Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

All Systems Red Review


All Systems Red,
by Martha Wells, is the first of four “The  Murderbot Diaries” novellas feathering the SecUnit who calls itself Murderbot. It won the 2018 Nebula and Hugo Awards for best novella.

I don’t read a lot of contemporary science fiction, or indeed the science fiction of any era these days. Except for a few authors I know and like, I may sample just a book or two a year. So, given my limited exposure to modern science fiction, and as writer myself, what do I think of All Systems Red?

It was okay.

Damned by faint praise?

What may be more damning, in my view, is all the novellas that didn’t win. All Systems Red does not, in my opinion, set a high bar of excellence. So what does that say about the rest? Maybe there were not a lot to choose from, so the best of the lot didn’t have to be brilliant. I can't say.

Or it may be just me. I like novels, so a cut down novel, or an extended short story doesn’t fit my preferred style of story. That said, it was okay enough for me to read it to the end. I don’t read bad books to the end.

Since this is a famous four year old story, most science fiction fans have already read it, so I’ll skip the story summery, and just share my thoughts on the story.

The story opens with giant worm breaking out of a crater to threaten a survey team. The team’s hired security bot, “Muderbot” acts swiftly to save several members of the survey team from the jaws of this worm. It reads like an opening action scene straight out of lesson one of How to Write a Thrilling Story 101. In short, while it gets the job done of introducing the character, it is pretty standard, unoriginal fare.

And speaking of unoriginal fare, a planetary survey team facing danger on a planet is one of the most well worn tropes in the first three or four decades of science fiction, to the point were it is almost a cliché. No points for originality so far.

There is no real sense of place in the story. The planet is so generic that there are episodes of the original Star Trek with more convincing locales.

As for the story that follows… Well, Jason Sheehan says in his review for NPR, “The story itself is simple to the point of nonexistence.” It is certainly rudimentary. A series of unexplained computer system failures leads to finding another survey team on the planet massacred, which sends our team fleeing the unknown killers. The mystery of why the killers were acting this way, and how they were saved seems to have been pulled, more or less, out of the hat. Not that it matters. None of this stuff matters.

All this doesn’t matter because the story is a character study of the first (non)person narrator, Murderbot, a half mechanical, half biological “SecUnit.” It is sort of an introvert Bender – snarky, indifferent, haunted by its past, or rather what it can remember of its past, but, unlike Bender, very shy and uncomfortable around humans. Why a security bot is part machine, and part organic is not clear. It seems a weakness, not a strength, as there are pure sentient machines in the stories as well. I assume it is because Wells wanted to explore what a person is. Is this half machine a person?

Murderbot is, however, a special SecUnit because it had, somehow, managed to hack its control unit, its “governor,” giving it free will. It can no longer be controlled. I find it hard to imagine how it even knew how to disable its interior control governor without giving a hint to all the systems that monitored it, or how it reached it to alter it. And if it knew how, you’d think every other SecUnit, would know as well and be able to do it too. Just what makes Murderbot so extraordinary, and apparently unusual is not explained. Murderbot also seems to be able to hack any, or almost any, computer system. Not only is one is left wondering how it learned how to do so with relative ease, but you’d have to wonder why these systems wouldn’t be more secure than they apparently are. However, in a world where everything is connected and surveillance omnipresent, I suppose that being able to hack these systems to defeat them is a necessary skill for the stories in the series to work.

The story, as told by the SecUnit, Murderbot is largely concerned with the various procedures it implements to protect the humans in its charge from danger. During the story, Murderbot finds itself caring for its human charges, and they show concern for it – which makes it very uncomfortable. It prefers being treated as a machine rather than as a person, and finds it unnerving when they treat it like a person, and especially when they see it without its armor as basically a human. Jason Sheehan, whose review is actually very positive, sees the story as a “coming out” story – of a constructed entity finding its personhood, with the awkwardness and fear such a step entails for a very “shy” SecUnit.

Be that as it may, you still have to put up with the trite setup, almost nonexistent story line, the generic setting, and all the techno-procedural mumbo-jumbo that makes up the bulk of the story. I did, hence my “It’s okay” rating.


Martha Wells is an experienced writer, so you should probably assume that she knows just what she’s doing. And in that case…

I also write first person narratives. My approach is that the narrator tells the story from his point of view. (All my stories use male narrators, hence the “his.”) A number of reviews have said that my stories need an editor – presumably to eliminate nonessential wordage. I would reply that it is the characters in the story who are telling the story and they are not professional writers. These characters may include details that are unnecessary for the story’s plot, from a professional writer’s point of view, but are, nevertheless, significant to the character. I think that these non-essential details make the story feel more authentic. I believe that Martha Wells is doing the same thing. Since she has the SecUnit Murderbot tell the story, it would, naturally, tell the story from its point of view. It may well be blind to the beauties of the planet. It may well view the human characters as flat, two dimensional more or less standard humans. And main focus of its story would be its techno-procedural actions that it used to protect the humans in its charge. Seen from this point of view, the limitations of the story that I outlined above, are simply the limitations and priorities of the story’s narrator, Murderbot. Which is clever.

Still. It took me four days to finish the story. And so it is still just okay.

And yet.

I have some additional thoughts after reading the three subsequent novellas in the Muderbot Diaries series, Artificial Condition, Rouge Protocol, and Exit Strategy. Since the series focuses on, and comes back around to the events of in All Systems Red, I can’t help but wonder if Wells and her publisher decided to take what would have been an episodic novel and divide it up and sell it as four novellas.

In any event, the three novellas that follow, are, in my opinion, much better stories. Murderbot becomes a more interesting character at as it continues to explore is personhood and its relationship with humans and other constructed entities. Not wanting to be a pet of the humans it saved in All Systems Red, it runs away to find its own life. In these stories Wells casts Murderbot as a Philip Marlowe type of hardboiled private eye, since now, without its armor, it can pass itself off as an augmented human. In Artificial Condition it hires itself to a group of people looking to hire a security consultant to ride shotgun on an iffy rendezvous with a dubious and dangerous person. And if Murderbot is now Phillip Marlowe in this story, it has acquired a new sidekick, a sentient ship who acts like a Nero Wolf type of character who can pull techno-strings and provide support in the background. All of which makes this story a much more compelling read. In Rouge Protocol, Murderbot is searching for evidence to help the people it saved in All Conditions Red, in their continuing fight against the evil corporation that tried to murder them. In doing so, it ends up saving another group of people from this evil corporation which is trying to protect its illegal activities. And in Exit Strategy, we find Murderbot once again saving the leader of the first group, who had been kidnapped by the evil corporation.

In all of these stories there is a ton of techno-procedural mambo-jumbo – hacking this system and controlling those drones or that machine. They are thriller/military sf stories set in a high-tech dragon and dungeons maze within large space stations. In many cases I didn’t get a clear picture of the locales, but I guess that doesn’t matter in the end. The stories are about Murderbot, and if you like the character, you’ll enjoy the stories. I like character focused stories and so I enjoyed these stories, especially the last three. I’d give the series an almost four star rating as a whole, the opening story giving the series the "almost."

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Remarks and Observations Directed at the Clouds


This is another installment of my Observations and Remarks Directed at the Clouds project. A brief one. The odd thing about blogs is that they only work well if readers read every post as it is posted. Or if each post is completely unrelated to the others. Otherwise, you end up reading the posts backwards, and then have to make sense of them. Since I doubt that anyone reads this blog as each post is posted, I thought I’d just take a moment in the short post to bring anyone interested up to speed on what the current series of post is all about.

As I mentioned, in the first post of this series, that I’m not currently writing any fiction – the stories I’m considering writing have yet to jell to the point were I can confidently know that I can write them right to their end. And with that being the case, and with time on my hands, I decided to write a series of opinion pieces on various subjects. The first entries in this series, below, are on TV shows – one bad one, and a bunch of good ones, finishing up with the best in the post below. (Crash Landing on You).

My upcoming entry in this series will be a review of Martha Wells’ All Systems Red Murderbot novella. It’s been out now for something like four years, and I’m sure that just about everyone who would be interested in it, has read it. Still I am just now getting around to reading it – because it’s price was right. Free. This past week gave away ebook copies of all four novellas in the series to promote Wells’ upcoming Murderbot novel. So with the price being right, I picked them up and will share my opinion of the first of them.

I have to admit that I don’t think I’m very good at writing these essays and reviews But, on the theory that practice makes perfect, I’m planning to continue to try my hand at it, on whatever subject I have a strong opinion about, especially the ones that I think the world should pay attention to. But wont. (“That’s a joke, son.”)

So here is a brief teaser of my upcoming All Systems Red review.

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells, is the first of four novellas feathering the SecUnit who calls itself Murderbot. It won the 2017 Nebula and Hugo Awards for best novella.

I am not much of a reader of contemporary science fiction, or indeed of science fiction from any era these days. I have a wall of books, but except for a few authors I know I like, I only sample a couple of books a year these days. So, given my limited exposure to modern science fiction, and as someone who writes stories as well, what do I think of All Systems Red?

It was okay.

Damned by faint praise.

To be continued….

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Remarks and Observations Directed at the Clouds -- Crash Landing on You

Crash Landing on You   image:

It’s been a bit of a struggle writing this review of Crash Landing on You. Why? Because I like it so much. It is perhaps my favorite TV show or movie of all time, if only because there are no actors in Crash Landing on You as bad as the actor who played Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables. So, because this show resonates with me, it is hard to know how much of what I see in it, you'll see as well. Still, I have to believe that most, though not all, people – who take the time to watch the first two episodes – will find it a very entertaining show, well worth their time. So, even if you take my ravings with a grain of salt, I think most of you will thank me for turning you on to this show. Feel free to let me know if I’m right or wrong.

In translation, Crash Landing on You is a pretty silly title. It is also known as Love’s Crash Landing and Crash Landing of Love. My working title would be From the South, With Love.

In the first episode we meet Yoon Se-ri, a wealthy South Korean entrepreneur and founder of a successful cosmetic company. Her father, the head of a vast conglomerate, has just been released from prison and intends to turn over the helm of his company to his heirs. (A disclaimer assures us that this is all fictional. It doesn’t resemble Samsung at all… move along.) Given Se-ri’s track record of success, and the fact that his sons leave much to be desired, he names Se-ri to the post, to their great dismay and anger. But before she can be officially named at the stockholders meeting, she goes hang gliding, and is carried away by a sudden windstorm and tornado, disappearing without a trace.

Yong Se-re and Captan Ri Jeong-hyeok   image:

The tornado scene is rather silly, but I have to believe that it’s a wink and a nod to the tornado scene in Wizard of Oz. The director, Lee Jeong-hyo, called the show a “fantasy,” and I can’t help but see the parallels between it and the Wizard of Oz. Both Dorthy and Se-ri find themselves in a strange land, Dorthy, not in Kansas, and Se-re, not in South Korea. They both want to find a way home. And they both meet interesting characters along the way, some friendly and helpful, while others are ruthlessly dangerous.

 Captured   image:

Se-ri wakes up the morning following the storm to find herself dangling from a tree in her hang gliding harness. There she is discovered by the North Korean army Captain Ri Jeong-hyeok, whose soldiers are patrolling the North/South border. He orders her to come down, and when she unhitches the harness to do so, she falls, or, as she later corrects him, “descends” into his arms, hence the title. While she manages to escape him and his soldiers, she fails to find her way back across the demilitarized zone to South Korea and ends up in a North Korean village early the next morning. There, she is about to be discovered by the cruel and corrupt Lt Col. Cho, of the dreaded State Security Bureau, whose custody she rightly belongs in. But Captain Ri, fearful of what might happen to her in their hands, saves her from discovery – thus putting his head, and those of his faithful group of subordinates, in the noose by doing so.

Si-re and Captain Ri's faithful crew   image:

And that, briefly, is the first episode. It sets up the premise and stakes, but I don’t think that you get the full flavor and considerable charm of this show until you get into the second and subsequent episodes, which is why I suggest that you watch the first two episodes, before deciding if it is worth your time or not.

So what makes it so special for me? First, the writing by Park Ji-eun. She has written a number of very popular TV dramas, and is know for her realistic dialog. I think the dialog in this show is brilliant -- witty and clever, powerful and revealing in turn. Credit must also be given to the subtitle translators, as it’s brilliance comes across in their translations. The plot is intricate, involving intrigues on both sides of the divide. And throughout the story there is always an underlying tension of the dire consequences, should her true origins be discovered. Sometimes it is muted, while other times it becomes acute, with action scenes and some violence, but it’s not gratuitous. However, for me, I love the show for the characters Park Ji-eun has created. And not only the lead characters, but the supporting cast as well. There has to be at least two dozen characters that we come to know as the show progresses. Many have backstories that make them seem like real people, with real feelings, and concerns. They’re not just there to dress the set, or to deliver lines to the main characters. And since the story has a run time of 19 ½ hours, Park Ji-eun can and does use that run time to bring many characters to life.

Se-ri with the village ladies   Image:

The other thing that makes the writing great, is that she pays attention to details – to the little things, the quirks, vanities, fears, and ambitions of the characters are sketched in with a hundred clever incidents, filled with little details in the settings, the scenes, and the everyday dialogues.

The actors, one and all, are wonderful. Son Ye-jin who plays Yoon Se-ri, is simply outstanding in the role. She was very good in Something in the Rain – she won awards for that role – but the character she plays here has so much more…. Is it agency the word I’m looking for? Se-ri is smart, witty, kind, and yet vulnerable. She has faced adversity before, and once again rises to the many occasions in the story. Not only can Son Ye-jin play this role with effortless charm, but she can say so much with just a look. Plus there is great chemistry between her, and Captain Ri, played by Hyun Bin, despite him having to play the strong, silent type.

Son Ye-jin     image

And lastly, the production values. I don’t know how close the real North Korea is to the North Korea in this show, but it probably doesn’t matter. The settings are all well selected and shot beautifully. I’m no expert on cinematography, but I can’t help but be impressed by how creatively and expressively the scenes are filmed. Parasite, a South Korean film won the Best Film Oscar award in 2020, and though I haven’t seen it, I’m not surprised it did, after watching these Korean TV show. They know the art. If I have one complaint, it is that, like on all the Korean shows I watched, the background music sometimes escapes from the background, and can overshadow the scene. But that’s a minor gripe.

Yoon Se-ri and Captain Ri Jeong-hyeok   image:

I should note here, that at the end of each episode they start showing stills from the episode, with the theme music. THIS IS USUALLY NOT THE END OF THE EPISODE. I discovered that many of the episodes have a “post-credit” scene after this montage which add deft little touches to the episode, or fill in bits of the backstory of our main characters. I didn’t know this the first time we watched it, and I don’t think we missed anything important my not seeing them, but you’ll want to see them, so don’t leave early.

I’ve watched a lot of good shows from China, Taiwan, and Korea. Many of them are very good, all have been entertaining. But Crash Landing on You, lands just a little above the best of them. I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t be entertained by it. Of course, you have to read the subtitles if you don’t speak Korean, but I find that I really like reading subtitles. It draws you into the show because you are not only watching, but reading the dialog as the rest of the story – the action and scenery is shown to you. And, well, Korean is a very expressive language tonally – especially the way women speak it, so you'll not miss anything by reading the English translation. So, all in all, I think this show is a gem. And I have to admit that I’ve already watched it for a second time – and will watch it again, if not again.

Let me know what you think of it! Enjoy! (And stay safe!)

Se-ri    image:
Postscript: One last thought. Perhaps why this show resonates with me is that it is about friendship. Prior to landing in North Korea, Se-ri is a workaholic, estranged from her family, has few if any real friends. During her stay in North Korea, not only does she fall in love, but finds bonds of friendship with Captain Ri’s four soldier friends and the ladies of the village – and this growing friendship is shown in various scenes throughout the show. She escapes North Korea, a changed, and better person for it.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Remarks and Observations Directed at the Clouds -- Korean TV Shows

My Sassy Girl  Image:

In this episode of an old man yelling at the clouds, I’m going to highlight a number of excellent Korean TV shows, or if you're hip enough, “K-dramas.” I must admit that despite my interest in China and Asia, I have paid no attention to Korea. It seemed like a minor player in the area, sort of a minor offshoot of China and Chinese history. And as a result, I didn’t pay much attention to its TV shows many of which are offered by Netflix. I did sample one comedy, whose name I can’t recall, but it seemed rather silly, and quickly forgot it. Later, I tried three episodes of the historical drama Mr Sunshine, but found it a bit more violent than I cared for. All that changed when, with nothing else to watch, I tried the Korean historical drama, Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung. I think I watched three episodes before I decided to invite my wife to watch with me. (I audition these shows before suggesting that she might like them as well.) In any event, it was a winner.

Ah, don’t let the silly translation of the show titles put you off. The shows are nowhere near as silly as their English titles might suggest.

Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung  Image:

Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung (16 episodes Netflix)

The story is set in the 18th century Korea. It, like those Chinese historical dramas, is centered around the court of the Chosen Dynasty, who employed court historians that recorded everything that went on in the court. These historians were historically independent of the King’s authority and allowed to record what was said and what they observed, impartially. In the story it is decided to add a number of female historians to the department, in part, to try to discover who is behind a perceived threat to the king. Our heroine, Goo Hae-ryung, escaping from an arranged marriage, and wanting to be something more than a wife of an official, applies and is accepted as one of these female apprentice historians.

As with all the shows that I like, Rookie Historian Goo Hau-ryung is a mixture of comedy, romance, plus mystery, intrigue, danger and drama all deftly woven together in one story. And like almost all of the shows, it is carried along by an appealing female lead. The male romantic lead is a cloistered prince who moonlights as a writer or romance novels. The story unfolds, sometimes with a lighthearted episode, and sometimes with a dark episode full of danger and/or tears as the main characters come ever closer to the central mystery of what happened a decade before to bring to power the current kings slowly comes to light.

Rookie Historian   Image:

The actors, female and male, in this, and indeed, in all the Korean shows I’ll talk about are wonderful. The writing is clever, funny, and dramatic in turn – and so must be the translators as well. Compared to their Chinese counterparts, the settings are much less elaborate, and the courts less impressive, but I think the stories are tighter, and more focused.

On interesting feature of this and the following show, is that marriage is not the end all, be all of the heroine. In both, they pursue their own futures, independently of their true love.

I’d rate Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung 4 ½ stars.

Next up is another historical drama set roughly in the same time period as Rookie Historian. The name is still silly, the men still wear those silly looking hats and it still concerns intrigues of the court.

My Sassy Girl  Image:

My Sassy Girl (16 episodes Netflix)

The heroine of this story is a princess, whose mother was supposedly killed in thwarted palace coup ten years before the beginning of the story. She is free spirited and bold, often escaping the confines of the palace. Worse for drink, she is saved from falling from a bridge by the male lead, a scholar just returned from China, and things get more complicated after that. Later, he is appointed the teacher for the princess’s little brother, and together, with much bickering in the beginning, they set out to unravel the mystery of her mother’s supposed death, and its implications in the court. Like Rookie Historian, there are lighthearted, largely comical episodes along with dark, dangerous, and dramatic episodes. Both my wife and I looked forward each evening to watching the next episode. (We limit ourselves to one a night.) Another winner.

Another 4 ½ star show.

I can highly recommend both of these shows, though it probably takes watching the first two episodes to get fully involved with the characters and the story line, but once in, I think that you’ll enjoy the ride.

Next we turn to shows set in modern Korea.

Romance is a Bonus Book  Image:

Romance is a Bonus Book (16 episodes, Netflix)

The story is largely set in a small Korean publishing house, and if you like books, it is interesting just on that account alone – how books to be published are decided upon, printed, sold and, if necessary, disposed of in Korea. The story concerns a woman who took time off from work in an advertising to raise her daughter. Now divorced, she tries to get back into the business, but finds that no one wants a 30 something year old woman who is 10 years out of the business. To make ends meet, she secretly works as the housekeeper of an old friend, and when she finds herself homeless, stays in his attic as well, until discovered. Unable to get a job in her field, she applies for an internship at this friend’s publishing firm, without listing her university degree, and gets the low level job… And well, once more we have a romantic comedy, with a dollop of mystery. It is a very character focused show, with a likable ensemble cast, and without any great soap opera/melodramatic endings, like a number of other shows like this seem to think you need.

I liked it a lot. 4 ½ stars, yet again.

Something in the Rain  Image:

Something in the Rain

This proved to be a darker romantic drama than I expected. It has its comedy elements, and its romance, but it has a lot more drama and heartbreak than I usually prefer. What it does have going for its female romantic lead, Son Ye-jin. Son Ye-jin is simply a wonderfully expressive actor. Here she plays a 35 year old coffee company supervisor who falls in love with her brother’s best friend, who is some 10 years younger. This romance is bitterly opposed by her mother, and most of the family, for reasons that are not quite clear to this viewer, (It might be a cultural thing that I’m missing.) and much drama and heartbreak ensues – along with drama at her office concerning pressing sexual harassment charges. Overall, not exactly my cup of tea, but certainly not bad. We watched the entire series.

On this one, I’d only give it 3 stars – but just because I like my entertainment more lighthearted.

Cinderella and the Four Knights   Image:

Cinderella and the Four Knights (16 episodes Netflix)

The premise of this show is that a very rich man has three grandsons from three different and deceased sons living in a modern mansion together, who don’t get along. Two of them are more or less jerks, one is nice, but none of them he considers suitable heirs to his wealth, as they are. One of them, on a bet, hires our heroine to play the role of his fiancee for the 5th wedding of his grandfather. The wealthy grandfather is impressed by the actions of our heroine and hires her to live in the mansion and make his grandsons better people. She accepts, needing the money to go on to college, and set out to complete the missions he assigns her. The first having all three cousins eat a meal together…

Like most of the other shows I’ve reviewed in this series, it is an enjoyable comedy/romance/soap opera. My biggest ding against this one is that it ends with a very melodramatic ending, that I didn’t think necessary. I like slice of life stories, and don’t need a dramatic ending. But I am likely in the minority on this issue.

Because I dislike melodramatic endings, I’m knocking half as star off: 3 ½ stars

Well, I see this rant has gone on longer than I had expected, and I still have one Korean show to go. It, however, is a show that I’m going to gush over, being perhaps the best show I’ve ever seen. I’m already watching it for a second time. So I think I’ll save that for its very own post, coming soon.

Romance is a Bonus Book  Image:

Friday, April 17, 2020

Remarks and Observations Directed at the Clouds -- Taiwanese TV Shows

Office Girls image:

This should be a shorter piece than the last several postings, since I’m only going to discuss three Taiwanese TV shows.

The first one, Office Girls, is one of my all time favorites. It’s a 40 episode romantic comedy soap opera. It actually offers an interesting mix of genres, ranging from pure soap opera to slapstick comedy including strange sound effects, and romance, of course. But what I think sets it apart from similar shows I’ve watched, is the great acting and chemistry between the two romantic leads.

Office Girls (40 episodes Netflix)

The main “office girl” and female romantic lead Sheng Xin Ren, played by Ko Chia-yen, AKA, Alice Ko. She is a hardworking office worker in a “department store” in Taipei Taiwan. It is a rather interesting setting. The department store is more of what we would call a mall, with independent shops. However, they are all housed in something like an eight story, block-sized building like an old, traditional downtown department store. The male romantic lead, Qin Zi Qi, played by Roy Chiu, is the playboy son of the department store’s owner. After arriving back from an extended stay in the US to earn his MBA, his father insists that if he wants to inherit the business, he must put in a year’s work as a regular employee, plus live on that modest salary, and not tell anyone who he is. And so off we go, with a pampered rich boy trying to live on what he sees as next to nothing, while slowly falling in love with the office girl in his department.

What makes this show work for me is appealing characters, both lead and supporting, the quality of their acting, their onscreen chemistry, and just as importantly, the quality of the writing. As with all these types of shows, the road of romance is never straight, especially one of 40 episodes, and the story does rather veer into familiar soap opera territory towards the end. Still, for me, the characters and their acting are more than enough to carry me along, even if I think things become a little soapier than I’d like. My wife loved the show as well, and as far as I’m concerned, this is is light, escapist entertainment at its best. Five stars.

The second Taiwanese show is another comedy/romance/soap opera. There seem to be dozens of them from Taiwan on Netflix. This one is called Miss Rose, and features Roy Chiu once again as the male romantic lead, paired with a new female lead played by Megan Lai.

Miss Rose   Image:

Miss Rose (35 episodes Netflix)

Megan Lai plays an office worker who gets entangled with Roy Chiu’s character, a high powered business man, and a long romance ensues, tangled, with a plot line of corporate intrigue. The mean girl from Office Girls plays Megan Lai’s nice best friend in this show, and several other actors from Office Girls make their appearances in this show as well. We both enjoyed it, though its not quite as good as Office Girls, so four stars.

As I mentioned, there are a ton of other Taiwanese shows similar these two, and I’ve sampled several more, some with actors from those two shows. One was Bromance which stared Megan Lai From Miss Rose, who played a girl raised as a boy, unconvincingly so. And as the plot soon veered into a rather unbelievable course, I gave up on that one after episode 3. I’ve watched the first episode or two of several more that either failed to hook me, or that I felt I’d wait to continue until I could watch them with my wife.

The last show in this post is La Grande Chaumiere Violette. Now this is not a romantic/comedy/soap opera, but rather, a historical drama – which happens to star Alice Ko (Ko Chia-yen) of Office Girls fame, which is enough to get me to watch it.

La Grande Chaumiere Violette  image:

La Grande Chaumiere Violette (22 episodes Netflix)

The story is told in flashbacks from the 1980’s. It tells the story of a group of famous Taiwanese artists from the late 1920’s to the 1940’s. During most of this era, Taiwan was the Japanese colony of Formosa, and its people were treated as second class citizens. The show tells the stories of these artists set against the backdrop of repression by the Japanese, and the political unrest as a consequence of it. Then, after the Japanese defeat in WWll, they are occupied by the Nationalist Chinese from the mainland, which prove to be just as bad if not worse than the Japanese. As such, it is not quite my usual light entertainment, but since it concerns art, tea, (the point of view character’s family owns a tea business) and Alice Ko, I watched and enjoyed it. Four stars.

There are still many Taiwanese TV shows to sample, when I have the time. But for now, my next reviews will feature TV shows from Korea – “K-Dramas” – including another of my all time favorite shows.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Remarks and Observations Directed at the Clouds – Chinese TV Shows

Rookie Agent Rouge Image:

When I want entertainment, I look for lighthearted, escapist entertainment. I don’t need drama in my life. Adventure, mystery, intrigue, humor, and romance, when handled deftly, are always welcome, at least in books and shows. I value, clever, witty writing, plotting, and good acting. I dislike gaping plot holes, trite, and predictable stories.

I like spending my time in the company of likable characters. Life is too short to put up with jerks, even in books and TV shows. Some unpleasant characters might be unavoidable as antagonists, but as long as I have pleasant characters to carry the story along, I’ll put up with a few rotten eggs. Some of the rotten eggs might even be redeemable.

I like stories that take their time in the telling. Stories that give me a chance to know the characters. I often find that good characters are usually more interesting that the story.

Plus I appreciate high production values – in sets, scenery, costumes, and cinematography.

These are the characteristics that I judge a show, or a book by. Right. On with the reviews.

The first two shows listed below served as my introduction to Chinese TV. They exhibit many of the chief characteristics of Chinese TV shows that I’ve observed over time.

These characteristics include intricate, 20 to 50 hour long, stories. They fall into the soap opera formula, featuring a number of plot threads woven into one long story. They’re in no rush, and will half a minute with nothing more than a character silently pondering his or her situation. Romance is a slow, slow burn. Plus, they are not afraid to make a mix of genres, with drama, action, romance and comedy alternating throughout the story. Another characteristic is that the male lead is of the strong, silent variety. He says very little. Heck, if he ever said what he was thinking, they could cut the number of episodes in half. On the downside, the stories may run a tad too long, and the endings are a bit over the top, at least to my tastes. And well, they have lame titles in translation.

Rather than summarizing the shows myself, I’ve included links that will take you to the wikapedia entry for all the TV shows I mention.

The Disguiser Image:

Rookie Agent Rouge (Netflix – not currently available) 45 episodes.
The Disguiser (Netflix – not currently available) 41 episodes.

Both of these shows stories of the Chinese resistance to the Japanese occupation of Shanghai and northern China in the late 1930’s to early 1940’s. Rookie Agent Rouge has a rather pulp story feel to it, while the Disguiser, based on a novel, portrays more of the political aspects of the situation. Both shows show the harsh, and often cruel, nature of this occupation, with torture being the fate of any enemy of Japan.

I enjoyed both of these shows, and I’d rate them 4 stars out of 5

The Rise of Phoenixes  Image:

The next two shows I watched were also historical dramas, but this time set in ancient China. A China that is probably more fantasy than historic. They are:

The Rise of Phoenixes (Netflix 70 episodes)
The Princess Weiyoung (Netflix 54 episodes)

The Princess Weiyoung  Image:

These shows set in the imperial court or surrounding palaces, and mostly involve court intrigues. Since Chinese emperors had not only a wife but many concubines, they had numerous of sons – all of whom, it seems, wanted to be the next emperor. And who don’t mind bumping off their step brothers to clear their path to the dragon throne. Since they had to conceal their actions from their father, their deadly schemes needed be elaborate, making for much of the drama and intrigue in these shows.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I enjoyed science fiction for its exotic locales, and these versions of ancient China, with their exotic costumes, customs, along with the occasional kung-fu movie style of action, they manage to create a very exotic setting for their stories. Heck, I enjoy seeing all the exotic costumes and interior designs of these shows offer the viewer.

The romantic leads in The Rise of Phoenixes, one is just dressed up like a man... Can you tell who?

I like my stories to be semi-realistic, without gaping plot holes. However, if I like a show, I’ll cut it some slack, as for example in The Rise of Phoenixes where the female lead does her hair differently, and dresses like a man (though there isn’t all that much difference) to pass herself off as a man. Realistically, this would only work in a kingdom of the blind. But it’s all in good fun.

I’d rate both these shows 4 stars out of 5 as well.

There are many more shows along these lines on Netflix, many of them pure Chinese fantasy, complete with supernatural beings, demons,gods, and all kinds of beings in between. I’ve sampled several, but most are too strange for me. I can, however recommend trying the one listed below.

The Legend of White Snake  Image:

The Legend of White Snake (Netflix 36 episodes)

It had some strange, supernatural elements, but it also had interesting and likable characters as well. Another 4 out of 5 show.

Leaving the past behind, we come to stories set in modern China, which, as I mentioned in previous post, is a very futuristic place, since many of its major cities have been largely built within the 21st century. With these contemporary shows I find it interesting to note the cultural differences and similarities between China and the West.

Many of these stories are set within the upper 1% of the Chinese society. You see a lot of wealth on display in these shows – mansions and luxury flats, expensive foreign cars, and high class restaurants. I may have missed some of the gritter shows, but still, for a communist country, they seem to like celebrating their wealth in their TV shows.

I also found the glimpse of college life and life in the dorms rather interesting as well. It is these little glimpses of real life that I find fascinating. From the shows Netflix serves up to me, there are a whole lot of Chinese YA and college age shows. I’ve sampled a few, but that’s not really my thing.

When a Snail Falls in Love  Image:

When a Snail Falls in Love (Netflix 16 episodes)

This show is part mystery, part police procedural, part adventure, and part romance. I enjoyed all the parts.
Again, 4 out of 5 stars.

Next, are the two soap opera style, romantic comedies that I and my wife have watched to their conclusions.

Well Intended Love   Image:

Well Intended Love (Netflix 20 episodes)

UPDATE: Well Intended Love has, of 15 April 2020 a "second season." Unlike most second seasons, this show has the same actors playing the same roles as in the first season, but is set two years later -- as if the first season doesn't exist. It essentially starts all over again with more or less the same premise; an aspiring actress agrees to marry, in the first season, and be the fiancee, of a very rich man in the second season. I've only watched two episodes, and I don't think it has the spark of the first season. I might well give it a miss this time around.
Put Your Head On My Shoulder (Netflix 24 episodes)

As I mentioned before, the male romantic lead is the strong, silent type which drags out the romance. My feeling is that these stories run a little too long. Well Intended Love had kind of a creepy premise, and a very over the top ending that seemed entirely out of place. I liked the characters, which is my first priority in a show. Put Your Head On My Shoulder is an example of a college romance story.

I’d give them, almost, 4 out of 5 stars, their run times and endings drag them down a bit.

Put Your Head on My Shoulder   Image;

But as I said, there are many more similar romance/comedy shows from China involving young people to choose from on Netflix.

One last show, that I’ve watched, but not to its end, is The King’s Avatar. If you are into computer games, you might be interested in this show as it concerns professional esports players and teams in China. It has “in game” play in the show, and lots of intrigues within and between the teams and such. I’m not into video games, but it does have the key ingredient that I like in a story – likable characters. If I run out of shows, I might continue on with it.

The King’s Avatar

The King's Avatar  Image: