The original 2001 Meteor Garden was such a phenomenon in Malaysia I remember girls in my school even bought those tacky replicas of the meteor necklace famously adorned on leading lady Shan Cai’s neck.
The show opens with four guys (and let’s not forget their signature long, billowing mane) studying at a university for the affluent.
Led by the handsome but spoilt Dao Ming Si, the group – collectively known as F4 – walks the university grounds as if they own them, getting students expelled if they so much as step on their toes.
In walks Shan Cai, a strong-willed student who comes from a family of little means. She decides to stand up against Dao Ming Si’s antagonistic ways, which causes him to fall for her unexpectedly.
Meteor Garden (2018), a remake of the hit Taiwanese series, sticks closely to this storyline, even featuring the same iconic scenes and lines the show is known for.
Yet – and maybe this is the nostalgia talking – the remake is worlds apart from the original series that stole my heart.
First things first, I have issues with the way the female lead Shan Cai (played by Shen Yue) is written.
Yes, the character is meant to come across as brash and a little rough around the edges when she talks back at Dao Ming Si.
But there is a childishness in the 2018 Shan Cai’s rebuttals; talking back at someone because you’re angry and caught up in the heat of the moment and not because you’re standing up against an injustice, something the original Shan Cai, played by Barbie Hsu, embodied.
And it doesn’t help her dubbed-over voice is high-pitched and grating.
As the show progresses, Shan Cai’s constant wishy-washiness also gets on my nerves, which brings me to my next point.
Perhaps the reason the new Shan Cai is so undecided about how she feels about Dao Ming Si has to do with the length of the remake. There are 48 episodes! The original only had 27.
As such, the Shan Cai-Dao Ming Si love story gets dragged on and on, and unless there are plans to include the events of Meteor Garden II (the original show spawned a second season), it won’t be long before this cow is milked dry.
There are so many unnecessary scenes that should’ve been left on the chopping board, and not to mention the liberal use of slow-mo and replays.
Having said that, something good does come out of this lavish number of episodes. While staying true to the original storyline, Meteor Garden (2018) fleshes out its characters a lot more compared to the original.
For instance, instead of just zooming in on her dalliances, there is some focus on Shan Cai’s academic life (she majors in Nutrition).
Meanwhile, Dao Ming Si and the rest of F4 are experts in playing Bridge. These details seem inconsequential at first but gets worked into the storyline pretty nicely.
The remake also delves deeper in its supporting characters’ stories such as Shan Cai’s bestie Li Zhen and Dao Ming Si’s older sister Dao Ming Zhuang. The latter is especially entertaining.
Plus, there’s a new man vying for Shan Cai’s heart! These additions are substantial enough to make the remake worth watching.
Speaking of the men in Shan Cai’s life, the new Dao Ming Si, played by Dylan Wang, takes some getting used to at first, but he manages to capture the essence of the role and lend his own unique charm.
Elsewhere, production quality has improved leaps and bounds. The remake took RM95mil to make and it shows.
The set design, filming locations and wardrobe are all aesthetically-pleasing and expensive-looking, which reflects on many of its characters’ wealthy and powerful background. The original, due to budget constraints, wasn’t as convincing in portraying the lifestyle of the rich.
I was up in arms when I saw the first few episodes of Meteor Garden (2018) mainly because I felt Barbie Hsu’s interpretation of Shan Cai was the only way to go. Yet for some reason I stuck on and found myself hurrying home to catch a new episode.
I guess somewhere along the way, I was able let go of the old and embrace the new.
Meteor Garden (2018) is available on Netflix.