibly be so special about this basicness?”

Well, for one thing, it is legitimately funny. I generally find the Taiwanese sense of humour to be amusing in a primary school kind of way at best, but I laughed a lot here. Mostly, though, it’s the cast. They are lively and on point not just with the jokes but with the more serious moments as well.

I’ll level with you: this show is not going to change your life. You are not going to sit up nights wondering what’s going to happen next and it’s not going to touch your soul, and if I’m being honest, it’s probably just a wee bit too long for its own good.  But it will entertain you. This is a fun, energetic ride and sometimes we all need something that is just fun for fun’s sake. I gave it a 9. I haven't rewatched it yet but I’m kind of busy with Back to 1989 so cut me some slack.

Love of Sandstorm

Cuz this is just the kind of day I'm having.

Love of Sandstorm is one of the most realistic Tw-dramas I have ever seen. The bright colours and peppy pop music of the idol drama are nowhere to be found. The wailing tragedy of the melodrama is also absent. Hilarious awkwardness and the relentless calamity that is humanity has replaced it.

There’s some romance, but the biggest focus is on the family and how each of them has their own fires to put out while trying to deal with what all these problems mean for them as a family.  The genius of this show is its focus on our shared experiences as humans.

Between the awkward tween, insecure young adult who still feels like a kid,  and the almost-30-year-old who wakes up one day and asks “how the hell did I get here?”, most of the audience can relate. Then you have the parents who are also trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in now that they aren’t consumed with the care of their children. It’s not flashy and it’s not glamorous. It’s familiar and sometimes, surprisingly, just a little bit gritty.   

I gave this an 8. If nothing else you should watch this then start Attention Love (which would totally be on this list if it weren’t still airing) so you too can be completely friggin shocked that Han Greg who plays Zhaung Hao Yang in this drama also plays Jin Yu Bin in AL.

That wraps up the rundown of my six favourite Taiwanese dramas.  As always I look forward to hearing from you guys in the comments below!