TV Tuesdays - Substitute Princess (Taiwan)

Welcome to the first edition of TV Tuesdays, where you get the scoop on all these lovely Asian Dramas, both new and old. I'm currently watching more Taiwanese dramas than Korean, as I just finished the last KDrama I was watching, and that one broke my heart. DX

My current dramas are Substitute Princess (Taiwan), and ToGetHer (Taiwan). Substitute Princess just aired their final episode, though I haven't quite caught up to it yet. It was instantly on my list of personal favourites the moment I started watching - more on that later. ToGetHer is an older drama, and one I love just as much as Substitute Princess, though the two are VERY different.

I just finished watching City Hunter (S. Korea), and by all that's holy that was a good drama! Absolutely broke my heart at the end though, good grief.

Right. So, Substitute Princess. The story is the typical start of two radically different people, one the rich guy with a perfect life; the other a poor girl working to support her family though two of the three men in the family (father and step brother) both gamble every cent they have away. What makes this one a little different? The girl is not only poor, but supposedly drop-dead ugly. Most poor girls in other dramas seem to be pretty in their own way, though they're usually up against the model-perfect rich girl, competing for the main man's affections. Jin Da Hua is buck-toothed, has a mole, poor skin, and according to all around her has no fashion sense. She's a hard worker though, with a nearly
photographic memory, and runs her mother's grocery store. Enter rich handsome guy, Ouyang Tai, called Terry by most, who has everything - including softspoken, well-educated, beauty Liang Yian as his fiancé. What else is different? Though the two have their lives played out alongside each other on the TV, and occasionally bump into each other eventually, you don't really see how the two are going to meet.

Every drama watcher knows that the two main characters are going to meet and fall irrevocably in love at some point, but unlike other dramas
that have the two meeting in the first episode and getting off on the wrong foot immediately, these two get along amiably the few times they do meet, but there are no ringing bells, no shooting stars, or professions of love. Nor are there chords of doom, dagger glares, or arguments - they just get along, comfortably, as two strangers usually would when meeting each other in the confines of a shop. Neither shows any attraction to the other - in fact, Jin Da Hua has more of a connection with Terry's fiancé, openly admiring the latter's beauty and striking up conversation with her. So it becomes the question of 'is this really the drama I thought it would be? Or is it a story of two people's lives, just to show the differences and similarities of upper class versus lower??'

Somewhat matching other dramas, Jin Da Hua has an unlikely crush on someone who does not notice her: her step-brother Lin Guan Jun. Guan Jun was found by Da Hua's mother when he was a child, and was brought up alongside Da Hua and her brother. Guan Jun looks on them all as family; a little too much in the case of the father, who gambles every penny (and more) away (and mysteriously doesn't appear in the drama until much later). Guan Jun has also fallen into gambling and our introduction to him comes in the form of him running away from a gang of thugs after their money.

Guan Jun's familial friendship with Da Hua isn't enough; she dreams of being his wife someday, while Guan Jun repeatedly tells her he does not like her in that way, and more than once is obviously disgusted by her.

Liang Yian and Terry

The catalyst that finally brings the two main characters together? Surprise, surprise, beautiful, well-mannered, quiet Liang Yian was brought up like a princess, with strict rules on where she could and couldn't go, what she could and couldn't do, and still has a nighttime curfew in place at the time that she celebrates her engagement with Terry! And of course, she's got a wild streak in her. The moment she's freed of her father's clutches, she guilts her future husband into planning a mountaineering trip. Terry was very athletic and quite the risk-taker in the past apparently, and climbed several mountains, while Liang Yian gives the impression of never being allowed in the deep end of a pool without her father's say-so and constant personal supervision. So Liang Yian sets her heart on climbing, even without previous experience, or trying out everyday hiking first. Can anyone hear the creeping doom chords yet?

Tying in nicely with other Taiwanese dramas, Liang Yian manages to make a tiny slope into a massive mistake, and gets injured. According to Qin Mo, Terry's friend, professional mountaineer, and also doctor/plastic surgeon, she's so badly injured her face that she will need a full year to recover - and she's not going to let Terry see her until she's fully recovered, since she's a girl and obviously so worried about her looks right now.

So, like any good Asian drama that doesn't like to take the obvious route and just tell her father what happened, doctor friend Qin Mo and Terry decide that they need to make a perfect substitute out of another girl, both in mannerisms, and in appearances by use of plastic surgery, to stand in for Liang Yian until such time as Liang Yian is healed. They reason that because the woman's father holds so much stock in Terry's company that he'll ruin them for harming his princess daughter, and nullify the engagement in the process, so a stand in is the perfect idea to keep that from happening. Then Liang Yian just returns, replaces the substitute, and the substitute who looks identical to this paragon of beauty and intelligence simply goes back to living her previous life. Nothing could go wrong, right?

In a stroke of midnight genius, Terry realizes that Jin Da Hua, who he has only met two or three times before, is a perfect candidate for remaking into his future bride. Enter Da Hua's father and his gambling problems, an improbable commercial about Australian slaughterhouses paying top dollar for hardworking Taiwanese workers, and an offer from Terry for just the right amount to cover said gambling debts, and boom, you've got the drama you thought you'd would be seeing in episode one.

What I really liked about the drama to this point was the slow buildup. It was perfect. Sure, you're a little shocked by Da Hua's appearance at first, but by the time this plot point turns up, you're pretty used to her, and a little sad to see her character visually disappear (or at least I was). It wouldn't have had such an impact on the viewer, I think, to introduce a 'classically ugly' character, and then twenty minutes later make her into the ideal beauty. Making you feel some sort of connection to this character through a few episodes makes you feel a little of what her family feels when she leaves them, and you as the viewer realize that they are never actually going to 'see' her again, since she has changed her face as to be unrecognizable.

What's left beyond this point in the drama I don't want to reveal too much of, though there are some shocking moments you start guessing at - and perhaps you might see them immediately, and know exactly where it's going. I'm the type to read the description and start watching, and be so totally absorbed as to forget everything I've read before, and be totally surprised by whatever occurs! XD It's a failing and a little bit of a blessing at the same time, because I don't get spoiled easily - I just forget it while watching the show, and then get surprised anyway!

I will say, though, that the drama continues its stellar track beyond the first few episodes. It's different from other dramas I've watched, and it makes it so enjoyable. Even when you're where I am in the show, you're still wondering how the two are going to 'get together' as it were, as it seems so totally normal. Past the weird extreme of plastic surgery-ing a substitute for your future wife, the situations encountered have an element of 'realness' to them that suck you in. They react more like real people would in real situations (not saying totally like real people, this is still a drama!), and there are less of those oh-geez-that-was-obvious moments that other dramas contain and just gloss over like nobody saw that. I'm still wondering how odd it would be for the guy to love one woman, and then fall in love (eventually? Is he really? Still guessing here!) with another woman who is very different in character but is the same in appearance. I suppose it would be like dating one, then the other of identical twins. All I can think is how will anyone know whether or not the guy just has a complex and loves her because she looks the same, or if he actually falls for her and not her face??

So. No other drama has made me wonder and guess and second-guess as much as this one has, and that's very refreshing! I'll definitely continue to watch this drama and wait in great anticipation for how it all plays out!

Next on TV Tuesdays will be a review on ToGetHer and a series on dramas: Which dramas did you like most? Which would you never watch again, and which would you watch repeatedly? and similar questions. It'd be nice to see other fans blogging their favourites, must-watches, and absolutely-hated lists too, so comment some links if you know where to find some or blog your own!

Until then, keep watching those dramas! ^.^