* Sequel to the 2005 smash hit It Started With a Kiss
Chinese Title: 'E Zuo Ju Er Wen' (literally, prank's second kiss)
No. of episodes: 20
Theme song: Mavis Fan (ending song - Ni ('You') by Ariel Lin and interlude by Joe Cheng)
*Based on the manga Itazaru Na Kiss ("prank's kiss") by Kaoru Tada
Ariel Lin as Xiang Qin
Joe Cheng as Zhi Shu
Jiro Wang as Ah Jin
Zhang Yong Zheng as Zhi Shu's father
Cyndi Chaw as Zhi Shu's mother
Tang Tsung Sheng as Xiang Qin's father
Zhang Bo Han as Yu Shu (brother to Zhi Shu)
Figaro Ceng as Qi Tai
Aaron Yan as Ah Bu
Guan Cong as Zhi Shu's grandfather
Jason as Hao Qian
Tiffany Xu as Zi Yu
Cai Yi Zhen as Luo Zhi Yi
Jiang Pei Zhen as Zhang Ni Na
Xiu Jie Kai as Zhou Chuan Jin
Candice Liu as Liu Nong
Petty Yang as Chun Mei
Rui Sha as Christine
Lin Jia Yu as childhood Hao Mei
Meng Geng Ru as teenage Hao Mei
Cong Yang as teenage Yu Shu
* thanks to Wikipedia for the full cast list
At Wonderland (an amusement park in Canada), there is a roller-coaster called The Fly. It does not dive, it does not dip, and it has no upside-down tracks. The attraction of The Fly is that its track is built in 90-degree angles, so that the rider is constantly jerked from turn to turn throughout the entire ride. Why, do you ask, did I put a description of a roller-coaster in the review foreword? Because watching this series was like riding that roller-coaster. After watching Zhi Shu be cold and indifferent for 19 out of 20 episodes in ISWAK, watching him be lovey-dovey and sweet as he goes through his character development in the sequel was like being on that ride.
Other thoughts? There are too many people in this series. And the fact that the series is now over is, for me, a tragedy of Greek proportions.
A nightmare of mine comes true when we are re-introduced to Xiang Qin (XQ) and Zhi Shu (ZS), who are on a plane on the way to their honeymoon. As soon as this scene registers in my mind, I think "sh_t, they're married?!" Even though the ending scene ISWAK was a wedding, I was hoping that they had never gotten married.
No such luck. Let me quickly state a disclaimer before I continue with the summary. I love XQ and ZS as a couple, I really do. They are a great example of how love can transcend backgrounds, interests and even levels of intelligence. But let's face it, XQ is really too young to get married. She behaves like a lovesick 15-year-old and is clearly not prepared for the reality and commitment that a marriage demands. The same can be said of ZS. The guy doesn't even know how to properly communicate most of the time, and now he's married? At least he realizes his problem, which places him one step ahead (again) of not-the-brightest-egg-in-the-basket XQ. On with the story.
After returning from their honeymoon (at the end of which they consummate their relationship), XQ unsuccessfully tries her luck at the teaching profession (god help us all x1) before settling on becoming a nurse (god help us all x2). In nursing school, their relationship is severely tested when ZS is faced with a formidable competitor - Qi Tai, XQ's classmate. We get to see XQ suffer like nobody's business as ZS begins to treat her in a much more frosty way than he ever did in ISWAK. However, when Ah Jin finally shakes some sense into him, ZS realizes his jealousy and just how much he cares for XQ. Cue a bunch of quick, somewhat meaningless subplots involving (again) XQ's stupidity and ZS' growing openness and expressions of his love for XQ.
At the end, the series takes a super melodramatic-Korean drama turn when it is revealed that XQ suffers from a possibly blinding eye illness. No, she does not become pregnant at the end of the series, though it does end happily. Watch the end for yourself.
Many may disagree with me, but I have always felt that ISWAK and TKA are built on a disastrously unrealistic premise. Girl of IQ75 falls and melts the heart of a smoking hot, cold-as-ice, genius IQ of 200? Um, sorry, not buying it. Especially given the fact that XQ dresses like a 12-year-old and she marries ZS?! Who are we kidding? But this is based on a manga, and mangas as know, are unrealistic. As long as teens out there don't get the idea that this is what life is like, I'm good.
It is very easy (too easy) to hate and be annoyed with XQ. She's a bit like XYZ in Huan Zhu Ge Ge II, unreasonable, dumb, immature, and annoyingly stubborn. The worst part is, she's lazy. ISWAK alluded to this briefly, but didn't explore this point enough: XQ is not actually not that stupid. She just refuses to apply herself in the more important things in life (in ISWAK, her education; and in TKA, it's her career). Even her career choice is driven by ZS. Watching her daydream days on end about ZS was really irritating. The fact that he's her husband and she has to still daydream about the sweet, romantic things he could do for her is just sad. I maintain up to the end of the sequel that XQ is still too young to be married. I also didn't like that only ZS went through a major transformation and character development, becoming more open and expressive about his love and feelings, while XQ remained pretty much the same throughout (i.e. stupid, completely dependent on ZS, etc.). The one scene that sort of showed that XQ was becoming (for lack of a better word) smarter and more independent in her thoughts, was when she challenged ZS in the ER when ZS wanted to conduct an operation on a patient without the required approval of the main doctor. Otherwise, ZS basically remained the only thing she lived for, literally.
If not for Ariel's winning, thoughtful performance, I would have stopped watching this sequel. From the very first to the very last scene, she is engaging and entertaining. She looks much prettier in this sequel (with a better wardrobe) although her weight seems to fluctuate a lot throughout. Plus, she has one of the most genuinely happy smiles I've seen on TV, which is fitting for XQ. Here Ariel was given the chance to stretch her acting chops - a refreshing departure beyond the dumb face pulling that characterized most of her performance in ISWAK. Her XQ is fresh, vibrant, and heartbreakingly sincere. One of Ariel's best moments was in episode 11 when she was banging on the door, sobbing: "Why am I the only one crying? In reality, you've never loved me!" Unlike some actresses who do the ugly face fake crying (TVB's Gigi Lai) or the mouth closed, slow tearing (a lot of Korean actresses), Ariel gave an emotionally wrenching performance in that scene. I am sure that I'm not the only one who had tears streaming down my face. She is also a natural comedian with an adorably goofy charm - a lot of the funny scenes in this series were actually NG clips that made it into the final cut. I find her performance in here flawless. Many a TVB actress can learn from this young lady. I'm looking forward to seeing where she goes from here.
I was looking forward to seeing ZS really suffer and realize the depth of his love for XQ in this sequel and not taking her for granted, but alas! The part where ZS was jealous of Qi Tai, he took it out on XQ, so she suffered instead. However, his character development through the series is a joy to watch - from the scenes where ZS scolds her to the ones where he piggy-backs her while she's drunk, the scenes where ZS expresses his love and concern for XQ are very, very well done (who else believes Joe is head over heels in love with Ariel?). It is also funny to watch how ZS deals with XQ's emotional vibrancy - he understands it, but doesn't agree with it (which explains his cold treatment of her sometimes). This makes him frustrating and endearing at the same time. His relationship with his father-in-law is also very nicely portrayed, although I would have liked more scenes with them together.
Usually one actor in a pairing is weaker but I'm glad that Joe's performance measures up to Ariel's. They have electric chemistry and this series boasts some of the hottest and most tender kissing/romantic scenes committed to film. Boy, can these two kiss! It is surprising that they are both so convincing in what they call 'reverse personalities' in interviews. Joe says that he's actually the chatterbox in real life, and that Ariel is like a Scorpio (her sign) - quiet, subdued, and more reserved. And I have maintained since ISWAK, I really do think they're a couple in real life (the unscripted romantic scenes are too natural and sometimes out of character for ZS/XQ). After watching this series, I've become a shameless Arjoe shipper.
Back to Joe's performance. One of his best moments was also in episode 11, when ZS opens the door to a sobbing XQ and tells her: "Calm down". There were so many emotional layers on Joe's face: the pain of knowing how hurt XQ is mixed with the feelings of jealousy that he is unfamiliar with (and does not know how to deal with). Another was when ZS allows XQ to draw blood from his arm - the look on Joe's face, a mixture of love, encouragement, and trust, made his performance in that scene marvelous. And like Ariel, he looks much more handsome in the sequel. His hair looked like a some old lady's in ISWAK. A brilliant, brilliant performance. Come on, TVB - recruit and promote some talented actors, for god's sake!
He has one of the funnier English names for an Asian actor, it always reminds me of Mozart's opera, The Marriage of Figaro. Anyway, he has improved leaps and bounds, turning in a convincing performance as Qi Tai. Gone are the delayed reactions and occasional overracting from Devil Beside You, but will someone please cut his hair? His best scenes were the sparring moments between him and ZS and when he yells at XQ. I actually think Figaro's looks are better suited for ancient drama.
I like to think of excellent acting as an equation of a lot of things: Right Casting + Looks + Charisma + Voice + Chemistry + Convincing Emotions/Acting. Add on versatility if the actor is an experienced one. Petty's look fits Chun Mei, she is a decent actress, she has chemistry with Arron but her voice completely killed the effect. Chun Mei is supposedly a shy, soft-hearted, gentle girl but Petty's voice is annoyingly high-pitched and whiny, making her Chun Mei seem like a spoiled brat. And she has much less screen presence than Candice Liu, who got the shorter end of the stick when it came to air time for XQ's friends.
Underused as the feisty Liu Nong, but I will keep my eye out for this young actress.
An improvement from his performance in ISWAK and he is still likeably goofy as Ah Jin. He lacks chemistry with Rui Sha, though they do look nice together. As for his character, he has some interesting development here. What I like the most about Ah Jin is his commitment to XQ even after being rejected - for example, running to get ZS when it's clear that the XQ-ZS relationship is on the rocks. How sweet is this guy?
I quite like her character here but Rui Sha as an actress was disappointing.
Arron's look is completely pretty-boy-band - usually not a telling sign of good acting skills, so I was pleasantly surprised with his performance here. This guy has potential.
Her voice is irritatingly similar to the high-pitched Taiwanese accent that I'm averted to, but she gave a decent performance as the super wacky Jiang mom. And she sings one of the interludes.
Zhang Bo Han
Yu Shu is rude as hell. Aside from constantly calling his sister-in-law stupid, he is also unbelievably rude to her friends, which to him are basically strangers. If I were his mother, I'd slap him from here to eternity, but Zhang Bo Han turned in a fantastic performance as the rebellious but smart-as-a-button Yu Shu.
At first I was furious that they re-cast Yu Shu, but I can understand that ZBH would not be physically convincing as a high school student. Cong Yan overacts at times, and I don't think he has the raw talent that ZBH has. And he severely lacks chemistry with Joe Cheng, which makes their brotherly scenes a lot less moving than Joe's with ZBH.
XQ's nurse school friends
Danson Tang, who played Gan Gan, had the guts to play a gay man, and quite convincingly (and humorously) so. His best moment was his recital of the nurse oath to XQ and when he tells her not to mess up at the nurse capping ceremony. Jiang Pei Zhen, who played Li Na, is pretty and has a certain something about her, but she had too little screen time. Xiu Jie Kai was hilarious as the oddball Chuang Ji, and Cai Yi Zhen was appropriately creepy as Zhi Yi.
Both the young and teenage versions of Hao Mei were portrayed by very weak actresses. Much less air time was given to the two fathers, but Tang Tsung Sheng improved a lot from his awful, overacting turn as XQ's father in ISWAK. Guan Cong was great as ZS' grandfather.
Best Moments & Lines
- Episode 11 in its entirety
- When ZS is sitting by himself on the bench after his farewell to his family and XQ before departing for the military. The image of him, alone and looking/caressing XQ's picture on his cellphone was moving beyond words. I nearly bursted into tears.
- "I'm the king of the world! You jump, I jump!" - Ariel was damn funny in that scene.
- "She doesn't seem to understand just how much I love her" - Zhi Shu in a heart-to-heart with XQ's dad. I'm glad XQ overheard this.
- "Like a broken record, she kept telling me that she loved me...it was so annoying. But when this became a regular part of my life and I took it for granted, she suddenly told me she didn't love me anymore. I can still clearly remember the nauseating feeling I had [when she said that]...I can do 90% of the things in this world. The other 10%, she can do, in a way that no one else can." - ZS explaining to YS how he fell in love with XQ.
- "I can't imagine how you would live if I weren't by your side. That is probably why I'm so strict with you. I don't know how long I can be with you in this lifetime, so even if I'm not with you one day, you must live on bravely". - ZS' narration while leaving for the military.
- The episode where the past and personality of XQ's mom is revealed.
- "The most important thing is, I love you. I love you so much. Anything that comes from you, I will love. Be it beautiful, ugly, normal or odd... as long as it comes from you, I will love it". Hands-down the most romantic line uttered in the whole series. How far ZS has come. I nearly melted on the spot.
The Loot Bag
1) The love nest. The doped-up house is fantastic, I'd want to live there! And their blog actually exists in real life! A clever idea to market and promote this series.
2) The acting
3) There's at least one kiss in every episode, except the one when ZS treats XQ like dirt during their tension about Qi Tai.
4) A lot of funny scenes. The director is actually in a lot of them, plus he likes to include a lot of NG clips in the final cut.
5) Episode 11, which was an explosive episode in terms of emotions and character revelations. A lot of best moments were in this episode.
6) Incredibly creative connections to ISWAK without flashback overload. For example, in the finale, in the scene where ZS asks XQ if she's pregnant, he's wearing the same sweater he wore on their first unofficial date in ISWAK! I was also estatic with ZS' office decorations. I was praying that the bakery model that XQ made for his birthday would make a re-appearance and it did, along with the love letter and the good luck charm she gave him! Amazing! Finally something to show XQ that he was in love with her for almost as long as she was with him. And how frickin' cute was the button ring?!
The Barf Bag
1) Back in ISWAK, XQ was pretty uncomfortable whenever ZS teased her about physical intimacy (even though she was head over heels in love), so I found it shady that in TKA, they slept together on the last night of their honeymoon. I have to ask, would XQ have agreed to sleeping together if she knew they weren't legally married? The writers glided over this point and I can't shake the feeling that XQ might not have agreed to sleeping together if they weren't married.
2) How rude Yu Shu is. Terrible parenting skills displayed by the Jiangs.
3) The bastardization of the nursing profession. I understand that this is supposedly a romantic comedy, but is anyone going to trust a nurse after watching XQ and her antics in nursing school and the hospital? She cried in an operating room, for god's sake!
4) Too many soliloquies. I can't count how many times characters gave huge, long speeches as if they were about to die. One example was Ah Bu's speech about his love for Chun Mei at the hospital.
5) The brief but idiotic moment when ZS is introduced to Christine and says (in English) "Hi, I'm Joe. What's up?" and Christine replies "Good!". Who the hell replies 'good' to 'what's up'?!!? Who scripted this sad English? I almost died laughing.
6) How ZS still calls XQ 'idiot'. I find that verbally abusive and I cringed everytime.
7) People come in and out of the series way too quickly. I understand that the focus is on XQ and ZS, but the snippets of other people made other characters seem like caricatures, and didn't allow for some meaningful subplots. It's a good thing Ariel and Joe are such terrific actors, otherwise I would be begging for more subplots.
Eyes of a Hawk
- In the episode where XQ goes to Ma Tzu to visit ZS and she falls down and he tends to her ankle - look - they're wearing matching shoes!
Through the Grapevine
Forums are abuzz about the possible real-life relationship between Ariel and Joe. What we do know is (and they've said in interviews) that they call each other "lao gong" (husband) and "lao po" (wife) in real life. Ariel has said in an interview that while preparing for this series, she watched an American TV show on doctors and quickly called Joe and said "Lao gong, there's a show on TV about doctors! Quick! Watch and learn how to be a doctor!" I find this both telling and interesting given the fact that the two characters in the series don't even call each other that - they just call each other by name. Recent interviews also indicate that they may just come out and admit their relationship very soon.
Other interesting facts:
- Joe is a talented artist and Ariel is a very good singer.
- Ariel recently published a book about her travels in New York.
- The ending was re-shot a few weeks before it aired.
- Because the manga's author died suddenly before finishing the story, the finale is actually written by the Taiwanese scriptwriters. Otherwise, the story (both ISWAK and TKA) remains 99% faithful to the manga. Winnie (the director) said that he thought of going to Japan to beg the author's family to let him write an ending with closure to the story, since he knew that this is what fans would want. However, he decided in the end that he was going to respect the author and leave the ending as it 'ended' in the manga - abruptly.
- Figaro Ceng is actually deaf in one ear as a result of antibiotic overdose as a child.
- There are rumours that Winnie, Ariel, and Joe are going to collaborate in another series in 2008-2009. This one will (again) be based on a manga, although the two actors will be portraying completely different characters.
- Cyndi Chaw divorced from her husband during the filming of this sequel. She has said that the cast and crew were incredible supports during the hard time.
To Watch or Not to Watch, That is the Question
As I've said in my ISWAK review, TKA is a series with a demographic - the 14-25 age demographic. So if you're not part of that group, you may disagree with my passionate recommendation of this series.
Because I watched ISWAK literally right before watching TKA, I was able to observe a lot of plot gaps. However, because it's based on and is almost 100% faithful to the manga, I can't fault the scriptwriters for the odd pacing and meaningless subplots. You can also tell by the length of this review that I was able to catch a lot of details (and also flaws). Even so, I love this series way too much and find Ariel and Joe/XQ and ZS to be one of the most compelling and entertaining couples ever. This series brought me back to my teenybopper, I-live-to-watch-this-series days and I am experiencing major withdrawal symptoms now that it has ended. It will be some time before I'm so emotionally invested in an onscreen couple again.