Review: “Alice in Wonder City” (By Bridget)
Alice in Wonder City <給愛麗絲的奇蹟>
Taiwanese Drama 2012
Aaron Yan as He Ting Yu
Lara Veronin as Nan Die Fei
Xiu Jie Kai as Hai Jie
Tracy Zhou as Alice
Cherry Hsia as He Nan Shu
Lin Li Yang as Manager Guo
Polished, lyrical, and strangely affecting, Alice in Wonder City is also wrought with pacing problems and an overly ambitious narrative. At least it’s pretty to look at.
This series is one of those weird ones that you think is promising while watching, then after a few weeks you realize it wasn’t that great after all. While the acting is above the standard of the regular idol drama, Alice in Wonder City suffers some major problems. The disjointed storytelling is this series’ biggest fault. Situations and conflicts are presented, but never truly resolved. For instance, the drama spends a lot of time fleshing out Yu’s background story and mommy issues, but never really explains how Yu deals with them.
From similar narratives in other dramas, it’s obvious the appearance of Die Fei in his life brings him out of his tortured-stone-cold male lead shell, but the required expositional explanation is missing which makes it hard to buy into Yu’s transformation (if one can even call it that).
The plot also sets up an intriguing contrast between Jie and Yu, friends but competitors in both career and love, but never really expands on that conflict. Then there is the whole debate about doing music because one loves music (Jie) vs. doing music because that’s the only thing one has ever known (Yu), and the merits of each side. Dream High II, anyone? The most jarring plot device was how Yu and Alice sleep together halfway through the series and shortly after, Alice’s true identity is revealed and Yu confesses his love for Die Fei.
The narrative progresses in such a fashion where moments are emotional and involving, but lack so much continuity that the audience ends up caring but not really knowing why they care. I’m not sure that’s much better than not caring at all.
Despite the overstuffed storyline, the series is glossy, romantic, and possesses an effectively sad undertone. The art direction is solid here, filming in neutral, dark colours along with some stunning scenes filmed in picturesque Japan. Lending life to the fine art direction is the photogenic and surprisingly talented cast. Aaron Yan, Taiwan’s prettiest idol boy who can actually act despite strange script choices (KO One, Gloomy Salad Days), turns in an invested portrayal of a complicated personality. His Ting Yu is angry, angsty, romantic, competitive and insecure all at the same time and Aaron’s enigmatic performance nails all of that. Now that Ethan Ruan and Joe Cheng are in the army, I think I’m going to stick Aaron Yan on my to-watch list for Taiwanese drama.
Lara Veronin, who comes with zero screen baggage (I’ve watched her sing live when she made a guest appearance at a Jay Chou concert back when she was all of 16 years old), also impresses in her debut performance. She’s natural, warm and girly in the role, but it is the sense of wistfulness in her Die Fei that is the most striking. Maybe Die Fei mirrors the actress’ personal life which is why Lara is so convincing in the character. And together they are just so pretty, dammit.
My favourite moment of the series is when Yu slams on the bathroom door where Die Fei is hiding and yells that he won’t let her waste her talent. Such an ironic twist given at this point of the series, we start to question why Yu is a musician (Does he love it? Is he even truly talented?), and here he is doing everything in his power to make something of another character in the field…when really, he should be focusing on whether he himself should be in the field.
While Tracy Zhou’s acting is serviceable as Alice, something about her doesn’t connect on an emotional level. She can pass for Japanese but the way she carries herself makes her seem quite a few years older than the rest of the cast. And the fact that she’s given the character with the most to do (and the series is named after her), I was surprised and disappointed to discover that I didn’t care much for her Alice. Same goes for her love line with Jie, which comes off more as a lust line rather than the ill-fated lovers story which is probably what was initially intended.
Xiu Jie Kai was a pleasant surprise. He has ordinary looks (i.e. not handsome) but gives the character of Jie an earnest, good-natured quality that makes his character inoffensive and easy to like. Compared to Jie’s relationship with Alice, I was much more vested in his budding friendship with Ting Yu despite their polar opposite personalities and working style.
Cherry’s performance as the unapologetic third party mistress was excellent, though one needs to suspend belief that Lara is related to Cherry as Lara looks very mixed and Cherry does not.
Lin Li Yang was also perfectly cast as Manager Guo and imbues the character with just the right amount of pettiness and cowardice for the series’ main antagonist a.k.a. Jerk of the Century. I was however sort of creeped out by their relationship, especially since Cherry seems so much younger than Lin.
The acting is strong partly because the writers give the actors space to operate, but can’t develop the story to match the characters that they create. The series ends up trying to do too much, and unfortunately attempts more than it delivers. Fans of Aaron Yan will be pleased, but everyone else’s satisfaction is not guaranteed.
This review was written by Bridget, a Contributing Writer at JayneStars.com. Visit Bridget’s blog!
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Review: “Alice in Wonder City” (By Bridget)