TV Binge: Midnight Mass (2021)

Midnight Mass (2021)

Creator: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, Kristin Lehman, Samantha Sloyan, Igby Rigney, Rahul Kohli, Annarah Cymone, Annabeth Gish, Alex Essoe, Rahul Abburi, Hamish Linklater, Henry Thomas, Michael Trucco, Matt Biedel, Crystal Balint

An isolated island community experiences miraculous events – and frightening omens – after the arrival of a charismatic, mysterious young priest. – IMDB

The third Netflix limited series of Mike Flanagan takes a completely different direction. Midnight Mass is bigger than the haunted house set-up but instead tackles an isolated island community and the uprise in religious faith after their new priest is able to create a miracle. This review will be mostly spoiler-free so some things will be much more general. If you’ve watched it, you might what I am addressing.

Diving religion and belief is a pretty ambitious direction to take especially since it also is a rather touchy subject for the most part. It brings up a lot of different viewpoints of religion in community which in a small little island setting does show the diversity of how many people treat religion on a daily basis as well as the extremities of beliefs and perhaps the dependency on it when faith creates miracles. There’s quite a few themes here but in reality the most important element being how these characters are crafted from their experiences and the relationships that grow whether on a family, romantic and friendship. The setting itself gives it a closed off and isolated environment but also manages to create a lot of diversity. When you bring in a stranger, the unknown and mysterious parts of this stranger become a spotlight and brings on the curiosity especially when they are more charismatic than dangerous. Much like someone returning to the island with their own background also has a sense of a new character where they try to re-establish themselves.

Where Flanagan’s shows are most successful is how the story crafts its characters. It makes human nature be the biggest force in what creates the creepy elements sometimes even more than the horror and sinister elements themselves. That’s not saying that Flanagan doesn’t create some genuine startling moments which does bring on a lot of questions especially with their unknown “monster’ that is rumored from their deserted off island where the youths go to hang out in the beginning to its appearances showing up across town. It brings back memories of Absentia when Flanagan creates a character with so little revealed that it creates so much suspense and mystery that brings along the horror. Of course, that’s been while ago and Midnight Mass has much more budget where it can create something a little different in what is actually going on. Although, in terms of execution, it does feel like the big reveal was done a little too early which makes what happens after feel like it drags a little bit longer than it needs to therefore losing the effects. its not to say that its not a shocking ending or that the end result does leave space to contemplate about some of its messages.

That being said, its hard to not talk about the characters here which are pretty well-casted overall. Starting off from Zach Gilford as Riley who returns from his four year prison sentence after killing a woman in an recent accident that causes him to be haunted by the scene over and over again every night. He returns to having to readjust both to the small town and their judgments as well as getting back to good terms with his family so that they can accept him while also facing his ex-girlfriend, Erin (Kate Siegel) who he soon finds out has returned back to the island pregnant but has followed her mother’s footsteps as a schoolteacher. Their reunited friendship keeps both of them comfortable as Erin helps Riley find somewhere that he belongs and isn’t judged but also understands the hurdles of coming back while they respectively have changed in their faith in opposite directions as Riley has lost his religion and faith where Erin has found it upon her return. These two characters are no doubt the center of the entire plot. Much like the island’s new sheriff, Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) also have a pretty strong role as their difference in appearance and religion create their own hurdles of how certain members of the island creates barriers of how they don’t understand how the island operates, sticking to their own ways. This leads to the church portion which brings on a very well-portrayed in the most frustrating sort of character who sits at an extreme of the religious spectrum in her absolute faith and belief, Miss Keane who is one of those very strong type of characters that carries the sharpest words, narrow-minded and is overall a pretty extreme type of person who acts like she is doing good when she is actually a pretty mean person as she manipulates others using her influence. Which leads to the new member of the Church, the young priest Father Hill who temporarily replace their elderly priest who is both charismatic and wise with his views and plays the mystery stranger role which has quite a shocking reveal.

Midnight Mass is full of well-developed characters which each contribute so much to the plot itself. There’s a lot to love about this mini series. In some ways, it dances around the sensitive topic of religion and faith when it is taken to its extremities and how it turn into something that can be freely interpreted using the Bible with any situation to manipulate situation when its believed to be good but it isn’t. As the character dynamics change with the constantly changing situation, this island and community becomes so intriguing to watch. Even if the ending seems a little wild, it does manage to keep its audience contemplating about the deeper messages portrayed here whether its about loss, grief, belief, faith, religion, etc.

TV Binge: The Squid Game (Season 1, 2021)

*This is a mostly spoiler-free review however, some elements discussed may take away from the viewing experience so feel free to return after you’ve seen the series.*

The Squid Game (Season 1, 2021)

Creator: Dong-hyuk Hwang

Cast: Jung-jae Lee, Hae-soo Park, Ha-jun Wi, Young-soo Oh, Ho-yeon Jung, Sung-tae Heo, Joo-ryoung Kim, Tripathi Anupam, Seong-joo You, You-mi Lee

Hundreds of cash-strapped players accept a strange invitation to compete in children’s games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits with deadly high stakes. A survival game that has a whopping 40-million-dollar prize at stake. – IMDB

Survival games in TV series, movies or books aren’t really unseen or uncommon at this point. The Squid Game is a South Korean Netflix thriller series which sets up a survival game where an initial 456 players are invited from their hopelessness in life and desperation for money with no clue of what to expect until the first game starts and it becomes a do or die situation where it claims to provide a fair and equal world where as long as they follow the rule, they will be able to get out with the prize money.

This is the case for most of the characters here as they meet up during the first game: Gi-hun (Jung-jae Lee), Sang-woo (Hae-soo Park), Ali (Tripathi Anupam), Player 1 (Young-soo Oh), Sae-byeok (Ho-Yeong Jung) who end up teaming up while the players also have those who are much more ruthless lead by Deok-su (Sung-tae Heo) and the more uncertain factor with a woman called Mi-Nyeo (Joo-ryoung Kim). These players are core as each of them represent something different in the society and each have their own personality which sees them making it to certain phases as the teams start forming after the lesson of the first game with a very obvious turning point where they need to change. Its not hard to see who will be the changing factors however, these characters do truly grow on the audience throughout that some scenes that struggle between a selfish desire to survive creates these moral dilemmas between the characters that show the wear that it has on them.

The main character Gi-Hun being constantly in that spotlight as his character has some of the biggest changes from the beginning to the ending that feel subtle but can be seen in his decisions and struggles. Much like the cold Sae-Byeok who is judged by her North Korean background but also changes throughout as she starts to find trust in her alliances. Much like a very naive Ali who wants to win this for his family but ends up being constantly used to forward others plans unknowingly. Each game dives into a different moral element and strategy which takes an profound and poignant turn in the 4th game especially with the old neighborhood setup that isn’t as big as the other game settings but manages to create a significant contrast especially after the previous game’s focus on strategy and teamwork.

While it focuses on the players for the most part, the show also has the flip side with a cop Jun-ho (Ha-Jun Wi) that is investigating the disappearance of his brother which leads him to sneaking around the game headquarters undercover blending into different people from the game. Having recently been impressed by Ha-Jun Wi’s performance in Midnight (review), it was such a pleasant surprise to see him in this very different role and doing a fantastic job. Even if the dialogue isn’t quite a lot, his character is very well-executed. With that said, his side of the story shares the operational elements of The Squid Game of what the whole deal is. This element brings in a lot of twists and turns with a lot of unknown elements seeing as the guards and Front Man are all masked for the majority of the film. Having both the players and operations both being shown gives the audience more knowledge than the players to a certain extent and keeps the story balanced with not just death and survival but also mystery and suspense.

There is no doubt that the survival elements of the game is the most thrilling to watch especially with the use of Korean childhood games. Some of which are more familiar to the outside world and some which give it that Korean twist especially with the title game, The Squid Game which adds a cultural element. The sets are fantastically designed and every single one levels up from the previous both in how they creatively add in the danger element and incorporate the strategy while also revealing the characters for their true personality. The set-up is rather brutal to watch for the most part and is done incredibly well. As the games get worse and more unpredictable, the true purpose of The Squid Game is gradually revealed as the operations gets tracked down by the cop character which adds another layer to the story that leads right up to the ending that keeps it wide open for a second season with a lot of unanswered questions and many more possibilities. That ending though does leave a lot to think about whether about the whole plot, the clues that lead to the big reveal and ponder on trust and faith in humanity in general.

TV Binge: Never Have I Ever (Season 1, 2020)

Never Have I Ever (Season 1, 2020)

Never Have I Ever

Creators: Lang Fisher & Mindy Kaling

Cast: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Darren Barnet, Jaren Lewison, Poorna Jagannathan, Lee Rodriguez, Ramona Young, Richa Moorjani, Niecy Nash, Adam Shapiro

The complicated life of a modern-day first generation Indian American teenage girl, inspired by Mindy Kaling’s own childhood. – IMDB

While I haven’t been following Mindy Kaling’s career and probably only have seen one movie with her (Ocean’s Eight) and haven’t been exposed to her humor a lot, Never Have I Ever has a fun and unique script and layout. For one, a lot of shows that puts together cultural background with teenage coming of age do create a good effect. This show is no exception. When you look at the different elements of this teen coming of age comedy, there’s a lot to love.

For one, the script itself really brings these characters alive. Its not only Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) who has her spotlight even if she is a major focal as this season focuses heavily on her desire to be different whether its acting out from a deeper issue stemmed from her father’s death. At the same time, her two best friends Eleanor (Ramona Young) and Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) have their own unique quirkiness that makes the three of them really fun to watch together. Much like the two boys, Paxton (Darren Barnet) and Ben (Jaren Lewison) which also have their differences that separate them significantly as they start stepping more into Devi’s life. However, the show is much more than that as the cultural elements come with majorly with Devi and her family which consists of her mother and her pretty older cousin. As she navigates through school, family, grief, friends and boys, her life is narrated charmingly by John McEnroe with a special episode narrated by Andy Samberg for an episode focused on Ben. A great part of the series charm and humor does come from these voice-over bits as they are a little sarcastic, judgmental and analytical of the whole situation.

The main plot of the story with Devi almost links to films like The Edge of Seventeen (review) where it focuses on a high school girl trying to pursue a school hot guy to lose her virginity where Devi is in the same situation where she tries to break out of her nerdy and invisible presence at school with her friends and try to start the school year after a year of being mysteriously handicapped as her body’s defense mechanism after her father’s death, making her having the wrong kind of spotlight. With that mind, the three set out to pursue the good-looking popular guys which gives revelations on multiple levels as Fabiola embraces her sexual orientation while Devi starts building affections that exceed that of pure appearances as she starts to know Paxton more but also getting to find the points that she can connect with her school competition Ben. Much like Paxton and Ben also have their own set of issues with their own lives. Each of these characters are full of personality as they start to revealing them bit by bit giving them a lot more substance.

What makes them more relatable is that they aren’t perfect especially when looking at Devi who makes some of the worst judgment calls. It all builds up from her sessions with her psychiatrist which highlights the unsolved issues she has as she still hasn’t completely coped with the loss of her father which also has its weight especially in the family segments particularly her conversations with her mother. The family segments giving a lot of weight as it brings in a more dramatic side which definitely hits Devi harder especially with her mother (Poorna Jagannathan) while with her cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani), its more of an envious side as she believes that her beauty covers up how nerdy she is which is something that she doesn’t think that she has. Devi turns into a rather unlikeable character at one part and needs to slowly redeem herself and these moments are constructed really well much like the character’s development all progress consistently and does make sense.

In many ways, Never Have I Ever’s first season is a pretty fun season to build a foundation for the show. The characters are built up well and there’s a good sense of how the relationships and chemistry with everyone as they can easily develop further from where they end at this point. Running at 10 episodes, Never Have I Ever is absolutely binge-worthy as its both fun and comedic. It has a really strong script giving a lot of memorable characters. There are some very awkward moments but then it does feel normal for a bunch of awkward teens making questionable decisions. Plus, while its mostly about an Indian American teenage girl acting out and pissing everyone off (its literally the title of one of the episodes), the story has a lot of depth and meaningful moments as it also deals with family, grief and loss which definitely adds to the whole story.

TV Binge: Carnival Row (Season 1, 2019)

Carnival Row (Season 1, 2019)

Creators: Travis Beacham & Rene Echevarria

Cast: Orlando Bloom, Cara Delevingne, Tamzin Merchant, David Gyasi, Simon McBurney, Andrew Gower, Karla Crome, Arty Froushan, Indira Varma, Jared Harris, Jamie Harris, Alice Krige, Maeve Dermody

A human detective and a fairy rekindle a dangerous affair in a Victorian fantasy world, where the city’s uneasy peace collapses when a string of murders reveals an unimaginable monster. – IMDB

I still remember the first time I saw the trailer pop up for Carnival Row and I thought that this was right up my alley. Dark fantasy settings are usually my jam. Adding that I haven’t seen Cara Delevingne in a whole lot of movies and Orlando Bloom doesn’t ring a bell to me other than Lord of the Rings or Pirates of the Caribbean, I thought they looked pretty good in the roles.

With all that said, Carnival Row is pretty good especially with the setting. Plus it builds a decent foundation for its characters, giving them enough backstory to understand them but also enough mystery to want to learn more about them and this world. The first 2-3 episodes is more of a foundation building so feels a little slower to get into but the whole parallel is done pretty well and the atmosphere plus the whole world-building is pretty fascinating especially when it comes to how its a pretty much a world of humans and creatures. The creatures have some variety and isn’t just about the faes. Not to mention, the creature designs which is mostly an appearance difference from facial features or body part difference to humans is done pretty well. It feels like its only a quick glimpse into this world as there is pretty much only a few types of creatures introduced throughout the show’s 8 episodes however enough to grasp the different creatures that could come into play. The effects are done really well. The werewolf segment wasn’t too long but that transformation was done well even if its probably one of the fastest transformations that I’ve seen, much like the fauns which have a fantastic design. For a show revolving a lot around the faeries, the animation on those wings looks really good. All the above are things I do love since it helps with being more immersed into the world which is often the first step to enjoying these series.

Carnival Row has a few plot lines in terms of the relationships and humans versus creatures conflicts which creates the divide and perhaps their bond, whichever applies. On that level, its not completely unique from other ones but executed fairly well. It has to do with having a cast that does work here especially when it comes to some of the humans who have a lot of hate and how they choose to act on it. Of course, there are also love relationships. The central one between the main leads, Vignette (Cara Delevingne) and Rycroft (Orlando Bloom) who struggle through their love, hate and lies. The secondary one is more about a change in views towards creatures as the characters of elite and proud Imogen (Tamzin Merchant) face their faun neighbor Agreus (David Gyasi), as it starts as an alliance to each win from the situation on a social level but ends up being a different result. These characters are strengthened by these connections.

With that said, the chemistry between Vignette and Rycroft is pretty good. They go through a lot of the change but the emotional struggle between them when they meet again goes the length of the season. It shows their change and the effects that the human and creature relationship could bring on a lot more problems for both of them. But then, there’s always a little more to the situation and that brings out the mystery elements about who is involved in the murders going on. The mystery is executed incredibly well. The progression of clues and discovery makes it so intriguing as answers bring on more questions and the big mystery really being who is behind all this with a master plan and the purpose/motive of all of it.

Overall, the mystery side of the story does stand out a lot more. The balance between that and the relationship between Vignette and Rycroft works out pretty well to give the show enough foundation to build on for future seasons but keeping things relatively simple as well to make it intriguing to learn about this world gradually through the other plot lines by introducing a general idea of all of the moving parts in this world from the humans and different creatures to the political structure to the hidden societies to the main characters and their back stories before pushing it to a rather good turning point as a big finale to build up for a second season.

TV Binge: Resident Evil : Infinite Darkness (Season 1, 2021)

Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness (Season 1, 2021)

Creator: Hiroyuki Kobayashi

Voice cast: Nick Apostolides, Ray Chase, Stephanie Panisello, Jona Xiao, Billy Kametz, Doug Stone, Joe Thomas, Brad Venable

Federal agent Leon S. Kennedy teams up with TerraSave staff member Claire Redfield to investigate a zombie outbreak. Based on the popular video game series of the same name by Capcom. – IMDB

Running at a swift 4 episodes of approximately 26 minutes each, Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is probably the quickest and shortest TV binge that I’ve done as its about the length of an average movie so pretty much a one sitting sort of series. The premise of the story pulls away from being heavy on zombies but rather takes a turn for a more political conspiracy and investigative nature following two storylines. The first following Leon who is called in to be a part of a team that will investigate the recent hacking of internal systems and zombie outbreak in the White House and the second follows Claire Redfield who looks further into Penamstan’s civil war six years ago that might be a government cover-up for a zombie outbreak.

Most people come into a Resident Evil entry to see zombies and its not wrong but taking the side of padding out a bit more of the bioweapon backstory is pretty nice and moving away from Umbrella and focusing more on a political angle. Sure, there’s still zombies and action but this animated series proves that there is more stories to tell and so much more of this world that can be expanded on that can give it more depth. Not to mention, the animation is done so well, comparable to that of the recent game remakes, that it almost feels like a live action series. Not only the setting and locations but even the characters all look realistic. With that said, Leon has always been a good-looking guy but somehow this one, he seems even better (but then, I haven’t played Resident Evil 2 remake yet so it might be a similar model just a little aged as this is set between the Resident Evil 4 and 5 games).

Talking about the story and characters, the execution is well-structured. As the story progresses in the present story line, it almost going back to tell the story of the past for each of their new characters specifically Leon’s new teammates, Jason and Shen May as their story helps contribute to the current story but also helps their character development also. Each having their own motives as to why they are on the team and on this specific mission. Of course, Leon and Claire’s story is already fairly familiar to fans so its only touched upon quickly and not lingered on for a long time. Perhaps for new viewers to the franchise, it might leave them feeling less structured. However, the story itself is set years after their first appearance so doesn’t need too much backstory to support them although knowing about it will help connect with their characters better, considering new viewers won’t have the knowledge that these two are key and beloved characters in the games.

This is an animated series so voice cast is a big part of the immersion. Both Claire and Leon are voiced by the Resident Evil 2 Remake’s game voice cast, Stephanie Panisello and Nick Apostolides respectively. They both capture the two characters incredibly well. Voicing Jason is Ray Chase, a voice actor who has a lot of experience when looking at his extensive voice cast roles in many video games perhaps the biggest and recognizable as Noctis in Final Fantasy XV along with known roles other popular games like NieR: Automata, Horizon Zero Dawn, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, etc. Jason is a key character here and probably one that incurs the most change throughout especially as his back story is pretty intriguing. However, that’s not saying that the voice actress Jona Xiao voicing Shen May, who has less experience looking at her filmography doesn’t do a pretty solid job as well. There are some little moments that the characters, especially the political discussions where it feels a little over done but overall, the English voice casting is done really well.

Whether its character designs or the zombies and the atmosphere and setting for the overall show, its done incredibly well and keeps it paced quickly so it stays both entertaining and immersive to want to find out who is behind this and what is actually going on. In a franchise that feels like there’s been a lot of different directions that’s been taken both in the movies and the games itself, the series is refreshing because it reminds its viewers what the actual story is about. Sure, there’s zombies and there’s mutated big monsters and Umbrella but in the depth of all of this, its about the creation of bioweapons and the consequences that its brought to the world. This is a viral outbreak and how the world is handling it so it makes sense that this one strays further from being heavy on big zombie action scenes but goes back to focusing on the political side of the whole ordeal and the conflicts between countries so on and so forth.

Overall, Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is an awesome series. Its short and sweet and a fantastic little binge. I’m a big fan of Resident Evil so I might be a little biased but looking at this new direction with some new characters, it shouldn’t be too hard for new viewers to the franchise to get into it the story either.

Tranquil Dreams Podcast #18: What’s Up 2021 Week 25

Welcome to the next episode of Tranquil Dreams Podcast where we dive into Week 25 of What’s Up 2021. Everything is completely back in action as I wrap up reading Lost Girls and Love Hotels and draw a quick comparison to its movie adaptation of the same name in the watching section. In the gaming section, its all about E3 during this week’s recap as I share a few recommendations. While wrapping up with a look at binging where a new series started for a fun and unique little Chinese series called The Day of Becoming You.

Thanks for listening and hope you enjoy!

Related Links

Lost Girls and Love Hotels – Book Review
E3 2021 Recap – Game Warp Podcast
Lost Girls and Love Hotels – Film Review
Skate Into Love – TV Binge

Music in the Episode:
There It Is by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4519-there-it-is
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Listen to the Show:
Anchor
Spotify
Google Podcasts
Breaker
RadioPublic

Tranquil Dreams Podcast #17: What’s Up 2021 Week 24

The next episode of Tranquil Dreams Podcast, I take a look at Week 24 of What’s Up 2021 and finally get reading back on as I start up a new novel inspired by one of this week’s watching selections while continuing my gaming obsession of Spiritfarer while talking about 2 great Chinese drama TV binges and sharing two new series that seem to have decent potential to be good.

Thanks for listening and hope you enjoy!

Related Links

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir – Film Review
Big Little Women – Film Review

Music in the Episode:
There It Is by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4519-there-it-is
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Listen to the Show:
Anchor
Spotify
Google Podcasts
Breaker
RadioPublic

TV Binge: Detention (返校, 2020)

Detention (返校, 2020)

Director: I-Hsuan Su, Shiang-an Chuang, Yi Liu

Cast: Lingwei Li, Ning Han, Guanzhi Huang, Jack Yao, Teng-hung Hsia, David hao, Guanxu Luo, Kunda Wu, Serena Fang, Carol Cheng, Han Chang, Jui-hsueh Tsai, Chih-chien Lin

A tormented student uncovers unsettling secrets at her remote high school as betrayal and a paranormal encounter upend her life. – IMDB

Based on the 2017 point and click horror game of the same name developed by Taiwanese game developers as their debut game, Detention has gone on to a horror movie adaptation in 2019 (review) and followed last year with the release of their Netflix series based on the game but having a different story arc moving into the 90s and using the backdrop of the original source material to create a psychological horror drama.

Running at 8 episodes, Detention is an interesting blend as it starts off in the psychological horror territory and gradually retracts into a more drama-focused direction as the characters come into place while bringing in a sort of time loop element in its finale. Perhaps the best area that this could be considered is more of a gothic drama as nothing is going to really scare you a lot save for a few moments perhaps the opening episode having the most horror-esque scene. It does have a lot of themes revolving more touchy subjects with suicide and mental illness being a big one.

This adaptation, while taking its own liberation in the 90s, still manages to weave in the key plot points of the source material. That being said, the two girls whether its the ghost girl from the 70s, Rui Xin who wants some kind of revenge and is using her pendant to occupy a girl with her own unknown agenda and luring them in by fulfilling their wishes and then pushing them a certain extent versus this latest new to town girl, Yun Xiang with her mental illness and broken family actually draws a strong parallel between the two characters that gradually form the two characters and their dependency and connection as well. The two are probably the more intriguing characters as both the past and the present runs its own course. The focus on the present makes it interesting to see a lot of taboo situations happen whether with messing with spirits or the student-teacher relationship or even the warped values of Greenwood high School.

Other than the two female leads, there are some pretty good characters here and some situations that truly do make for some ethics and morals to come into play. The more villainous type of characters definitely do an impressive job. In reality, the story even has this weird focus of making these men into pretty much horrible people overall from the selfish principal to the controlling Inspector Bai down to the new teacher, Shen Hua. Even the neglectful father of Yun Xiang is pretty much a very unlikeable sort of character. They all do such a great job at making you mostly despise their actions overall. Putting the villains aside, there is one character of note and that is Yun Xiang’s schoolmate Wen Liang who may be pegged as a bad student in school but in reality is one of the more down to earth and genuine character in the whole scenario and truly looking out for Yun Xiang while also being a link to the spirit world and a character linked to the past scenario.

Playing with themes of revenge, school troubles, mental illness, student/teacher relationship, its brings in a lot of different elements that come into play through the 8 episodes. While the pacing isn’t exactly speedy, it still feels well-paced enough to keep things moving constantly and revealing the story gradually. The last 3 episodes add in a really good element that gives the series a nice twist that manages to pull the past and present situation together that definitely adds to the whole end game. Overall, an impressive little Taiwanese series that involves the supernatural but also shows the bad side of some people.

TV Binge: Use For My Talent (我亲爱的小洁癖, 2021)

Use For My Talent (我亲爱的小洁癖, 2021)

Director: Cong Cai

Cast: Yue Shen, Jasper Liu, Yunfan Dai, Charles Lin, Yanan, Mengdi Su, Sirui Huang, Quan Tan, Ran Xiao

Because of his incomplete family, Gu Ren Qi has a closed up personality and mysophobia. Shuang Jiao used to have a happy family, but later lost her mother in a car accident, and became a slovenly person. The two became acquainted when Shuang Jiao becomes an employee in Gu Ren Qi’s cleaning company. The two became closer as they get to know each other. Under each other’s influence, they began to heal from their wounds. – MyDramaList

Watch on: Mango TV (Youtube & App) & Netflix

Use For My Talent is a Chinese adpatation of 2018 Korean series Clean With Passion For Now. Let’s just get this out of the way right now that I’m not a big fan of Korean series so I usually don’t go and watch them so I haven’t seen the original of this series. However, Use For My Talent landing on Netflix was such a treat although it does have Shen Yue who is on another Netflix series, Meteor Garden (a Mainland China modernized remake of the 2001 Taiwanese series both directed by the same director Angie Chai) and Jasper Liu in Taiwanese Netflix series Triad Princess and Korean/Taiwanese collaborated variety/travel show Twogether (review). These two main cast members are no doubt talented in their own regards and great to see them together especially as Jasper Liu seems to have moved his focus into Mainland Chinese series now and making a more frequent appearance.

Running at 24 episodes (my favorite length for these types of romantic comedy-drama series), Use For My Talent is a fun one to watch. There’s a good balance of humor, drama and romance that blends together to create this one. It does get a little peculiar in parts but the characters are done pretty well. Not only the main couple, Ren Qi and Shuang Jiao is fun to watch but the two other supporting/secondary couples are also very fun to watch and each having their own dynamic which gives a good variety. Plus, it takes time to look at mysophobia that Ren Qi has and dives into that angle to give it its own drama moments but also using it as some parts of humor especially when encountered with his polar opposite Shuang Jiao who opens up his eyes to slowly accepting the world and treatment to be able to get closer to her. I’m sure some of this stuff is either exaggerated or simplified for the drama’s purpose but it does expose an element of this phobia which leads to using the cleaning company while having a focus on how technology can’t necessarily replace the human element of some services.

Having touched on it a little before, the characters here are absolutely a treat. The main leads played by Shen Yue and Jasper Liu are really great. Shen Yue is probably one of my top favorite young actresses in the last few years as most of her series and roles have been both fun and believeable especially as she gradually moves into TV series set outside of the school setting. I’ve seen most of her shows (even if I never got around to the review). She has this natural and down to earth essence to her that makes her really believable in her roles and carries the emotions really well. The same applies for Use For My Talent where she plays as Shuang Jiao and the character is pretty decent. Funny how things turn around as this show adapts from a Korean series and earlier this year, Korea adapted a Chinese series that was her debut role in A Love So Beautiful (review). On the other hand, as popular as Jasper Liu is, I haven’t seen him outside of two variety shows but there’s something about him that is very charming and he does have pretty good acting skills as well. The chemistry between the two worked really well and came off fairly natural even by the end when he would do the very sappy/cringy sweet talk. It was hard to not cringe but also secretly like it just a little especially as it was a nod to a conversation from a prior part of the series.

Of course the series isn’t just about them but also has some colorful characters. Another couple is RenQi’s assistant DongXian who is very slow and unromantic but ends up with a popular lifestyle streamer QianQian. They are a little fun to watch especially since DongXian’s character is rather hilarious overall but has a little bit of a sad backstory (like a lot of the main cast). Aside from them is ShuangJiao’s little brother JunJie who ends up chasing up her sister’s best friend Yan who has their own sweet moments. The process for both of these having a similar dynamic but pretty funny and entertaining. No series is complete without some sort of love triangle and that brings in Yunfan Dai’s character Lu Xian, a psychiatrist that recently returned to China for 2 purposes: one to repay a debt that ShuangJiao’s mom offered him at a young age (which leads him to falling for her) and the second to act as the consultant for RenQi’s phobia and hopefully control and cure him to a certain extent. His character is pretty decent as well. In most Chinese series, family is also a big part and here the two leads family can be considered opposites of each other and on one side very comedic in dynamic and on the other side, very strict and maybe a little intentionally frustrating.

If there was something to nitpick a little, it definitely would be regarding the choice of melodrama that they used to break the two apart which is an inevitable part of these series but how is always where it works or doesn’t. What they used is always a frustrating choice although props to the two leads for being able to create some genuine sad feelings for this break-up.

Overall, Use For My Talent is an absolute treat. In terms of pacing, comedy and romance, everything works really well. The ending is a little odd with the whole melodrama but thanks to well-connected characters, despite the situation set up, they still manage to carry through the heartwrenching breakup feeling between the two. Its a rather impressive one which highlights some of the talent in the Chinese market.

With all that said, next mission…catch up on Jasper Liu’s series. Anyone have suggestions from the Netflix available ones? Please let me know.

TV Binge: Love Scenery (良辰美景好时光, 2021)

Love Scenery (良辰美景好时光, 2021)

Director: Zoe Qin
Cast: Lulu Xu, Yi Lin, Bing Hu, Harry Hu, Danni Zhong, Yuwei Jiang, Ting Wang, Cheng Wang, Rong Wang, Zheng Zhong

Liang Chen is devoted to bringing good music works to the listeners, expressing the idea of being kind, real, and perfect. Lu Jing loves computer and big data research. He is highly recognized in the academic field through studying complicated human behavior and psychology, thus influencing the classmates around by his solid specialty literacy. They are strangers first but then brought together by big data and they become closer in the journey of pursuing dreams. – MyDramaList

Watch on: iQiyi

Love Scenery is a Chinese romance drama that rolls in very familiar territory. In the recent while, Chinese dramas have had two hot topics for story telling or adaptations: romances involving women older than their guy love interest and marriage before love/contractual marriage. Love Scenery falls in the former one where in reality the cast itself also has this age gap so it makes it all the more believable. Running at 31 episodes, the series does take a turn somewhere in the last 10 episodes or so that almost feels like its a bit forced and gets a little boring to watch, almost feeling like the characters become empty.

Looking at pacing and plot, Love Scenery starts off pretty strong with a popular female singer Liang Chen (Lulu Xu) and smart and handsome university student Lu Jing (Yi Lin) who is also a popular game streamer called Herman as his idolization of her ended up using one of her songs as for people who would lose the game and causing her to be invited to a streaming showcase. Because of this, she asks for help from her friend and unpopular actor Ruibin (Harry Hu) who gets fed up with her lacking gamer skills and refers her to Lu Jing, both hiding under their gaming profiles. The whole part of jumping in game and their interactions at the beginning leading to a lot of comedic and embarrassing moments are all pretty fun to watch. The game scenarios are brought to life and adding in how they figure out who each other are and then realizing the feelings for each other is a good progress. The bad gamer versus good gamer with their different priorities and silly situations all have a lot of comedic value and makes it a lot of fun. Plus these parts have a lot of action as they play a first person shooter so there’s a lot of fighting and gunfights and such which definitely adds to it. Even after they both individually figured out who each other are but trying to test or dodge the situation (depending on the character) has its fun moments.

Where the series starts falling apart has to do with the story progression and how the characters don’t seem to fall a little flat over after the whole romance happens or at least the acknowledgement that they do like each other with not only the age element but as a result, the celebrity and university student influence in the eyes of the public. There’s a lot of frustrating moments once that happens that makes the situation really drag on at parts. Not to mention that while the settings of romantic moments are done well, the two main characters chemistry are a little lacking for the most part. It might have to do with some of the acting is not too good especially when you consider that Yi Lin is a rather young actor and this role while somewhat fitting in some parts and draws some opposites from a previous series, Put Your Head On My Shoulder (review) which was his debut, this one had a lot more drama and it seems that capturing drama still feels like it falls a little short in terms of how he emotes. When he is doing the happy and youthful things, he captures that well but he lacks deeper emotions in general especially if he lacks chemistry with Lulu Xu. Its not saying that nothing lands as some of the scenes are designed to capture them well and builds up the atmosphere well enough.

On the contrary, in terms of romance, the secondary leads between Ruibin (Harry Hu) and a lonely actress Shanshan Ma (Danni Zhong) is a lot more fun especially as the chase is one that lasts the whole way and her character has a lot to discover in terms why she is the way that she is and gradually opens up. The two are a lot more enjoyable as there’s a lot of silliness going on especially for the character of Ruibin, who always does the wrong things or timing with good intentions especially in his chase for Shanshan.

Of course, the story is more than just romance. Its also about chasing your dreams. For the university student bits, its about moving forward as he goes through university, joining competitions. The focus isn’t really there as its more on Liang Chen as she tries to change her style from the romantic ballad style singer to taking a chance and switching to being a rock singer and going back to her roots despite the challenges and risks of it all. These parts are decent since the soundtrack is pretty good. Although, once things start slowing down in the last bits, the challenges seem to be a little rinse and repeat and nothing extremely exciting.

Overall, Love Scenery started out really strong and eventually fell short the further it went along as the pacing, story and characters starting feeling a little emptier the further that it went along. The main issue probably being that 31 episodes was a few episodes too many for the story that it wanted to tell and sometimes it hit the melodrama moments a little too hard. If it had kept up with the beginning half’s pacing and tone, the series would have been a lot of fun. In a nutshell, not bad but not great.