The Rise and Rule of the Underdog

Sorry for the delay on the Gloomy Salad Days recaps. I promise to get back to that come summer. Really! For now, let me share a little something I wrote about my great obsession.

REMEMBER THE early-2000 hit Taiwanese series, “Meteor Garden?” Remember those long, trend-setting ‘dos, and the shaved man-underarms? Behind the five leads—the Flower Four plus Shan Cai—is a sea full of supporting characters; floating somewhere in there is a gem of an actress that is Rainie Yang

Of course she wasn’t as spectacular then, because if she was she should’ve landed the lead role. Instead there she was, the best friend of the star, little Xiao Yu who did nothing but listen to Shan Cai’s stories of love and tragedy. Back then I didn’t know her, and I wasn’t impressed with her acting (and bangs) either. She was a forgettable face, so much so that I even forgot Shan Cai has a best friend in the story to start with.

Fast forward to 2008, the latter part of my senior year in high school: The school year was wrapping to an end and we were literally doing nothing in school anymore. I borrowed my friend’s CD of “Devil Beside You” out of curiosity—it was an interesting and scandalous Taiwanese series about two siblings (although not directly—I’ll talk about that later) who fell in love with each other and who wanted to prove to the world that theirs is a love that will stand the tests of time.

My love for this series and the others I will be reviewing also stands the tests of time—all because of the common denominator: Rainie Yang.

Rainie Yang (杨丞琳 or Yang Cheng Lin) is a Taiwanese actress who began early in her career appearing in commercials and movies based in Hong Kong. She returned to Taiwan as a member of a girl group called “4 in Love”. “Rainie” is the name given to her to fit the weather-based names of the members; prior to the group she was called in the industry as Lily.

After the group disbanded, she further pursued her acting career, appearing in various series and variety shows. Her casting in “Meteor Garden” was followed with other projects until she bagged the female lead role in “Devil Beside You,” the drama that shot her to fame.

“Devil Beside You” is a 20-episode drama series directed by Lin He Long. Taiwanese channel CTV broadcasted it in the middle of 2005, featuring new faces (albeit not new in the industry): Rainie, Mike He, and Kingone Wang, to name a few. The series is an adaptation of a Japanese manga “Akuma de Souro” (“Devil Does Exist”) by Takanashi Mitsuba.

The story revolves around Qi Yue (Rainie), who at the beginning of the story has a huge crush on her college’s basketball team leader, Sang Yuan Yi (Kingone Wang). When she decides to confess to him, she accidentally hands her love letter to the wrong guy, Jiang Meng (or Ah Mon), the son of the university president. Upon his persistence, she falls in love with him and the two get together. There is a catch, however: Qi Yue’s single mother decides to remarry and the man is no other than the university president. Afraid of hurting their parents, Qi Yue and Ah Mon conceal their relationship with the label “dangerous siblings;” however, no secret is forever.

If casting newbies worked for “Meteor Garden”, casting raw talents also worked for “Devil Beside You.” It was a perfect mix of comedic, dramatic and surprising actors and actresses. No stealing of limelights, no one character hugging the story all to his own—everyone was well-rounded. Plus, their acting was so natural it seemed they were all having fun with every take.

What is admirable about this series is that it touched a very sensitive issue and handled it with care so that it didn’t come off as offensive to the audience. A relationship between siblings is usually a taboo, but with Qi Yue’s innocence and noble love, as well as Ah Mon’s “you-and-me-against-the-world” attitude, the audience is moved to ship their love story ‘til the end.

For me, this series will forever be the barometer of a great Rainie Yang drama because in it she has become truly astounding. It is with the role of Qi Yue that she emerged from the sea of the unnoticed. Of course her acting here is not as ironed out if you compare it to her talent today, but it is with “Devil Beside You” that she had first shown great promise; the years afterwards are solid proof of the industry’s acknowledgement of Rainie.

Rating: [5 Patrick Stars]

The love triangle reunited two years after “Devil Beside You,” in an idol drama entitled “Why Why Love.” Directed by Lin He Long, this series aired for 15 episodes in two networks, CTV and GTV.

In “Why Why Love,” Rainie played the role of Tong Jia Di, a boorish girl whose problems revolve around paying debts, finding part-time jobs, and copying class notes in order to sell them afterwards. While at a part-time job in a charity event, she meets Huo Da (Mike He), a motorcycle junkie also known as “Devil Boy.” She also meets his brother, Huo Yan (Kingone Wang), the general manager of the shopping mall where she is employed at. After a series of events, both brothers fall for Jia Di. They race to fix their estranged relationship; whoever wins the race gets the girl.

Some people who have watched this series said it was overrated and that it failed to meet the audience’s high expectations. They said it wasn’t able to keep up with the hype that preceded the pilot episode. In a way these criticisms are true because the performance of the three leads seemed raw as compared to their previous work. If Mike was a badass in “Devil Beside You,” his evilness in this series seemed mediocre.

For me, however, “Why Why Love” has its own charm. This series has a lighter feel to it, judging from the slow pacing of events. The slice-of-life approach may actually be the reason why this is my favorite Rainie Yang drama. It may not be the best overall, but the premise of this series is closer to reality than all the other dramas featured in this review.

As for Rainie’s performance, it felt like she took a step back from the all-out acting she showed in “Devil Beside You.” She became way too careful of how she brought herself to take on the role of a familial and independent woman. There were scenes when you wanted more and she delivered less. She was a letdown, but the drama itself made up for all her shortcomings.

Rating: [4 Patrick Stars]

Rainie’s next character is the optimistic, curly-haired Jiang Xiao Hua in “Miss No Good.” Directed by Zhang Bo Yu, CTS aired this series in the latter part of 2008, ending with a total of 14 episodes.

While all the other girls dread thoughts of bad hair days and mismatched attires, Xiao Hua could not care less. She grew up in a warm family composed of her dad and her grandmother, both of whom love her no matter what she looks like. Fashion stylist and expert Tang Men (Wilber Pan), however, does not approve of her overly-accessorized-Christmas-tree look. So when Xiao Hua finds out that her childhood admirer, fatty Jia Si Le (Dean Fujioka) is now a fine, handsome bachelor, she asks for Tang Men’s help to turn her from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan to capture the young bachelor’s heart.

If you want something crazy and humorous to watch, then this is the Rainie Yang drama for you. The craziest thing that is sure to be noticed is not Rainie’s look but her voice—she changed it to a high-pitched baby voice to fit the role. Some people find it annoying but I find it so hilarious! Her already-cute character just became cuter a thousand times more because of the voice.

And then there is the exaggerations spread all over the drama, the perfect plot device the director utilized to appeal to the audience. Apparently, Rainie is not an enough laughingstock, so everybody else joins the bandwagon and makes fun of their selves to drive the point home: This. Is. A. Comedy. Idol. Drama.

One of Rainie’s strengths as an actress is her ability to look funny or ugly without any hesitations. I forgot to mention the faces she is known for in the previous dramas, and this one is no exemption. If the director tells her to act drunk, she will act drunk and crazy—for her it is always about taking that extra mile. She may come off as annoying, but most of her fans admire her confidence: she never puts any limit to her acting for the sake of reputation. This is exactly why she is a perfect cast in a typical idol drama.

Rating: [4 Patrick Stars]

Rainie’s collaboration with Jiro Wang in “ToGetHer” came as a shocker not because of the love team but because of her role in it. This early 2009 series is by far the shortest one Rainie has acted in, with only 12 episodes all in all. Directed by Lin Zi Ping, “ToGetHer” broadcasted in four different networks, namely: CTV, GTV, Channel U and Hunan TV.

Chen Mo Mo (Rainie) is a certified otaku, a person obsessed with manga. In home or in school she is a loner, hiding behind her latest Prince Kasaba book or talking to her Prince Kasaba action figures. Soon enough, her simple and quiet life is disrupted when a falling superstar, Zhuang Jun Nan (Jiro Wang), more popularly known as “Mars”, landed right in front of her. With fewer projects now that he is Mr. Popular no more, he rents a room in Mo Mo’s house to cut down his living expenses. With his superstar complex and her otaku lifestyle, their personalities clash but not their hearts.

Ratings have a say with how long a series is going to air. Here it is very clear what the ratings were, just by judging the short run of “ToGetHer.” You cannot blame the audience if this is not a fan favorite. There seems to have been no chemistry with Rainie and Jiro, although both have acted very well with their own roles. Jiro is great as Mars, Rainie as well with Mo Mo, but Mo Mo and Mars together just didn’t sell it.

But for all its worth, I really enjoyed watching this series. When the immature Mars finally learns how to put himself aside and care for another person (other than his mom), and when Mo Mo finally pops out of her bubble world, I cheered a little inside. There were only a few moments when this series was so poignant, and all those times had something to do with themes of maturity, sincerity and confidence to face the challenges of real life.

Mo Mo’s character is a breath of fresh air in Rainie’s career. Although she had already ventured out of her cutesy reputation by acting in a lesbian film in 2007, Mo Mo is the TV version of Rainie’s attempt to get out of her own box and try something new. She was not her usual, boisterous self in “ToGetHer,” and her silence is very refreshing. Her craft as an actress has definitely improved. The drama’s ratings may not have been high in numbers, but her skill has not downgraded one bit.

Rating: [3 Patrick Stars]

Rainie was on a roll when she took a second drama series in the latter part of 2009. “Hi! My Sweetheart” is a 14-episode idol drama which broadcasted both in CTV and GTV. This is the third time Rainie acted under Director Lin He Long, performing alongside actor and host Show Lo.

Xue Hai (Show Luo) is a filthy rich successor of a toilet company in Taiwan. His two sisters send him to Shanghai, China for college upon his request for independence. While in China, they suggest that he cover up with the alias “Lin Da Lang” for safety purposes. Da Lang is the epitome of a dork: funny hairstyle, thick-rimmed glasses and a tucked-in suspender-short combination. Of course he’s a bully’s target, so Chen Bao Zhu (Rainie), with her expertise in judo, comes to his rescue; her bravery is the start of their love story. But just when he was about to propose to her on her birthday during their graduation year, she meets an accident and he misunderstands her. Feeling dumped, Da Lang transforms his dorky self into the hunky Xue Hai to seek revenge.

I love everything about this series: the casting, Rainie Yang, the concepts, the funny sequence shots—everything! Seldom do we encounter series like this wherein the guy is the knight-in-distress and the girl is the damsel-in-shining-armor. There is consistency in this one: from start to end it has always been Bao Zhu doing the saving and Xue Hai getting in trouble.

Rainie and Show were both spectacular here, both with their individual roles and their chemistry as a couple. They have shown so much depth in their acting—and I can say this with confidence even with Show’s performance as I have also seen his past works. They’re crazy when the scene needs them to be, and they cry buckets of tears when the drama lens is on. These two were just perfect for the role and perfect for each other.

Bao Zhu is the role in which Rainie had shown a wide range of emotions, from anger to sadness, from grief to laughter. It is also the role by which she bagged the “Best Actress” award in the 45th Golden Bell Award held last year. The award, plus her performance per se, are evidences of Rainie’s excellence in her craft and work—and she has more up her sleeves.

Rating: [5 Patrick Stars]

You may be wondering if I watched all five dramas from start to end (YES) and if I’m a crazy Rainie fan (YES). All these things are not important, though; all you have to remember out of this review is this: if you are curious who the heck Rainie Yang is, then grab some popcorn, hit that couch and watch “Devil Beside You.” That’s a good start.

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