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: 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: 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: Julie and the Phantoms (Season 1, 2020)

Julie and the Phantoms (Season 1, 2020)

Creators: Dan Cross & David Hoge

Cast: Madison Reyes, Charlie Gillespie, Owen Joyner, Jeremy Shada, Jadah Marie, Sacha Carlson, Savannah Lee May, Carlos Ponce, Booboo Stewart, Sonny Bustamante, Cheyenne Jackson

Julie is a teenage girl who finds her passion for music and life with the help of a high -concept band of teen boys (The Phantoms) who have been dead for 25 years. Julie, in turn, helps them become the band they were never able to be. – IMDB

Based on the Brazilian TV series Julie e os Fantasmas, Julie and the Phantoms is a musical comedy drama that tells the story of a girl who is able to make 3 teenage ghosts that died 25 years ago visible to everyone whenever they play music together and hence brought about the their band, Julie and the Phantoms. Running at 9 episodes, there’s a lot to love about Julie and the Phantoms whether from the teenage content or the ghost element and especially the musical and band elements. There’s a little bit of romance, family and friendship and talks about loss and dreams and finding the courage to face it all. All in all, Julie and the Phantoms might have some plot points that seem a tad far-fetched but overall, its feel-good element really lands on such positive notes making it quite a binge-worthy experience.

Looking at the young cast, they are all fairly new to acting. With a lot of musical sort of shows or movies, it has a little overacting element however, the band when with each other feels mostly like the characters do fit themselves. The main actress is Madison Reyes who plays Julie, a girl trying to embrace music again after her mother’s passing. Trying to balance being okay for her family and  having the courage to follow her dreams with the help of the band, Madison Reyes does a really good job capturing the role and also showing her musical talents of singing. Playing opposite her are the 3 ghost boys from the Sunset Curve: Luke (Charlie Gillespie), Alex (Owen Joyner) and Reggie (Jeremy Shada),who have personalities that balance each other which makes each of them stand out and each having their own issues although this season was mostly focused on Luke and building up the chemistry he has with Julie. An overall success for the two as they have some great moments together which is not physical but just through looks and conversation.

The story and the narrative does a good layout for the first season. It gives a good foundation and lays out the scene for both the key characters of Julie and her high school scene along with her family and also, gives a look at the ghost side of things and how this world’s ghosts work (which takes a twist at the finale and gives a set up for the second season). In terms of the songs, every episode has at least one musical offering which aligns with the plot and mostly is fun and positive sort of songs especially with its lyrics. They each have their own fun and are pretty catchy overall.

Overall, Julie and the Phantoms for the first season is a fun show. As a teen show, its pretty good. There are some issues probably in terms of over the top acting in certain parts but its feel-good elements and the fun and catchy songs does cover over a lot of its flaws. It does help that I’m a big fan of these types of shows plus its well-paced and the episodes are relatively short so the first season is definitely a breeze to binge. Definitely one that comes highly recommended for myself (seeing as I’ve rewatched the season a few times at this point since its launch and enjoy it equally as much every time) especially for fans of teen shows and musicals. With that said, I can’t wait for the second season whenever it will be released.

TV Binge: Sweet Home (Season 1, 2020)

Sweet Home (Season 1, 2020)

Creators: Lee Eung-bok, Hong So-ri, jan Young-woo, Kim Hyeong-min, Park So-hyeon

Cast: Song Kang, Lee Jin-uk, Lee Si-young, Lee Do-hyun, Kim Nam-hee, Ko Min-si, Park Kyo-young, Go Youn-jung, Kim Gap-soo, Kim Sang-ho

Following the death of his family in an accident, loner Cha Hyun Soo moves to a new apartment. His quiet life is soon disturbed by strange incidents that start occurring in his new building. As people turn into monsters, Hyun Soo and other residents try to survive. – MyDramaList

Based on the webtoon of the same name, Sweet Home takes place as the world heads into an apocalypse where humans are turning into monsters. In an apartment building, the residents suddenly are locked in and soon realize why. As they hatch their plans of defense, its not whats outside but what is trapped inside that is their concern as well as who is infected and will turn. Being at a well-paced 10 episodes, the series moves through the characters foundation and the main characters slowly have their own story unravel whether in flashbacks or in conversation. The story also progresses in the sense that survival brings out the best and worst of people, making them at times the real danger as is the desires turning into these monsters. It makes you wonder whether its based a little on Buddhism and the concept of desire making someone unable to achieve happiness and in this sense, the infected will turn into monsters, some lethal and some harmless. With that said, there are two elements at least to look at Sweet Home: the characters and the monster design.

Sweet Home’s monsters are rather varied. There isn’t an expansive understanding of how someone gets infected but the symptoms are outlined fairly clearly. The change can be rather subtle unless someone is sitting around when someone’s nose fountains with a huge nosebleed. The monsters are rather varied and at one part, it stems from desire so there are many different types of monsters whether its one that is super fast with centaur legs or a giant eye or a gooey monster or a spider looking creature and so on so forth. They all are done fairly well. There are obvious moments of CGI use and its not as smooth as it should be but overall, it does look pretty nice. The only issue I had was one of the monsters was meant to be hulking and giant with this sinister grin and to me, it felt rather hilarious. Probably not the effect that the series was looking for but the monster itself was scary for its strength and relentlessness.

There are quite a few characters in Sweet Home. A decent bunch of ragtag supporting characters which bring some comedic relief and add some uselessness that usually causes more problems plus adds to the potential body count. The few main characters go more to Hyun-so, an eighteen year old that lives alone as a playtester and constantly thinks about suicide, a medical school student brother Eun-hyeok and an aspiring ballet dancer with a foot injury sister Eun-Yoo who is in disagreement with each other, a firefighter lady Yi-Kyeong, a musician girl Ji-soo and a mystery man with burnt scars on his face Jin-wook. The story revolves around these characters as their backstories get revealed one by one. What works well here is that these characters do slowly grow as they start to differ and show their worth as the situation gets more and more dire.

Sweet Home is an interesting first season to say the least. While I have little issues with the computer effects, the monster design, the atmosphere and especially those awesome fight scenes paired with “Warrior” by Imagine Dragons really does it all great favors. At the same time, the cast of characters and their development does work really well as they form their alliances and friendships and it all comes to a decent twist by the end. If there was any issue, its that the first season sets up for a second season and yet, if it doesn’t happen, that ending might be quite a pity. Fingers crossed that it will get a second season!

TV Binge: Detective Chinatown (唐人街探案, 2020)

Detective Chinatown (唐人街探案, 2020)

Director: Sam Quah & Dai Mo

Cast: Roy Chiu, Janine Chang, Zhe Yuan Chen, Yi Shang Sha, Xiao Cheng, Victor Ma, Ming Shuai Shi

Strange crimes occur in Thailand as the ranking for the world’s best detective sees a shift. New detectives come into the picture to tackle three difficult cases. Lin Mo is the student of Chinatown’s number one detective. Lin Mo pursues two cases: Four-Faced Buddha and Name of the Rose that not only takes place in Bangkok but also in Kaoshiung. The third case about the Ghost’s Invitation takes the story back to Bangkok and then to Tokyo. – MyDramaList

Where to Watch: iQiYi

Detective Chinatown is adapted from the Detective Chinatown movies (which I have yet to see). However, this series is really three cases wrapped up as a series. Each case being 4 episodes. The first two revolving the detective Lin Mo played by Roy Chiu and directed by Sam Quah who also directs Sheep Without a Shepherd (review). I mention this because he uses a few cast members that make up the cast from that movie. The third case goes off in a completely different direction: set on an island in the middle of the ocean, about e-sports competition and starring a five person team lead by Noda Koji, played by Zheyuan Chen.

In many ways, Detective Chinatown should be seen as three separate stories as the timeline becomes a little fuzzy. The first case feels the most recent as Roy Chiu’s detective and high school substitute teacher character Lin Mo takes on almost this modern day Sherlock Holmes sort of role cooperating with policewoman Sa Sha (Yi Shang Zhang). There’s a level of quirkiness that makes him rather charming to watch. The first case, Four-Faced Buddha is rather intriguing as it investigates a group of girls after one of their friends commit suicide. The case gets quite a bit of twist and turns and gives Lin Mo a fun look at how he is plus there’s a decent amount of comedy with the other inspectors in the police HQ getting involved. Its probably my favorite of the three. The second dives back in the timeline before Lin Mo is part of the Detective Chinatown agency and first encounters the police woman in the first case Sa Sha but actually tells the story of his connection with this mystery assassin group that wants to kill him for some reason and he gets entangled with this flower shop owner Ivy (Janine Zhang).

Where the series feels the most disjointed is the third case where Lin Mo is not part of the story and it switches over to an esports tournament and five people team who gets lured to the island for this tournament as a final battle before this online game shuts down the server but becomes a rouse for a disappeared legendary player setting up an elaborate game. As an individual case, its pretty decent but just doesn’t seem to correlate well with the first 8 episodes. It feels like a completely different world with just a hint of connection at the beginning when Sa Sha is sent to handle this case. It definitely feels like an attempt to promote a new direction for this franchise, maybe a second season especially since the five people team includes a few up and coming celebrities like Arthur Ma and Xiao Cheng along with Zheyuan Chen. These young cast lack the acting experience so they don’t reflect as well especially since Arthur Ma and Xiao Cheng gained popularity through music and the third story has a lot of characters and a lot of the supporting cast are much more seasoned actors.

Overall, running at 12 episodes, Detective Chinatown is very bingeworthy. The three separate stories is a good way to execute this series and the pacing is pretty good. Sure, the third case is a little odd and its a bit overacted but the set up and case development is pretty good. Roy Chiu is honestly fantastic as Lin Mo and well worth a watch just for his performance. Plus, the first 8 episodes are directed by Sam Quah who has a great eye for capturing the atmosphere and how some of the shots are done are very well-executed. Its rare that I watch series like this which is focused on investigation and twisty cases that its a breath of fresh air.

TV Binge: Forget You Remember Love (忘记你记得爱情, 2020)

Forget You Remember Love (忘记你记得爱情, 2020)

Cast: Fair Xing, Garvey Jin, Cavan Wen, Xing Cheng Jiang, Joyce Zhao, Ming Na Yang, Alex Dong, Zheng Jun Li, Jurat Kutilai

A story between an ordinary girl who rescues a downtrodden CEO that has lost his memories, thus beginning a dreamy fairy tale. – MyDramaList

Where to watch: Tencent (Youtube Channel or App)

Forget You Remember Love is a remake of 2005 Taiwanese TV series Prince Turn To Frog (currently available on Netflix Canada, you would need to check your own area to see if its also available there). The original starred a popular cast lead by Joe Chen and Ming Dao. The 2nd female lead of the original actually plays a supporting role as the female lead’s stepmother in this Chinese remake. I can’t remember a whole lot of the original series so I can’t really compare the two but the course of events feels pretty similar but probably expanded on since the original was 31 episodes and this one is 38. Forget You Remember Love tells a rather common story especially when its remaking a storyline told in 2005, everything becomes less unique and much more predictable. In 2005, this type of storyline was quite the tale that brought chemistry and laughter and maybe even some tears so its a wonder to me whether the same ideas still work in the 2020 landscape. Speaking from my own view, some of it does work and then some of the really dramatic bits really do get a little frustrating. That’s the extent of comparing to the original that I will go.

Before we get ahead, lets do a more expansive recap of the story. Forget You Remember Love is a story about a small town girl Qianyu who saves a rich and cold CEO Junhao from drowning. They part ways with a pretty bad impression of each other to eventually meet again after he gets washed up after an accident with amnesia where she takes him in. For a few months (I think that’s what the timeline is), he stays with her family and helps out while the two fall in love but when his real life catches up, she means to bring him back when some power hungry people from his corporation plot to make him vanish causing him to have another accident that brings him memories back but forgetting the whole time that he stayed in the small village and his relationship with the Qianyu. For her village’s inn, Qianyu ends up having to work with him in order to save it and then causing him to fall in love with her again. Of course in the background, there’s Junhao’s fiancee and then the best friend that secretly crushes on his fiancee and then Qianyu also having a second male lead who helps her unconditionally causing a heavy case of the second male lead syndrome. There’s family and social class issues as well as revenge and dirty manipulation put into play. Like I said, pretty basic plotline for dramas especially for people like myself that have been watching TV dramas since the 2000s (or even before).

However, with that said, chemistry and character design can pull it through. I mean, I didn’t review Meteor Garden remake and even with its issues, that was a pretty successful remake overall (but I really should since my ambitious plan fell through). That’s where Forget You Remember Love might have some issues. First of all, the pacing creates some issues. Running at 38 episodes, there some major repetitive moments that drags on for much longer than it needs. The same issues keep coming up and the same reactions keep happening which creates more frustration than enjoyment at a certain point. With that said, there were some pretty great moments in the first half when amnesiac Junhao, now named Tong Hao is living with Qianyu that plays out really well. The happy and positive person that he becomes and the friendship turned to love that happens between them that wakes up this other side of him.

The key chemistry and fleshed out characters are Qianyu played by Fair Xing, an actress that I personally think is very natural when she acts, Garvey Jin as Junhao who really does give off a very opposite vibe in his normal life and amnesiac life and shows a change when he falls back in love with Qianyu. Its a fairly dynamic performances. Taichu as the second male lead played by Cavan Wen is also a charming and handsome guy who really maked you root for him but knows that he won’t get the girl. The direction for his character especially at the ending bits really adds so much to his character. Qianyu’s mother and and the people at the fishing village, mostly the prior is incredibly fun to watch. Her personality and the little bickerings adds a lot of laughter to the whole series. Where it falls into some fairly one dimensional characters does go to the fiancee Yunyi whose character is the most annoying as all she does is be sad, pretend everything’s okay and then lie about a situation which always backfires and it cycles between being sad and insecure over and over again. The same goes for the best friend character Ziqian who is a rather flat character until they give him a revenge plot.

Overall, Forget You Remember Love is an okay watch. The first half being a lot stronger than the second half. The main issue being that it drags out the ending a little more than it should. The plot is fairly basic as it is a remake however the main leads do have decent character arcs and chemistry making it a fun watch. The moments between female lead and first and second male leads being some of the best parts of the series while the fishing village parts and amnesia parts being the other standout parts.

TV Binge: Sugar Rush Christmas (Season 2, 2020)

Sugar Rush Christmas (Season 2, 2020)

Host: Hunter March
Judges: Adriano Zumbo, Candace Nelson
Guests: Adam Rippon, Chris Bosh, Valerie Gordon, Sasha Pieterse, Jordin Sparks, Abigail Breslin

Four sets of bakers compete in Christmas themed baking challenges. First round is cupcakes, second round confections, and final round cakes. After each challenge one group is eliminated and the winner of the final challenge gets $10,000. – IMDB

The second season of Sugar Rush Christmas is structured like the first season. At this point, Sugar Rush has pretty much set their structure in a well-polished way. The focus on time shows a lot of its effect when the different teams make decisions on how to balance between execution of their creative designs in the different stage and how detailed it needs to be to see how much time they save. Sometimes, it fails and sometimes it succeeds which usually makes the first part more interesting to watch then the third round of cakes.

Talking about the different rounds, the themes for each episode is similar to the first season. Christmas and holidays are fairly slim pickings playing around with Christmas trees, winter wonderlands, Santa Claus, etc. What did change a little was that certain episodes had some interesting challenges. One of the best ones had to be the White Elephant one which has the different teams picking a secret ingredient that had to be added to their confection. Some of those secret ingredients ended up having some interesting results. As for the cake challenge, one of the fun ones had to be the secret Santa challenge that had them hiding Santa in their cake designs. Aside from that, they sweetened the deal by having the winning team of first and second round also get a little prize and not only have the $10,000 prize for the final winner.

Sugar Rush Christmas is still hosted by Hunter March and judged by Candace Nelson and Adriano Zumbo which definitely have a great dynamic after so many seasons of working together. They all are very fun to watch. The guests this season definitely are people that I enjoy especially Abigail Breslin, Jordin Sparks and Sasha Pieterse. One of the fun ones are Jordin Sparks since it has singing bits and she has an upbeat personality while Sasha Pieterse shows off another side from what I’ve seen from Pretty Little Liars and is very professional in her judging.

Sugar Rush Christmas’s second season isn’t exactly making a lot of big differences but it already had established a good structure so its not needed for a lot of change. It fulfils the need of some fun and entertainment while watching a reality baking competition series. It brings a lot of holiday spirit. Every bit as enjoyable as previous seasons!

Check out the Sugar Rush Christmas Season 1 Review here.

TV Binge: Skate Into Love (冰糖炖雪梨, 2020)

Skate Into Love (冰糖炖雪梨, 2020)

Skate into Love

Director: Yui Bun Chu

Cast: Steven Zhang, Janice Wu, Lijie Zhou, Vincent Wei, Jiunuo Han, Lei Zhang, Ziling Ding, Bo Cao, Tianyu Qin, Xuanlin He, Yue Chu, Eman Zhang,

A speed skating girl crosses paths with the ice hockey god of their school. Despite starting off on the wrong foot, they start on a journey to chase after their dreams. – MyDramaList

Where to Watch: Youtube

STORY

Skate Into Love is the second series in the Honey Trilogy adapted from novel of the same name by Jiu Xiaoqi (the first was Ashes of Love. You can see my review HERE). Its essentially a sports and romance drama about a bunch of youths chasing after their ice sports dreams and trying to beat the impossible and get into the next Olympics in speed skating, hockey and figure skating. Chinese Olympians and professional athletes were hired in the production to choreograph the moves to keep it realistic as well as the cast had to take lessons to perform their own skating. Some things a tad over exaggerated like the scene above where if an arena’s partitions could break and shatter with a player checking another one. That’s just nitpicking obviously.

Its a breath of fresh air every once in a while to see series that is about something other than solely romance. In this one, its about chasing dreams while also showcasing the different successes ice sports have achieved over the years since they did cast some Olympians into the show as cameo roles and they had consultation to keep the series grounded and realistic. Chasing dreams and perseverance is a big backdrop here even if the characters do have their own little family dramas and complicated friendships and other competitions. There are love triangles and different romantic connections as well but it never loses focus that the premise revolves are these charming characters finding strength in each other whether as teammates in a hockey team or competing against each other as an anchor to be better or even finding the inner confidence to rekindle the love with a sport and balancing its importance and other elements in life.

LENGTH/PACING

Episodes: 40
Length of episodes: 35 mins

For 40 episodes, Skate Into Love manages to have a great pacing. It sets up where these athletes are at when the story starts especially with a focus on female main character Tang Xue and her speed skating dream that she had to give up because of an injury in high school and because of this, her family’s opposition to her choosing this career for something more steady career path. As she meets again her elementary school friend and current university hockey team leader Li Yu Bing and work through their past issues and gradually become friends and have romantic feelings for each other, she also encounters figure skating university athlete Yu Yan who she treats like a brother and defends him because of his more timid and introvert personality and breaks him out of his protected environment to show him the world that he is missing which leads him to be a love interest.

The story focuses on Tang Xue but as her friendships and teammates expands into those characters friends and dreams, it builds up on each of the tangent to help build up these characters properly along with the things that are important to them and the sacrifices they will do for their dream and for each other. Its about relationships, dreams and friendship. Like most dramas, life isn’t fair and is rather complicated and yet while staying in the realm of the focus of this story, it doesn’t forget to also create great moments between each of these characters and how they help each other to move forward and the struggles they have to work through their own inner struggles of being an athlete as well as the difficulties they face from outside influences. Each issue and success in the development is timed well and each character development and relationship build-up also blends well with the flow of the story to make these characters more likable. There are sweet and happy moments and there are sad and nerve-wrecking challenges, just like how life normally is.

The deal is that the show works through each of these three leads and their own ice sports focus and the path they need to take. The structure is set up very clearly and that’s why the pacing also works smooth.

CHARACTERS/CHEMISTRY

Li Yu Bing (Steven Zhang) & Tang Xue (Janice Wu) & Yu Yan (LiJie Zhou)

I have to say that Janice Wu is one of my favorite Chinese actresses. Her acting skills is able to embody this strength in each of her character whether its the stubbornness or perseverance and also manages to give quite a bit of depth, just like layers that they peel back to see her character having a tough side but also a rather sweet and shy side when in love. There’s also this loyalty to her friends. That’s the charm of the character of Tang Xue that she portrays. Paired up with each of these male leads, it has a different dynamic. The difference in this story is that her love trajectory, other than her high school crush that shows up again to try to break up her and Li Yu Bing all the time out of jealousy (which I will talk about in a later section), her heart is loyal to her current love Li Yu Bing that starts like most dramas on an “enemy” stance which she never quite understands how it happens. When the childhood friendship blends with her present, it shows another side of her character. Steven Zhang and Janice Wu gradually starts off in a more comedic pranking each other sort of manner and eventually, their chemistry also grows throughout the series from sweet moments to a couple that you can root for because both of these characters may be flawed but have great characteristics that make them incredibly likable plus together they make each other better.

Add in the equation of Yu Yan, his character lives in a closed world that expands because he meets Tang Xue. Lijie Zhou does a good job also in taking on this role. His character has the cute and timid title of a “little sheep” because he is rather naive and doesn’t know much about the world around him, lacks decisiveness and is controlled by his mother in order to push him to be a successful figure skater. As his character grows, he loses his focus and ends up struggling through an inner battle and things spiral out of control. His story is one that focuses on friendship and support network in a sport that is a very lonely fight that maybe doesn’t need to be that lonely. A solid second male lead that I enjoyed watching. He wasn’t frustrating but at the same time, he was a naive character to say the least that went through a phase of growing up from experiencing a lot of first times that “normal” young adults at his age would have if his world wasn’t revolving around strict training.

The dynamic between these three character is also a huge anchor in Skate Into Love and it works well together.

Sports Team and Teammates

With sports series, its important to talk about teams and teammates dynamic. Coming from Montreal, hockey is in the blood of everyone here so Skate Into Love having a focus on a university hockey team is a big part of the attraction to the series alone. The team here is actually focused heavily on three of the characters: Li Yu Bing who plays the captain, his best buddies and roommates, Jiang Shi Jia (Bo Cao) and goalie Deng Jian Guo (Zihe Jin). The hockey team dynamic is actually rather fun since they go through the phase of transition between leaving university team to moving to a professional team and contemplating their future.

Speed skating team where Tang Xue is also shares a huge focus on dynamic. The other character that hasn’t been mentioned yet would be a girl who has a crush and great friends with Li Yu Bing who is the champion speed skater in their team that she chooses to pick as the goal to beat in order to boost her own time in order to stay on the team. Its a group effort of working together even if speed skating is a solo sport. They find a different friendship dynamic which progresses throughout the series.

Teammates and sport shows heavily focuses on sportmanship and thats the great dynamic that these characters are able to show. Its a different kind of chemistry between these friends and teammates.

Liao Zhenyu (Tianyu Qin) & Xia Menghuan (Xuanlin He)

The happy fountain goes to the supporting roles of Tang Xue’s best friends. One from high school who ends up sharing the information of Tang Xue’s loyalty and personality and the other is her university roommate. These two get together fairly quickly as a couple. They act both as friends support system as well as the comedy and happy elements in this series. Their relationship and how these two interact is very sweet and cute. At the same time, these two characters do stand out since it helps sooth over some of the more dramatic parts.

Bian Cheng (Vincent Wei) & Zhou Ran (Yue Chu)

Love interests and characters that get more and more extreme in their negative emotions are usually the frustrating elements of any TV series. I do say that some of this does occur. Bian Cheng and Zhou Ran both have their own revelations to get through and they bond because of their own warped desires that end up showing their selfish natures instead of truly loving the people they are trying to get while setting up situations to break up Tang Xue and Li Yu Bing. These two go through quite the vengeful trail that becomes frustrating because its stemmed from a lot of unnecessary emotions that they just get stuck in most of the time and they don’t see losing themselves in the process and losing sight of their value, making themselves having some unpleasant consequences in the end. Definitely not my favorite characters but they are necessary to create friction in a series that is fairly fun to watch in general.

OVERALL

Skate Into Love is an outstanding Chinese drama. Its not only because it focuses on youths chasing their dreams and making their own sacrifices and trials and tribulations and all the sweat and fatigue that goes into being a professional athlete. In any series, its about balance and Skate Into Love has a good view of this. It has a lot to do with director Yui Bun Chu who really has a great eye of how each scene is portrayed. Moving away from Ashes of Love which is a more dramatic and fantasy love story and taking on the second separate story which is more sweet and light-hearted but with a very meaningful sport series element, its executed very well. Whether its the characters and dialogue or balancing between drama, comedy and sweet romance, everything is very on point. Its a ton of fun to watch and one that is incredibly bingeworthy.

With that said, Yui Bun Chu is also helming the final series in this Honey trilogy which seems like it will group back all four leads of Ashes of Love and Skate Into Love to create another story set more in the fantasy realm again. Its one to look forward to for sure.

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