Taiwanese Drama Review: Love at Seventeen

Love @ Seventeen: Boy Chases Girl…Literally

Wow. This is one of the best dramas to come out of Taiwan in a long while. I watched every single episode and did not skip any scene, something I very rarely do with dramas. It could be because it was only 15 episodes, but 15 episodes was perfect. Any longer and it would have fallen prey to the reason so many other Taiwanese dramas fail: they’re just too long. I was initially interested in this drama because it paired one of my favorite TW actresses, Nikki Hsieh, with one of my favorite TW actors, Lego Li. Little did I know that this pairing would turn out to be so amazing! Before this drama, I thought Nikki Hsieh and Lego Li were good actors only sometimes. Now, I know that they really do have acting chops, and when put together, they excel at their jobs.

DISCLAIMER: Unlike what the description of this drama would have you believe, Love @ Seventeen is NOT a “Second Chance” drama. Ai Li Si NEVER goes back in time to her high school days to change things. And before that makes you not want to watch the drama, I promise that the drama is only better for it.

Ratings out of 10:

Acting: 9

Storyline/plot: 9

Plot Development: 8

Characters: 8.5

Music: 10

Ending: 7.5

 

ACTING AND CHARACTERS

Ai Li Si at 17                                                                                                   Ai Li Si at 30

Nikki Hsieh played the main character of this drama, Ai Li Si (or Alice). Ai Li Si’s character began as a cheerful, friendly, and righteous student who would do anything for her friends. I loved seeing how Nikki played this young role because I thought she really got into the character of a 17 year old, despite being in her 30s in real life.

Fast forward 13 years, and Ai Li Si has changed into an emotionless, apathetic shell of her former self. We find throughout the drama just why Ai Li Si has changed so much, but before everything is revealed, we do know that at 17 her best friends let her down, so she changed because of that. I identified with 30 year old Ai Li Si so much because I’ve been through the “just don’t care about anything, and you won’t get hurt” phase before. Nikki Hsieh played this role very well. Her eyes were perfect. They looked dead even when she was talking to the one person she trusted, Song Han Ming.

Then, we have Ai Li Si after surgery who loses her memories and can only remember up until the point she met He Hao Yi at 17. Nikki also did a fantastic job portraying a 30 year old with a 17 year old’s mind. And then it gets even better when Ai Li Si regains her memories and becomes confused. Nikki Hsieh tackles the difficulty of switching between her past 17 year old self, and her current 30 year old self easily and realistically.

Overall, Ai Li Si was a fantastically written character. High school is tough, and bullying can really change a person. Ai Li Si chose a defense mechanism that many other kids choose in coping with being betrayed by everyone she ever held dear, even though she would have given her life for any one of them: she just stopped getting close to people. She put up walls to keep everyone out, so they wouldn’t hurt her anymore. Rarely are we met with such a relatable character in any drama.

He Hao Yi at 17                                                                                               He Hao Yi at 30

Lego Li played another main character, He Hao Yi. His character also changed as he grew older and also as a result of his friends, namely Ai Li Si. His character as a 17 year old was pretty realistic too. He didn’t think much about how his actions would affect Ai Li Si, and only thought about his own broken heart (even though it was really only his imagination). Lego Li’s portrayal of 17 year old He Hao Yi was near perfection. Like Nikki, Lego got into his character right from the start and really had us believing that he could be 17 in  real life.

Lego Li needed a little more time to fully become comfortable with his 30 year old character, but once he did, his performance remains one of the most memorable in Taiwanese drama history. There are two times when his character loses his cool, collected demeanor and has a full-on meltdown. The first time happens when he figures out why Ai Li Si transferred schools 13 years ago. He goes on a rampage against those who hurt her in the past, but then realizes that he was also one of the reasons, and Lego Li really makes the audience feel how regretful he is that things turned out that way. The second break down happens when he realizes he has been chasing Ai Li Si for 13 years but still can’t catch up to her. He gets drunk in a bar and buys drinks for all the girls named Ai Li Si, which turns out to be all the girls in the bar because they want free drinks. The pain on his face and in his heart makes you want to cry, and the way he says, “So many Ai Li Si, but none of them is my Ai Li Si,” just makes your heart break for him because out of all the characters in this drama, he’s the only one who deserves Ai Li Si.

So, yeah. Lego Li has mad acting chops, and I can’t wait to see him improve even further in the future.

Song Han Ming at 17                                                                                     Song Han Ming at 30

Wang Jia Liang played the nerd turned hottie, Song Han Ming/Peter. I thought he did a solid job with both the 17 year old Song Han Ming and the 30 year old one. His character as a 30 year old started out really good, but I didn’t like how they kind of shoved him away in the end. I also didn’t like how he seemed to forgive Bai Shu Lei and get together with her. His character would have been more realistic had that not happened.

Bai Shu Lei at 17                                                                                               Bai Shu Lei at 30

Amanda Chou played the character Bai Shu Lei. Bai Shu Lei’s character was the most frustrating. Her character hardly changed from 17 to 30, and that wasn’t a good thing. At 17, she is self-centered, so much so that when Ai Li Si wouldn’t tell her SOMEONE ELSE’S SECRET, she makes it all about herself and shuns Ai Li Si.

At 30, Bai Shu Lei is much the same. She doesn’t think that what she did to Ai Li Si thirteen years prior was wrong, and she shows no remorse. She even seems to blame Ai Li Si for leaving without word, even though she had been ignoring Ai Li Si before then. Later on in the drama when everything is revealed, Bai Shu Lei repents and makes up with Ai Li Si. I would have liked if she and Ai Li Si hadn’t become friends again because, again, that would have been more realistic.

Amanda Chou did a good job with her character. It wasn’t a difficult role to play, so I can’t say whether she’s a good actress or not, but she never made me think she was a bad actress.

Liu Xiao Fen at 17                                                                                             Liu Xiao Fen at 30

Zheng Yin Sheng played He Hao Yi’s sister, Liu Xiao Fen. I thought she did an alright job with what she was given. Her character was annoying at 17 and was still annoying at 30. Xiao Fen was the character that changed the least out of all the main characters, but I think her character’s purpose as Bai Shu Lei’s most trusted friend was well served.

PLOT, PLOT DEVELOPMENT, AND ENDING

I loved the plot of this drama. Not only was it super romantic (since almost all of the drama revolves around the relationship between Ai Li Si and He Hao Yi), it also addressed some very real issues. Being bullied in high school is something that still happens everywhere, and it’s still something that causes kids to become depressed sometimes even to the point of suicide. Ai Li Si chose a different route and ran away from all her troubles and started anew at another school. Song Han Ming also chose a different route and started working out in order to be someone nobody looked down on ever again. The way each of them reacted to how they were bullied was realistic but also heartbreaking.

I also liked how the theme of the drama was “chasing.” The writers/director incorporated this theme both literally and figuratively. He Hao Yi literally chases Ai Li Si in many episodes of the drama, but while he is actually chasing her, he is figuratively chasing after her to love him. When it comes to the time that he realizes no matter how hard he tried, Ai Li Si will never be his, he gives up. Like anyone else would. Then it becomes Ai Li Si’s responsibility to chase after him, again, both literally and figuratively.

I like how the plot developed naturally, albeit some plot points were a bit cliched (brain injury and memory loss, I’m lookin’ at you). I also like how the relationship between Ai Li Si and He Hao Yi formed and shifted throughout the drama. They began crushing on each other in high school to never really letting go of their crushes as adults. Because He Hao Yi was so persistent and was determined not to let Ai Li Si go ever again, Ai Li Si couldn’t help but be moved by him even though she had programmed herself not to feel anything. Then, I liked how the drama shifted the roles between the two main characters. It would have been silly had He Hao Yi kept chasing after Ai Li Si even after she’d cruelly rejected him many times before, so when He Hao Yi gives up, and Ai Li Si realizes she can’t live without him, they made her the pursuer.

The one point of development I wasn’t so keen on was Song Han Ming’s relationship with Bai Shu Lei. As 30 year olds, he began his relationship with her as a means of revenge. He toyed with her feelings and made her believe he liked her. But when it’s revealed that he is only playing with her, she makes him feel bad for doing it. It would have been great had he just moved on after she found out, but he starts feeling bad, and their relationship blossoms into something else rather quickly even though he’s seemingly been in love with Ai Li Si since he was 17.  But, besides this one point of plot development, I thought the plot and everything else was great.

Also, what the heck happened between He Hao Yi’s father and his mother? Why were he and his sister separated? And why did the mother make no attempt to see He Hao Yi? I understand that the drama was about Ai Li Si, but still. They should have explained these things.

The ending got a lower score for me because some of it was stupid. They pulled a Boys Over Flowers hospital moment with Ai Li Si, and it just didn’t work. The very end, though, was cute, although I do think it could have been executed better.

MUSIC

The music was perfect. The soundtrack matched the scenes very well, and I didn’t feel as if any of it was out of place. There were also a few songs that made me want to cry, and those always played at the exact right moments.

Overall Score: 8.7

Rewatchability: 100%

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