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I just finished watching CTS’s Material Queen, which aired from June, 2011 to November, 2011. The drama starred a Hong Kong model, Lynn Xiong, as the titular Material Queen, Lin Chu Man. Vanness Wu played Cai Jia Hao, the hapless man who falls in love with her, only to realize that she cares more about material wealth than love. This drama is about her growth into a woman who can love freely, and who learns to sacrifice for that love.
The drama begins with a young girl being abandoned by her mother in front of an orphanage. The little girl clings for a moment, but her mother warns her not to follow her. The girl quickly gets used to this reality of being abandoned and turns away from her mother, who herself is surprised by how quickly the little girl lets go. The little girl grows up at the orphanage, and is one day cursed by a magician, who says that she will never be able to say the three words, “I love you,” unless she really means them. That little girl grows up to be Lin Chu Man.
Years later, Lin Chu Man is a well known model, in Paris for an assignment, when she meets the man she believes to be the heir to the Norman fortune, William Norman (Vanness Wu). Blowing off her assignments (which go to a younger, up and coming model named Sasha) and her old lover for the bigger catch, she beguiles and seduces William into falling in love with her.
Chu Man runs away with William for some private time, listens to him play the violin for her, and saves him from kidnappers. It is only as the story breaks out amongst the media, does Lin Chu Man realize that the man she thinks to be William Norman is actually Cai Jia Hao, a poor music student at the Paris conservatory. Because of the publicity, Chu Man becomes a laughing stock in Taiwanese society, and her rich lover dumps her. Chu Man values money over love, and ruthlessly breaks her connection to Cai Jia Hao. She cuts her losses and returns to Taiwan, not knowing that her lover has gotten back at the poor student by reporting him to his school. The Paris conservatory has a rule against its students working. Cai Jia Hao is expelled from school, along with the friend who got him the job, and has to return to Taiwan in shame.
Back in Taiwan, Chu Man is kicked out of her lover’s apartment and has to quickly find a place to live on with almost no money. Chu Man ends up renting a room at Chao Nan market. Chao Nan market is a downtrodden area, located smack dab in the middle of the most prosperous area of Taiwan. She finds that she has fallen out of favor with Taiwan’s fashion industry and high society. She finds it difficult to find a job or entree into the kind of parties she needs to attend to meet her next rich lover.
She rents the place from Cai Jia Hui, Jia Hao’s older sister, who has spent years saving, scrimping, and borrowing to send Jia Hao to Paris. Jia Hui and Jia Hao lost their parents at a young age, and were raised and helped by the different people at Chao Nan market, who have all become a family. The market is full of people that have high hopes for Jia Hao. When he returns, he is unable to tell this family that he was expelled. Rather than telling them the truth, he pretends to have graduated and goes out to find work, which is hard to do when he has no degree.
Chu Man and Jia Hao meet, and fall into an uneasy truce. When seeing how hard working Chu Man is, despite the worst conditions, and seeing the helpful and optimistic side of her, Jia Hao’s feelings reawaken, despite the fact that he believes her to be the reason he was expelled. Chu Man is very honest about her need to find a rich man, and warns Jia Hao to keep away from her. Chu Man comes into contact with Yan Kai Ming, a rich tycoon, eager to get his hands on Chao Nan market and change into something ritzy and glamorous. He falls under her spell, and takes her away from Chao Nan market, breaking Cai Jia Hao’s heart in the process.
Chu Man has gotten used to being with the people in Chao Nan, who treat her as family and take care of her. This is something that she has never experienced in her life. When she’s in her new apartment, and is ignored by Yan Kai Ming in favor of his business pursuits, she begins to realize that having a rich man is not all she hoped it to be. She comes to realize that she does want more than to be a rich man’s toy.
During this time, she encounters her mother, who she learns is now Sasha’s stepmother. When she approaches the woman, her mother indirectly warns her to stay away and that she never wants to see Chu Man again. Later that day, she finds out that this was all Yan Kai Ming’s doing, who warned her mother to stay away from Chu Man. He did this because Chu Man’s mother was a prostitute in the past, and, if that truth came out, it would hurt Yan Kai Ming’s image.
Chu Man is hurt by her mother’s rejection and Yan Kai Ming’s selfishness, but takes this as par for the course and dutifully lets Yan Kai Ming off the hook. Jia Hao witnesses this, and takes Chu Man away to help her overcome her grief at yet another rejection from her mother. Chu Man feels herself falling under Jia Hao’s spell, kisses him, and then tells him to stay away from her. When Yan Kai Ming finds out that there is still a connection between the two, he warns her to stay away from Jia Hao for his own good, not knowing the full extent of Chu Man’s betrayal.
Chu Man, afraid for Jia Hao’s safety now, breaks his heart by framing him for a robbery. Jia Hao loses his job because of her allegations. Yan Kai Ming, knowing that Chu Man has lost her heart to Jia Hao even before she does, lays a trap for Chu Man. When she fails his test, he ruins her career, her reputation and walks away. Jia Hao sees Chu Man in Master Eugene’s arms, a man that is Jia Hao’s idol, and loses his faith in her. He believes that she went to sleep with Eugene for Yan Kai Ming. On his way home, he runs into a mysterious benefactor, who offers him money to go back to France. He takes it, wanting to get away from the woman he has come to see as nothing good.
When Chu Man begs Jia Hao to understand that this was all in effort for his future, he chooses to think the worst of her and walks away, leaving her with the tatters of a career and an entire country thinking of her as a whore.
Two Years Later . . .
Lin Chu Man has fallen from grace. She is no longer invited to the best parties and does not get the best jobs. In fact, she has become a model on a third rate home shopping network channel. She is object of contempt for everyone she comes into contact with. Her sole support in all this time has been Peter, her old manager and her best friend. He lends her money, makes sure she eats, and was the one she turned to two years ago when she lost everything because of Cai Jia Hao again.
When Chu Man meets Cai Jia Hao again, she is happy, because now she believes that she will have the chance to explain everything that happened two years ago. She wants to tell him that she went to Eugene to ask him to take Jia Hao with him back to France. She tries to get close to him, by going to parties he will be at and going to his music video shoot.
Jia Hao refuses to listen. He is now known as Justin, Taiwan’s darling new violinist. When Chu Man apologizes, he thinks that she is only doing so because he is now famous and rich. He has become embittered by what he perceives to be the true face of Chu Man. He humiliates her at every turn and hurts her with his words. Despite all that, she remains optimistic, thinking that there couldn’t be this much hate unless there was hope for love. When his association with her begins to hurt Justin’s reputation, Chu Man ruins herself to make him look good in the world’s eyes.
When Jia Hao sees her sacrifice, he is touched, but still believing the things he does about the past, he proposes to his girlfriend, Lu Yi Xian on television. Chu Man is heartbroken, yet brave, when she faces Jia Hao for one final goodbye. She tells him she loves him. Congratulates him on his marriage. And tells him that she regrets nothing of what happened two years ago. She then walks away.
At her lowest, Chu Man contemplates suicide, but is interrupted by an older gentleman, Geng Tucky, who she believes to be committing suicide, as well. Chu Man saves his life, and then finds out that he is a rich tycoon. Geng Tucky invites her to stay in his home and become his personal assistant. Chu Man, having bounced back from the edge of the cliff she’d been standing on, happily agrees and begins to enjoy her new life.
Geng Tucky keeps her at his home, and teaches her to enjoy reading, to paint, exercise and plant vegetables. While Chu Man gets used to this lifestyle, she does miss her old life. Geng Tucky takes her out into the limelight, and Justin is shocked to see them together. When he reprimands her for dating such an old man, she tells him to mind his own business.
Around this time, Chu Man comes into contact with her mother once more. Finding out that her mother needs a liver transplant, Chu Man offers to donate a part of hers. Throughout all of this, Jia Hao is by her side, and we can see him softening toward her once more. When Geng Tucky comes back from a business trip, he pushes Jia Hao aside, and Jia Hao is jealous of their association. When Geng Tucky asks Chu Man to marry him, she says yes when she realizes that Jia Hao will never choose her. But on her wedding day, Chu Man realizes that she does not want to get married without love and that having just money will never be enough for her. She runs away.
Jia Hao realizes that he loves Chu Man, and cannot marry Yi Xian. He breaks the news to his fiance, who tells him the truth about what happened two years ago. He goes to Chu Man to confess his love, and Chu Man eventually forgives him for all the pain he has caused her.
While the two are reveling in their love, Geng Tucky makes plans to bring them down in revenge. He ends Chu Man’s showbiz career, and suspends Jia Hao from all musical activities. The two struggle to make ends meet, but take comfort in each others presence. When Chu Man has to auction off her brand name items for Jia Hao, he betrays his music so that Chu Man will suffer no longer. Chu Man is hurt by his lack of confidence in her, and faints from all of the stress she has been suffering and due to the results of her surgery.
Geng Tucky asks her once more to come back to him in the hospital. She refuses. One last attempt is made to bribe Jia Hao away, who also refuses. Instead Jia Hao proposes to Chu Man in front of Geng Tucky and Chu Man accepts.
At that point, Geng Tucky reveals his happiness. It seems that the old man was testing the two of them because of a promise he had made to his wife after her death two years ago. Now, the two of them could take comfort in the fact that they had chosen each other in love and would stay together regardless of the obstacles in their paths.
Chu Man and Jia Hao get married and live happily ever after.
Lynn Xiong did a superb job playing Lin Chu Man. Lin Chu Man was a woman that went from being materialistic, to confused about her feelings, to falling in love and sacrificing for love. She was optimistic and pessimistic in turn, and was innocent and somewhat dumb at times. Her quiet dignity when facing her mother’s cool rejection or facing Jia Hao for the last time (or so she thought) touched my heart. And Lynn Xiong was the one who ably portrayed all of Chu Man’s highs and lows. I have never heard of this actress and had high doubts that I would like the character when I started watching this drama, but the writing and Lynn Xiong’s portrayal of Chu Man made me pity her when she was struggling and admire her whenever she bounced back and decided to face life head on.
Vanness Wu’s portrayal of Cai Jia Hao was great as always. I had some doubts with that horrible hairstyle he came back with in the second half of the series, but despite that I could see the layers of Cai Jia Hao’s emotions through Vanness Wu’s acting. His desperate need to change Chu Man in the first half and to make her realize love was more important than money shone through clearly in the beginning. His anger and bitterness when he came back, his desire to hurt her as she had hurt him, his need to protect her when she was hurt and his inability to stop loving her no matter how hard he tried, were all visible at one time or another and captivated me when he was on the screen.
The drama had a good, tight story and never once did it stray from showing us Lin Chu Man’s growth from the shallow woman she used to be to the mature and loving woman she became. I liked this drama for showing us the story of the gold digger. Despite the fact that Chu Man loved money and slept with guys, she was the heroine of this drama. She used her body as a commodity, but she wasn’t the villain. Through the story, we got to see a young girl, who had been abandoned by her mother. We got to see her desperate hunger for wealth gradually melt away under the care and love of Cai Jia Hao and the Chao Nan people. We saw her go out on a limb to do something good for Cai Jia Hao, and, when she fell, she didn’t grow bitter. She worked at humiliating jobs, volunteered at the orphanage and at the beach, and waited faithfully for Jia Hao to come back. Even her descent into that turmoil, which lead her to suicidal thoughts, was believable and made my heart ache for her. I also loved that our heroine, for the first time, was kind of dumb and simplistic in her view of life. Despite all of her shortcomings, she never stopped working hard and was almost always optimistic. I admired her character for that, and I loved this drama because of the character of Lin Chu Man.
I also liked the relationship we saw between Lin Chu Man and Peter. How often do we see such closeness between characters of the opposite sex? I loved how supportive he was of her without asking for anything in return. I liked that Lu Yi Xian, Chu Man’s rival, wasn’t a b*tch. I liked that we even got to feel sympathy for the mother who abandoned our beloved heroine. And that the background characters, like Cai Jia Hui, Leo Ge, Ke Mai Lon, and Li Hai all had depth and their own little quirks. I liked that no one was painted with broad strokes, and that even Yan Kai Ming, our villain, did what he did out of love betrayed not just offended pride. This drama had characters with depth, and I cared about most of those that came on the screen.
I would highly recommend this drama and hope that those of you who haven’t watched it give it a chance.