-- Meteor Garden: "Sons of the Rise" Article -----------------------

Sons of the Rise
By Clara Chow, The Straight Times Interactive - July 7, 2001

TAIWANESE J-DRAMA, Sons of the rise "Meteor Garden, the popular manga-based drama serial, will be making its debut tomorrow on SCV"

By Clara Chow

JAPANESE drama is big business in Asia these days.

With eye-candy casts, sentimental storylines and catchy theme songs, Japanese romantic serials appeal to audiences looking for an alternative to Hollywood.

Stargazing with the cast of Meteor Garden.

J-drama - as it is commonly known - has proved so popular, there are more of such serials shown on local television these days. VCD stores too have been doing brisk business in boxed sets of Japanese serials like Overtime.

It is no surprise then that J-drama has spawned copycat efforts. Korea has drama serials which take a leaf from their Japanese counterparts.

And now, Taiwan is following suit. Its first comic or manga-based drama series has proved massively successful.

Produced by Tsai Chi-Ping - the guy responsible for variety show Super Sunday - Chinese Television System's (CTS) Meteor Garden was originally envisaged as an 18-parter.

But the reception the debut episode received in Taiwan on April 5, convinced its producers to make the series a 24-parter.

Meteor Garden is based on the popular manga, Hana Yori Dango (literally The Boys More Than Flowers), by Kamio Youko. Hana Yori Dango has been running in a bi-weekly manga magazine called Margaret since 1992, and has enjoyed a steady following.

Meteor Garden, like the manga, is set in a school for affluent students. When a new spirited girl enters the campus, the four most popular and affluent boys in school soon develop a love-hate relationship with her.

The drama series has shot to the top of the ratings table there. It raked in 6.84 viewership points out of a sample population of 20,734,000 two weeks ago (28 June 2001), compared to 5.94 points for its closest contender.

Attracted by the top ratings, Singapore Cable Vision snapped up Meteor Garden for its revamped Channel 56, VV Entertainment.

Starting tomorrow at 8 pm, VV Entertainment will air Meteor Garden and unleash the fabulous foursome on Singapore viewers.

Blame it on the bishonen('beautiful boy') phenomenon - shows featuring doll-like male leads which are targetted at women audiences.

The producers spent April, May and June casting newcomers for the role of the F4 (meaning The Flower Four), which refers to four affluent 'boys who are as pretty as flowers'.

The extensive search paid off. The newly-discovered leads - namely Jerry Yen Cheng-hsu, Vic Zhou, Vanness Wu and Ken Zhu - have shot to teen-idol status in Taiwan already.

Barely a month after Meteor Garden started airing there, fans' websites have sprung up.

Jerry Yen and Vic Zhou have already set gossip mags afire with alleged romance involving well-known talk-show personalities Matilda Tao and their co-star Hsu Hsi-huan's younger sister, Hsu Hsi-ti respectively (see infobox).

Record companies and advertisers have been knocking on the actors' doors: Vanness Wu has since signed a lucrative deal with a company hawking MP3 music as its spokesman in late-May.

A sure sign that the Meteor lads' have hit the big-time is when imposters pop up on the Internet.

In May, persons claiming to be Jerry or Vic began chatting with female users on CTV's webchat. The company quickly cautioned fans to guard against these imposters.

Made for a mere NT$700,000 (S$37,500), Meteor Garden has reaped profits and is now a merchandising dream come true.

Its theme songs have been selling so well that record company EMI is preparing to release, on an undisclosed date, the Meteor Garden Original Soundtrack, with songs sung by the F4.

And even before the show has completed its run on television, CTS has already released VCDs of the earlier episodes.

But will Singaporean viewers take to the show?

"We think it will appeal to audiences aged between 16 to 30," says Ms Tan Bee Hong, senior executive of programming for SCV.

The anime of Hana Yori Dango was aired on VV Entertainment last year, and was "well received".

Still, there are some inherent features of J-drama which may have been lost in the Taiwanese adaptation.

Ms Sam I-Shan, 23, an English Literature student and a keen J-drama viewer, feels that "a lot of these J-drama imitations are merely cosmetically similar".

She cites the series As You Like It which starred Ix Shen and Lynn Poh.

Modelled on the Japanese series, Beach Boys (which aired here in 1999), it failed to replicate the original's success.

"For example, the compact, 11- to 13-episode format of J-drama is a distinguishing feature, which is not kept to in these serials."

Mr Eugene Awyong, 23, a systems analyst, believes that the success of the show hinges on how good-looking the cast is.

"I don't think Taiwanese actors are as good-looking as the Japanese ones."

Disagree? Read on for our interview conducted via phone on Wednesday - with the rising stars.

Meteor Garden debuts tomorrow on VV Entertainment (SCV Channel 56) at 8 pm.


Let's hear it from the boys...

JERRY YEN CHENG-HSU (Tsukasa Doumyouji)

Age: 23

Dead-ringer For: Takuya Kimura

Family: Raised by his mother.

Path to fame: Was a part-time model in his student days. Gained attention after he won Taiwanese magazine Men's Uno model competition in 1998. Starred in many commercials before he was hand-picked for The Meteor Garden. Will star in a new film with Leon Lai soon.

Plays...: Dao Ming Si, leader of the F4. Wealthy, obnoxious and a bully. Real/reel similarity: 'I'm rather bad-tempered like him. When it comes to love, we are also similar. When I like someone, I am direct about revealing how I feel.

Most Memorable Scene: A kissing scene with Hsu Hsi-huan which took many takes, some lasting 20 minutes. "I was very nervous! But after a few tries, it got better. But I made sure not to touch her more intimately than necessary, so people won't say we were playing for real."

First Brush with Tabloids: Scribes alleged amorous intent when talk-show host Matilda Tao gave him a diamond necklace early this month in return for a pen he gave her.

From the Horse's Mouth: "I fell down after filming and Tao Zi (as Tao is known) was very concerned about me. She came to the set to give me a massage. I call her (Tao) 'sister'."


VIC ZHOU YU-MIN (Rui Hanazawa)

Age: 20

Dead-ringer For: Hongkong singer-actor Daniel Chan

Path to fame: A mechanical engineering student at a Taiwanese technical institute, Zhou accompanied a friend to audition for a role in the show a few months ago, but was discovered by the producer instead.

Plays: Hua Zhe Lei, the free-spirited and contemplative member of the F4.

Real/Reel Similarity: 'When the show became popular, I became even more reclusive like him! I'm afraid of the press spotting me if I go out in ratty clothes, so I simply refuse to go out much anymore.

Most Memorable Scene: His eyelid once got caught between Hsu's bra clasp in a hugging scene. "Before that, there were a lot of NG (no good) scenes, so I just endured the pain until the director shouted 'Cut'! When I told Hsu, she just laughed and hit me playfully."

Preferred Girlfriend: He's had a crush on Hsu Hsi-ti (Small S), his co-star's sister. "She's very bubbly and open," he says.

Future Plans: "I just want to act well and not think too far into the future." He also wants to continue with his studies.


KEN ZHU (Soujirou Nishikado)

Age: 22

Family: Born in Taiwan, but was raised in Singapore by a guardian. In the eight years he lived here, he attended Bukit Merah Primary and Boon Lay Secondary. "I consider myself a Singaporean. I miss the food and shopping." He's also excited that the show is being aired here, "so I can remind my Singaporean friends to watch".

Path to Fame: Was discovered while working as a captain in a Japanese BBQ restaurant earlier this year. This pretty boy is also a good cook who likes to whip up "simple dishes".

Life After Fame: "Tired lor."

Plays...: Xi Men, the playboy. In the show, the F4 frequently have to fend off disgruntled men who have had their girlfriends pinched by him.

Real/Reel Similarity: Zhu is a diehard romantic. He reveals that his first love, in Secondary 3, had been a girl from Thomson Secondary named Lin Xin Yu, a "cute Malaysian girl, a friend of my sister's. It ended when she went to Australia for further studies in 1996".


VANNESS WU (Akira Mimasaka)

His moniker is a road name in hometown Los Angeles. "My Dad chose it because he thought it sounded nice."

Age: 22

Family: American-born Chinese. "Growing up was hard; my parents are separated." But his family still enjoys "close, good relations. While filming, I missed home terribly and wanted to give up, but my family dissuaded me".

Path to Fame: When he was 13, he started practising dance moves with ex-ABC boyband, The L.A. Boyz. He wanted to make a record last September, but it fell through. His sister, Stacy Wu Jia Jia, cut an album in 1995 with the group Babes.

"I've always been interested in acting. So I came to Taiwan to be a part of the entertainment scene." He joined Super Sunday's YMCA segment, a male talent contest-cum-pageant. He was spotted by the series' producers, who asked him to audition.

Plays...: Sly and playful Mei Zhuo. "He's a sunshine boy, happy-go-lucky and spur of the moment."


Hsu on 'The Flower 4' (Big S as Tsukushi Makino)

SHE'S the only woman in a serial with four hot-blooded men. How does Hsu Hsi-Huan cope?

In between filming The Meteor Garden, she fumes jokingly over the phone that her co-stars have yet to make a move on her. "I am puzzled. After all, my qualities are quite good. If they did, I'd definitely accept them because they're all so cute!"

Never mind that at 24, she is older than them.

Hsu, who says she is very much like her Meteor Garden character, San Cai ("I'm famous in Taiwan for being straightforward.") pre-empts any questions from the press about reel-to-real romance among the cast.

"Vic Zhou and I get along very well. I've even made him my god-brother. We talk to each other in incomplete, incoherent sentences, so people over-hearing us often think we're crazy."

She once told him to brush his teeth, gargle and chew gum before shooting their kissing scene, and was amused to see him following her instructions to the letter.

Of Jerry Yen she says: "Jerry and I share some daring love scenes. My mother said she was embarrassed to watch them.

Sometimes we get bored with kissing take after take so we'd start to fool around - he bit my nose once and the whole thing disintegrated into a joke."

She had known Wu before the serial and felt comfortable with him - another fact that Taiwan's tabloids pounced on.

And what does she have to say about Zhu? "He likes to read."

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