Chinese Title: "Hua Yang Xiao Nian Xiao Nu" (roughly translates to the tricks of boys and girls)
No. of episodes: 15
*Based on the shoujo manga Hanazakari no Kimitachi e ("For You in Full Blossom") written by Hisaya Nakajo
Zen Me Ban - What Should I Do, S.H.E (opening)
Te Bie Tian Shi - Special Angel, TANK (closing)
Dong Le - Understood, TANK (interlude)
Sha Sha de Yong Qi - Foolish Courage, Venk (interlude)
Ella Chen as Rui Xi
Wu Chun as Quan
Jiro Wang as Xiu Yi
Tang Zhi Ping as Mei Tian (school nurse)
Danson Tang as Liang Si Nan (dorm 2 leader)
Chen Wen Xiang as Ye Shen (friend to Xiu Yi)
Xie Zheng Hao as Ri Hui (friend to Xiu Yi)
Xie He Xian as Sima Shu (friend to Xiu Yi)
Nissa Marion as Julia (friend to Rui Xi)
Ethan Ruan as Shen Le
Guilty pleasure #51,693. Hana Kimi is bankable formula done well. Decent acting, familiar characters, and an unconventional ending, anyone aged 12-18 will probably watch this series and love it. And no, I'm not in that demographic. The series simply indulges my inner teenybopper. Starring pretty faces from those pesky Taiwanese bands, S.H.E. and Fahrenheit.
Formula for a Taiwanese idol drama is as follows. The most successful ones have been based on a manga. Plot goes something like this. Guy A is cool, tall, good-looking, and incredibly good at something. He is usually juvenile, not interested in matters of the heart (until he meets Girl A), and has some family issues, though his family is usually well-off. Girl A is plain, innocent, probably tomboyish and only good at one thing and one thing only: she unconditionally supports Guy A and completely idolizes him. Girl A comes from a tight-knit family and usually helps Guy A sort out his own family issues. Guy B is friendly, goofy, and loves and supports Girl A - he is basically the male version of Girl A. Guy B is always the loser in love. Optional Girl B, who is Girl A's friend, is usually feisty, independent, and often speaks up for Girl A. If there is a Girl B, she and Guy B will get together.
Most Taiwanese idol dramas are based in school, but you almost never see them study. The characters go on school trips, they meet exchange students (sometimes Guy B and Girl B are introduced this way), take study hiatuses to work part-time, and have some amusing teachers, but they never study.
Side note: Add in a b_tchy Girl C who is in love with Guy A and constantly tries to sabotage Girl A, and you've got Korean romantic comedy formula.
Anyway, so insert the plot of Hana Kimi in the formula above. Rui Xi is Girl A, a chubby, plain, boyish-looking girl who gets inspired to lose 30kg when she watches her idol, Zuo Yi Quan, high jump on TV. She falls so hard for him that she decides to return to Taiwan and enroll in Ying Kai, a boys-only boarding school that Quan attends. After a drastic hair chop, she ends up bumping into Quan on her first day. And luck is on her side, because guess who she's sharing a dorm with?
By the second episode, she's been busted by Quan, who finds out "he" has a chest when picking her up after she falls unconscious after a soccer match. However, Quan doesn't let on that he knows her secret. This means RX continues to do all kinds of lovely things to show her love and support - and vice versa - and Quan can keep her by his side at Ying Kai (because now he's actually fallen for her). Along with the gender identity secret comes Xiu Yi, the school's soccer star who ends up falling for RX too. However, since he doesn't know RX is a girl, he realizes he's "gay", and in one of the funnier scenes of the series, ends up coming out of the closet.
They go on a school trip, work at an inn for a summer, Quan starts high-jumping again, XY ends up with RX's best friend Julia, and at the end, RX finds out Quan knows her secret. However, they choose to keep it a secret and just be together (cue "awwwwww"). Which, really, they were basically doing before anyway.
So what does this ending mean? It means that we end up exactly where we began. There goes 15 hours of my life.
1) A totally catchy soundtrack. You will hear Fahrenheit, S.H.E. and Taiwan idol drama OST darling TANK. Big props to the writers for not making the artists sing in the series.
2) Light-hearted, cheesy as hell and a feel-good series, to the max. You need basically no brainpower to absorb Hana Kimi. If you're looking for the dramatic, brooding spin on the manga, watch the Japanese version (which I have seen, and I like the Taiwanese version more).
3) Complete exploitation of the Taiwanese idol drama formula, and done well.
4) An unconventional ending, which means that there will be - what's that, folks? - a sequel.
5) Funny supporting cast performances.
1) No veteran cast members. At all.
2) Formulaic if you don't like repetition. There's nothing new here, people. At all.
3) A boring plot twist that reveals to Rui Xi that Quan knew about her all along.
4) The male/female protagonists lie to their good friends at the end.
5) Lame attempt at family drama when they explain the story of why Quan stopped high-jumping and why he has issues with his younger brother.
6) More than half of the scenes take place in RX and Quan's dorm room. Boooooooooooringgggggg.
1) How did Rui Xi enroll in a boys-only school? Surely something would have given away her actual gender when she was registering.
2) What is so bad about revealing who Rui Xi actually is? Worst case scenario is that she would be kicked out of Ying Kai. Big whoop. They could have easily revealed the secret and Quan and RX could have continued dating without having to lie to everyone anymore.
3) Wow, for a girl, Rui Xi is very slow. Only a blind man in sunglasses wouldn't be able to tell that Quan knows she's a girl and is head over heels in love with her. From the second episode to the last, he is sweet, jealous, and protective all at the same time. Their friends constantly tease them. The fact that she suspects that he might think she's gay just goes to show how slow she is.
Evaluation of Cast & Characters
The only girl-as-boy performance that I've seen in Asian drama that's actually convincing. For one thing, Ella actually looks like a boy (compared to the actresses in the Japanese version of this series and Korea's 1st Shop of Coffee Prince, who were just girls with short hair). She pouts and cries a bit too much here, but overally I think she gives the series' strongest performance because she's charismatic and can act. What I like about her is, she's willing to uglify (if that's a word) herself for the sake of the role, including making strange facial expressions to achieve the comedy effect. Her best moments are when she knocks down her voice a few octaves (and boy, is her voice low) to remind everyone she's a guy and after she runs away from the creep at the inn.
Her chemistry with Wu Chun is there, but it's definitely puppy love chemistry. They don't exactly scream electric (Ariel & Joe) or mega-compatibility (Rainie & Mike). However, what I like about Ella's character is that she's not totally dumb, has a temper, treats her friends well, and her relationship with Quan is portrayed as quite equal. Whereas other idol drama guys' treament of the girls tend to range from indifferent to downright cold, Quan is genuinely sweet and very protective of Rui Xi. A refreshing change.
And how's this for a connection - her older sister's boyfriend discovered Wu Chun.
So now I know why all these girls fawn all over him. This guy is super handsome, almost so pretty he could pass for a girl. In fact, he looks girlier than Ella. If it weren't for his height, build, and tattooed bicep, he probably should have played Ella's character. For all you perverts out there, I can tell you he takes his shirt off every other scene.
Though he's playing 10 years younger than his real age here, Wu doesn't look it and convinces as an athlete (he did play basketball for his national team, worked as a fitness trainer and even opened his own gym). From certain angles, he almost looks like a Japanese cartoon character. He would be my pick for Mamoru Chiba a.k.a. Darien/Tuxedo Mask if Sailor Moon ever made a real-life version.
While as an actor he's somewhat boring, there is one thing that Wu has perfected in this performance, and that is the sweet, shy glances he makes towards Ella. And yes, it is enough to make you swoon and squeal "omigod he's so dreamy" Ella-style... uh, if you're a girl. Whether he's got potential to make it in serious drama, I would say no. Everything needs a little more of that extra something... actually, make it a lot of extra something. However, Hana Kimi is not exactly a series that requires depth, so Wu's is a perfectly adequate performance for this character. And yes, that's enough to satisfy me.
The same performance for what is essentially the same character from It Started With a Kiss. And he's good at it. He's goofy, friendly, and overacts to good results in here. One of his best assets here is that he's got chemistry with the whole cast. The other is that he's got a naturally sunny disposition. You watch him, and you're happy. Something tells me he could be a serious actor because he's had a pretty sad past and could probably bring all that to the screen if ever given the chance.
Tang Zhi Ping is creepy with a capital C. I had to force myself to watch his scenes with Ella. I know his character is supposed to be gay but he came off more like a pervert. Danson Tang and Ethan Ruan make the most out of their minor characters. Someone has got to give Danson a leading role because he's probably one of the most talented idol drama actors after Joe Cheng. His funniest moment was when XY was about to jump off the building and he said "Huh. It's not that high, come down".
Ethan (who I fell in love with after watching Fated to Love You) sports braids here. It works for him and his best moment was the 3-second scene after watching Quan successfully make the jump in ep. 5. Everything about Nissa Marion screamed 'b_tch', although she was tolerable. A special mention goes to the three actors who play the sidekick friends; they are funny and natural comedians.
Through the Grapevine
Those who follow Taiwan entertainment will recognize Ella as one of the members of popular girl group S.H.E., and guess who Wu Chun and Jiro Wang belong to? That little boy band known as Fahrenheit. They've followed in the foosteps of "act in some series and get discovered and put into a boy band" from the infamous F4 (now JVKV), and are thankfully more talented, accomplished, and infinitely more good-looking than their predecessors. Judging from what they've accomplished before entertaining the business, I have no clue why they would want to be in a boyband. Three out of the four members are too old for the boy band label. Maybe life in the biz is just that fantastic.
Offscreen, Ella and Wu are very good friends and they always make fun of each other in the NG clips.
What else? There will be a sequel to this series. Hurrah. If Ella and Wu don't star in the sequel, my pick for the pairing would be Arron Yang (Fahrenheit) and Hebe Tian (S.H.E)...you know, just to keep the incestuous party going. Like TVB, Taiwan idol drama is just the same people over and over again.
To Watch or Not To Watch, That is the Question
A must-watch for idol drama fans. Everyone else can just pass.