Thursday, July 5, 2012

Most Poignant and Memorable TV Drama Characters

I'm sure everyone has their own set of memorable TV characters they never grow tired of watching. A few days ago, I saw a video documentary about the suicide of a famous 1980s Hong Kong TV actress, Barbara Yung, and I suddenly became very nostalgic. Her role as the spoiled, highly intelligent Huang Rong made a very deep impression on me as a child. As a result, I decided to put together this list (note: I actually have another list for my favorite characters in American TV shows). Though I lost count on how many dramas I've watched in my life, the number of characters that still ring loudly in my head are far fewer in comparison. I didn't really rank my favorite TV characters but put them in chronological order based on the year I first viewed the TV series.

Huang Rong in TVB 1983 Legend of the Condor Heroes (Barbara Yung), first viewing in 1990
To this day, Barbara Yung's performance as Huang Yong remains unchallenged and unsurpassed. No matter how many different Huang Rong's exist today, it seems no actress can overcome the bar that Barbara Yung set in her portrayal. Even the renowned Zhou Xun failed to meet the expectations of many ardent Louis Cha's fans and they continue to reminisce on the bubbly Barbara Yung's version. After two decades since I first saw her onscreen, I continue to watch her Huang Yong without feeling bored. I can't really describe in words what is so captivating about Barbara's Huang Rong, but she just really succeeded in bringing the character to life. Barbara Yung and Felix Wong's version of Legend of the Condor Heroes helped develop my love for wuxia series and period dramas in general.

Zhuge Liang in Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Tang Guoqiang), first viewing in 1996 or 1997
 Zhuge Liang in Romance of the Three Kingdoms definitely motivated me to enhance my understanding of the Chinese history. When I first got exposed to the 1996 CCTV version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, I felt they were speaking in an alien dialect of the Chinese language. Most of the dialogues were spoken in classical Chinese and I could barely understand anything without the assistance of some very simplistic English subtitles. The quiet intelligence, wisdom, and depth exhibited by Tang Guoqiang in his portrayal of this famous genius has transformed me into a Zhuge Liang fan.

Xiao Yanzi in original Huan Zhu Ge Ge (Vicki Zhao), first viewing in 1999
The original Huan Zhu Ge Ge series is a true Chinese TV drama classic. Despite all the money lavished in the remake, the acting and the storytelling still failed to meet a fraction of the charms from the original. Every summer in China, Hunan TV would air reruns of this series and its reruns became synonymous to "summer vacation has started" for Chinese students. And if I have to name one Chinese drama that made a deep impact in my life, HZGG definitely deserves that recognition. It was my crazy love for Xiao Yanzi and the 5th Prince that motivated me to vastly improve my Chinese. At that time, I just had some basic understanding of  written Chinese and I was considered somewhere between illiterate to "semi-literate" in the language. I could recognize a few Chinese pronouns, nouns, and verbs, and understand a few simple sentences in news articles. Due to my intense curiosity to find out what happened in the sequel and my impatience to wait for the actual TV sequel to come out, I purchased all five volumes of the novel sequel and slowly dissected the 1000+ page novel. Thus, during the summer of 1999,  the HZGG novel and an electronic English/Chinese dictionary became my best friend. It definitely helped boast my Chinese vocabulary. Wish I had the same motivation to memorize the SAT vocab. back then. LOL.

Jang and Princess Seonhwa in Ballad of Seodong (Jo Hyun Jae & Lee Bo Young), first viewing in 2006
Even though the acting wasn't always smooth and sometimes plagued by mediocrity, I still love the OTP of this series! Written and directed by the same people who created Dae Jang Geum, Ballad of Seodong is basically another Romeo and Juliet story, except poor Romeo becomes king in order to marry his Juilet and they both don't die a tragic death.  "Seodong" in Korean means potato boy and refers to the street urchin who sells yam/sweet potato for a living. Our hero, Jang, was a poor sweet potato boy when he met a young princess of the Shilla Kingdom. Then through dumb luck or fate, the princess and sweet potato boy, who are destined never to meet in the first place, somehow manage to become good childhood friends and remain determined throughout their lives to be with each other. I think I just fell in love with the main couple's utter devotion toward each other despite all the external forces trying to separate them. There is also no annoying evil second female lead whose love for sabotage would make you want to pull out your hair in frustration. The fact that I spent 7 months to translate/convert 20 episodes from Chinese subtitles into English also helped immerse myself deeper into the story. Anyone who like epic love stories or who have similar drama taste as me, this series may be worth your time. But be warned, the main leads may get a little too "idealistic" and it's a super long series.

Seol Gongchan and Joo Yoo Rin in My Girl (Lee Dong Wook & Lee Dae Hee), first viewing in 2006
I have very fond memories of this adorably fun couple. My Girl is one of the few Korean dramas that has good and funny moments in every episode, maybe except for the penultimate episode.The dream/imagination sequences in this series are surprisingly hilarious and tastefully done. Usually, I hate overused imagination sequences to "spice" up the comedic effect. I think they can get overly outlandish and just plain silly. I still remember during my obsession of this drama, I sat through all the episodes 4 or 5 times without fast forwarding. Now that is an amazing feat for someone like me who has an instinctive urge to fast forward through everything I watch. When I first gave this drama a try, I fast forwarded through most of the episodes and found the main characters very typical and boring. But then one day, I oddly decided to give the drama another shot and patiently watched the whole thing in "normal" speed. On second viewing, I absolutely fell in love with it. The crazy interactions between the no nonsense Gongchan and the money-loving Yoo Rin created a lot laughs for me. And let's not forget that scene with a gentle but sizzling hot kiss and then a heartfelt "I love you" confession.

Xu Changqing in Chinese Paladin 3 (Wallace Huo), first viewing in 2009
If I have to coin one term to describe Wallace Huo in Chinese Paladin 3, it would be "innocently dreamy." He was perfect as the loveable and gullible Daoist priest with an uptight personality. Most people who played the game do not like Xu Changqing as a character. Fortunately, the scriptwriter and Wallace Huo's wonderful performance completely transform Xu Changqing from a lackluster scum into one of the best characters in the series. His innocence about the material world and his adorable mannerism didn't feel contrived nor forceful. Because of this successful performance, I became a semi-Wallace Huo fan. And despite his popularity, I really admire how low-key he remains in real life. I think Wallace does a pretty good job in picking out his roles.

Bidam in Quean Seondeok (Kim Nam Gil), first viewing in 2009
I personally felt Queen Seondeok got A LOT more intense and interesting after the introduction of Bidam. His character's struggle between good and evil was one of the major draws for me. As you may have already detected, I have a softness for tormented characters. I enjoyed watching Bidam's conflicted emotions toward his birth mother, Mishil. Whenever they showed up onscreen together, I sensed sparks flying everywhere.The mother and son had such good acting rapport, even exceeding the chemistry between Bidam and his love interest, Seondeok.  Bidam may not be the #1 guy in the series (and the writers also lavished 30+ episodes trying to explore Seondeok's relationship with Yushin), but I was totally hoping Seondeok would eventually have a change of heart and return poor Bidam's affections. His amazing character debut make you want to root for him. And then let's not forget that his exit was equally breathtaking and heartbreaking too. The stylist decided to dress him up all pretty before letting him go out with a BAMM. LOL

Mo Shaoqian in Sealed with a Kiss (Hawick Lau), first viewing in 2011
How can I not include this guy on this list when almost half of my blog is dedicated to my fascination with this character?! I think I've already said enough about Mo Shaoqian. You probably don't want to hear my rant again. :D For those of you who aren't familiar with Mo Shaoqian or are curious why I like him so much, you can check the related posts below:
Top 6 Favorite Characters in Sealed with a Kiss (read the last paragraph)
Mo Shaoqian's Monologue

There actually quite a few more characters that I'm fond of but didn't have a chance to cover in this post. I may write about them in a future.

Do you have a list of characters you still like to watch again?

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