Flash Review: A Thousand Goodnights [Taiwan]

Shout-out to MeriJ, who was the first person to mention this show to me, and get it on my radar. I honestly wouldn’t have known about this show otherwise; it flew under the radar for most people, I feel like.

I think most people either love this show, or find it really boring. Those are such extremes, eh? In my mind, whether you love this show, or feel bored by it, depends a lot on what you look for in a show. At the same time, I also think it has a lot to do with managing your expectations, which is something that I can definitely assist you with, now that I’ve seen the show in its entirety.

I’m thinking that with the right lens adjustments, this one might turn out to be a bit of a sleeper hit for you yet.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

Without giving any spoilers away, let me just say that this story is about personal journey, and a lot of that personal journey has to do with exploring the beauty of Taiwan.

OST TRACKS: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

I really enjoyed the music in this show. In particular, I loved the opening and closing tracks that play in each episode. The lyrics echo the main themes in the show so well, that I’m quite convinced that the songs were written specifically for this show (though I could be wrong). Both songs closely mirror the main theme of our story, in such a poetic, lyrical sort of way. Lovely.

Here’s a playlist of the songs used in the show, in case you’d like to listen to them while reading the review. If I had to pick a favorite, it’d be each episode’s closing track, Goodnight. It’s heartfelt and rhythmic in a way that really appeals to me. I’m coming to the conclusion that there’s just something about a 6/8 rhythm that just gets to me extra. 😅 You can listen to that on repeat, by right clicking on the video, and selecting “Loop.”

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS

There are a couple of things that I think would help to put this show into perspective.

1. This is primarily a love letter to Taiwan

I talk more about this in my finale notes, but I think it’s really useful to have this information upfront, which is why I thought I’d mention it now.

Based on what Show serves up in its epilogue, I believe that this show, in large part, is a tribute to Chi Po Lin, a documentary filmmaker, photographer and environmentalist, whose quotes open each episode. Chi Po Lin had been passionate about capturing the beauty of Taiwan, and sharing that beauty with others. He’d died in a helicopter crash in 2017, while filming for his last documentary, and it appears that Show makes use of the footage that he’d managed to capture, in showcasing Taiwan’s beauty.

I think just knowing that, adds a deep layer of poignance, to the amazing shots of Taiwan that we get treated to, in this show.

Alongside this footage, Show also serves up various spotlights on Taiwan’s culture, and together, it all comes together as one big, extended love letter to Taiwan.

2. The writing can feel a bit jerky

As a result of the focus being primarily on Taiwan and her beauty, the writing around our characters and their stories can feel a bit oddly handled, as a result.

I know there were a few occasions where I felt a bit of narrative whiplash, with Show’s sudden developments that placed our characters in specific locations that would facilitate a related cultural experience.

When viewed as a standalone writing piece, this definitely counts as jerky writing. However, if you keep in mind Show’s larger purpose, which is to give viewers as maximized a cultural experience as possible, it becomes easier to forgive Show’s writing missteps.

STUFF I LIKED

Show’s loving lens

At its best, Show really is such a languid, lyrical, meaningful breath of fresh air.

Show was recommended to me for how beautifully filmed it is, and Show really does not disappoint. I haven’t watched all that many Taiwanese dramas, but I can honestly say that Taiwan has never looked this beautiful to me.

This show really gives us a look at Taiwan in a way that I didn’t even know existed. I had no idea that Taiwan is this beautiful. It makes me think of New Zealand, in the way that it’s got so much gorgeous scenery, and sometimes, such quaint, soulful architecture to go with.

It feels like a lot of care and effort went into making this show, so that it would show Taiwan’s beauty to the maximum, with a lot of intricate care taken to spotlight interesting culturally relevant things like persimmon farming and drying.

It makes this feel like an extended travelogue for Taiwan, except that it has a dramatized story at its center.

As fair warning, at the episode 6 mark, the vicarious journey through Taiwan evolves and takes a different form, with our characters going back to Taipei. However, the showcase of Taiwan’s beauty continues, just in a different format. We still get nice spots of amazing scenery, and a continued peek into Taiwan’s rich cultural heritage.

Show makes me want to visit Taiwan, so that I can luxuriate in the amazing scenery in person, even as it, in itself, is a great gateway to kinda-sorta visit Taiwan, vicariously.

Show’s heartwarming tone

Vibe-wise, Show feels rather slow and understated, and its emphasis, as far as characters are concerned, is on serving up heartwarming feels that accentuate the growth and healing of relationships.

Here are just a handful of examples of how Show manages those warm feels.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. As we see the various flashbacks to Tianqing’s (Cindy Lien) and Tianyu’s (Pipi Yao) memories with Uncle Tai (Chen Bo Zheng), it strikes me that their family life might not have been remarkable, but it was incredibly warm. The flashback to how Uncle Tai had encouraged Tianqing when she’d failed her math exam, telling her that she’d improved by 20 marks and that that in itself was worth celebrating, is so sweet. Such an encouraging and nurturing man.

E4. Bosen’s (Li Chung Lin) arc with his dad (Luo Bei An) appears to be a contentious bickery one, but this episode, it isn’t long before they show a measure of empathy and care for each other, so it’s more heartwarming than one might initially expect.

E5. I like that Tianqing is documenting the trip “live” via her drawings on social media, which means that Tianyu and Bosen are able to follow her progress, and learn about Uncle Tai through her discoveries. There’s something very warm and communal about that, and that fits what I think Uncle Tai would want as well.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF THAT I LIKED LESS

Sometimes the writing feels uneven

Honestly, this is my biggest beef with Show. Like I mentioned earlier, it is helpful to manage your expectations around Show’s writing, but here’s a quick list of the various things that I didn’t enjoy so much, about it.

1. It can feel predictable

There are no big surprises in our story, and for this reason, the writing can feel predictable. However, there’s a rawness and heart in the delivery that made it work better for me than it ordinarily would have.

2. Some arcs take way too long

There were definitely times when I felt like we spent too long on an arc that didn’t feel like it warranted that much screen time. For example, the banquet arc that starts at around the episode 6 mark, lasts for several episodes, and I found that it wore on my patience somewhat.

3. Some connections feel tenuous

Given that Show’s main focus is to showcase the beauty of Taiwan and her culture, I imagine that it can be challenging to weave a story around all the points that Show wants to hit. Probably because of this, sometimes, the narrative connections felt rather questionable to my eyes.

Here are just 2 examples.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E5. The whole idea that Uncle Tai’s stories will be able to live on because of the banquet, is quite hard to reconcile, for me. How are the two connected? I rationalize that because his desire for the banquet is part of his stories, then actually having the banquet will add to this particular story, but even then, it doesn’t actually make real sense to me.

E16. Sister Kuan (Ke Li Miao) struggling with her past and getting blackmailed this episode was a little heavy-handed and odd in its handling, and Cheng Nuo (Nicholas Teo) digging for the truth landed weirdly for me, since he’s poking his nose where it doesn’t belong, and asking questions that are out of line. I get that Show is working to push this plot line to where it needs to be, but I kind of wish this had been handled differently.

[END SPOILER]

4. Some transitions feel sudden, like they’re shoehorned in

In a similar vein as point 3, some transitions between arcs felt strangely forced, like they were shoehorned in, just to get them into the story, one way or another – never mind how.

Here are a couple of examples.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E13. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we learn that Tianqing is stationed in Yilan. This totally feels out of left field, which I thought was weirdly handled, especially since she’s our protagonist.

E18. Sometimes Show makes strange turns, and I feel it’s in service of showcasing Taiwan as a country. This episode, the abrupt left turn into the temple arc, right after the Mom storyline, felt weird. It felt like it was shoehorned in just so that temple culture in Taiwan could be showcased. This felt forced, to be honest.

E19. I get that Show wants to serve up thoughtful conversations around treasuring the old instead of discarding it, but the way we get there, feels particularly unnatural and clumsy, and it feels quite obvious that this was shoehorned in.

[END SPOILER]

5. The writing tends to lean treacly

This is a matter of personal taste, and some will enjoy this more easily than others, but I thought it would be helpful to mention that the writing in Show tends to lean treacly. The relationship vibes are warm, no doubt, but the treatment tends to lean heavily sentimental and almost unnaturally sweet.

6. Sometimes it’s convenient and simplistic 

Quite often, I felt like Show’s way of resolving its narrative arcs leaned convenient and even rather simplistic. This might not be a problem if you know to expect it, which is why I’m mentioning it here.

Here are a few examples, to illustrate what I mean.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E12. The way Tianqing’s confrontation with her mean ex-boss (You Fang Chen) goes, with Tianqing appealing to her sense of higher values, it all leans more than a bit unrealistic, especially given how unrelentingly unreasonable and selfish the ex-boss has been, all this time.

E12. The same goes for the resolution of the mystery around whether Uncle Tai really owed Jason’s (Kerr Hsu) father that TWD 3,000,000. After an extended bout of angst, all we really needed was to have everyone gathered around, for an honest conversation, and everything’s solved. That’s convenient.

E17. In Show’s final stretch, it feels like our writers conveniently get rid of Tianyu by suddenly shipping her off to teach in the countryside, in order to make space for the spotlight to stay on Tianqing and her birth secret. I didn’t prefer this.

[END SPOILER]

7. Sometimes it is plain annoying

This doesn’t happen much, but there is one particular plot point that annoyed me a lot.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E17. I hate the writing around Cheng Nuo’s mom (Isa Hsieh). I really hate the way she tests Tianqing by asking her to break up with Cheng Nuo, when she knows that Tianqing’s dealing with a personal bombshell that’s just rocked her whole world. It’s just  incredibly, aggravatingly insensitive, and Show makes Mom’s action out to be smart, shrewd and gracious. Just, WHAT. I know this was meant to be a twist, but I felt really annoyed by this writing choice.

[END SPOILER]

Sometimes the characters don’t behave like real people

There are times in this show where I feel like I need to bend over backwards to fill in the gaps in character thought and motivation, in order to keep everything whole and meaningful in my head. And there are also times, when all the rationalizing I do in my head, just doesn’t work to explain the behavior of our characters. Simply, there are just times when our characters don’t behave like real people.

Here are a handful of examples.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E5. The flashback to how young Uncle Tai and Xiuzhen (Suun Lin and Wang Chen Lin) had broken up on the mountain is meant to be emotionally charged, both in the then and now.

However, the way that it’s presented, it’s easy to question why Uncle Tai hadn’t just gone after Xiuzhen, all the way back to her home, if necessary, if he’d felt that sorry towards her. It’s not like she was able to move very fast too, since she’d said she was so tired and her feet hurt. But instead, he stops at the place where he’d last seen her, yells her name and his apology into the woods, and then keeps going back up the mountain.

On the surface, this can seem rather insincere; after all, there is nothing stopping him from going after her. But I rationalize that there are times in your life, when the desire to do something is so strong, that it becomes a burning, non-negotiable need. And I’m imagining that for young Uncle Tai, who’s chafed for so long at being stuck in such a small town in the countryside, his desire to leave, which he’s nursed for so long, has built itself up into a raging torrent that he needs to quench, without delay. It’s so strong that it blurs his ability to think straight; it compels him to put one foot ahead of the other, and just keep going. And, to my eyes, I think that’s why he turned around, instead of following Xiuzhen any further.

E8. I thought Cheng Nuo’s handling of the boy’s emotions was quite strange. The sudden harshness, in telling the boy that Uncle Tai’s dead and never coming back, to the sudden dreamy sort of approach, of telling the boy that Uncle Tai will never truly die, if he remembers Uncle Tai in his heart, is really odd.

E11. Bosen seems so.. not excited about his record deal. Given that this is supposed to be his life’s dream, I wonder why he doesn’t even seem a little bit happy about it? I can rationalize that maybe he feels like he didn’t earn it the way he’d planned, via the competition, or that maybe he’s not sure if the record deal is legit, but if Show doesn’t tell us what he’s thinking, I feel rather lost, in terms of his character.

E11. Bosen being so tactless that he’d bring up wanting to talk to Tianqing privately, while they were walking with Tianyu and Cheng Nuo, felt weirdly insensitive.

E11. Cheng Nuo suddenly appearing in Tainan, without us actually seeing the thing that galvanized him into actually getting on a train, felt weird as well.

E11. The thing with Satou (Fukuchi Yusuke) randomly producing a stethoscope to listen to the tree’s insides, was rather strange too. Do people really do that? Where did he get that stethoscope from?

E18. The conclusion of the arc between Tianqing and Sister Kuan is very weird, to my eyes. I understand that Sister Kuan feels unworthy of being Tianqing’s mother, but Tianqing herself has said that she’s worthy, and she’s expressed that she wants to live life with Sister Kuan.

Even though Sister Kuan feels guilty towards her ex-boyfriend and wants to care for him, that doesn’t mean that she has to cut herself off from Tianqing? That voiceover from Tianqing, expressing her growth and courage, just from knowing who she is, is nice and all, but.. why does she have to live life apart from her mother, given that her mother is alive? This makes no sense to me.

[END SPOILER]

CHARACTER AND RELATIONSHIP SPOTLIGHT

We have quite a large cast of characters, but I won’t be talking about every one of them, in this review. Here’s the quickish spotlight on a handful of our key characters and relationships.

Chen Bo Zheng as Uncle Tai

I truly loved Uncle Tai, as a character. He’s just such a goodhearted, decent, generous man.

[SPOILER] Although we lose him early on in our story, his presence continues to permeate our drama world, not only via the flashbacks to the past, but also, in his words of wisdom that he’s left with the people around him, and I really liked that. [END SPOILER]

Cindy Lien as Tianqing

While I did end up liking Tianqing quite well as our protagonist, I will admit that it took a while for her to grow on me.

Mainly, I found Cindy Lien’s portrayal of her a touch stilted, and Tianqing’s character, a little too goody-two-shoes to feel real. However, once I accepted that in this simplistic, wholesome drama world, Tianqing really is just that kind and generous, and that her slight stiltedness was just part of the awkwardness of her character, I found myself warming to her much better.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Honestly, I would’ve really liked this story to have been around Uncle Tai traveling around Taiwan, but this alternative, where Tianqing quits her job to take the trip in honor of her father, and getting more deeply acquainted with him – and herself – along the way, was very nice.

While Tianqing shows herself to be a sweet, loyal and hardworking girl, there are also hints of sadness that we glimpse from time to time. We get a glimpse at her deeper struggles through her last conversation with her father; the sense of abandonment she must feel towards her birth mother; the indebtedness she must feel towards Uncle Tai and the rest of the family; the sense of responsibility and duty she feels, to be the perfect daughter and sister, because that’s the least she can do.

I wanted her to be set free from all that, and realize that her family sees her as one of their own, regardless of whether she fulfills those expectations that she’s placed on herself, or not.

Show’s narrative is a vehicle for  Tianqing’s journey of growth and healing, and I did like that idea.

The thing with Mom

It’s not long into our story, before the hints that Sister Kuan is Tianqing’s birth mother become clear. I became pretty invested in this arc, and I really wanted to know what had happened to Sister Kuan, that she’d abandon her daughter, and I also really wanted to see her reunite with Tianqing.

I liked the idea that Sister Kuan and Uncle Tai have basically switched places, in our story. Before, when she’d been unable, he’d taken care of her daughter as his own. And now that Uncle Tai is unable, Sister Kuan is taking care of Tianyu as her own as well. I found this very touching, and would have loved for Show to have leaned into that more.

However, even though Show does give us Sister Kuan’s backstory, and a reunion between her and Tianqing, I must admit that I have a sense of incompleteness and dissatisfaction, around how Show deals with that reunion.

For the record, I just do not understand Sister Kuan’s refusal to live with Tianqing, especially given that Tianqing actually wants to live with her. I tried to rationalize this, but I couldn’t find a way to truly accept Show’s conclusion as satisfying, unfortunately.

[END SPOILER]

Nicholas Teo as Cheng Nuo

I have to confess that Cheng Nuo grew on me even more slowly than Tianqing.

The way Cheng Nuo is introduced and presented was just rather weird, and I found him strange and unlikable. Now that I’ve finished the show, I will say that Cheng Nuo did grow on me quite a bit, and I grew to understand him and his social awkwardness better. That said, I still do find his behavior in some of his scenes, particularly the early ones, inappropriate and odd.

I was definitely curious to know more about him from the very beginning, though, and that is because Nicholas Teo plays him with such a sad expression in his eyes, always. Even when Cheng Nuo’s smiling and cheerful, that sadness is always there. That piqued my curiosity quite well. I wanted to know why he was so sad, and how Show would make it all better.

[SPOILER ALERT]

One example of Cheng Nuo’s strange behavior, is in episode 2, when he plays the recording of Uncle Tai’s voice into the cup phone contraption that Tianqing had tossed out the window, and then drags her to the Wishing Tree, and then basically tells her what to do with her feelings. I was so indignant on Tianqing’s behalf. Like, what gives him the right to do that? They’ve only barely just met. And why hadn’t he returned Uncle Tai’s phone right away, like at the hospital, or during the funeral?

With some analysis and rationalization, however, I began to see Cheng Nuo in a more sympathetic light. He often rubs me the wrong way with his actions, which just seem quite odd and inconsiderate, like the way he just shows up on Tianqing’s trip and tells her that she can’t get rid of him because this is his trip too.

However, thinking about it, he could very well just be socially awkward. He’s introverted by nature, and his father’s harsh treatment of him, likely from the time he was little, doesn’t help. Plus, he spent a lot of time overseas, while feeling uncomfortably out of place, and therefore probably doesn’t have many friends, and along with that, probably hasn’t had much practice relating with other people. Also, it seems like he’s used to being treated as practically invisible by his father, who doesn’t even acknowledge his protests this episode, so it’s possible that that’s influenced his development and behavior as well.

By Show’s halfway point, however, I was pleasantly surprised by how much Cheng Nuo’s changed, from the time we first met him. He’s now much more in touch with his feelings, and more open to embracing others as well. I was shocked when he took a sip of the coffee that his half-sister Cheng Shan (Shara Lin) brings him in episode 10, after being almost hostile to her, in earlier episodes.

Cheng Nuo’s relationship with his parents

Like I mentioned earlier, Cheng Nuo’s relationship with his parents is a complicated one, where both Mom and Dad have expectations of him that he’s not interested to fulfill.

It was rather nice to see Cheng Nuo mending bridges with both his parents, over the course of our story. Certainly, a fair bit of this landed rather simplistically, but since that is par for the course in this drama world, I don’t want to complain about it too much.

[END SPOILER]

Tianqing and Cheng Nuo

I wasn’t sure if there would be a loveline in this story, but there is one; it’s just.. it’s so understated that some viewers might find it far from satisfying.

Once I got used to the idea of this loveline being tamped down and subtle, however, I grew to enjoy it very nicely. It’s quite refreshing, actually, to see Tianqing and Cheng Nuo getting to know each other as friends first, and then exploring romance in a very unhurried, cautious sort of way.

The emphasis becomes on their connection – never mind about the label put on that connection – and there’s something very pure about that idea that appeals to me. It’s like it doesn’t really matter to them so much, whether they are in a romantic relationship or not; they just like being connected to each other.

I also really liked the idea of the emphasis being on their individual journeys of healing and growth, with this relationship being a source of support and encouragement, rather than an end in itself.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. It’s quite nice that Cheng Nuo and Tianqing are starting to have sharing type conversations on their trip.. I like the idea that, putting their knowledge and memories together, they will both come away with a richer understanding of Uncle Tai.

E5. We are starting to get hints of closeness and hyperawareness between Cheng Nuo and Tianqing, which actually makes this trip feel more pleasant. At first, when they’d been relative strangers, it had felt vicariously slightly awkward, to have them travel together. But now that they actually seem to enjoy each other’s company, and there appear to be seedlings of feelings at play, the overall vibe of the trip has also become cozier, alongside. I like that.

E6. Although I was a little reluctant to have our trip around Taiwan interrupted, I do appreciate the value this return to normal life brings to the burgeoning connection between Tianqing and Cheng Nuo. This way, they don’t only interact with each other on vacation; they also get the chance to explore their connection while in a real world setting. If they formed this connection only while on vacation, I feel like a lot of real life factors and stresses are removed from the picture, which can provide a false sense of perfect connection. Having them interact in Taipei makes for a more solid connection, I feel.

E6. Tianqing really is showing warmth to Cheng Nuo. I feel that Xiuzhen was right in her assessment that Tianqing may not look like Uncle Tai, but her temperament is very much like his. The reason that she brings Cheng Nuo tea eggs, I feel, is because she’d sensed that there was something bothering him.

And when he spaced out and started aggressively tailing his dad’s (Lu Hao Zhu) car, but doesn’t offer an explanation, she doesn’t probe, but she does show him warmth, understanding and kindness, and offers to cook him a meal. That’s just the sort of thing I’d expect Uncle Tai to do.

And, it does look like Cheng Nuo is taking Tianqing’s words to heart. Her musings about Uncle Tai wanting to face his demons and put down his burdens via the trip seem to be the catalyst that makes Cheng Nuo seek out his father for a conversation in the first place. Plus, the fact that he’s an introvert who’s socially awkward AND dealing with a lot on his mind, it’s quite significant that Cheng Nuo would change his mind, turn the car around and actually take Tianqing up on her offer.

E7. I like that Cheng Nuo not only takes up Tianqing’s offer of a meal, but also confides in her about what’s on his mind, regarding his father. The way Tianqing responds is so reminiscent of Uncle Tai; she doesn’t tell Cheng Nuo what to do, and simply encourages him to be a good son to his mom, while he gives himself some time to think about what he’d like to do. That’s just the sort of gentle support I can imagine Uncle Tai giving.

I’m also quite pleased to see that this initial sharing branches into a closer connection between Cheng Nuo and Tianqing. He doesn’t just confide in her that one time; he continues to share his dilemma with her, every step of the way, and she even goes to visit him, to see how he is. This growing connection does feel like a bit of a quantum leap, but I can believe that Cheng Nuo baring his heart like that, would result in a new level of closeness between them.

E9. It struck me this episode, just how far Tianqing and Cheng Nuo have come, in their relationship. From barely knowing each other, and rubbing each other the wrong way, almost by instinct, they are now close enough to share their deep thoughts and struggles. The way Tianqing instinctively goes to Cheng Nuo to be a source of support to him, while he’s struggling with his family issues, is sweet.

E10. I am very much enjoying the growing bond between Tianqing and Cheng Nuo. They talk about such deep and personal things when they interact; it definitely feels like a special connection.

I feel like being around Tianqing has been a healing experience for him. She’s so gentle and non-threatening, while she nudges towards the uncomfortable things that he’s been avoiding. She helps him to heal and grow, just by being herself, and I love that.

I am nicely amused by how Cheng Nuo’s growing jealous of Tianqing’s interactions with Satou, her new friend. It’s extra amusing because he has no right to be jealous, and he knows it, and that just adds to his angst. I feel like he’s ready to jump on a train at any minute, but is trying to act cool.

E12. Cheng Nuo finally tells Tianqing how he feels about her – YES. I’ve been waiting for this. Certainly, this isn’t quite how he or I had pictured this moment, since it’s not a planned romantic moment, and more a spontaneous thing where he’d blurted out his feelings in a moment of frustration. Oops. But still. I’m glad that Tianqing now knows how he feels about her.

And even though I thought Tianqing could have handled it better, rather than simply retreat into the house with a quick goodbye, I’m glad that eventually, she apologizes, and asks if they can perhaps take things slowly. Ok, well, it’s not a no, and it means that she acknowledges that there’s quite possibly something there between them that could use some space and nurturing. It means that she could likely return his feelings. Cheng Nuo’s gentle, shy, happy expression is really lovely to see.

E15. Cheng Nuo is very sweet, I have to say. The way he wants to help Tianqing discover her true self, as a fresh start, is so thoughtful and practical. That scene where he buys a slice of every flavor of cake, so that Tianqing can figure out what she likes, is quite lovely.

E16. I like this in-between stage of Cheng Nuo’s relationship with Tianqing. It’s clear to both of them, that there are feelings between them, and yet, because they’ve agreed to take things slow, they are basically friends, but.. special ones.

I like how Cheng Nuo is gently trying to nudge things in the direction of solidifying their relationship, and it’s sweet, how he offers to be Tianqing’s manager at the end of the episode, provided she share his studio, have lunch with him, and go out on dates with him sometimes. It’s so wholesome, and I like how Tianqing gives him a kiss on the cheek as she tells him she’ll think about it. Cheng Nuo’s clearly on the right track, and I’m sure it won’t be long before these two are officially a couple.

[END SPOILER]

Pipi Yao as Tianyu

I loved Pipi Yao as Tianyu; she’s one of my favorite characters in this drama world. She’s so cute and endearing in general, that she basically lit up my screen just by showing up on it.

As a character, I found Tianyu very endearing. Even though she’s young and strong-minded, she’s generous, and shows flashes of surprising maturity. I was a little disappointed that Show didn’t have her go on the trip with Tianqing, because I thought that would have been very meaningful too, but Show does a pretty nice job of giving Tianyu her own growth arc, right where she is.

[SPOILER] I was little disappointed that Show drops the arc of Tianyu finding accidental popularity as a livestreamer, because not only is it all quite amusing, I thought the livestreamer thing suited her personality perfectly. [END SPOILER]

Li Chung Lin as Bosen

Bosen and his music dreams is a pretty key secondary arc in our story, and I enjoyed his arc reasonably well. Li Chung Lin is cute, and he makes Bosen earnest and guilelessly charming, so I found Bosen pretty easy to like.

[SPOILER] Even though Show eroded my affection for Bosen somewhat, with how he’s written to behave on the romance side of things (more on that later), I did like the idea of him being the catalyst that brings about his parents’ reconciliation. I also liked that he got a chance to pursue his music dreams after all. [END SPOILER]

Tianyu and Bosen

There is a bit of a loveline between Bosen and Tianyu, but as I mentioned earlier, there were things about how this loveline was handled, that didn’t sit so well with me. Ultimately, I rooted for this loveline mostly because I liked Tianyu, and she liked Bosen and wanted to be with him.

In the end, however, this loveline does lean rather sweet, so I have no lasting complaints about it.

[SPOILER ALERT]

We learn pretty early on, that Tianyu has a crush on Bosen, but Bosen (sadly) doesn’t realize it. Not only that, he’s nursing a crush on Tianqing, and fails to notice all the sweet things that Tianyu does for him, out of care and concern for him.

I thought it was really sweet of Tianyu to use her piggybank money to buy the keyboard for Bosen instead of putting it towards the trip that she’d dearly like to take with her sister. Plus, she’s so excited to give it to him, too.

On top of this, I was very touched to see how invested Tianyu is, in Bosen’s music dreams. In episode 10, it’s clear that she’s gutted that he doesn’t get to compete, and that it affects her on a very personal level. She sincerely wants him to succeed, and it’s not just because she has feelings for him. I love how supportive she is of him, and I hope he comes to see how great she is.

Because of this, I was extra upset, when Bosen hurts Tianyu’s feelings in his effort to confess his feelings to Tianqing. The fact that Bosen’s supposed to have known all along that Tianyu likes him, somehow makes everything so much more heartbreaking, to me. I think it’s because he hurt her, while knowing how she felt. Boo. After this, I just wanted Tianyu to get over her crush on him, and be happy without him.

However, Tianyu doesn’t get over Bosen, so Bosen coming to realize his feelings for Tianyu is.. an alright alternative. I like that he does come to appreciate how important Tianyu is to him. I still think he’s quite an idiot, though, for not reaching out to her, when she stopped calling him. He says he couldn’t think of an excuse to call her, but honestly, if he’s as sincere as he says he is, he wouldn’t need to hide behind an excuse, now, would he?

ANYWAY. I have to admit that Bosen and Tianyu make a cute couple, and I thought the way Tianyu handles the dating ban in Bosen’s contract, is thoughtful and mature. By the end of our story, I had confidence that these two will weather the storms of life pretty darn well together, whatever form those storms end up taking.

[END SPOILER]

Tianqing and Tianyu

One of my favorite relationships in this drama world, is the sisterly bond between Tianqing and Tianyu.

Even though they aren’t blood-related, there is so much mutual love, care and consideration between them. I just really liked it when Show gave us scenes of them connecting. Whether they’re physically together at home and lounging around together, or keeping in touch via video calls when they’re in different places, the connection is strong and unwavering, and I really enjoyed that.

[SPOILER ALERT]

I just wanted to shine the spotlight on episode 12, because that’s where we get some really nice sisterly moments between Tianqing and Tianyu.

Even though it’s a pretty small thing, it’s a nice little beat, to see Tianqing and Tianyu change that lightbulb together; something that Dad had always done himself, around the house. It’s meaningful, that even though they aren’t sure of themselves, they figure it out together, and continue Dad’s tradition of fixing things around the house himself.

It’s also nice to see Tianqing and Tianyu having heart-to-heart conversations, this episode.

First, we have Tianyu telling Tianqing that she doesn’t have to work so hard to appear strong, and then later in the episode, they talk about the whole awkward situation with Bosen. I’m glad that the sisters talk it out, and it’s so heartening to see Tianyu tell her sister that she won’t blame her, because she knows that Bosen’s feelings aren’t her responsibility. And then, there’s also how Tianqing asks Tianyu if it’s bad to want to be a good person, and Tianyu’s honest yet constructive advice, that it’s important not to be so nice that it makes things difficult for the people around you. It’s so wholesome. I like it a lot. ❤️

[END SPOILER]

THEMES / IDEAS [SPOILERS]

E2. That realization, that there are many things Tianqing and Tianyu don’t know about their father, is a very poignant, universal one. I can understand why Tianqing would want to go on that trip in her father’s memory, not only to remember him, but to understand him better. That’s a very fitting way to honor him.

E2. “Our lives are like a feather. We can fly, but we must fall in the end. The place where we fall is called home.” ~Uncle Tai.

E3. It’s hard for Tianqing to accept the idea that her father is viewed by some people as a bad person, but that’s such a universal thing. Some of the best, most decent people have pasts that they regret, and Uncle Tai is one of them.

E4. The idea of the folly of youth. Uncle Tai had once disliked quiet places, and had itched to leave the countryside, but in his later years, he’d enjoyed quiet places, and said that the best places were the ones without people in them.

E8. We are introduced to the idea this episode, that people grieve differently, and that Tianqing is repressing her grief, &/or feels guilty that she didn’t manage to repay Uncle Tai for his kindness and love, which is why she’s so set on fulfilling his last wishes.

E16. This episode, there’s a strong idea of the past catching up with you, even though you try to forget that it ever happened.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

By the time I reached the end of my watch, I’d come to the realization that the stories of our characters aren’t the main point; they are but vessels to carry through Show’s main purpose, which is to be a love letter to Taiwan.

Through their stories and their journeys, we are led to see the beauty of Taiwan, her culture and her people, and on that point, Show does a really good job.

Our characters achieve varying degrees of growth and closure: Cheng Nuo has healing moments with Dad and Cheng Shan; Cheng Nuo’s parents have a healing date at the temple; Bosen facilitates a reunion between his parents; Tianqing has a moment of reunion with her mom; Tianqing and Cheng Nuo take one step further in their relationship, with hints of a future together. And last but not least, Tianqing and Cheng Nuo finally embark on the second leg of Uncle Tai’s journey.

I personally would have liked to have been able to witness that second leg of the journey, but perhaps this omission was a purposeful nod to a possible Season 2? I haven’t seen any news of a second season, but I do think that a second season would be worth making, if only to serve the purpose of showcasing Taiwan’s beauty.

As we close out our story with various voiceovers from our different key characters, Show leaves behind a warm glow, with its emphasis on family, home and gratitude.

A life of perseverance and courage. Chi Po Lin, 1964-2017

What strikes me most, though, is the epilogue that we get, after the final credits. This is when Show shines the spotlight on Chi Po Lin, documentary filmmaker, photographer and environmentalist, whose quotes open each episode. This is where I learned that he had dedicated his life to capturing the beauty of Taiwan, in hopes of helping her people come to love her more.

Such passion and dedication; gone too soon in a helicopter crash in 2017. It’s only upon watching this epilogue, and checking out Chi Po Lin’s Wikipedia page, and finding out that he had died while shooting footage for his sequel documentary to Beyond Taiwan: Taiwan From Above, that I conclude that this drama was made in his memory, as a showcase for the footage that he had managed to shoot, before his untimely passing. That.. definitely lends a deeper layer of pathos to the watch experience.

I find it deeply moving, that a person could have such a deep and enduring passion for his homeland, and I feel privileged that I had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of Taiwan through his eyes. Thank you, sir. You’ve worked hard. May the flame that you’ve ignited, live long, and bring light to others. 🔥

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Low-key and meandering, but thematically warm, and Taiwan has never looked so beautiful.

FINAL GRADE: B+

* The amazing shots of Taiwan get an A++; the warm themes get a B++; the uneven treatment of actual characters gets a B-.

TEASER:

You can watch a subbed trailer on Netflix here.

MV:

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manukajoe
manukajoe
4 months ago

Thanks KFG! It’s a pity the writing isn’t up to the standard of the cinematography. Could have been a gem.

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
4 months ago

Hi Fangurl – Love your review. I enjoyed the slow roll of this drama and the beautiful scenery of Taiwan. I especially loved Uncle Tai.

Shahz
Shahz
4 months ago

So I really enjoyed the show when it focus was the love letter to Taiwan. And I definitely have plans like others here to add it to my future travel plans because of this show. And many atime I stopped and rewatched the lines taken from Chi Po Lin. So beautiful 💞 🥰 . I wish there was a book of his quotes.

Chen Bo Zheng as the father stole my heart. 💖 Honestly I would watch another TW drama just if it had him in! He was fantastic.

Where I struggled and looking at your review I may continue to struggle was with the “drama” it was oh so predictable and dare I say it felt old fashioned. I didn’t intentionally abandon the show but I am not convinced I will return.

Maybe it was short and beautiful journey for me which came to an unexpected end. I would rather leave it that way rather than ruin it.

Last edited 4 months ago by Shahz
jisaab
jisaab
4 months ago

Great review kfangurl! I was looking forward to it!

I think this is a drama that you really have to be in the right mood for. I had planned on binge watching it but I found that it got too slow for me as my moods changed. So I ended up taking breaks and watching it when in the mood for something slow and peaceful and really enjoyed it.

I agree with you that a serious lens adjustment is needed to enjoy it. I was initially hooked by the story, uncle Tai is such a fantastic character – so admirable! And the storyline of a daughter taking her father’s trip to learn more about him sounded so interesting. But man, Cindy’s acting left a lot to be desired. Or maybe it was her character. I wasn’t sure, but I definitely did not feel it as much as I wanted. The same thing happened with Cheng Nuo. That said, I did grow to really enjoy them together. I felt that they balanced each other really well and I too enjoyed watching them grow as friends and then potential lovers. It was quite well done I found.

I completely agree in that the story-line was all over the place. And the ending just felt so outta the left field for me. But despite all that, I still found myself really enjoying the show. It was just so peaceful and beautiful to look at.

On that note, the scenery was by far the best thing about this drama. Absolutely breathtaking! So beautiful! I definitely left the drama with a giant newfound appreciation and desire to visit Taiwan. I also really loved Chi Po Lin’s quotes at the beginning of each episode. It was just so nice to watch.

pickleddragon
pickleddragon
4 months ago

Thanks for this Flash Review- I watched this a year ago, I think, and completely agree with your final verdict. This is the show that’s convinced me that my next trip is going to be to Taiwan! 😀 As for the story, it was not the best written. For a young woman coming into her own, and understanding where she’s at, etc., I though “I, Myself”, was a better tw-drama, which I really liked. If you ever get the chance to watch, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

BE
BE
4 months ago

I am about halfway through it. I loved the first several episodes, its slice of life pacing, the sisters–albeit the second episode, as a father of two daughters

dad
when their father dies and they were wracked with grief
was difficult for me to watch, much more than all the ways old people deal with breaking down and dying in K dramas.
I loved seeing Taiwan, and like you K if ever in shape to travel and have the wherewithal to do so in Asia, Taiwan is now a place I would like to visit, albeit as with Korea, I am more interested in the picturesque countryside and village life than the big city.
I would like to add for anyone who likes this, it is a good thing to discover the film maker Chi Po-Lin and his film, Beyond Beauty:Taiwan From Above that won the 2014 Golden Horse Award for documentary films and launched him into becoming a kind of national hero for its environmental commentary, so much so that his untimely death in a helicopter crash while filming his second documentary that touched upon the same themes of natural beauty and man made environmental ruin but over a wider swath of east Asia, set off a period of national mourning. I could not find his film available streaming in the states but one afternoon, just letting the algorithm take me along was at least able to see several segments from the film albeit from short vid to short vid there were a lot of repeat views.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8viB52KsUuc
If someone here can tell me where to see it streaming with English subs, I would really appreciate it.

While skimming parts, I did not read your review in depth because I am only half way through, but this in the last couple episodes I have somewhat bogged down by how everyone is so conveniently related to everyone else beyond my ability to suspend disbelief. The mother of x being adulterous lover of y; someone you meet in the street of a big city turns out to be son of z; an old pal of the father of t, and the son of another old pal of the father of t, being the best friend of x, and all of them living in different places. Of all the parts of the writing, this more than those others you listed has really slowed me down.

I started watching two or three episodes at a time, but it has been a few days since I have gone back to it at this point, but your review will likely encourage me to get back into it and through this particularly contrived section of story. When I am done, I will come back. And I am so glad you reviewed this.

Last edited 4 months ago by BE
merij1
merij1
4 months ago

Ha. Your “Flash Reviews” are more detailed than most bloggers’ opus reviews!

Did you recognize the actor who played the not-so-likeable talent agent/scout from his role in Someday Or One Day? In that excellent T-drama he played the endearing uncle with the record store (and a decade or so later, a coffee shop).

Thing is, this show feels much older and more innocent than what modern TV viewers are accustomed to. For me and my wife, that was a positive. But I get why for others it might therefore feel too slow or lacking in terms of sizzle.

I have nothing else to add to your excellent review, other than to say your B+ grade is what we experienced (actually, we gave it an A) whereas what you focused on in your review led me to expect a B- from you, at best!

Since I have nothing new to say, I’ll copy & paste what I wrote a year ago:

“I would add A Thousand Goodnights [to your list of Shows That Would Make My Day Better], a Taiwanese drama that streams on Netflix.

This is an exceedingly wholesome story, the one my in-laws referred to as their ‘nightly injection of goodness’ when they were watching it.

It features primary and secondary romance threads that progress slowly throughout the 20 episodes, but they are sufficiently low-key — not the swoony type you’d expect in K-drama — that I wouldn’t describe this as a romance show, per se. Nor is it a comedy.

It’s just truly decent people unraveling a family mystery while exploring the natural beauty of Taiwan. The show was dedicated to an aerial photographer who used his career to fight to preserve its rural environment until his death in a helicopter crash. So it’s sort of an advertisement for Taiwan, but not in a commercial sense at all.

Slower paced than most K-drama, but my wife and I highly recommend it. You don’t even meet the lead character — other than seeing her in a flashback as a little girl — until the ML encounters her in the last seconds of the first episode! But you do meet her father, who is one of the most admirable guys you’ve ever seen in any show. It’s his goodness that permeates everything that follows.”

Last edited 4 months ago by merij1
Sean
Sean
4 months ago
Reply to  merij1

For my mind, you have hit the nail right on the head, Merij 😊