It Started With a Kiss


Reviewed by: Bridget

January 30, 2008

Rating: four

Chinese Title: E Zuo Ju Zhe Wen (translates to prank's kiss)
Year: 2005
No. of episodes: 20
Theme Song: "Say You Love Me"

Cast:
Joe Cheng as Jiang Zhi Shu
Ariel Lin as Yuan Xiang Qin
Cyndi Chaw as Zhi Shu's mother
Zhang Yong Zheng as Zhi Shu's father
Tang Cong Sheng as Xiang Qin's father
Zhang Bo Han as Jiang Yu Shu (brother to Zhi Shu)
Jiro Wang as Ah Jin
Tiffany Xu as Pei Zi Yu
Supporting Cast
Liu Rong Jia as Ya Nong
Yang Pei Ting as Chun Mei
Jason as Wang Hao Qian
Bianca Bai as Bai Hui Lan
Qian De Men as Chairman Bai
* thanks to Wikipedia for the cast list

Foreword
Let's just say that I was originally very, very wary (rhyme intended) of watching this series. I had been recently misled into watching way too many sub-par series from reading praise-heaping reviews (War of In-Laws, Heart of Greed, The Drive of Life, etc.). My fear of once again being ripped off with this series (and its obsessive fan-ship) coupled with my general disdain for the 'idol drama' genre (I watched 2 or 3 episodes each of Green Forest, My Home; Love Contract; and Prince Turns Into Frog before giving up on all three of them) put me off from watching this.

But - and there is always a "but" - I did remember my rather pleasant experience watching Devil Beside You last year. Hell, I even enjoyed Meteor Garden, the series that pioneered the genre. So I decided to give Taiwanese idol drama another chance to reel me in. The result? I have yet another series to add to my guilty pleasures list. Boy, that list is getting long.

Plotline
I won't bother with a summary. Funn Lim has written a great one (www.point2e.com) and many other reviews on spcnet.tv have good summaries. So onto the actual review.

Evaluation of Cast & Characters

Xiang Qin / Ariel Lin
Yes, I know Xiang Qin is supposed to be not-that-bright but her stupidity in the first half of the series was exasperating to watch. I kept asking myself when her idiotic behavior was going to stop. Her fantasizing scenes were very funny, she comes off as dumb but very loveable (as opposed to ditsy - which would have really put me off), but her I-live-and-breathe-for-Zhi-Shu attitude really didn't do it for me. I was personally raised to believe that girls should not let guys have it so easily, and Xiang Qin's moronic behaviour in the early parts of her relationship with Zhi Shu irritated me to no end. I really wished she would have grown a stronger spine and just told him she's sick of him running hot and cold on her and had moved on.

Ariel Lin is very cute but I don't find her pretty - her facial features look odd when she's standing still (she looks like a Teletubby from certain angles in the beginning). However, later on in the series - and on in-person interviews, she looks much better (lighting? camera angles?), and in the scene where she tries on her wedding dress, she looks beautiful. As for her acting, an excellent performance. She can do comedy and she perfectly embodies everything Xiang Qin is supposed to be. Maybe I should give Love Contract another chance.

Zhi Shu / Joe Cheng
One of the more intriguing characters written for an idol drama. We know he is the smartest, the most good-looking, the most skilled at everything, blah blah blah. But we also know that he is unhappy. He doesn't like his parents (his dad, specifically) telling him what to do with his life, which is why he keeps pushing Xiang Qin away though he has feelings for her too. Though he has everything anyone would want in a guy and can get anything he wants with his brains and looks, the truly sad thing about him is that he doesn't care about anything in particular. What I mean is, he has no ambition, no dream - at the beginning of the series, he simply goes about life aimlessly as he has nothing that drives him to work passionately for. This changes when Xiang Qing enters his life and proposes that he become a doctor. This is when Zhi Shu starts to really care about working for something in his life. He is also more emotional around Xiang Qin - he has a temper, he teases her, he laughs at her. These are all emotions that Zhi Shu never showed before Xiang Qin appeared. I like his character development in the series.

The mega-tall Joe Cheng is physically perfect for this role (except his somewhat scary resemblance to Edison Chen from some angles). His cold, distant look could kill. Some may interpret it as a performance without expression, but in no way was Joe wooden. Quite the contrary - he's perfected the arrogant indifferent stare but Joe also manages to show that there is much, much more under Zhi Shu's icy exterior. For example, his scenes with his younger brother are excellent. You can really tell he dotes on Yu Shu and the two brothers get along very well (especially when insulting Xiang Qin) despite their age difference. Joe did a fantastic job showing the gradual change that Zhi Shu undergoes with Xiang Qin's influence, especially in the brief-but-telling moments where he looks at Xiang Qin (without her knowing). He's also very funny in the fantasy sequences and his chemistry with Ariel is terrific. The main reason he was so good was because Zhi Shu is a complete 180 from Joe's personality in real life, and when you can be convincing in a character that is so completely different - that, my friends, is what is called good acting. A great performance.

Tiffany Xu
Very pretty actress who does the cold side of Zhi Yu well, but her emotional scenes look a bit forced.

Jiro Wang
Likeable as the silly, devoted Ah Jin but he doesn't quite have the charisma or raw talent that Joe has. However, Jiro has very good chemistry with Ariel.

Cyndi Chaw
A totally cartoonish performance with some dramatic moments done well, but this actress is a bit too wacky for my taste. Because the series is based on a Japanese manga, however, I think I can forgive the wacky humour.

Tang Cong Sheng
Bad. Bad. Bad. I think it's because this actor is way too young for the role.

Zhang Yong Zheng
Very good performance.

Zhang Bo Han
A super cute kid who is one of the strongest child actors I've seen. Great chemistry with Joe and Ariel and he is one of the main reasons to watch this series.

Bianca Bai
Pretty and gentle-looking, but a bit bland in terms of acting.

In general, the supporting cast (with the exception of Ye Shu) was mediocre but the general acting was saved by the two lead performances.

Deja Vu?

There are so many scenes in here that make this series seem like just another Taiwanese idol drama. And in a way, it is. Examples include:

- Rain scene: Taiwanese idol dramas seem to love using one dramatic scene that takes place in the rain. In ISWAK, it's the scene where Zhe Shu kisses Xiang Qin and they finally get together. In DBY, it's the scene where Ah Meng and Yang Ping are punching each other's lights out. In Meteor Garden, it's the scene where Shan Cai and Dao Ming Si break up. In Why Why Love, it's the scene where Huo Da gives Jia Di a ride on his wheelchair. Yes, rain scenes are definitely a pattern.

- First scene: The first scene in this series was identical to the first scene in DBY. In DBY, Qi Yue is also holding a love letter out, facedown, to her crush, and he just walks by.

- Cartoon parents: What's with the silly parents in Taiwanese idol drama? The worst has got to be Shan Cai's parents in Meteor Garden.

Memorable Scenes

A lot of fans like the aforementioned rain scene where Zhe Shu finally realizes it's Xiang Qin he wants and kisses her as well as the first time he kisses her when they get into an argument, but personally I like three other scenes that, for me, are turning points in their relationship:

1) Date scene: I find this scene very cute and very real. I love that it's actually Zhe Shu who takes the initiative and suggests they go out, and I also love how Xiang Qin just chatters away while they're in the paddle boat while Zhe Shu remains silent. The scene is also very representative of how Zhe Shu behaves when he's around Xiang Qin. As Xiang Qin notices, it's the first time Zhe Shu actually lets down his guard around her.

2) Bed scene: No, not that way. Halfway through the series Xiang Qin ends up staying at Zhe Shu's place and they end up sleeping on the same bed. Zhe Shu then tells her that he can't let anything happen between them because then he'd be falling in his mother's trap. This is when Xiang Qin realizes that he's not cold to her because he doesn't like her, but because he doesn't want to be falling for someone that his mother approves of.

3) Hospital scene(s): This is personally my favourite scene. I'm referring to the part when Xiang Qin brings Yu Shu to the hospital and Zhe Shu arrives. There is a brief 3-second scene where Zhe Shu basically puts Yu Shu in Xiang Qin's hands during a phone call when Yu Shu falls sick. The fact that Zhe Shu is willing to place the health of his beloved yonger brother completely in Xiang Qin's hands proves that he doesn't really think of her as dumb. He trusts her and knows that she will do anything to keep Yu Shu safe. The scene where Xiang Qin breaks down in tears when Zhe Shu bends down and says softly "Thank you" and hugs her - I was near tears during that scene. Not because the pair finally had some kind of physical contact after the early kisses, but because this was one brief moment where Zhe Shu actually thought of Xiang Qin not as a stupid girl who idolized him, but as an equal and where he actually expresses his gratitude for Xiang Qin's very existence. A poignant scene and very well-acted.

4) Career suicide scene: Yes, for every good memorable scene there is another memorable scene that's memorable for one reason and one reason only: it was a complete nightmare. The wedding scene where the bride/groom roles were reversed in terms of clothes was this close to completely killing this series for me. Many people found it funny, but I was in utter disbelief that the writers chose to end this series with something so completely ridiculous. Up until then I remained pretty entertained with this series... until the ending scene where the guys started coming out in wedding drag, that is. And where were Xiang Qin's friends? Why were her love enemies in her bridal party? What the hell?! I was praying that this was just another one of Xiang Qin's fantasies, but nope, no such luck. I am going to try to forget completely that this scene ever happened, but lord knows it won't be easy. I still can't believe this is how it ended. At least there's a sequel to correct this crap.

Through the Grapevine

I've watched several interviews of Ariel and Joe, and yes, I believe they are together in real life (especially after watching their performances in the sequel to this series). Just check out the ISWAK2 thread in the Asian Fanatics forum for in-depth analysis of their promotional pics, interviews, and unscripted kisses to know that it is only a matter of time before they make their relationship public. Ariel seems to be the more private, subdued one but Joe has been dropping hints about their relationship/feelings ever since the sequel's promotions began. And no, I don't think it's a publicity stunt.

Yes, there's a sequel, affectionately known as ISWAK 2 or by its actual name, They Kiss Again. Although, from what I've seen so far (only 7 episodes have been aired to date), it should be called "They Kiss Again, Again, and Again". So far there has been at least one kiss in every episode.

To Watch or Not to Watch, That is the Question

Highly entertaining and amusing, though with an unfathomable ending, this series is saved by the performances of the two leads. Recommended for the 14-25 age demographic, but anyone older than that may not appreciate this one.


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