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I recently finished watching a Taiwanese drama called Skip Beat also known as Extravagant Challenge. The drama aired on GTV from December, 2011 to April, 2012 and was 15 episodes long. It starred Ivy Chen as Gong Xi, the heroine of the drama. The main male character was Dun He Lian, played by Choi Si Won, a Korean actor and singer. Bu Po Shang was the second male lead character, played by Lee Dong Hae, another Korean singer. Bianca Bai played Jiang Nan Qin, Gong Xi’s rival and subsequent best friend. The Taiwanese drama is based on a long-running Japanese manga of the same name. The manga itself has reached 30 volumes in Japan with no end in sight.
In Skip Beat, we have Gong Xi, who works herself ragged at three jobs to pay for an expensive condo that she invites no one to. She has barely any friends, but is a huge fan of Bu Po Shang, a singer that has recently begun to get popular. When Gong Xi goes home, we find that she has a very big secret. She is in fact living with Bu Po Shang, who is an old friend and someone that Gong Xi considers her boyfriend. Despite how rude and irritated he gets with her, Gong Xi ignores his temper tantrums and entices him with his favorite dessert so that he would spend a little extra time with her. Gong Xi willingly spends all of her funds on Bu Po Shang, forgoing things like makeup and other girly things so that he can be happy and live in comfort. Gong Xi also cheers him on when he loses to Dun He Lian, a bigger celebrity than him. Despite the fact that Bu Po Shang hides her from the public eye and refuses to go anywhere with her, Gong Xi has an unrealistically sunny outlook about their relationship.
Gong Xi and Bu Po Shang grew up in a small village, where Bu Po Shang’s parents ran a Japanese inn. Bu Po Shang was the only child, and was expected to take over once his parents retired. Gong Xi was taken in by Bu Po Shang’s parents when her own mother abandoned her, and she has followed Bu Po Shang ever since. To make a place for herself in that Japanese inn, Gong Xi happily learned from Bu Po Shang’s mother about how to be a hostess and take care of guests. When Bu Po Shang decides to escape the shackles of his life in that small town, he brings Gong Xi along with him. She gives up her education and leaves the only home that she has ever known without a second thought to care for and support Bu Po Shang in the big city.
One day, Gong Xi overhears Bu Po Shang flirting with his manager, who is a beauty, and telling her that he would never fall for someone like Gong Xi, and that he is only using her to pay for all of his living expenses while he works on his career. Gong Xi is heartbroken and tries to attack him. Bu Po Shang only laughs and has her thrown out, telling her that he is out of her reach. The only way she can get at him is if she becomes a bigger star than him. At the beginning of the drama, we were told about a chest that is locked inside every human being. It has all of the darkness and hate that a person is capable of. When Gong Xi learns of Bu Po Shang’s duplicity, that chest inside of her opens and out come her little devils. She is filled with anger and vows to get revenge on Bu Po Shang. In order to do that, she decides to join LME, the biggest agency out there and to become a big star.
Gong Xi scares/stalks Executive Zhen of LME into letting her participate in an open audition. In her pursuit of this opportunity, we can see that Gong Xi suffers from her moments of darkness, where those dark spirits overtake her and she lets all of her anger and bitterness out. While trying to persuade the LME executive, she comes across Dun He Lian, who is also managed by LME. When He Lian finds out why Gong Xi is trying to be an actress, he kicks her out of the building. Gong Xi returns and gets her chance to audition. But her anger and lack of trust in love come through and she fails her audition.
Gong Xi is given another chance by the company’s president, President Lory, to join the Love Me Section of LME. If she gets enough points in assisting the company’s employees, she will be given a chance to debut. In her attempts to get these points, we begin to see another side of Gong Xi. Gong Xi has hidden acting talents that come to the forefront while she is helping someone or egging someone on when they get to be too much. When Gong Xi acts as a Japanese hostess at a tea ceremony or on stage to talk to President Lory’s granddaughter, she uses her darkness and her past in order to successfully complete these tasks. Gong Xi get a job as the Bawk Bawk Chicken, who strikes up a friendship with He Lian, when he is struggling to understand something. She gets to work in a commercial with Jiang Nan Qin, who has now become her friend. Finally, she gets a chance to work with Bu Po Shang on a music video and takes that opportunity to ruin it. While she pretends to be someone else, Bu Po Shang manipulates her into revealing herself, but he lets her stay on to do her worst.
While we have been getting glimpses throughout of Gong Xi’s innate ability to act, it is here, when she becomes the angel transforming into a demon, that we see how good of an actor she can become. Gong Xi amazes everyone on set, and leaves Bu Po Shang quite shocked by her beauty and her ability. He begins to wonder at what he has let go. We also get to see a bit more into Bu Po Shang’s and Gong Xi’s relationship. While up until now, Shang has been portrayed as a selfish and self-involved user, we see that he can be affected by Gong Xi’s tears. Whenever she begins to cry, now and in the past, he becomes paralyzed and unable to move. When Gong Xi reveals that she knew that and would disappear to cry away from him, he almost seems angered that she made that decision for him.
When He Lian discovers that Gong Xi was in a music video with Shang, he is angered. Gong Xi assures him that it was not for revenge, but he remains angry. Only the audience knows that he is jealous of Gong Xi’s relationship with Bu Po Shang. During the course of Gong Xi gaining these career opportunities and also getting to go to college, we discover that she also had a relationship with He Lian when they were younger. She knew him as Corn, a blonde teenager that come to the little creek where she came to cry. He comforted her through many bouts of grief, and she took care of him when he was sick. When he had to leave, he gave her a purple stone, promising her the stone would take her pain away. Gong Xi has clung to that stone, which she calls Corn, to this day. He Lian sees that stone, confirms that Gong Xi used to live in that little village, and realizes that this is the tearful little girl he became close to so many years ago. Because of this, his attitude softens towards her a bit, as well.
Gong Xi is then picked for a drama, and uses her abilities and He Lian’s assistance in portraying character that she has to play. She is able to assist He Lian in finding the correct way to portray his character, as Gong Xi and as the Bawk Bawk chicken. While working with him on the drama, she sees him pulling away from her, while grappling with his feelings for her. She is hurt by his distance, but does not know why that is so.
Gong Xi has moved on from Shang, who is only now realizing that he wants Gong Xi. While Shang is vowing to come back for Gong Xi, she is absorbed in He Lian. She follows him to her small village, where he has gone to film, and realizes at the moment when she dreams of him kissing her, that she has fallen for him. The two promise to work hard at their acting, and the drama ends.
The drama left a lot of threads untied. This is a problem that I have with any drama that is based on an unfinished manga, especially Taiwanese dramas. When these dramas are following a manga, they follow it to a T, never diverging and never adding anything of their own. Because they follow the exact storyline of the manga, which is now spread out over 30 volumes, there is no way they can delve into everything and the productions chooses not to move things around and make sense of everything! And that frustrates me. I doubt that we will get a second season of Skip Beat, and there will be no closure. We never get that confession from He Lian to Gong Xi of his feelings, or of hers to him. We never get that revelation that He Lian knew Gong Xi when they were young, and that he gave her Corn. We never see Shang fighting for Gong Xi or her turning him down. I understand that the manga isn’t complete, but the viewers deserved an ending to a show that they had watched over 15 weeks! Despite all of that, what we did get made me happy enough to know that I would tune in if they ever decided to do a second season.
When I started the drama, Ivy Chen’s Gong Xi grated on my nerves. She was shrill, unlikable and overacted. Rather than having any sympathy for her, I wanted to tell her to shut up and move on. As the story progressed, and I forced myself to stick to it, it improved. He Lian’s entry and Gong Xi’s darkness and hidden abilities, which were only now getting the chance to come out, made the drama more palatable. Also, when each of the characters became more complex, I began to fall in love with the drama itself. Ivy Chen’s portrayal of Gong Xi ultimately made me like the character. And I loved her chemistry with Choi Si Won, despite the fact that her character knew nothing of He Lian’s feelings.
While I don’t know how a native speaker would grade Choi Si Won’s and Lee Dong Hae’s acting, they were good in my eyes. I especially liked how Choi Si Won was able to portray He Lian’s uncertainties, vulnerabilities and principles. Ultimately, when he fell in love with Gong Xi, you could see that emotion in Si Won’s eyes. Lee Dong Hae’s Shang didn’t get enough room to develop like Ivy’s Gong Xi or Si Won’s He Lian, but he was able to portray the spoiled brat ably.
I would recommend this drama as a watchable one, but with the warning that it might be hard to forge through the first couple of episodes. Give it a try. 🙂