Have you ever loved a drama in spite of its multitude of shortcomings? Like, it’s got so many flaws that you can’t help but roll your eyes sometimes (or maybe more like a lot of the time). And yet, it’s got That One Thing going for it, that’s so awesome that it makes the watch completely cracktastic. Which is how you end up watching an entire Very Flawed Drama, for the sake of that One Thing?
Yep. Exactly what happened here, you guys. I was literally hooked on Bromance for a good part of its run, so much so that it was the show that I looked forward to the most, each week. This, when I usually have a ridiculous amount of trouble getting into Taiwanese dramas as a general rule, and therefore typically don’t even bother checking them out anymore.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
SO WHY DID I EVEN CHECK THIS OUT?
You guys know I’m a curious cat who can’t resist the lure of collective spazz over a show. And this show enjoyed just enough positive buzz on my Twitter feed to intrigue me. Why were people so enamored with this show, I wondered. I decided I just had to check it out for myself, if only to see what the fuss was about.
Truth be told, during my first attempt at this show, I didn’t get very far at all. About.. 3 minutes into episode 1, I hurriedly bailed, heh. A mafia-type middle-aged guy getting almost-shot at a temple, and saved by a little boy who throws himself at the would-be shooter? That was way more melodramatic than I was prepared for. Not my kinda show – or so I thought.
Afterwards, as the enthusiastic spazz on Twitter persisted, curiosity got the better of me (thank you, Curiosity), and I decided that I needed to give this show another try. Well whaddya know, this time, I ended up completely and utterly – and happily – sucked in, flaws and all.
Before I get into what I enjoyed about this show, let’s get this show’s not-so-great quirks out of the way. Coz if you’re going to enjoy this show, managing expectations will be pretty key, I think.
1. The writing
…is not great. Most of the time, it feels like the writers have certain plot milestones in mind, and basically toss in anything – seriously, anything – that connect the necessary dots, never mind how implausible the events are, or how much suspension of disbelief is required.
On the upside, this makes the story trundle along at a pretty brisk pace most of the time. Another upside, is that many of those target plot milestones have a lot to do with OTP-related squee. And since that OTP squee is robust and cracky (more on that later), I can forgive a lot.
Another thing to keep in mind where the writing is concerned, is that things get mighty cheesy at times. In fact, the cheese factor seems to increase and get more heavy-handed as we get deeper into the show. There were definitely times when I found myself cringing at the extent of the cheese. But, because it’s all in service of OTP squee, I gamely rolled with it – while sometimes pausing the video to, uh, uncurl my fingers & smooth over the goosebumps, heh. 😉
2. Aggressive aegyo on steroids.
I am not sure what else to call it, really, which is why I’m falling back on the word “aegyo.” Let me clarify, though, that the kind of aegyo that Show serves up isn’t exactly cutesy, although it’s supposed to be. In fact, the aegyo tends to be very exaggerated, high-pitched, and sometimes, even shrill. OMG, I sometimes literally flinched at my screen.
The downside is that most of the female characters behaved this way on a regular basis. I think(?) this is quite a norm in TW dramas, which is one big reason why I usually have so much trouble watching ’em.
The upside is that our female lead Megan Lai doesn’t behave this way much at all, since she’s pretending to be a boy. Big, big relief. She doesn’t even use the higher registers of her voice much, while the other female characters talk in high-pitched tones as a general standard.
I concede that Megan’s character Yanuo does show more aegyo as the show progresses, but in the overall scheme of things, the amount and degree of aegyo we’re talking about from her is much less than the other female characters, and this counted for a lot, in my books.
3. The sub-plots
…aren’t great either. To be honest, I found all the secondary arcs less than interesting. I occasionally found the sub-plots mildly amusing, but I mostly didn’t care for them too much.
To make it worse, I found many of the supporting actors and actresses either too exaggerated or too wooden in their acting. Case in point, Wang Jia Liang, whose delivery of his minor-ish character Hansheng manages to be both exaggerated and wooden at the same time (who knew that was even possible?). Even Show’s efforts to distract us with multiple shirtless Hansheng scenes weren’t enough to divert my attention away from his terrible acting.
…although, I do concede that he’s in, er, excellent shape. 😉
STUFF I LIKED
Ok, so I realize I exaggerated a little bit, when I said I liked One Thing in this show.
Yes, it’s true that there’s One Thing that just hooked me, and held me easily by my helplessly breathless fangirl heart, but when I stop to really think about it, there are actually a number of things that I genuinely enjoy about this show. Here’s them, One Thing, and Other Things, all in one handy section.
1. The lead characters
I really, really like the people that our lead characters are painted to be.
I find it completely delightful that our male lead Zifeng (Baron Chen) is set up as a suave badass who values living right. I’m so used to seeing kdramas headlined by cold-chaebol-jerk type male characters, that I find it genuinely thrilling that Zifeng’s portrayed as a man who’s powerful and rich, and yet, is also really nice. We see him being caring, loyal, and decent, again and again, throughout the show, and I loves it. I love him.
I also find it refreshingly impressive that Megan Lai could plausibly pass for a pretty boy. She’s tall and lanky, and the mannerisms she adopts are mostly masculine enough, to make the illusion fairly believable. Plus, like I mentioned earlier, she mostly sticks to using the lower registers of her voice, and it all comes together quite nicely. Compared to many other gender-benders that I’ve seen (You’re Beautiful comes to mind), where the girl pretty much doesn’t look or behave anything like a real boy, I found Megan a very competent pretty boy indeed.
Even better, I love that her character Yanuo is set up as a very capable “guy” who’s literally able to kick ass, never mind the size of her opponent.
Again, so different from many other gender-benders, where the girl’s just as helpless as your regular damsel in distress – if not more so. Every time Yanuo got to do some ass-kicking, I legit cheered on the inside.
Additionally, as far-fetched as the story is behind her undercover lifestyle, Show gives us a solid reason for why Yanuo’s lived her entire life as a guy. This helps to make the ruse believable, coz if the whole world has believed her as a guy for the past 25 years, and if she’s had that much practice living as a guy, then it’s perfectly understandable that Zifeng would believe she’s a guy too.
2. Moments of depth
As fluffy and cheesy as Show is much of the time, there are moments when I’m pleasantly surprised by thoughtful touches that the writers weave into the story beats. More often than not, these moments tell me something meaningful about our lead characters, and I liked that a lot.
There are a couple of instances of this right away in episode 1.
For example, the way Zifeng and Yanuo become sworn brothers is totally cheesy and OTT, but at its core, it’s about Yanuo empathizing with Zifeng’s isolation, and I buy that. Yanuo’s been isolated all her life, in service of keeping her female-ness a secret, and Zifeng’s been isolated thanks to his adoptive family’s mafia background. I like the idea that these two very different people are able to connect on such a fundamental, human level. I also really like the insight we get into Yanuo as a person, that she’s caring and empathetic at her core.
In the same episode, there’s a pretty ridiculous sequence of events that leads to Zifeng and Yanuo opening his mother’s (Linda Liu) birthday celebration with a dance. The dance scene itself is quite ludicrous in concept, but, upon deeper thought, I realize that it is this moment that defines their relationship, in a way.
It makes Zifeng the man in the relationship between 2 men, since he gets Yanuo to take the role of the female in their dance. Additionally, this is quite literally the first time Yanuo has been treated as a female in any capacity, by a man. Her sense of thoughtful uncertainty as they go through the dance says a lot; she’s not used to it, she’s tasting it for the first time, she’s trying to decide how she feels about it.
I also found Zifeng’s lack of hesitation in dancing with another man quite telling of his personality. He’s no homophobe, and we know this right away. In fact, his gaze, completely and thoughtfully trained on Yanuo as they dance, already foretells the emotional attachment to come. Plus, he doesn’t flinch at all, when they accidentally kiss. He just keeps that intent, thoughtful gaze trained on Yanuo, even as their lips meet, and I found that swoony indeed.
3. Show is generally angst-lite
In some ways, Bromance feels a little bit like a web drama in terms of how it doesn’t allow its conflicts to get too deep and heavy. The angst that Show does get into is often quickly resolved, instead of being dragged out for several episodes.
Although I am fully capable of appreciating meaningful angst when the occasion calls for it, I actually found the angst-lite approach in this show quite refreshing. Instead of spending episode upon episode circling around an angsty arc, Show chooses to deal with the angst swiftly, and spend the time gained in developing the relationship between our OTP; a choice that I liked a lot.
Here’re just a couple of examples of how Show dips its toe into angst, before quickly pulling it out to keep dancing its merry way.
1. The faked lifesaver card
Whenever Show builds up the dramatic tension, it’s often Zifeng who breaks the tension with a surprisingly appreciative or understanding sort of reaction.
Like in episode 3, when Zifeng confronts Yanuo about being the sender of the lifesaver card. The tension from “Oh! Has he figured out her identity?” is allowed only several moments in the spotlight, before it’s quickly broken by Zifeng’s appreciative and gentle response, in which he quietly thanks Yanuo for wanting to comfort him.
2. The post-accidental-kiss angst
In episode 2, we see Zifeng hastily push Yanuo away, several moments after their accidental kiss, and Yanuo leaves the party, upset. It’s played rather dramatic for a little while, but it’s very quickly resolved when Zifeng seeks her out and apologizes.
She accepts his apology, and they’re immediately back to being buddies again. I really like that the characters don’t wallow in angst, and proactively work to get out of angst.
3. Yanuo’s attempted noble idiocy
In episode 8, Yanuo attempts the nobly idiotic move of removing herself from Zifeng’s orbit by fleeing to Japan. Sure, Show teases a little, by showing us a shot of a plane taking off, before cutting to Zifeng entering the airport. But the teasing is momentary, and we soon see that Zifeng stops Yanuo just fine. I liked that a lot. Most dramas I’ve seen choose to let the couple barely miss each other in several almost-meetings, and this successful shutdown of the attempted noble idiocy pleased me.
Plus, not only does Zifeng stop Yanuo just fine, I love how emphatically he tells her that he doesn’t want her to leave. And then grabs her bag and leads her out by the hand. By the hand. This, when he still believes Yanuo is a guy, and they aren’t even officially dating yet. Just another reason why I find Zifeng a swoony male lead. <3
Ordinarily, I’d call this lack of follow-through on dramatic tension something of a fakeout, but I actually like it, in the case of this show.
It feels refreshing, to have the characters regularly avoid misunderstandings and angst, and just keep at a positive upward trajectory in terms of building their bond and relationship. This made the watch so much more pleasant than if we were regularly wallowing in angst, and allowed so much more room for character and OTP relationship development.
3. General lack of homophobia
I’m not sure if this is a Thing in TW dramas, but from the kdramas that I’ve seen, there’s a fair amount of homophobia depicted. Sometimes it’s played for laughs in passing (like in Let’s Eat); mostly I notice it in gender-benders where the male lead starts to feel feelings for the boy-who’s-really-a-girl and angsts about it, wondering – often in horror – if he’s gay.
I found it different and therefore refreshing, that there’s pretty much no homophobia in this show. From Zifeng himself, to the other characters around the OTP, hardly anyone reacts in a scandalized fashion when they notice Zifeng and Yanuo behaving in ways that suggest that they’re more than just close bros. Everyone seems to take it in stride quite easily, and that just made this drama world feel extra accepting and warm.
It’s true that Zifeng angsts a bit, when he’s first faced with the possibility that he’s fallen in love with Yanuo, which occurs in episode 6. But it’s very mild, all things considered. One round of broody boxing, and a brief talk with Qingyang, and it all seems to start falling into place, for him.
And quite quickly, in episode 7, Zifeng decides to confess his feelings to Yanuo, very soon after coming to terms with his own feelings. I feel that this says a lot about him; that he’s quick to act, quick to care and quick to accept things for what they are. Even though he’s surprised by his feelings for Yanuo, whom he still believes is a guy, it really doesn’t take him much angsting to sort out how he feels, and there’s something very sexy about how decisive he is, about it all.
Throughout Zifeng’s burgeoning relationship with Yanuo, even before Zifeng himself is aware of his own feelings, we see second lead and longtime bestie Qingyang (a very wooden Bii) being quietly observant of all the little telltale signs of the closeness between Zifeng and Yanuo.
From watching Zifeng and Yanuo sharing drinks, to sharing a distinct closeness, to the handhold coming out of the airport, Qingyang takes it all in, and consistently averts his eyes respectfully. He’s never shown to feel anything about it, either positive or negative. Importantly, it’s clear that he doesn’t feel squeamish about it, and I really like how Show treats his reaction as a very matter-of-fact sort of thing.
4. The OTP chemistry
One of the best things about this show, is the OTP chemistry. Baron and Megan share an easy, comfortable sort of rapport, and it’s obvious that they are not afraid to be in (sometimes very, very) close proximity with each other.
Better yet, when the occasion calls for it, the sparks between them electrify accordingly. Sometimes, the vibe between them simmers with an undercurrent of burgeoning hyper-awareness. And then sometimes, the sexual tension is so thick that it feels positively molten. Ahem.
Show clearly knows that this is its strength, and consistently plays to it. As a general rule, Show is extremely generous with the OTP skinship, and blithely serves it up in large, liberal helpings. As I mentioned earlier, Show doesn’t care if the process of connecting the dots is ridiculously illogical. But the gratification from the electric sort of tension between Zifeng and Yanuo – thanks to their excellent chemistry and Baron’s intent smolder – is so great that I happily shrug off the lack of logic.
Right away in episode 1, we get generous servings of OTP skinship, from the rifle-shooting scene where Zifeng and Yanuo are practically glued together at the hip, and the dancing-cum-accidental-kiss scene. Not to mention the first fight scene, which features the most badass princess-carry in all of the dramas I’ve ever seen.
Baron and Megan’s wonderfully natural chemistry comes through easily and consistently, and I lapped it all up in a happy daze. (I’ve included vids on their amazing BTS chemistry right at the end of the post, so look out for that!) One of my favorite scenes showcasing their wonderfully organic rapport, is this scene in episode 3, where Zifeng and Yanuo horse around in the water fountain.
Seriously, how cute are they??
To be honest, some of the mushier moments make me cringe in secondhand embarrassment, but it’s part of what makes this show cracky-good. Plus, both Baron and Megan deliver their lines with so much conviction and heart that I can’t help going along for the ride.
Like this moment in episode 8, when Yanuo promises Zifeng not to leave again. She pulls him towards her so that their foreheads are touching, and then with her hand on the back of his neck and their faces within inches of each other, eyes closed, she says in a soft voice, “I promise I won’t disappear again. I’m sorry.”
Egad. It’s toe-curlingly cheesy, but at the same time, it’s undeniably romantic too.
For a good long stretch, Show treats these kinds of interactions officially as bro-love, while the intent, romantic – and sexual – undercurrents running rampant onscreen scream otherwise. Which is totally part of what makes this drama so cracky, really. Every time Zifeng and Yanuo push a bro-love boundary into more romantic territory, the crack factor gets amped up a little more. Of course, I lapped it all up, with relish.
Mmmm. So cracky, and delish.
5. Baron’s Intent Smolder
Didja think that the OTP chemistry was my One Thing? Coz it’s really not.
My One Thing, that got my insides all up in a twist and had me repeatedly catching my breath, is Baron’s intent smolder. He’s just got this way, of gazing at his leading lady, that is at once intently thoughtful, and alluringly sensual.
And my favorite thing about this favorite thing, is how his gaze on her doesn’t waver or flinch, even when she’s mere inches away, within kissing distance. His intent, thoughtful gaze only ever shifts slightly, so that he can regard her from a different angle. It feels like he’s thinking things about her, and feeling feelings about her, and just letting the various sensations mesh and meld together within him, in the moment. He always looks like he’s about to kiss her, but he often doesn’t; he just soaks in her presence and savors it, contemplating it. Uungh. Melt-to-the-floor hot, seriously.
Baron’s smolder just takes the OTP chemistry into a whole new dimension, and I honest-to-goodness can’t get enough of it. Flail.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
So clearly, Zifeng and Yanuo get their happy ending; that’s no surprise. A lot of plotlines are also wrapped up quickly and neatly, and sometimes, not a lot of logic is at play, which is also not a surprise.
What surprised me – and not in a good way – is that Show decided to make Zifeng already aware that Yanuo’s a girl. We get hints of it in episode 17, and then a confirmation in episode 18, when Zifeng admits that he’d overheard Yanuo’s conversation with Zherui (Lee Shiau Shiang), which, when you trace it back, happened in episode 9.
This changes a lot of things, in my head. For 16 episodes, we’re led to believe that Zifeng loves Yanuo, even though he thinks Yanuo is a guy. This is very significant in terms of how weighty his love feels. This detail implies that no matter what it means to love Yanuo – whether it’s about giving up his expectations of family and children, or about being seen as a gay man – Zifeng loves Yanuo without reservation, and that’s very, very melty stuff.
To have that suddenly be taken away, and downgraded to Zifeng loving Yanuo even though she’s not telling him that she’s a girl, is quite a letdown.
To cut the writers some slack, the show was cut from 20 episodes down to 18, and from what I can tell, it feels like a fairly sudden decision. The show took a break over the Chinese New Year week, and I feel like that’s when everything changed. My feel is that the writers chose to make Zifeng already aware that Yanuo’s a girl, so that they could more easily wrap up the story with two and a half hours less of screen time.
I’m disappointed in the ending in that I feel like the writers just sort of gave up trying to tell a proper story and just started shoving people into place for a quick finale. But, I understand that they were probably making the best of a crummy situation.
Also, with further thought, I rationalize that it’s also rather sweet that 1, Zifeng had already decided by episode 7, that he liked Yanuo for real, and wanted to confess his feelings to “him,” and 2, this ending means it really didn’t matter to Zifeng when he found out that Yanuo had been lying to him. He had continued to love her the same, while choosing to respect her need to keep her secret, and that’s pretty melty stuff too.
Would I have preferred to have Zifeng find out at the end of the show, when Yanuo confessed the truth to him? Absolutely. Failing that, though, this ending works out pretty alright too.
In the end, I’m a little sad, coz the ending felt rushed and a little half-assed. But, I must concede that I found Zifeng and Yanuo’s happy ending sweet.
When all is said and done, I still find Bromance a worthy watch, in spite of its flaws, if only for the sparky OTP chemistry – and Baron’s melty smolder, of course. 😉
And, almost as if to remind us just how hot our OTP can be, Show serves up some serious hot ‘n heavy hard kissing, in the epilogue (didja miss it?). The entire sequence feels a little randomly inserted, but the kisses are so insistent and hungry both ways, that it’s completely mesmerizing anyway. I kid you not, there’s a point where Baron legit looks surprised, as if he’s just had his lip bitten. (It makes me wonder if this is the scene he was talking about, when he said that Megan had bitten his tongue..!)
Which brings me back to my whole main point: this show’s flawed all over, it’s true, but this OTP brings it, and brings it so good that it’s not hard to overlook everything else and just soak in the awesome.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Cringeworthily cheese-tastic, but the off-the-charts OTP chemistry makes this a solidly cracky, delicious watch.
FINAL GRADE: B
For those who haven’t seen the show, this is a great way to get a taste of the OTP’s excellent chemistry. Without context, it’s not very spoilery. Of course, if you’ve seen the show, this is a great way to relive some of the OTP moments:
So I happened to come across some serious shipping for Baron and Megan, and now that I’ve seen these collections of BTS moments, I can totally see why. No wonder their onscreen chemistry sizzles so much. These two are so brilliantly playful and flirty with each other behind-the-scenes!
They share such an easy, uninhibited sort of skinship, and my gosh, Baron clearly enjoys snuggling up to Megan. You can see him take every – and I mean every – opportunity to touch her, and get up-close-and-personal with her, and kiss her. OMG, people. Uncalled-for, unscripted, spontaneous kisses? My brain implodes a little, at the thought. Not only does the skinship extend to the lips (which is already A Pretty Big Deal), it occurs multiple times?!? It’s no wonder fans can’t get enough of them together. Seriously, after watching these vids, even I can’t help shipping them.
Augh, why so cute, and so hot, you two? Take a lookie:
Edit: One more BTS! Coz, so much cute!