Derived from a Japanese Manga in the early 90s, the story was first televised in Japan with Itazura Na Kiss in 1996. Taiwan followed suit with their own adaptations called It Started With a Kiss in 2005. The Taiwanese version got so famous all over Asia which propelled a sequel in 2007 called They Kissed Again. The Manga itself was never finished because the author passed away, and I never read the original comic either, so I’m guessing that in all these adaptations, the producers took liberties with their perceived endings.
Now, why suddenly watch It Started With a Kiss? Simply as a preparation for the upcoming Kim Hyunjoong/Jung Somin drama, Playful Kiss. Which is, needless to say, the Korean adaptation. Now the series have effectively been produced by the 3 big drama producing countries, I wanted to have some sort of point of contrast and comparison when watching Playful Kiss. I remember watching the original dorama and couldn’t survive the first hour. They only had 9 episodes so everything was supposed to move fast, but man, by the second episode I canned it.
So I decided to try It Started With a Kiss instead, out of recommendations from friends. The drama stars Ariel Lin and Joe Cheng as the main boy and girl.
The story, in a nutshell, is about a girl liking a boy, chasing after him, and making him her bitch man. The girl is absent-minded, annoying, and stubborn. But she’s also kind hearted and sincere. The guy she likes is a genius who is constantly the top of his class. He is intelligent and HOTTTT, but curt and reclusive. She ends up living in his house and for the remainder of the drama would continue to prove her love by either a)chasing after him or b)preventing other females to be around him.
Now, I don’t know what happens in the manga or in the previous dorama, but I believe the story depicted in the drama is up there with the Twilight series, in terms of how harmful it is to young girls, in fact even more so. Going into the drama, I had no idea that the story would be such a blow to modern feminism. It’s high time we retreat from stories about a girl idolizing a boy, putting him one step above her. It’s so chauvinistic and the drama seems to do all of it unrepentantly.
The foundation of the story, the bottom line, is that a girl’s life is revolved around one boy. That, in itself, is a dangerous notion, one I don’t want to entertain and certainly wouldn’t want my future daughters entertain either. Furthermore, the way she follows him with all her might, deflecting any potential females and creating troubles, makes it seem okay for girls to do that to boys as long as she loves him. Which male wants to be stalked by a girl day and night just because she likes him? So, if a guy stalks a girl it’s creepy, but if a girl stalks a guy it’s called caring?? Geez, a restraining order is so due.
But the most disturbing point is the fact that the drama justifies girls being treated the way Zhi Shu (boy) treats Xiang Qin (girl). At least in the Twilight series, the boy actually reciprocates the feelings and EXPRESSES them clearly. But It Started With a Kiss took it to another level. Not only does this girl devotes her life to a boy, she also does so to a boy who treats her like shit! No man should get away for constantly putting down a girl, treating her anyway he wants. Just like the girl thinks it’s okay to stalk the boy because she loves him, the boy thinks it’s okay to ignore the girl because deep down he also loves her. Are we supposed to see these dynamics as cute? BAH!
On a technical level, ISWAK is unnecessarily long. It follows the main character from high school till college and seems to aim for the ‘slice of life’ style. No particular plot, just a bunch of storylines mushed up together to span over 4 years or so. There is no apparent antagonist that keeps the couple from being together, so we have to wait 30 episodes for these two kids to get it right because getting the main couple together is pretty much the sole point of the drama.
Secondary characters are also rendered almost useless. They are one dimentional and exists merely as plot devices. A couple of the characters show potential to be more, but in the end, after they serve their purposes they just slowly disappear. One character that I truly like, however, is Yu Shu, Zhi Shu’s little brother. Unlike the other characters, he has always been there in the background, monitoring, taking notes, but ultimately speaks up when something is not to his fancy. Plus, he’s chubby and grumpy. Lethal combination for a cute kid.
The two redeeming points of ISWAK are the acting and the chemistry between Arel Lin and Joe Cheng. Luckily, I found these elements to be the strongest and they help me powering through to the finale. Ariel Lin really embodies the love fool Xiang Qin, seemingly so natural and at ease in her character’s skin. There are overacting problems at times, but she has a full bottle of charm at her disposal. Xiang Qin annoys you for her trouble making schemes, yet you also admire her kind heart. Despite the many times I get pissed off at Xiang Qin, through out the drama, I continue to love her, and a big part of this goes for Ariel Lin for portraying Xiang Qin so well. Her emotional scenes are great and her funny scenes are really funny.
The same goes for Joe Cheng. Zhi Shu is expressionless, but he is not blank (IMO, this will be Kim Hyunjoong’s biggest shortcoming). He is rude to some people, yet affectionate to others. He thinks A, but does B. He is introvert, but not socially awkward. This is precisely how Joe Cheng hit home run. What I love about Cheng is that he turns this easily cliche-tastic character into someone who feels more real. I say more because all the character qualifications are just straight out of fantasy, but I thought Cheng was able to humanize Zhi Shu more. Plus, he’s got this eternal childlike pout that is just so endearing. When he’s not spouting insults, that is.
It’s not rare to find on screen couples with good chemistry. One of the main reasons two actors are chosen as a couple must be that they look and feel good on screen. But an on screen couple with awefuckingsome chemistry, you don’t come by very often. The last on screen couple that I thought was pretty fantastic was Lee Minjung and Jung Kyungho in Smile You, the drama was bust but damn, they just….clicked together.
And the same goes with Lin and Cheng here. Considering it almost literally took 30 episodes to get their characters to finally end up together, something strong should be holding the magic. I’m sure with any other couple, you would just throw your hand in the air and announce defeat. And this something, it wasn’t anything in particular really, but they just fit. The pairing just feels effortless and natural. I was reading something online that apparently Ariel Lin and Joe Cheng are considered one of the best on screen couples in Taiwan. Hell, I SO can see that. A few episodes into the drama, I just started to randomly look them up in Youtube, a sure sign that they’ve got me hooked at least if not on the drama itself, but on the couple. And in this case, it is enough motivation to finish the drama.
Ultimately, I would rate It Started With a Kiss a barely passable drama. The subject theme itself is already mired with fundemental flaws, and the execution doesn’t help either. If they cut 10 episodes, it would’ve been better. They don’t need so many secondary characters, but should’ve dug deeper into the more important ones. But in the end, I refrained from tearing my hairs out because I’m already losing hair as it is the main leads can charm the hell out of It Started With a Kiss.
Anyways, I’m signing out to watch Playful Kiss episode 1. Exciteeeddd!