Forty-nine episodes later (and my social life quickly collecting dust at a bottom shelf somewhere), I’m finally done with Meteor Garden (2018).
A remake of the 2001 Taiwanese drama of the same name, Meteor Garden chronicles the unexpected love story between a rich, hot-tempered college senior, Dao Ming Si, and a strong-willed Shan Cai who chooses not to be cowed by Si’s domineering ways.
I had a love-hate relationship with this expansive series. Here’s a breakdown of what I loved and hated about the show.
1. Dylan Wang’s portrayal of Dao Ming Si
I didn’t think I would like newcomer Dylan Wang’s portrayal at first, as actor Jerry Yan’s performance in the original was so memorable.
Yan’s interpretation had a cool guy vibe. While Wang also played it cool initially, as the show progresses, he brought a boyish and silly charm to the character that was quite endearing to watch.
Coming in to such a well-loved series, Wang had big shoes to fill for sure. Instead of walking in someone else’s, it’s a good thing he brought his own pair altogether.
2. Darren Chen’s turn as Hua Ze Lei
The original Hua Ze Lei, played by Vic Zhou, felt very serious and dark, with just brief moments of levity.
Darren Chen managed to balance between being dark and ominous with moments of humour and lightness that Zhou scarcely introduced in his portrayal – and it’s no easy feat.
Oh and I need to know what brand of lip balm he’s wearing. I don’t think I’ve seen a guy with such supple lips.
3. Dee Hsu’s take on Dao Ming Zhuang
Dee Hsu, who plays Dao Ming Si’s older sister Dao Ming Zhuang, was the perfect combination of being fearsome and loving at the same time. She cracks the whip but she’s also hilarious – she deserves a spin-off of her own!
By the way, did you know that Dee Hsu is the younger sister of Barbie Hsu (who played the original Shan Cai)?
4. The gorgeous visuals
First things first, I would like everything F4 wore. Whether it’s long, elaborate tweed coats or just a simple sweater, the character’s wardrobe reflected the fact that they’re actually rich kids (the original wasn’t as convincing in this aspect, owing to a tight budget).
The camera work, filming locations and overall production quality has improved leaps and bounds from the original too.
5. The homage paid to the original Meteor Garden
Let’s just say a character appears at a restaurant towards the second half of the series that fans of the original Meteor Garden will know and love! He or she doesn’t have a big role but it’s a really nice touch. So nice it warrants an entire point on its own!
1. Shen Yue’s version of Shan Cai
This played a big part on why I didn’t like the new series as much as I did the original. I’ve talked about this before in my review here.
Shan Cai never shies away from giving Dao Ming Si a piece of her mind. While the original Shan Cai did so in order to restore justice to an unjust situation, there’s a sense that the 2018 Shan Cai did so because she was caught up in the heat of the moment.
Having said that, if I had kept an open mind on the new Shan Cai, I may have liked her more. But Barbie Hsu did such a great job I couldn’t shake her interpretation off.
2. The 323 million flashbacks and recaps
How many times do we have to hear Dao Ming Si tell Shan Cai, “even if you ran to Mars, I will still follow you.” We get it! You like her a lot, it’s borderline stalker-ish.
The series has a tendency to remind viewers about what a character said through long chunks of flashbacks. If a flashback is necessary (which was rarely the case), a short one-two liner from a past scene will do the job. Going back to the same scene over and over again, no matter how meaningful, waters down the impact.
3. The Mei Zuo-Caina storyline
It’s good that Mei Zuo, a less prominent member of F4 gets his own love story. But it was so hard to get through. One of the reasons why it didn’t work could be because an entirely new character, Caina, was brought into the picture.
And this entirely new character has an elaborate back story which involves another entirely new character. So that’s TWO characters that we do not care about suddenly waltzing their way in.
If Mei Zuo’s love interest was a character we saw since the beginning of the show (like the gossipy mean girls always hating on Shan Cai), things would be more interesting. Viewers would care more.
4. The same music on repeat
Not every scene in the series needs to be accompanied with a song. Sometimes silence works just fine. Nearly every other scene in Meteor Garden gets a song. And it’s the same few songs song over and over again – Bishop Briggs’ River, A Great Big World’s Say Something, Penny Tai’s Ni Yao De Ai and the cast’s For You. To be fair, I had this same problem with the original Meteor Garden too.
Oh and the most jarring of all is the use of Anyone Of Us (Stupid Mistake) – where Gareth Gates sings about feeling remorseful for cheating on his lover – on celebratory occasions.
5. The length
The new Meteor Garden was so long, it was frustrating. The story could’ve easily been told within 30 episodes. There’s so much that should’ve been cut out. Unimportant storylines like Mei Zuo and Caina’s, for starters.
And a tighter editing throughout the show should be adopted. For instance, whole episodes were dedicated to Shan Cai’s involvement in a cooking competition. The cooking competition was featured in such detail, I felt I was watching an episode of Masterchef at one point.
It had some sweet moments (one of Dao Ming Si’s physical characteristics inspires her dish). But as with the series as a whole, shorter is sweeter.
Meteor Garden is available for streaming on Netflix.