Along with a voracious appetite for Cinema, I do love a continuing TV Drama, and I have covered a few on this blog over the last couple of years. The way it works is that I usually have a drama on the go which I watch when I only have an hour or so free to feel my Audio-Visual habit. This one is a bit of a departure, as it is my first from Taiwan, and what a brilliant little show it is too.
In “Down With Love”, Yang Guo (S.H.E.’s Ella Chen) is a tomboyish young girl who has had a pretty hard life. Her mother died young, and her Father ran away, leaving her and her sister Yang Duo (Kelly Huang) to fend for themselves. Whilst Duo has a job as an accountant for a very successful Lawyer, Xiang Yu Ping (Jerry Yan), Guo is reliant more on her gut and wits. Yu Ping may be successful, but he is on the face of it rather cold and arrogant, and is struggling to look after the two young children of his deceased brother – and every Nanny he employs is either a freak or falls in love with him. Events conspire to enable Guo to become the Nanny – but only because her sister has told her boss that she is a lesbian! Of course, things change, people fall in and out of love, others do incredibly stupid things. And all because, well, this is a comedy romance soap opera!!!
Firstly, this show is an utter delight. It manages to be both hilarious and touching. It also rockets along at an incredibly fast pace for the first 7 or 8 episodes. Some of this I suspect is the way the show may well be 70-80 minute episodes in Taiwan, but is edited into 30 minute segments for the mainland market. This means we get 2 or three cliff-hangers and resolutions in the version I saw. Arcs that in a Korean drama would take hours to be completed are dealt with, explored and resolved really quickly here. Missing parents are mentioned, introduced and in some cases shuffled off at a very fast pace. Some familiar tropes such as the oh so cute and wise kids are not dwelt upon too much, which I found rather refreshing.
At the centre of it all though is Ella Chen. Playing up to her tomboy image, she is just wonderful in this role. She is funny and charming and heartfelt and just utterly endearing. Sure she isn’t the most attractive girl on screen, but her personality just shines through. This is a girl you want to be happy, but she also has enough reality about her that you accept a lot of the decisions she makes. Most of all though, you really care for her – at one point she loses a small memento of her youth, and you totally buy into her grief, and how and why it was so important to her.
Jerry Yan is not bad either, whilst you do begin to doubt his status as an unbeatable lawyer (he seems awfully easily distracted, and his harsh exterior is easily thawed away), but when things have settled down, he shows a lovely knack for comedy. His character remains interestingly complex, suffering pangs of doubt and jealousy that have affected us all.
It is also a pleasant surprise when everyone gets their moment in the sun. This one isn’t just about our central characters – we get plenty of time with Yu Ping’s ex-girlfriend (however vacuous and unpleasant she is), his best friend (who goes from being the nicest guy in the world, to an utter a**hole, and never really recovers), with Guo’s rather flighty (but fun and kind-hearted) best friend, and late on the nicest Lawyer from Hong Kong you are ever likely to meet (except he does seem to get an awfully raw deal – it may just be in Taiwan nice guys DO finish last).
But what makes it really special is that when the inevitable DOES happen, that this is not the end of the story. When the couple finally get beyond their pride, and their lies, and those outside influences – it isn’t all roses and chocolates and happy ever after. They still have issues to resolve – just like in the real world. Now I am actually a little annoyed that we did not get even more time in this particular mode, but it did make for a very impressive change (but then again, this is my first TW drama – maybe they are all like this?).
It is not perfect. The Yang’s father is maybe a little too over the top, and a little side visit to the mainland disturbs the pace. At one point the storyline also gets a little mean, and could become unbearable, if not for a lovely little meta moment. The final episode also seems to want to pack an awful lot of stuff in – desperate to move to a “6 years later” coda, which seems doubly odd when you consider how the previous few episodes were a lot slower paced than those which proceeded it.
However, as my first foray into Taiwanese Drama, I was utterly charmed and most importantly satisfied. Highly Recommended.