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Not Quite Catching Up With Meteor Garden [ 2005.12.16 ]

Trend changes seasonally. Just as how plants bloom and wilt with the changing season, Taiwanese boyband F4 bloomed during the peak of Meteor Garden, is now wilted, with each going separate ways in their budding careers.

The sensational drama Meteor Garden that cast four nameless lads skyrocketed into stratospherical fame and popularity throughout Asia, making the boys some of the best paid artistes in Chinese pop industry.

So many other miracles had been reported alongside the success of the drama.

Newsweek magazine reported that the Meteor Garden fever swept South East Asia, piquing the interest in Chinese culture, language and even boys even though many countries in the region were known to be hostile towards anything Chinese.

It is hard to measure how many billions of dollars the drama has generated in the economy – from DVD sales to charged downloadable ring tone to pirated goodies.

Just as how Mulan is now Disney’s and no longer Chinese legendary folklore, to the eyes of the world Meteor Garden belongs to the Taiwanese, and not a work based on Japanese comic.

After a few years of sitting in silence, Japan – via media giant TBS – is finally screening their very own version of Meteor Garden, entitled Hana yori Dango, bringing together four of their best-looking young actors as F4.

One cannot deny that TBS holds an aspiration to make Hana yori Dango as successful as its Taiwanese counterpart.

However, TBS is treading on with multiple challenges in addition to the immense pressure to be even half as popular as Meteor Garden.

Just when TBS wanted to cast spotlight on its latest production, Rakuten announced its desire to merge with the station after acquiring around 19% of TBS’ shares.

The happening shook Japanese media and dominated not only the non-print media, but also the press.

The shock of TBS being forced into mergence has been stirring the mass media for two weeks. Everyone is still keeping an eye on the TBS’ shares movements in the market.

Apart from that, it also faces tough competition from Fuji TV’s Kiken na Aneki, featuring Misaki Ito.

Although the finale to the summer TV series highlight – Densha Otoko – has long been aired, Japanese audience still cling to the charm of Ito; putting Kiken na Aneki on the lead with a total ratings of 21.1%.

Hana yori Dango is not doing too badly on the ratings chart by securing 18.3% on its first week, placing it second in the TV series category.

Nevertheless, TBS is determined to run a good race.

Shouldering an original work that sold more than 4.5 million copies nationwide and the miraculous worldwide popularity of the Taiwanese version, fans’ reaction cannot be ignored.

To win the hearts of audiences, TBS pump in massive efforts in many areas; especially casting.

Jun Matsumoto and Shun Oguri as the more outstanding members of the TBS version of F4 is already a strong match on its own. One is awarded the Best Supporting Actor in 2002 and another, a fast rising celebrity.

On top of that, TBS managed to bring Japan’s most highly paid actress Nanako Matsushima into the production.

However, there are drawbacks to the dramatised Japanese version as the original story was published in the 80s.

While the drama is set in the 21st century, there appear obvious gaps in between the trend then and the trend now.

In contrast to Hana yori Dango, Meteor Garden received full right from the publisher to alter the original storyline to fit into the present culture to reflect the story in a current setting.

Apart from that, Meteor Garden was a revolutionary breakthrough in the Taiwanese TV industry after their tearjerkers boom lost popularity. It has since set the basic standards for Taiwanese TV series.

Japan, on the other hand, with its vast army of young starlets, is never lacking in dramas targeted at youth.

10 years ago they made Kindaichi Shonen Jikenbo.

7 years ago there was GTO.

Following that are Gokuzen, Kimi wa Petto, Black Jack ni Yoroshiku, and Ace wo Nerae! and many other more.

In spite of those enormous pressures, the producer expressed his desire to make Hana yori Dango the no.1 drama of the season.

It can be said to be the best in the season for TBS since it is the only one TV Guide magazines show interest in among other works released by TBS this season.

Yet, in comparison to the TV series of other channels, it would take a lot more effort than hoping for a surprised success as Meteor Garden.

3 months away from today, The Television TV guide would announce the best drama of the season. Until then, TBS cannot really sit still in their fight to make Hana yori Dango top.

By Alex Low

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