In the olden days of the early 2000s, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see Asian teenagers and adults alike glued to the TV for the next installment of the Taiwanese hit, “Meteor Garden.” Back when shoulder length hair and muscle tees were fashionable for guys, and thinly arched brows paired with super straight hair were in for the ladies, the iconic drama had Asian teens heading to the salons and hoping to bump into four rich and attractive guys on the way there.
Now almost two decades later, the original producer, Angie Cai, has graced Generation Z with a “Meteor Garden 2018” remake to laugh, cry and cringe with. Stepping back into the legendary plot, Netflix (in collaboration with Hunan television) has brought back the story that follows a kind, responsible and morally upright Dong Shan Cai (played by Shen Yue) and her complicated relationship with a band of four ridiculously rich, intelligent and attractive friends who call themselves F4 (Flower four).
From the bullheaded but closet softie Dao Ming Si (Dylan Wang), to the softspoken and level-headed Huaze Lei (Darren Chen) and the protective playboys Mei Zuo (Connor Leong) and Xi Men (Caesar Wu), get ready to fan over a friendship that is unlike any other.
For those who might be unfamiliar with the world of Asian dramas, the plotline of “Meteor Garden 2018” is a well-loved story inspired by Yoko Kamio’s manga, “Hana Yori Dango.” Following a huge line of adaptations in Japan from the animated version of the manga, to the live action Japanese version, other Asian countries have used this storyline as well, with one of the most well-known versions being the Korean adaptation, titled “Boys Over Flowers.” Even the U.S. attempted to tackle the popular story in a largely unsuccessful run in 2013.
In China and Taiwan however, one of the most iconic and successful dramas has to be the 2001 Taiwanese adaptation. titled “Meteor Garden.” Viewers continue to rewatch this version to gush over the whirlwind romance between amazingly feisty Dong Shan Cai (Barbie Hsu) and the undoubtedly masculine Dao Ming Si (Jerry Yan.)
Following in the footsteps of a legendary drama is not easy, but the cast of this 2018 Chinese remake is remarkably suited to each of their roles. The chemistry between the two leads, Shen and Wang, in the drama, as well as in interviews and behind-the-scenes clips has left fans crying over their playful but affectionate relationship. Although “Meteor Garden 2018” is the debut drama for most of the members in F4, their professionalism and transformation into the infamous foursome reaches many viewers’ expectations — and then some.
Well known for her lead role in the hit debut drama “A Love So Beautiful,” Shen has transformed seamlessly from her breakout role into the Dong Shan Cai of “Meteor Garden 2018,” proving just how versatile this actress is.
Based on the novel “To Our Pure Little Beauty” by Zhao Gangan, Shen’s breakout role as the goofy and optimistic Chen Xiaoxi serves to contrast the mature and realistic Dong Shan Cai. In her many interviews, Shen projects a very poised and witty persona while maintaining the flash of the geniality that shines through so strongly in the portrayal of her characters. As Dong, Shen certainly revamps the barbed and slightly more indignant personality of the original character into one who is more considerate and endearing. It’s difficult to imagine that this former communications major — who had never considered going into acting — would successfully nail the re-interpretation of such an iconic plot and character.
The male lead, Dao Ming Si, is brilliantly executed by Dylan Wang, a 19-year-old who has never acted before. Many viewers marveled at how naturally this new actor assumed the role of the domineering and prickly jokester who is also surprisingly gentle and adorable. In an interview with Angie Cai, the producer of both “Meteor Gardens,” she describes Wang as a childish “happy pill” who lights up the set much like how his character, Dao Ming, brings life and excitement to his elitist world.
As for the love rival Huaze Lei, many praise Cai for bringing in Darren Chen, who seems to be naturally soft spoken and delicate, as the total opposite to Wang and Dao Ming Si. Chen, who previously starred in another Chinese TV series, “Proud of Love,” definitely demonstrates his aptitude for acting in romantically themed shows. Chen successfully portrays a Huaze Lei who speaks more so with his eyes and actions than he does with words.
No one could ever replace the charisma of the original cast, but the fresh faces of the 2018 ensemble certainly do each of their characters justice.
The original Meteor Garden is much more intense than Cai’s new remake. Many would remember the cruel bullying and the other morally questionable actions that opens the plot of the Taiwanese adaptation as well as the sweeter and more tender moments near the end. Whereas the cards given out by the members of F4 in the old “Meteor Garden” made the recipients out to be targets for bullying, the Joker card handed out in the new version serves as an invitation to challenge F4 to a high stakes game of Bridge. This, as well as the incident of sexual assault (yes it is definitely sexual assault), that shook the viewers of the original “Meteor Garden” thankfully became much less romanticized in the recent adaptation.
While I for one, enjoy that television is trying to move beyond fetishizing sexual assault and justifying bullying with tragic backstories of loneliness and the general inability to grow up, some viewers are still disappointed that Cai has decided to follow the original “Hana Yori Dango” manga rather than essentially re-copying “Meteor Garden.”
Aside from the plot itself, a rather amusing opinion that many original fans (including my mom) hold is that the old F4 is much more attractive than the new cast. Juxtaposed against the simple masculinity of the 2001 F4, the 2018 cast is styled is much more adventurous and bold, channeling a much more youthful appearance than the original. Jerry Yan as Daoming with his headband and feathered haircut will forever be a nostalgic fashion thing, but no one was ready for the wacky pineapple hairstyle Wang somehow manages to pull off. Everyone can appreciate however, that every single member in this remake is impeccably dressed, pulling off everything from turtlenecks to loud statement jackets and tuxedos with grace.
Another hilarious difference between the original and this remake is the obvious product placement woven throughout the 2018 version. Although some viewers find this sneaky advertising to be annoying, I find it amusing. One of my favorite advertising scenes is where Dong’s school friend Li Zhen uses a phone app (similar to a Chinese version of Apple Pay) to pay for an extravagant dress that she normally could not afford. Embedded in a scene full of a naive longing to fit in with an elite crowd is a reminder of how postmodern life has become almost inseparable from various gadgets and technologies. Critics are critics, but there is no denying that these in-drama ads do a great job of catching the viewer’s attention.
One thing that definitely remained the same throughout the adaptation is the stunning and whimsical romance that blooms between the two main characters. This adaptation is successful in that it acknowledges the generational differences between parents and their children and that wealth does not always correlate to fulfillment. With new faces and new charms, the brilliant cast and storyline of “Meteor Garden” 2018 is becoming iconic in its own right. After all, how could anyone resist Wang’s amazing delivery of the line: “Because you are the person I’m willing to exchange all the meteors in the sky for?”