The year is 2001, and almost everyone in the country has their eyes glued on their television screens, as every scene of the most popular Asian series plays out. Everyone feels the pang of pain as the male lead, who just proclaimed his love, chases a speeding bus transporting the crying female lead. And just before our hearts get broken, she decides to follow her heart and alights the bus to go to the man she realized she loves back. In 2001, before there was even a Team Jacob/Edward conundrum, there was a whole debate on Team Daoming Si vs. Team Huaze Lei.
At the time, the Taiwanese drama, Meteor Garden, was all the hype, and almost every girl wanted to dress like Shancai, with her hair made up in a simple braided pigtails, and every guy wanted to be just as suave as the F4. The series was such a hit that it became a part of our generation, as a couple of other interpretations of the story were made since then.
After 17 years, a Chinese rendition is now being aired. Recently, I find myself hyped up and anticipating each episode of the series, same with a lot of millennials, for sure.
Actress Shen Yue portrays the fierce and determined Dong Shancai, a role which is a complete opposite of her recent portrayal of a lovestruck high school student Xiao Xi in the web drama A Love So Beautiful, which garnered the actress recent popularity over Asia.
OFFICIAL POSTER OF METEOR GARDEN 2018; (L-R: CONNOR LEONG, DYLAN WANG, SHEN YUE, CAESAR WU, DARREN CHEN)
Co-starring with Dylan Wang and Darren Chen, the casting is very much suited for the portrayal of fresh college students with their youthful looks and influence on the youth audience. It still doesn’t compare to its forerunner, however, because mature as they might have looked, they still had their charms back then.
With time, this 2018 rendition seems to portray more civilized characters, eliminating the factors of physical bullying and (a little bit of) violence in the school environment. In its place is a more timely portrayal of how people attack each other nowadays through social media and verbal bullying.
Although, there are a lot of differences in this Chinese version of Meteor Garden, it still does not differ from the original storyline; its main core is still about an obnoxious, rich heir to the country’s biggest company falling in love with a righteous and strong girl from a lower middle class background. There’s still the epic love triangle of Shancai, Daoming Si, and Huaze Lei in the story, and the challenges that surround their relationship.
Of course, the kilig factor in the couple’s cat-dog relationship is one of the charms of the story itself, and it can’t be missing from the whole storyline.
However, now that I’m watching this new rendition with maturity than when I was watching the old one back when I was about six years old, I now find the two lead’s relationship a little problematic, and here’s why:
It is a given that Daoming Si’s character is a little unpredictable. With his uncontrollably bad temper—a case which every version failed to address the seriousness of—he can seem to have manic bipolar tendencies. However, it’s not an excuse for his problematic behavior and physical violence.
In the original version, there was a scene where Daoming Si slapped Shancai when their relationship is getting messed up. Daoming Si was set up for an arranged marriage with a girl of his status, and Shancai was fighting with him, as she wants him to give up their relationship and was forcing him to marry the other girl instead. There was silence after the slap, and then he just left.
This scene’s 2018 counterpart was a little bit downplayed, but still equally disturbing. The scene happened pre-relationship; Daoming Si smacked Shancai in the face with a lunchbox filled with food and blamed her for his actions because “she insulted him first.”
Both of these actions are equally a red flag in any relationship. However, I feel like the old version is much worse than the latter because the two are already in a supposed loving relationship and yet he still had it in him to lay a hand on her.
And then, fast forward to the infamous rooftop scene where he got so jealous, an attempted assault was about to happen. You can feel his rage as he punched the wall, just inches away from her face; you can feel the fear as she was running away from the guy with a suddenly darkened expression. And then, as you feel uneasy while watching, he got to his senses when Shancai was pleading him to stop. Sure, he was brimming with rage and he might have felt justified in doing so but that is no excuse to force yourself on someone.
To be honest, I love watching this series as it brought nostalgia and a giddy romance to my loveless existence, but these two scenes really just bothered me (tbh, it was probably triggered because of a certain recent issue we’ve had on violence against women), although the latter scene was more downplayed and less violent than the original one.
Some viewers might argue that the latter scene was a vital part of the story, as it was written on the manga where the storyline is based off of and a crucial scene to show the leading man’s character development. However, I truly believe that this could’ve been handled differently from its previous versions, especially with how we’ve progressed with time, as people are more vocal and should be informed on issues regarding violence against women.
Somehow, after one episode, it’s as if nothing happened! There was neither an apology made nor repercussion on the man’s part. Sure, after what he did, he said he won’t hurt her anymore and you can see that he was somehow miserable too, but is that enough? The way they portrayed it is as if what happened has no traumatic effect whatsoever. After one episode, they’re just back to their old bickering relationship.
A few episodes after the rooftop incident, there’s a scene where Shancai and Daoming Si share a hotel room and he said that he doesn’t touch a woman without her consent. This line is very contradicting to the previous scene, and if you’re a viewer with very strong opinions about this, you would think how dare he say that line when he, in fact, almost assaulted Shancai. Here is where you’ll notice a character inconsistency in the story. Shancai was portrayed head-on strong and independent. However, what bothered me most was how that attitude was suddenly disregarded in these scenes. Where’s the Shancai who calls someone out when someone does wrong?
I find it troubling how they showed unrealistic reactions, too. Especially from Shancai, who was just recently assaulted. As the production is following the manga version of the story, sure the character wouldn’t report it to the police but the least they could’ve done is for Shancai to call out Daoming Si for what he’s done when an opportunity appeared. The way I see it, they addressed the issue by ignoring it, and it should’ve been handled better.
Besides Daoming Si’s anger management issues, there’s also the too-possessive-boyfriend aspect I’ve seen throughout this new version. While the sweet moments are really fun and giddy to watch, there’s also the fact that he can be too possessive even if he and Shancai aren’t even together yet. He gets unreasonably jealous and physically aggressive at every guy who’s friendly with the female character, and is borderline obsessive to the point that he followed her to a private gathering where he is not concerned, and made a scene.
Of course with any relationship, the other party is not completely blameless. Shancai has her misgivings, too. For one, it seems like she’s adamant to see the worst in Daoming Si—although, there are a few moments when she appreciates him, even with his obnoxious attitude. Despite his obvious efforts to please her, somehow she’s convinced that the guy is bad.
This also leads to a borderline irritating naivety on her part with recognizing her partner’s feelings, as she sweeps it under the rug. I mean, how dense must she be to not figure out why a guy would be jealous or ask you on a date or give you money to help your family in debt? Although it can be seen through her reactions that she knows the guy likes her, it’s just harsh to not acknowledge it, which is why it can be seen as her unintentionally leading him on.
Both of these characters are stubborn and headstrong, and when they’re fighting, no one backs down. But in a relationship, I think this might be a problem.
Watching the first few episodes of the series, although it makes your heart flutter, is also exhausting with their constant love-hate relationship. One moment, they’re making progress, and the next they’re at it like cats and dogs. Every episode seems repetitive with the common fight-and-make-up scenarios. If watching it constantly play out is exhausting, what more if you’re living that kind of relationship, won’t it be much more exhausting?
If this isn’t a romantic melodrama where Daoming Si is the lead and it’s happening IRL, further down the road, this kind of relationship is immature and pretty destructive that can possibly lead to a sad ending. Sure, at first it’s just possessive partners and their constant need to know where you are, then you have to ask for their permission to go somewhere or see someone. Before you know it they’re already monitoring your conversations and although this may not happen to a lot of couples, it happens to some. Combine it with an uncontrollable temper, and this is a major red flag!
In the series, it might be a petty couple fight that leads to a sweet apology and a kilig-worthy ending scene. But often, that’s not what happens in real life, and it might end to violence further down the road.
WATCH THE OFFICIAL TRAILER OF METEOR GARDEN:
Even with these concerns in mind, it doesn’t negate the fact that Meteor Garden is a classic romantic story, and the plot doesn’t just consist of their constant fighting. I think Shancai and Daoming Si’s relationship in the first few episodes was meant to be there to portray how immature their relationship still was. As proof of the other versions, you would see how their relationship matures into a somewhat healthy one.
Meteor Garden was made at a time when people weren’t very vocal on issues about violence, bullying, and assault. In 2001, I think this was a pretty progressive step to show that these kinds of things happen. In our current time, though, how they addressed this issue was problematic. Being that it is an influential series, it would’ve been nice if other versions, especially this latest one, portrayed and handled a controversial issue like this with sensitivity and perceived awareness. It could’ve been an opportunity to educate people on the reality when these events happen, but it just took us a couple steps back in pushing old and outdated notions about this type of violence.
I also find it problematic how people seem to take actions like this lightly, as there are some who either romanticize something like this or act nonchalant when they see things like this on screen. Thankfully, there are still others (as seen on comments section of online streaming sites) who know that what they’re seeing is wrong and how the production handled it is problematic.
Save for the shortcomings and concerns, I still enjoy and look forward to the kilig moments of this drama. Acting-wise, if to be compared to its Taiwanese counterpart, the Chinese actors could do better; there’s just some sort of natural depiction from the original actors that the latter lacked. Nonetheless, the leads are very easy on the eyes plus, there’s also a kind of chemistry all these young actors have together that would just make you want to anticipate every episode.
I guess, if you’re anything like me, you would enjoy watching the series but at the same time, it would also make you wonder if their relationship is a healthy one to begin with or doomed to fail if it was in real life.