2011 Drama Year in Review: A Personal Rant

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Since 2011 just ended, I just wanted to do a quick personal review of all the TV series I've fully watched/attempted to watch/or managed to dip my fingers into last year. First, I must confess I have a peculiar/somewhat unpredictable taste in dramas and also an incurable habit of loving to speedily skim through my dramas because of the strong urge to know what happens next or the lack of patience. Sometimes I may get too easily distracted by a new drama and completely abandon the current drama I'm watching. The dramas I don't finish do not necessarily mean I hate them. More often, it just means that these "unfinished dramas" failed to sustain my interest for too short of a time period to make me want to watch it completely in one sitting or follow it all the way during the initial broadcast period. I may go back to finish them at a later time when I have more time or regain the mood to resume where I left off.


Sealed with a Kiss

Without a doubt, SWAK is my personal favorite TV series of 2011. During its initial broadcast in mid-October, I literally woke up at 7 AM every morning to watch it live on Hunan TV. I know I sound a little crazy. LOL. Due to my fondness for the original novel, I was thrilled when I first heard it was going to get adapted onto the small screen, and followed its subsequent news with  much interest.

Initially, I was extremely disappointed when I found out the director cast Hawick Lau as Mo Shaoqian. Even though I love the acting of his father, Lau Dan, I couldn't say the same about him.  I had once harbored an indifferent attitude, leaning toward negative impression of Hawick Lau during his TVB days. After he shifted his career to mainland China, I still avoided his series. I only started to pay attention to him because of SWAK. Shockingly, Hawick Lau's awesome acting completely obliterated my initial reservations about his acting/persona. I'm very thankful for his ability to bring one of my favorite characters to life.

There are certainly many flaws in this drama, and numerous viewer complaints (mostly about Ying'er looks/acting), but the negativity certainly doesn't deter me from loving it nonetheless. I think the biggest factor contributing to the success of this series lies in the scriptwriter's characterization of Mo Shaoqian and her brilliant dialogues. Without a good script and good acting, the drama wouldn't have been as interesting/successful.  However, I'm still quite disappointed at the writer for giving us such an UNSATISFACTORY ending.  Luckily, we can look forward to the mini-movie sequel for some closure to the open ending.

Gong/ Jade Palace - Lock Heart

I personally enjoyed watching Gong, perhaps even slightly more than Bu Bu Jing Xin. I know I sound blasphemous to a lot of hardcore BBJX fans. LOL. Despite its terrible butchering of the Yongzheng character, the pretty awful writing, and mediocre production values, I still sat through the entire series and watched every minute of it. This series takes a lot of historical liberties and the plot is rather weak.

Because of my fanshipping for the two main leads, Yang Mi and Feng Shaoqian,, and their ridiculously sizzling onscreen/off-screen chemistry, Gong bears a special place in my heart. Qingchuan and 8th Prince's lighthearted bickering romance was really enjoyable to watch.  I also love the background music. Despite Yu Zheng's infamous reputation for plagiarism, I feel like I'm definitely a big fan of all the background music in his productions. I love his music composer(s)! Everything else was just a "blah" to me.

Bu Bu Jing Xin

In my opinion, Bu Bu Jing Xin exceeds Gong in almost every way except for the romantic chemistry between the main leads. I absolutely felt no chemistry between Kevin Cheng and Liu Shishi. To me, Kevin's 8th Prince looks more like Ruoxi's uncle than her lover. I was quite weird out by the scene where Kevin rode a white horse with Shishi sitting on his lap and they went on to declare their love for each other. I think I'm the oddball regarding Kevin and Shishi's onscreen chemistry as many love their pairing.

Fortunately, Nicky Wu and Liu Shishi had enough chemistry to make me believe in Ruoxi and 4th Prince's love relationship. In contrast to their onscreen chemistry, I think Liu Shishi looks much better together with Kevin Cheng in real life than Nicky Wu. I think the brightest star in this series belongs to Nicky Wu's 4th Prince. He absolutely surprises me with his acting chop. It was a vast improvement from the last role I saw him in the TVB drama At the Threshold of an Era.

Perhaps I'm not a big fan of Maertai Ruoxi's character. Besides 4th, I only like the princes who were never romantically linked to Ruoxi, which included the venomous 9th Prince and the upright 13th Prince. I understand Ruoxi's pragmatism, but I just don't like how she handles her predicament toward the end. She brought the tragedy upon herself. Ruoxi became too absorbed in her own guilt and made those who cared for her miserable as well.

After I finished BBJX, I finally decided to read the original novel, something I've been avoiding to do for some odd reason. Whoever wrote the screenplay for BBJX did a really good job at remaining faithful to the novel. It's almost an exact word to word adaption!

Inner Palace: Zhen Huan Biography

To be honest, I skipped the first half of this series and watched the second half because I didn't feel like watching Zhen Huan during her naive stage. I will probably go back and finish the early episodes some day. It's definitely one of the few meaningful and poignant series I watched this year.  The Qing robes/hairpieces are one of the best and most gorgeously designed costumes I've ever seen. The four female leads are absolutely brilliant in their acting while the three male leads pale in comparison. I love watching the intense battle of wits between different palace women struggle to maintain/gain power in order to survive.

Though I like Zhen Huan, I'm sure many will not be able to stand its dry sequence of shots and intense seriousness. My cousin, who loves BBJX, thought the plot for Zhen Huan was repetitively slow that didn't require 76 episodes of screen time. I hate the fact that the poor background music, or to be more correct, the "lack of background music" ruins the mood of many scenes. If only the sound editor did a better job, then I'm sure the combination of great acting, beautiful costumes, and sets would have a much more powerful effect on viewers.

In terms of plot and acting, I feel this series is more powerful than BBJX. The latter feels like sweet candy compared to the former. Because after BBJX, you still believe in the beauty of love and you'll probably want to  have a  fangirl dream to travel back in time to meet these handsome Qing princes. But after watching Zhen Huan, the feeling is completely the opposite. It makes you feel VERY FORTUNATE to live in the modern world! I would never want to go back in time and live in feudal China. The past was a freaking scary place if you were born without much power and wealth.

New Huan Zhu Ge Ge/ New My Fair Princess

When I heard Qiong Yao wanted to do a remake of her classic Huan Zhu Ge Ge series, I was so excited and hoped that she would be sane enough this time  to erase the nightmarish crap she bombarded us in the third installment. Apparently, I was dead WRONG! I overestimated her ability to sympathize with her fans. She has only gotten worst in her madness to butcher the original magic of the story. I totally did not buy her lousy excuse to "stay true to history." Therefore, she must give the 5th Prince another wife and son before she killed him off from the history books. First of all, the Xiaoyanzi character was a fairy tale itself. No almighty Chinese emperor would tolerate such rash antics from a girl, not even if she was his biological daughter. Thus, was there really a real need to stay true to history and ruin the love relationship of 5th Prince and Xiaoyanzi?!

The introduction of a foreign court painter, Benjamin, definitely did not help the situation, but only created awkwardness. Qiong Yao transformed him into such a pivotal character that I felt he was literally omnipresent. His presence undermines the rest of the original characters, which is just unforgivable. Benjamin is ALWAYS the hero who saves the HZGG gang from any imminent danger. He's perfect, he's flawless, he's brave, he's compassionate, he's the most knowledgeable....and he's Qiong Yao's brainfart creation. Both Erkang and 5th Prince become second fiddle to this guy. He doesn't even need to adhere to any palace rules and restrictions and have absolute freedom to roam around in the Forbidden City!

My great anticipation for this series turned into utter frustration and disappointment.  Even though I kept on telling myself to abandon this series, I couldn't fully do it because when my sister watched, I couldn't help myself but peek at it too. By the end, I actually watched most of the 96 episodes, skipping only a few middle episodes.

All Men Are Brothers/ Water Margin

Probably my ultimate favorite out of all the recent TV remakes of the Four Classical Novels. I rarely tear up in TV series, but the deaths of many of the heroes in this drama made me shed a tear or two. Sacrificing their lives to get amnesty from the corrupt and oppressive government, was it really all worth it in the end?

There are over a hundred characters in this series, so it's interesting to see how each of their story unfolds. I absolutely love Gan Tingting's portrayal of the adulterous Pan Jinlian, Xiong Naijing's disgruntled Yan Xijiao, and Zhang Hanyu's Song Jiang. Zhang Hanyu definitely possesses the charisma and acting chops to transform an overly idealistic Song Jiang into a likeable character.


Ghetto Justice

I like Kevin Cheng in Ghetto Justice much more than Bu Bu Jing Xin. Ghetto Justice was definitely entertaining to watch, but again, not something I would rewatch out of boredom. LA Law is absolutely hilarious in his roguish persona. The different legal cases are rather interesting to watch as well.

Forensic Heroes Hero 3

I like Wayne Lai, but I found Forensic Heroes 3 rather disappointing. The cases are uninspiring, predictable, and rather contrived. The production team tried "too hard" to use their new gadgets to make the investigators look "cool." Somehow the effects aren't too good. Literally, everyone in the police task force had their own little tablet computer to use during their conferences. If only the police departments in America were that well-off! I would understand more if they were using tablet computers for field work to log/record data but to display information during a meeting? Wouldn't a projector work better? I also felt I was listening to some kind of class lecture when the characters start to explain the working of some of their lab equipments.

Bottled Passion

I have to say Bottled Passion is one of the better costumed dramas produced by TVB nowadays. But it's definitely not a drama I would watch again and again. It was interesting enough for me to join my mom in the viewing when she catches it on cable TV. The script is relatively captivating, but the acting from Niki Chow falls flat and her chemistry with Raymond Wong equally bland. Their acting is actually not bad, but I just see no sparks. Maybe I'm just not a fan of their acting style. In contrast to the main leads, I thought the two supporting characters did a better job, particularly Elaine Yiu who portrayed the beguiled rich elder daughter of the Gao Family and Rebecca Chan who played the wickedly ruthless matriarch of the Gao household.


The Princess' Man

This series is probably my favorite Korean drama of the year. From the wonderfully dramatic soundtrack to the convincing acting/chemistry of the main leads, everything just goes superbly well together. After I finished the series, I just wanted watch more! My only complaint is not getting my fill of sweet moments between our main couple. Much screen time is devoted to the political feud between different fractions, angst emotions of our male lead, and the poignant father/daughter relationship of Prince Suyang and our female lead. The writer only needs to  add one more episode to give me some more scenes of the OTP at peace with each other and not emotionally tormented by their predicament.

My Princess

I really like the fresh pairing of Seon Seung Hun and Kim Tae Hee and really want to fall in love with this series. The context of a modern day princess dressing up in pretty gowns and cute accessories ignite the silly squealing girly part of me. Unfortunately, the pace of this series is too slow for my taste and the trials and tribulations of our female lead bored me to the point that I abandoned the drama by the end of the third week of its broadcast (roughly around Episode 5). When the final episode finally came out, I went back to check out the ending. I thought the happily-ever-after finale was sweet, but nothing remarkable. The later development of the plot was just not my cup of tea and it could no longer hold my interest. One thing I REALLY like is Kim Tae Hee's wardrobe. Man, I wish Tong Xue could dress like her!

Vampire Prosecutor

This series somehow really reminds me of the AMC's series, Dexter, even though the premise is rather different. Dexter, who disguises his normal self as a blood splatter analyst at the Miami Police Department, is a serial killer preying on other serial killers while Vampire Prosecutor is...well...a vampire. LOL. I like the fresh idea of a vampire who also happens to be a public servant working for the greater good and drinks leftover blood on the murdered victims get a glimpse of the moment right before they died. It's definitely one of the more memorable crime thrillers I've seen in recent years. Yun Jung Hoon plays the sleek and suave Vampire Prosecutor Min Tae Yeon, whose calm demeanor is rather infectious to watch as he uses his special vampire gift to solve the various murder cases. He isn't your typical straight-laced law enforcer and possesses his own unique methods in dealing with criminals.


Game of Thrones

This fantasy novel-based American TV series is probably one of the few English language dramas I watched last year, besides CSI: Las Vegas, The Walking Dead and Dexter. I never read the original Song of Fire and Ice novel series before, but the unique and intricate storyline really captivated my attention. I tend to like costumed TV shows and the medieval-like setting gives a special mystique. This drama literally has everything: the good, the bad, and the taboo. Incest, patricide, regicide, murder, rape, betrayal, mystery, war, scandal, infidelity, politics, supernatural enemy, chivalrous knights, mystical powers...The list just goes on. You're just bombarded with the ugliest side of human nature.

I'm really looking forward to Season 2 and the ultimate finale, if HBO ever makes it that far. The author, George R.R. Martin, spent over 20 years to write the first 5 books. He's currently working on the 6th book and supposedly the story should conclude in the 8th book, which I predict he should finish in another 10 years. I'm SERIOUSLY not kidding.

Hmmm...Now that I listed out all the dramas I saw or attempted to watch in 2011, I noticed I didn't dip my fingers in any Taiwanese or Japanese dramas. What happened?!! I think the last Taiwanese drama I saw was Autumn Concerto and the last Japanese drama was Nodame Cantabile: Europe Special. Maybe I should try Skip Beat if reviews are good.

What are your personal favorite and least favorite dramas of 2011?

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