One of the most highly anticipated dramas, You Light Up My Star (你照亮我的星球) has finally premiered last night. It generated a pretty good amount of buzz with all the promotions, star-studded cast and the big names behind the scenes, but did the pilot episode delivers?
My interest in this drama had been pretty volatile, I was indifferent when I first saw the short teasers and became slightly interested because of the plot outline, but then they dropped the 30min trailer yesterday and it was fascinating enough to pull me in. However, after the first round of watching the pilot episode, I honestly feel a little bit disappointed and feel very conflicted about it. I can see the potential in it so I can’t give a final verdict with only 1 episode in. This is my first impression and usually first impression can be deceiving, it can only go better or worse from here, hopefully it’ll grab my full affection soon.
Watching this drama, I feel like I’m going to have split personality like Joe Cheng’s character.
*Note: I adjusted the color and brightness setting for the first cover picture of this post so it looks brighter than the original scene.
Liu Cheng-Wei (Joe Cheng) and Zhang Man-Ling (Janine Chang) are running away from a bunch of alien-looking people. When they are resting at a stop, Cheng-Wei then confess to her that he came from another star, he’s actually an alien. The aliens finally caught up with them, he uses his powers to kill all the aliens and slowly, his human mask starts to peel off, revealing his true monster-like appearance. He tells her that if she feels scared, she can leave him but she rushes forward to kiss him. While kissing, she utters to him, “the assistant director said we have to kiss longer for this part”. Cut to Cheng-Wei and Man-Ling kissing each other furiously in an ancient setting, he is wearing ancient clothing but she is wearing modern clothes, so it’s like a time-travel scene.
Cut to Cheng-Wei and Man-Ling kissing in different settings until finally, they’re in bed together, sweet talking each other but suddenly a loud, “CUT!” interrupts them. It turns out that many people were watching them, hiding on the floor with their equipment, they’re in a filming set. The reason for the cut is because of a staff’s mic stand was reflected on the window.
The atmosphere of the filming set is very pleasant as Director Wu (Danny Liang) starts joking with the staffs and request for another take. However, in the midst of the laughters, Cheng-Wei grows impatient and the smile he had while shooting the bed scene is gone, leading him to question the director, “Why do we have to shoot again? Isn’t that long enough?” The warmth atmosphere suddenly turn cold at his question. Cheng-Wei’s manager, Shou Shou Jie (Yuen Qiu) starts to reprimand the staffs for making mistakes and request the director to just do some CG effects to erase the mic stand that was reflected on the window or just edit from different angles to merge together. The producer, Li Jie (Cherry Hsia), who is Director Wu’s wife, tries to mend the things and say that since they came to Japan for filming, they wish to shoot more. Shou Shou Jie doesn’t buy her explanation and she tells them that the working hours have long exceeded the work contract agreement that they signed on.
Seeing that Shou Shou Jie won’t give up on reasoning with them, the director calls it off for a day and the staffs all rejoice and thanks him. Cheng-Wei immediately get off the bed with an upset expression and turns to leave the set. Man-Ling tries to leave, wanting to catch up with Cheng-Wei as she noticed his somber expression but is called by the director to make up for a few scenes. Upon hearing this, Cheng-Wei who was walking towards the exit stops and confronts Director Wu, asking what is it that he wants to shoot and reprimands him for having such a horrible taste as he could only direct trashy films like this. The staff members tries to calm him down and let him leave the room first, leaving Director Wu frustrated at Cheng-Wei.
Cheng-Wei leaves work with his assistant and calls a guy in front to help him take the water bottle, it turns out that he’s the Japanese mega superstar, Masaharu Fukuyama (cameo by Masaharu Fukuyama), he gives him the water bottle. The assistant thinks that the guy look familiar and Cheng-Wei replies him that he knows exactly who he is. The assistant is very excited and tries to explain to the fangirls in front of him that his boss is Asia’s big star too. Cheng-Wei left him alone to be excited on his own and stands at the second floor, staring outside the window. Man-Ling finally catches up with him, giving him a backhug and pass him the script for the Japan interview later. He crumples the script and says he know that it’ll be the same answers as usual. He asks Man-Ling whether she doesn’t feel tired of everything.
Cut to the interview sessions, Cheng-Wei gives sarcastic answer to the Japanese media, saying he’ll commit suicide if it’s the end of the world tomorrow, but the translator help him change his answer, saying that he hope to spend his time with his fans if tomorrow is the end of the world. He continues his sarcastic replies but are all smoothed out by the translator. On the other hand, Man-Ling is very polite and gracefully replies all the question the Japanese media have for her. To the questions that ask about her and Cheng-Wei, she replies that they are more than friends but not yet lovers. Cut to Cheng-Wei and Man-Ling having the interview together, when asked what does he hope about his new work, Cheng-Wei replies that he hope that everyone will forget it and don’t use this work to know him, remember him, he feels terrible and fake. The translator didn’t translate his words fully but Man-Ling who is sitting beside him laughs happily in reactions to his answer, putting a charade in front of the media.
Cheng-Wei looks at the mirror and suddenly sees his reflection mocking him. The words constantly repeat and echoes in his mind, he hysterically throws everything and tries to run away from the mental torture. All of a sudden, the television turns on itself and Cheng-Wei says to him that the viewers always need a cute work like that to accompany them through the times they feel lost, let’s work hard together. Cheng-Wei who is crouching on the floor lights up at that remark and nods his head. But not long after, the Cheng-Wei in the television mocks that the viewers must feel very regretful for watching such a terrible film, he’s insulting the viewer’s eyes. The mocking voices continue to echo in his mind until he finally can’t take it anymore and smash the mirror, hurting his hands in the process. He crouches down on the floor, tightly hugging himself.
Shou Shou Jie and Director Wu knocks on his door, not noticing his strange condition and his wounded hands, they ask whether he can do an extra midnight shooting session. He flatly rejects them but Shou Shou Jie says that Man-Ling agrees to it. Upon hearing this, he visits Man-Ling’s room and asks why did she agree to do it. She replies that there’s not much content and kissing scene is not a tough job for them. Cheng-Wei takes off his bath robe, rushes over to lift her up and carries her to the bed room. Cheng-Wei puts her down on the bed and starts getting closer to her.
Sensing that something is amiss, Man-Ling starts to feel frightened and scoots back on the bed to avoid him. She panics and ask whether he can wait for a while and let her turn off the lights first. Not listening to her at all, he starts pining her down and plant kisses on her. He asks her, “Didn’t we filmed many bed scenes and many kissing scenes before?”. She replies that she doesn’t remember and plead him to give her some time to prepare. He scoffs and asks whether she is waiting for the cameras or the directors to say, “ACTION!”. She pleads him to not be like this. He asks, “Do you love me? Can you distinguish that?”. She doesn’t reply him but instead leans in to kiss him, but this time, he avoids her. He asks her, “Didn’t you easily reply the reporters?”, she replies that it’s different. He deflates at her answer and mutters, “As expected, we’re hypocrites”. She hugs him from the back and tries to comfort him but nothing can soothes his pain. He leaves the room, leaving Man-Ling to cry on her own.
Cheng-Wei heads outside, playing with the snow that piled up on the road and tries to buy a pack of cigarettes through the vending machine when he sees it but his coins can’t fit in. He stares at the person smoking beside him and ask for a cigarette. Man-Ling comes to him and snatches away the cigarette from his hands, warning him that someone might see. He walks away, feeling dejected. Man-Ling calls him from behind and says that whether he believes it or not, she feels very satisfied with their current relationship. She hugs him and leans in for a kiss, she asks what should she do to comfort him. He asks whether this is her real feelings and she nods. He weakly smiles at her and stares at her playing on the snowy road.
“I now feel that everyday is the end of the world,
Have you ever thought of such fears?
So, you could only cry out loud at yourself,
just like you were being naked,
abandoned and left roaming on the streets.
You’re sure that there’s so many eyes watching on you,
but you can’t see anyone.
I hold on to all the things I could hold,
only that may give me some comfort.
So that in such an end of the world,
I could feel a little less depressed.”
This voiceover turns out to be him talking to a psychiatrist, describing the sequence as his nightmare. The psychiatrist asks which part of it makes him feel the most terrible, he replies it’s the part where he have to put on clothing, “Even when nobody is watching, I still want to put on my clothes. That’s so pitiful.”. The psychiatrist says that the desire to put on clothing means that he wants to block others from being able to see through him.
The psychiatrist says that there will be many moments where he can’t be alone in his work. He gives an example of being in an airplane with many people, he definitely can’t drive away other passengers so he might as well try to be friends with the person sitting beside him. A mysterious girl (Summer Meng) sits beside him on the aircraft and squeezes his hands to calm him down when they’re facing turbulent flow. The psychiatrist gives him another example of being in a convenience store, there will be many people and he definitely can’t drive them away. The mysterious girl appears in the convenience store and takes away the thing he want to buy from his hands, she asks him to wait for her in the car. The psychiatrist gives him another scenario of where he’s in a crowded elevator, he could just stand for a few seconds as the elevator ride won’t be long. Cheng-Wei replies that he rather take the stairs and when he open the door to the staircase, he finds the mysterious girl sitting on the staircase, waiting for him.
The psychiatrist advises him to open his heart and starts with greeting others or smiling at others. Cheng-Wei imagines a group of scary looking people jumping on him, he immediately interrupts the psychiatrist, “CUT!” and stop him from talking further. He tries to leave but the psychiatrist stops him and says he’ll bring some water for him. Cheng-Wei turns on the projecting machine, staring at an aurora-like scenery, calming himself. At this time, the mysterious girl that have been appearing in his thoughts is wearing a nurse uniform, she knocks on the door and brings him water. He’s glad to see her and they have a friendly chat, he ignores the calls from Shou Shou Jie.
Man-Ling is fitting on dresses for the Golden Horse Award ceremony, a bodyguard hides in the back, fawning over her beauty. It turns out that the bodyguard is a big fan of Man-Ling, he’s Wu Chun-Sheng (Qiu Hao Qi). Man-Ling is not paying attention to the stylist questions as she’s concerned about whether Cheng-Wei will come for the event as he’s still nowhere to be seen. She goes to a corner and leaves Cheng-Wei a voice message, saying that she feels scared without him. She lights up immediately when she hears the notification tone on her phone but deflates when she sees that it’s her good friends that are asking how is she doing. When they learn that Cheng-Wei has not yet arrived, they’re all angry for her as he’s always dragging her down, saying that it will be better for her to stay away from that kind of person.
Outside the award ceremony, it’s interview time and Man-Ling faces the reporters alone, answering the questions that are asking Cheng-Wei’s whereabouts and whether he’s been acting too arrogant lately with a joking tone to divert their attention. As the interview continues, Shou Shou Jie who’s been standing beside Man-Ling receives a kissing photo of Man-Ling and Cheng-Wei on the other night on the snowy street in Japan on her phone. All the reporters also receive the same photo on their phone and they ask whether the photo is true, Shou Shou Jie replies them that of course it is true. Man-Ling asks her what is she talking about and sees the photo on her phone, she feels confused as to why is there such a photo.
Loud screams of fans arise from the back, Cheng-Wei walks gracefully to the center of the stage, standing beside Man-Ling. She is very glad about his arrival. He apologizes to the reporters for his late coming and he says that he’ll answer their questions.
In the past 7 years, I’ve spent all of my lifetime with Man Man.
I’m very grateful to everyone for liking our performance.
Some people even believe and hope that we’ll be together for real.
Being together like this everyday makes me feel that we seems very close,
but also makes me feel…
feel that we’re growing further apart, becoming strangers.
Everytime, after filming a kissing scene or an intimate scene,
I will think whether the ardent love we’ve portrayed just now is true.
Whether I can store those vows-like dialogues into the memory in my brain,
and make them my own.
I feel confused…
Even now, the one standing in front of me…
Are you the “Man Man” that I love and also the one who loves me back?
Or, are you the “Xiao Fan”, “Zi Wei” or “Qing Guang” that appeared in the films?
Or, are you the various names that appeared in front of us in the past 7 years?
Some of them… I don’t even know their names.
We’re just the one that acts intimately in front of others,
or perhaps, the one that everyone in the drama forums thinks we seem intimate.
As for me, it only seems that we’re just two, very unfamiliar people.
At first, Man-Ling feels confused about what is he saying but she starts to tear up while listening to his speech. Cheng-Wei ends his speech and ask everyone to not speculate anymore about them, they’re just on-screen lovers but in private, they’re just… Before he can finish talking, Chun-Sheng who disguises himself as a reporter cuts him, angrily reprimand him about his speech, saying that he’s not human to announce their breakup in such a one-sided manner. The other reporters shoots him for being impolite but as they realize that he came from an unknown channel, they ignores him. Shou Shou Jie tries to calm the crowd down, saying that they should give them some space. Man-Ling tries her best to contain her tears and says that they’re just good friends and she is very thankful to Cheng-Wei for being such a great help in her performance. Cheng-Wei looks at her with a guilty look, he seems very affected. She turns and hug him in public, leaving Chun-Sheng who have been watching the whole time in tears, feeling unworthy for her. He questions her whether there is a need to go this far and leaves the crowd, leaving Man-Ling behind to face the uproar in the crowd.
Cheng-Wei is now alone in his car, he softly tells the mysterious girl that has been hiding behind his car that there’s nobody around anymore, she can stop hiding. The mysterious girl sits up and asks whether he’s in pain right now. He heaves a sigh and pedals on, driving his car faster. The mysterious girl grabs his hand and asks him to not drive so fast. He says it will make him feel better.
Shou Shou Jie is in a meeting with the film production team, they’re all frustrated about the recent news of Cheng-Wei saying that he and Man-Ling are just on-screen lovers, the producer, Li Jie think that he’s ruining the viewers’ dream. Director Wu suggests to hold an audition to add a new male lead, to be the love rival of Cheng-Wei in the film but Shou Shou Jie objects as it will divert the attention from Cheng-Wei, the lead. They decided to give it a bet whether Cheng-Wei will smoothly go through tomorrow’s filming without any problems, if he does not, they will proceed to add the new character through audition.
Chun-Sheng is back at home, he stares at the poster of the movie starring Man-Ling and Cheng-Wei and angrily puts on sticker to cover Cheng-Wei’s face. He cooks instant noodles and sees the post-it notes that his friend, Yi-Fang (Summer Meng) left behind. She asks whether he’s having instant noodle for his birthday, she tells him to love himself more and not just the Man-Ling that’s unreal to him. He sees the birthday cake and gift she bought for him on the table and feels very thankful to her. He goes up to Yi-Fang’s place but sees the post-it note on her door saying that she’s already asleep, there’s no need to thank her.
The news on the television are all reporting about the shocking statement Cheng-Wei made in the press interview, the mysterious girl sits beside Cheng-Wei and tells him to stop watching as it will only make him more frustrated. He lies his head against her legs and says that after entering the showbiz, he realized that nobody likes to listen to the truth. She asks him to rest well but he wants to continue reading the film script as he have to do a good job to shut those criticisms up. He suddenly sits up and asks whether she likes him. She replies that she likes him because only she knows how hard working he is and she hopes for him to be happy. She wants to always stay by his side.
Man-Ling and Cheng-Wei are on a filming set, it continues the story of Cheng-Wei being an alien. As he can’t get used to the sun, air and water of the earth, he wants to leave her even though it will hurt him. She kisses him and says that she’s willing to go into a destruction with him because she really loves him but he will never believe her. She runs away from him but faces a bunch of alien-looking people who were chasing after them. They run away together but Cheng-Wei exerts too much force on gripping Man-Ling’s wrist that she feels painful and cries out in pain, leading Director Wu to say, “CUT!”. Cheng-Wei realizes his mistake and apologize to her.
Cheng-Wei reads through the script one more time and feels very dissatisfied with the writing so he goes to question the scriptwriter, asking doesn’t she think that the character is is insane. Director Wu asks what’s wrong with the script and Cheng-Wei tells him that even if he dares to direct a film with such a repetitive dialogues, he’s ashamed to act in this kind of film. Director Wu argues that it is what the audience likes to listen to. Cheng-Wei retorts back that he should stop treating the audience as idiots. Shou Shou Jie tries to soothe down the tense atmosphere and says that since Director Wu have filmed enough scenes, he should just delete unimportant dialogues. He tells her that he will be the one deciding what is unimportant. He gets up and direct Chun-Sheng who is working as an extra to show him a vicious expression, he sarcastically remarks that if actors listen well, the filming will end very fast.
At this moment, one of the staffs that’s in charge of the special effect electrocuted himself as it’s a rainy day and fainted. Director Wu feels very frustrated and reprimands that he have reminded him so many times to be careful with the equipment. He asks the staff members to send him to the hospital and ask other staff member whether the person who fainted has insurance to cover him. Cheng-Wei feels distaste about Director Wu’s actions and question him whether there’s no need for him to be concerned about his staff member. Director Wu retorts back that he reminded him for so many times and what business does it have with Cheng-Wei. Cheng-Wei tries to hit him but is stopped by the other staffs around him. Cheng-Wei leaves the filming scene angrily and behind him, Director Wu says that it’s him that wants to leave, he didn’t force him to. Man-Ling tries to chase after Cheng-Wei but to no avail as he’s already in his car.
Cheng-Wei is in his car with the mysterious girl, he asks her whether he was being too impulsive and he should be more patient about it. She replies that it’s not his fault and he shouldn’t care about those aliens. He laughs that he’s the one that is the alien as he feels like an outsider as compared to the rest. She says that he’s like the star in the sky, he have to put in his all to flash the lights in him so that he can provide people warmth. He questions, then who will give him warmth? They look up at the sky and he says that he feels like they’re just little and weak glimmering dots of lights, repeating the same cycle everyday. She says that maybe he thinks that there’s so many stars in the sky so it won’t matter if any one of them disappears but to some people, that one star maybe the sun to them.
Chun-Sheng is back at home and sees the announcement of the audition to act beside Man-Ling, to be the next lead of the film that Man-Ling and Cheng-Wei have been shooting all those while. He decided to participate in the audition. Following after that, he starts to get ready for the audition and Cheng-Wei is seen to be preparing for some kind of event too. On the road, Cheng-Wei’s manager drives very fast to avoid the paparazzi from following them but comes to an abrupt stop to give way to a blind man crossing the street, resulting the motorbike rider behind to bump on the car. It turns out that the rider is Chun-Sheng, he knocks on the manager’s car and questions him about why is he driving so fast.
Thoughts on the Characters:
You Light Up My Star is such a complex and dark drama, the hero is a troubled soul and he’s such a roller coaster to watch, he can be hysterical at times, downright mean at times and then weak when he’s around the mysterious girl. I feel so mixed about Cheng-Wei’s character, especially when he almost raped Man-Ling, it’s super disturbing. He’s mentally unstable and his willfulness is hurting everyone around him. Maybe because Cheng-Wei is so hysterical that I don’t feel that much for him yet but I did feel pity for him during his naked sequence, walking bare everywhere, with many eyes watching but he sees nothing. He’s so helpless and lost, he really needs someone to be there for him. I can understand that he feel very pressured under intense public scrutinization but if Man-Ling can do her job well, then why can’t he?
I feel that it has something to do with his mindset, he really needs to open up and stop treating everyone else as fakes. He’s trapped in his own self-loathing and negativity. At this rate, he’ll take his own life at anytime. But good thing is, at least he have a mental support, the only person that he’s currently willing to open up and can find some comfort from is the mysterious girl played by Summer Meng, that character doesn’t even have a name. Based on his mental condition, I suspect that she’s an imaginary friend of him, so when a girl who look exactly like her, Yuan Yi-Fang (Summer Meng) appears, it will make him feel infatuated for sure because his imaginations turn out to be real. This is honestly quite creepy but yet, feels a little bit romantic. I feel like I’m on board on their ship even before the real Yi-Fang appears as Man-Ling and Cheng-Wei just doesn’t feel right together, Janine and Joe looks good together but their characters just don’t match.
Man-Ling is very dull as compared to the hysterical Cheng-Wei, she feels so flat, passive and is like a soulless object that is polite and graceful on camera and behind the scenes. The only thing that can make her feel strong emotions is Cheng-Wei but sadly, he doesn’t love her outside of the camera so it’s a one-sided love from her. I feel part of her obsession with Cheng-Wei comes from they’ve been around each other for so long and the public wants them to be together. She’s so foolish when it comes to Cheng-Wei that I wish she could stop focusing on Cheng-Wei but instead, try to stand up for herself. The way Cheng-Wei treats her is just so horrible, no girl in her right mind can continue getting along with a guy like that. I hope she can wake up one day and realize that the world doesn’t revolve around Cheng-Wei and they’re not a real couple so she should feel less hurt about it. It would be better if the director put in some scenes to explain their past other than all the film-making sequence, because everything about them feels like it’s all for a show, with the exception of Man-Ling truly loves Cheng-Wei.
As for Man-Ling’s biggest stalker fanboy, Wu Chun-Sheng, he’s the weakest link in terms of acting and screen presence, he feels very green and raw as compared to Joe Cheng’s overly forceful acting. His character is not that likable too as he’s too invested in chasing after a star that it feels like he could only daydream, he need to face reality and stop interfering himself with his idol’s life so much. But I guess, he’s doing what a crazy fan would do… Yi-Fang has not yet appeared but I feel that she’ll be the only character that feels normal and infuse some positive energy into this twisted and disturbing world of characters, she needs to revive Cheng-Wei and make him redeem himself.
Thoughts on the drama as a whole:
Let’s start with some positive remarks – what I like about the drama, 1) the background music, 2) the cinematography, 3) some parts of the plot, 4) the interesting setting, 5) the hero’s craziness. As for what I dislike about the drama are, 1) most characters are unlikable, I probably only like Summer Meng’s character so far, and I’m intrigued by Joe Cheng’s craziness, 2) Joe Cheng is a little bit too hysteria in his breakdown scenes which I hope he can tone down just a little bit, it’s bothering me a little but not too much as it actually works in some scenes, he’s a lot better when he tones it down, 3) second male lead lacking in presence in contrast with Joe Cheng’s overly-heavy presence, 4) Janine Chang’s character becomes pale in comparison with Joe Cheng’s character, 5) THE EDITING! The meta-drama sequence cut in anytime and I feel like the emotions that have been snowballing so far will perish all of a sudden because of the choppy editing. Overall? Uneven and feels a little bit disjointed at times, I can’t connect with most of the characters, not feeling for them yet. There’s things I like about it but some parts that are so jarring that it left me confused and not sure whether to like this or not.
You may question why am I being so critical with this drama but so lenient with other fluffy rom-coms that are currently airing. That’s because it’s very different in nature, this aims to be a dark, ambient, realistic and quality drama, as for the other genre, I only watch it for pure entertainment and usually, without sacrificing any of my braincells. I’m neither a big fan of Joe Cheng nor Janine Chang but I do watch a good amount of their dramas, their dramas can be a hit or miss for me, it all depends on the screenwriter.
Then again, I didn’t have high expectations for it from the start. While Director Winnie (In Time With You, It started with a Kiss) has a knack for pretty cinematography and interesting camera angles, he’s not a screenwriter so he alone is not enough to make a good drama. In my opinion, the reason why In Time With You (我可能不會愛你) was so wildly successful is 80% because of the storyline, the screenwriter Mag Hsu (An Innocent Mistake, Mars, Silence) is one of the rare talents in Taiwanese drama industry, she’s a treasure. I like almost all of her dramas, there’s at least 3 of her dramas that’ sitting in my top 10 list and there’s a certain amount of quality in all of her work. So, even if you combine the team behind In Time With You to produce this drama, without Mag Hsu, it stands in the same position with other average dramas, it can be good, it can be bad, there’s no guarantee.
I don’t know how long can I stand a drama without any characters that I really like but I’ll try a few more episodes before I come to a decision, maybe it will be better from here. But I will just stop my review at this first impression post. The detailed recap is consuming too much of my braincells.