After watching the Korean Boys Over Flowers, I decided to check out the Taiwanese adaptation of the same source material, Meteor Garden I (2001). This series is a lot longer, with 27 episodes, and actually has a second season that Boys Over Flowers lacks.
What’s it about?
Shanchai (Barbie Hsu) is from a poor family, but is able to attend the prestigious (and very expensive!) Ying De University thanks to her parents’ hardwork in paying the tuition. The university is ruled by the famous F4, four of the richest and best-looking boys in Taiwan. Shanchai, outspoken and headstrong, gets on the bad side of F4 when she confronts its leader, the violent Daoming Si (Jerry Yan). He soon sets the school against her, unknowingly finding himself attracted to her stubbornness. The situation seems hopeless to Shanchai, but is it possible she’s found an ally in Huaze Lei (Vic Chou), the only kind member of F4?
One thing that struck me about this drama from the very beginning is the strength of Shanchai’s character. She’s a strong, independent character, who stands up for herself even when everything turns against her. She’s brave and intelligent, masters respect from all of the other characters, and is one of the better female leads I’ve seen in a long time. While not all of the other characters are as well created as Shanchai is initially (Lei is one of the exceptions), there is a lot of character growth going on for a lot of characters, especially for our male lead Si. The development of Si’s character is one of the best aspects of this series; he learns from all of his mistakes and gradually grows into a better person without losing his sense of personality.
Another thing I really liked about Meteor Garden is that it plays out very realistically. For example, Shanchai’s family’s financial struggles are highlighted in several different ways, such as her father leaving for better work and Shanchai’s “poor” dress-standards (as in she wears the same clothes over and over, and her clothes look older or cheap). Shanchai’s reaction to Si and her struggles against him are also pretty realistic; she knows that he can be dangerous, and she walks a fine-line between infuriating him and defying him. The couple’s struggle against Si’s mother’s acceptance is also really well done; Si never once stands idly by while his mother antagonises Shanchai, but stands up to her in every way he can.
Finally, this series has really good pacing along its whole length. Every major plot even is given its chance to be played out fully, and its consequences are allowed to sink in before the next even occurs. This allows the character growth I mentioned early, but also helps the story make sense. [SPOILERS] Instead of making it seem like Shanchai is forced into liking Si to stop being bullied, you can see just how and why she begins to fall for him, which cements the love story in this series [SPOILERS].
The major negative with this series is, unfortunately, its production value. This series is now fifteen years old, and boy does it show. From the fashion to the good old fashioned brick phones, almost any scene dates this series badly. I’d also say that it was one of the early Taiwanese dramas, since the editing and cutting of scenes and the actual sound is pretty shoddy. Since the actors are so young and inexperienced, the acting is also a little wooden, but it does improve gradually throughout the series. Overall, there’s nothing terrible plot-wise, just an old production.
Anything else I should consider?
This is just going to be a quick comparison to Boys Over Flowers; skip if you’re not interested. I really think that plot-wise and character wise, BoFs cannot hold a candle to Meteor Garden. I like Shanchai as a strong, female lead, compared to Jan Di’s wishy-washy character. I also liked Si’s more violent and explosive temper compared to Jun Pyo’s childish tantrum-throwing. The difference in characters left a lot of room for character development, which this series followed through on, unlike the Korean adaptation. This series also handled the large number of events better, giving the plot events a more salient meaning to the characters, and not rushing through it all, which was the major problem I had with BoFs. However, Meteor Garden, as the older series, does lack he production neatness and flashiness that BoFs is known for.
Story: 8/10: The plot pacing is really good, and the story is realistic and interesting, with the romance developing naturally and sweetly.
Characters: 7.5/10: Shanchai is a kick-ass main lead, and although the viewer’s initial impressions of the other characters isn’t as good, their character growth throughout the series more than makes up for it.
If you can look past its poor production, I really think Meteor Garden is an excellent adaptation of Hana Yori Dango. What it lacks in style it more than makes up for in strong characters and a good plot. If you can stand dated feeling of the drama (and don’t mind picking on it just a little bit), I would recommend checking it out. Overall, I give it a solid 7.5/10.