Valentine’s Marathon & TV Binge: What is Love (2012)

Happy Valentine’s Day! We made it here sadly with very little posts so you will see tomorrow that I will most probably be extending the marathon throughout the month. The stars really didn’t align for us this month with the PC issues and such. However, we will deal with the blog stuff later.

Today, I have lined up such a fitting TV Binge to add into the Valentine’s Marathon and that 2012 Taiwanese drama, What is Love. I just wrapped it up over the weekend and maybe I will even start doing a ranking of Taiwanese series soon. There is an incredibly small amount of photos for this show online since I am working with a computer that can’t read Chinese so I went back to the series to screenshot some pictures. Hopefully you will like it. I apologize if the quality isn’t that great in advance.

Lets check it out!

What is Love (2012)

What is Love poster

Cast: Chris Wu, Jade Chou, Duncan Lai, King Chin, Kimi Hsia, Gina Lim

Thirty-two-year-old Li Yi Hua (Jade Chou) is longing for a romantic relationship and wants to marry a good man. Along comes Bai Zong You (Chris Wu), who breaks women’s hearts with one-night stands. Bai Zong You sets his sights on wooing Li Yi Hua next. What she doesn’t know is that she might have true feels for him. – Wikipedia

I’d like to think that I am fairly picky when I watch Taiwanese series mostly because I have been watching them a long time and with it, comes the expectations that there are so many better ones and hoping to find ones that truly find a nice balance of romance and comedy depending on the story they deliver. Of course, I have also fallen out of the loop for a while since I stopped watching them for a few years until they started appearing on Netflix last year. These series fall into their own tropes but they also have some nice silly bits that usually help with the story. I went into What Is Love having no knowledge of what the story is about and a little bit skeptical on how this would turn out. Let me tell you, it was definitely a very pleasant surprise. There are many plot points here that break the normal perception of what these characters would act and somewhat flips the typical story on its head a little. Plus, it creates a lovely balance of romance drama and romance comedy as well as comedic breaks with both its dialogue and its characters. At the same time, the story never forgets that when the journey of love includes a lot of factors, be it your best friends, your family and all kinds of elements and these characters play a decent role in how these two main characters approach their decisions.

On top of that, this is a completely new cast to myself. The only person here that I wanted to watch was Chris Wu (aka Kangren Wu) who is the main male role Bai Zong-You who was in Autumn’s Concerto which I loved quite a bit as well. You can check out the TV Binge here. In that one, he played the supporting male character which was the total opposite of this role. I have to say, while I liked that role, this role was really fun and matched his handsome and charming appearance.

What I Loved:

  • The Songs and Opening Theme Clip: I usually don’t talk a ton about music around here except for the music obsessions segment but I thought this opening clip was adorable, especially that surf board balancing part. Not just the opening theme clip was really nice but the songs were all very fitting to whatever scene they were playing in.
  • Chris Wu & Jade Chou: Chris Wu (aka Wu Kangren) plays Bai Zong-You, the playboy who becomes mesmerized by the challenge of proving his love to Jade Chou’s character, Li Yi-Hua. A lot of the “romance” is in the beginning because the course of the film is about them both realizing what is love. They are at the opposite spectrums in many sense. However, consider the chase and the enlightening moments for Bai Zong-You being the really great parts, whether he does it through revenge or plotting or slowly finding the way to approach his love interest and acknowledge love with her. At the other end, Li Yi-Hua is one of those rare characters in Asian TV series that really shows a strong sense of a woman that acknowledges her loneliness but will not compromise her love for someone who is undeserving no matter how much pain she feels in having to go through the heartbreak. what is love
  • The Guys: One of the best points of the series is its ability to create a balance of characters. Even if you look at these guys here who are best friends. They have varying personalities as well and their own lessons to learn. Each of them fit somewhere else in how they see love and a lot of the humor is in their silliness. This links heavily to the next point that I liked. 

What is Love

  • The Ladies: Just like the guys, the ladies here are quite fun to watch. Our main character of course has already been talked about before, but her best friends are equally diverse in personality from Xiao Lu on the left who plays a young divorcee with a kid who is really silly to the opposite, Lan Jun who plays the mature friend who reasons and sees through a lot of the bullshit.

What is Love

  • Love Interest: I’ve always been the type that finds it funny how the supporting character that you know the main character won’t end up with is always very perfect and deserving to be loved. Taiwanese series loves to do that and this one honestly gives Yi Hua a worthy man in Shao Qian (played by Duncan Lai). He’s quite the gentleman. what is love

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Too Many Flashbacks: One of the biggest pet peeves I have with TV series, especially of the Korean and sometimes Taiwanese nature is their love for flashbacks. I get flashbacks especially when it helps elevate an emotion but when you get the same flashback every episode just to emphasize on a character’s hooked onto this moment, its okay to drop a few of those.
  • Lengthy Episodes: While this didn’t really turn me off so much as its inconvenient to find a place to stop watching, the 1.5 hour long episodes are quite abnormal to me. I wasn’t sure if it was just a Netflix choice but as I was researching the show, it seems it was aired with that episode length, a little baffling in my mind but what do I know. Since this was quite binge-worthy, I didn’t quite mind the lengthy episode since the power of the pause button and Netflix saves my spot whenever I take a break.

what is love

Overall, What is Love was quite the pleasant surprise. It delivered a really fun story. Not only did it give a rather strong female character with a lot of personality, it also gave an array of cast that were unique in their own way but impacted the story as well to create a nice balance. Taiwanese TV series like these are romantic comedy affairs but somethings it forgets to find that balance and while there were some odd ends here and there that went a little overboard, this one achieved that balance really well. It always remembered to toss in some funny moments to never let the drama last way too long. Plus, just like Yi-Hua needed to learn to accept a playboy and Bai Zong-You had to gain her trust, we saw both sides of the story and was able to at least feel like he could be trusted also. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of “What is Love” because it differs in so many ways and isn’t always just romantic and this one does tackle all of it. There is no formula but at least, its a really fun journey thats us on a nice ride as the characters all figure out their version of love and thats pretty awesome in my book.

TV Binge: Autumn’s Concerto (Taiwan Drama Series, 2009)

Before I even became into any American series, my life for a good while was all about Taiwanese dramas. They are mostly called Idol Series. Let me tell you that I freaked out with excitement when I realized that Netflix now carries some of them. I’ve seen a few they have available but this one was the one that caught my eye because for those who don’t know, back in 2003-ish, a Japanese manga series was adapted into a TV series in Taiwan called Meteor Garden. That marked the rise of a group called F4 and within this group and possibly kind of the buffer member is a guy who can rap and sing and dance but he never really ever got the spotlight he deserved and that is Vanness Wu who is the main guy in this series, Autumn’s Concerto. As I was researching this before writing this post, I realized that it is one of the top Taiwanese dramas to air…

I’ll continue that thought right after a brief summary…

Autumn’s Concerto (2009)

Autumn's Concerto

Series Director: Wei-ling Chen

Cast: Vanness Wu, Ady An, Chris Wu, Benny Wen, Wei Ning Hsu

Mu-Cheng Liang has lived her life cautiously since her stepmother reluctantly takes her along and settles with a man who is far from perfect. Growing up, she’s learned to find the best ways to protect herself while keeping her own secrets. All this changes when she meets college rich playboy, Guang-xi Ren who also grew up with everything material but deep down lacks an emotional connection. They meet under the worst coincidences. Before long, Guang-xi realizes the seriousness and hell and Mu-Cheng is in and sees her authentic personality that others haven’t shown him and they fall in love. Unfortunately, he is plagued with a brain tumor that forces them apart. Not knowing what happened, they end up reuniting six years later but things are no longer the same, mostly because his past has been wiped from his memory.

Autumn's Concerto

Autumn’s Concerto sounds super generic and for the most part, I’m an expert at these generic series. However, I can also see how this is done really well. Right from touching performances to great soundtrack to a decent pacing. I can argue that Autumn’s Concerto could easily cut a few episodes shorter but for what it is, it just turned me in a complete and utter mess. I mean, I was crying like crazy. I mean bawling! I haven’t felt so connected to characters that made me think about them non-stop even after I turned off the series or even now, a week or two after the series is done. I always say this about any romance movie or whatnot. There are lots of plots out there and in our minds, we’ve seen a lot of it. In fact, to make it feel realistic and make the characters connect and come to life, giving them a purpose of why they are important to the audience is the most important part.

For some of you who don’t know, whether its Korean or Hong Kong or Chinese or Taiwanese series, its not structured like American series. For the fact that we don’t usually have one episode a week (at least not in Hong Kong) but it also is a one “season” deal. We have one series and its a complete story, not like in North American or UK series where its one series over a ton of seasons. They aren’t asking to be renewed. They have one shot to leave that impression. Its what makes it important to make it worth the while to watch.

Autumn's concerto

For those who appreciate a good romance and even one that touches on a lot of deep issues like harassment and sexual predators, which is rarely touched on in these series, this one takes an interesting turn on it and this makes it unique while giving our characters depth as well. Vanness Wu deserves more roles. He is an outstanding actor and his Ren Guang-xi made me fall in love with him and then get frustrated at some of his decisions and just yearning for him to finally see the big picture. On the other hand, Ady An is also fantastic. I’ve actually never seen her in any other series so its my first experience with her and she is amazing. She captures the essence of pain and reluctance and independence and courage all at the same time. For once, this is a story about not a guy surrounded with two girls who are weak but rather they are both independent and different in how they love. Its not about choosing who is weaker and having to give up. The lesson at the end of the series (or as you learn throughout) is that everyone loves differently and will make decisions they find are sacrifices for the one they love. It takes courage to make those decisions and a lot of control and self-restraint to make these difficult choices when nothing seems like the right decision.

Its not all sad and everything. Actually, there are some really funny parts in the six years later bit which takes up a good 70% of the series. In the little village, it just makes for so much comedic moments along with some absolutely awkward ones as well. Not to mention, there’s a little boy, Xiao-le that is the best child actor ever. He just makes you want to cuddle him and has the best lines and delivers them so well that you just have to believe every word he says.

autumn's concerto

Aside from these main players, we have the supporting characters which don’t get enough screen time but still deliver fantastically. Playing a guy who has a huge love for Mu-Cheng, Tuo-Ye is Chris Wu who I’ve never seen before either but it seems like he is a big deal in Taiwan (or maybe the years after). I’m not sure because I just stepped back into this even if this series quite some time ago. However, the supporting female character is Tiffany Hsu/Wei Ning Hsu and I’ve seen her before. I think she is pretty good as well. And I can’t really go through this without talking about the older cast here who plays the parents and mentors. Especially the actress who plays Guang-xi’s mom who captures her uptight and strict role in such a convincing way.

I’m sure I’m not capturing how great this series is and sure, a lot of you probably won’t be appealed by it because it sounds absolutely cheesy. However, Autumn’s Concerto is one of the best Taiwanese series I’ve seen. Years ago, I’m not going to lie that I stopped watching Taiwanese series because I’ve grown a little sarcastic and cynical about the whole rinse and repeat thing. I knew I’d come back to it eventually. Who knew it would be for this one that I totally binge watched even when it made me cry a whole lot whether out of joy or sadness or frustration. It deserved every single tear. Right at this moment, as I’m writing this (just like the past week since I finished), I’ve been resisting the urge to start it up all over again. This love for something: I missed that feeling so much.

While you all are showing lots of love for Stranger Things, which I will see soon. I want to sit in this joy of finding a series that has reignited a feeling that I haven’t felt in a while. Getting back to my roots and actually realizing that I am still a romantic makes me so happy.

I sure hope that I convinced a few of you to go check out some Taiwanese series, especially this one. However, even if you don’t, I’m still pretty happy that this series turned out so great and I’m excited to actually dig out some of those series I own and revisit a few.