As Night Market Life comes to an end, fans want villain Jin Dafeng to get just deserts

PHOTO: MEDIACORP CHANNEL 8

Fans of the 1,008-episode Taiwanese series say they are waiting to find out if the villain gets his just deserts

After long-running Taiwanese series Night Market Life airs its finale next Saturday, the Lim family can finally dine out on weekends.

Loyal follower Carol Lim, 42, says: "I seldom cook, but I make it a point to do so on weekends so that we can stay home to watch the show. We have dinner while watching."

Her daughters, aged 15 and 13, tune in to the 1,008-episode show too. If Mrs Lim had to go out on weekend evenings, she would record the episodes.

A fixture on Channel 8's weekend primetime belt, Night Market Life took over hit long-form Taiwanese series Love in February 2011. It airs from 7 to 9pm on Saturdays and 7 to 10pm on Sundays.

Another Taiwanese long-form series, Lee's Family Reunion, will take over Night Market Life's time slot next Sunday.

Taiwanese long-form dramas are popular among Singapore viewers.

Night Market Life, which aired in Taiwan from 2009 to 2011, has an average reach of 949,000 viewers to date. Love attracted an average of 897,000 viewers in 2010 and 796,000 viewers in 2011.

"The characters are either very good-natured or extremely evil. You feel vindicated when good triumphs over evil."

Ms Tan Liling, 28, a loyal follower of Night Market Life

The popularity of both dramas has also fuelled demand for fan meets and concerts.

Concert organiser Biz Trends Media has held five Night Market Life themed concerts over the past two years, where cast members such as Fang Xin (she plays the rebellious Li Youhui) and Lee Zheng-ying (he plays resident villain Jin Dafeng) serenade the audience with songs and perform skits at the shows.

The audience members are typically aged 40 and older.

Mrs Lim, a department head at a multi-national company, will be seated in the front row at this Sunday's Night Market Life Finale concert, which has sold out 95 per cent of the tickets.

"I've attended almost every Night Market Life concert. The audience will scream the actors' character names. Actually, I can't remember their real names," she says. Her husband and daughters will be attending the concert with her.

Nostalgia may set in once the series ends, but fans say they are looking forward to some closure to the epic series. For one thing, they are itching to find out if Jin Dafeng, whose crimes include alledged murder and hatching unscrupulous get-rich schemes, will get his just deserts.

Ms Winnie Nai, 42, an administrative executive, notes: "It's starting to get draggy. I just want to know whether Jin Dafeng will get punished. He's a totally bad guy, he will do anything to get money and power."

Such distinct good and evil characters make the drama appealing to the masses, says Mr Paul Chan, MediaCorp's vice-president of branding and promotions, family.

Viewer Tan Liling, 28, who works in the healthcare industry, concurs: "The characters are either very good-natured or extremely evil. You feel vindicated when good triumphs over evil."

Another appeal of long-form dramas is that the sheer length allows the characters to grow and become part of the viewers' lives, Mr Chan adds.

As its title suggests, Night Market Life's story grew out of a community in a Taiwanese night market.

The plot starts from the childhood days of Jin and his friends and viewers follow them into adulthood.

As the series progresses, a complex web of subplots is woven - relationships sour and revenge plots are hatched.

During a 45-minute telephone interview, retiree Karen Seng, 64, rattles off character names and their relations, and condemns the villains' evil-doings.

The long-time viewer of Taiwanese dramas such as Love and Parents' Love notes that the trademark of Taiwanese long-form dramas is the complex relations.

"The characters are all out to get one another. I'm amazed at how the scriptwriter can come up with so many ways in which people get harmed."

Though she reckons that Taiwanese soap operas typically attract a more mature crowd, there is a handful of young professionals who tune in.

Ms Sharon Yan, 30, an administrative assistant, says: "As long as I am at home, I will watch the show with my parents."

She also wants "to see what happens to Dafeng in the end".

Ms Tan offers a different perspective of the show's appeal. Though well aware of the absurdity of some of the scenes, she says it is part of the fun of watching.

She points out, for instance, how delayed medical treatment actually killed one of the characters. In one long-drawn scene, a female character is stabbed, but instead of sending her to the hospital, the characters launch into an emotional conversation and even have time to take a family photo. It's no wonder that she died, Ms Tan says.

But, she adds: "These dramas are so nonsensical that they provide an escape from reality. We just laugh and scold the bad guys as we watch."

nggwen@sph.com.sg

Catch Night Market Life on Channel 8 on weekends at 7pm. The finale airs next Saturday.


As dramatic as it gets: Memorable scenes

  • Night market catfight

In the first episode, night market vendor Cai Yuexia (Chen Mei-feng) takes on her husband's mistress He Nana (Chang Chiung-tzu).

The messy scuffle had only about three minutes of airtime, but it took three days to film.

Chen recalls: "The director felt we were not fierce enough. He told us to grab and smash whatever we saw. There was only ketchup and soya sauce on the table, so we ended up splashing them on each other.

"Because we filmed for three days, we could not wash our clothes to ensure costume continuity. Our clothes really smelled."

  • Blinded by love

Childhood sweethearts Li Youhui (Fang Xin) and Jin Dafeng (Lee Zheng-ying) turn against each other.

In a memorable scene for both actors, Li seduces Jin before striking him with a glass bottle, which blinds him in the right eye.

To get into the mood and "calm themselves down", Fang reveals that she and Lee downed a little alcohol before shooting the scene.

Jin eventually regains his eyesight. "Thanks to foreign mysterious forces," Lee says in jest.

  • Death at a wedding

Till death do us part. Unfortunately for ill-fated couple Li Youzhi (Wang Shixian) and his bride Pan Kexin (Chiang Tsu-ping), that marriage vow takes effect on their wedding day. Pan gets stabbed trying to protect Youzhi's sister Youhui from the villain Jin.

Viewer Winnie Nai, 42, administrative executive, says in exasperation: "Kexin died in her wedding gown. Kexin and Youzhi went through a lot before they could get married. They could have lived happily and have kids. The bad guy Jin Dafeng destroyed everything."

  • Flying character

Taiwanese primetime dramas are known for their short turnaround time before broadcast. The tight schedule coupled with a fatigued video editor resulted in a blunder that had audiences in stitches and netizens churning out parodies.

Star-crossed lovers Michael Jin (James Chen) and Jiang Yifan (Ye Jia-yu) are on the run as their family members chase them. Michael is hit by a lorry, and here's where the blooper occurs - he suddenly acquires supernatural powers and is thrown backwards into the air with arms flailing.

Looks like the editor forgot to snip the stuntman's rebound. But hey, we had a good laugh.

  • Explosive orange squashing

It's all about the drama and even fruit props are not spared. A jealous Jin Jufu (Lei Hung) is incensed that his wife Fang Qiaqia (Cheng Chung-yin) is smitten with another man. Improvising on the spot and shocking crew members, Lei, in an attempt to show his character's anger, squashes an orange till its juice spurts in all directions. His newly discovered talent earned him spots on Taiwanese variety shows to squash all kinds of fruits - from apples to, yikes, durians.


Hottie who plays baddie

He may play the ultimate baddie in Night Market Life, but in real life, Taiwanese actor Lee Zheng-ying is a heart-throb who inspires crazy fangirl antics.

The 39-year-old looker, who plays Jin Dafeng, recounts at an interview in Taiwan how he unwrapped a gift from an auntie fan to find a mobile phone within.

He says: "The fan kept calling the phone, but I didn't dare to pick up."

Once, the same fan even tried to enter his hotel room by posing as his girlfriend.

The 1.8m-tall bachelor, who has a toned bod, says: "I was afraid that she would do something more extreme and lose control of herself."

The prince of Taiwanese soap operas has also played an upright prosecutor in ongoing legal thriller Justice Heroes and a heartbreaker in A Place Called Home (2008 - 2009).

Despite amassing a loyal following from Taiwanese soaps, he is game for a change. He starred as a dapper rocker in idol drama Rock N' Road last year.

The role got netizens raving at how the actor has successfully shed his "old-fashioned" image associated with starring in soap operas.

Still, Lee, who will be in Singapore for the Night Market Finale Concert at Resorts World Theatre on Sunday, is hesitant to call the move an upgrade. What matters more to him is the substance of the role.

"Even if you are in a Hollywood production, it does not mean anything if it's a small, negligible role," he says.

Despite his acting success, he has not forgotten his directing ambitions. The film directing major from the Columbia College Hollywood in Los Angeles started out doing video-editing before he was talent-scouted to be an actor.

Hoping to shoot a mafia flick such as the American classic series The Godfather one day, Lee says: "Eventually, I want to cut back on acting and go behind the scenes.

"My idols are Lee Ang - he is the pride of Taiwan - and Steven Spielberg, who tells a story using the mise-en-scene instead of relying on dialogue or exposition."


Villain who wants to be good

Taiwanese actor Wang Can, 40, is a reluctant villain in Taiwanese soap operas. Mention his antagonist roles – he abandons his childhood sweetheart for a rich man’s daughter in Night Market Life (2009 - 2011) and is an abusive husband in A Place Called Home (2008 - 2009) – and the amiable actor cringes.

“Aunties who see me on the streets will run over and tap me on my arms and say to me, ‘Why are you so evil, young man? You should be good to women’,” Wang says. “I’m worried that my characters may set a bad example and people may follow suit in real life. It’s an internal struggle for me.”

The civic-minded actor filmed an antiviolence commercial during the period A Place Called Home was aired in Taiwan. He has also made it a point to give feedback about his villain characters to the production team.

“He may start off as a bad guy, but at the end of the day, he should reflect on his mistakes and return to the right path. This will send a positive message to society,” he says.

His wish came true in Night Market Life when the mercenary doctor he plays, Xu Laifa, repents after discovering he has brain cancer.

Coming across as down-to-earth during a face-to-face interview in Taipei, Wang says wistfully that he would have liked to play the righteous Li Youzhi (Wang Shixian).

“Youzhi is an optimist, a sunshine guy who gives off positive vibes. That is more like my personality in real life. I haven’t had the chance for the audience to know the real me through a character.”

Why then is he always cast as the bad guy? He has heard the management folks in television say his appearance and acting chops make him look kind yet conniving.

He says: “I keep praying that there will be another actor who can play a villain. But at the same time, I’m also worried that I may be replaced and my place in television may not be secure.”


Beautiful auntie who had it rough like her character 

Often called Taiwan’s most beautiful auntie, Chen Mei-feng, 58, waltzed into the W Taipei Hotel room filled with waiting media with an assistant and her pet Yorkshire dog in tow.

It may be all glitz and glamour for the A-list TV actress now, but during this interview, she reveals a pitiful childhood.

Coming from a poor background, the foster child had to help out at the family’s noodle stall. That is why she can identify with the hard-knock life of the ill-fated hawker Cai Yuexia whom she portrays in Night Market Life.

“I can go through hardship and I’m not afraid of hard work. Similarly, Yuexia is a strong and independent woman,” says Chen, who gives back to society by selling her clothes to raise funds for poor children.

Chen is the Taiwanese equivalent of Singapore’s TV queen Zoe Tay. She is the leading lady of choice for Taiwanese dramas such as Love (2006 - 2008) and has been helming her own cooking show, A Date With Mei Feng, for more than a decade.

She will be making her Singapore television debut in the upcoming MediaCorp drama, The Dream Makers 2.

There is more to Chen’s reel life that is reflected in her real life.

Her feisty Night Market Life character walks out of an unhappy marriage after being confronted by her husband’s mistress. She ends up raising her children on her own.

Chen says: “She gave the best time of her youth to her husband, but he couldn't resist temptation and had an affair. Many women out there have this bad experience.”

Chen herself has been embroiled in a messy divorce lawsuit over the past two years. Her United Statesbased husband David Hsu reportedly cheated on her, despite her financially supporting him and her stepchildren. They have no children of their own.

Chen has not let the ongoing spat get her down.

She says: “Things are getting clearer and it’s a matter of time that the issue is resolved.

“I’ve learnt what kind of man is more suitable for me. I haven’t lost my confidence in love. For as long as I live, I won’t give up on finding love.”


Damsel who wants to get nasty

Meeting Taiwanese actress Fang Xin in the flesh, one can see why she was often cast as the long-suffering woman or the damsel in distress in Taiwanese soap operas.

The fair-skinned beauty speaks gently and flashes her sweet smile constantly during her interview with Life!.

Her character in A Place Called Home (2008-2009) is bullied after marrying into a wealthy family, and in Love (2006-2008), her pregnant character gets dumped by her heartless lover, only to have him return to snatch their son.

So when she snagged the role of rebellious lass Li Youhui in Night Market Life (2009 - 2011), Fang, 42, was stoked.

With a glint in her eye, she says: “I usually play goody-two-shoes characters. Li Youhui was the first time I played someone who was so flawed.

“I enjoyed the role because it contrasts with my own personality. I could be so different from myself in the drama and get to do things I usually would not do in real life.”

  • Book it

  • NIGHT MARKET FINALE CONCERT

    Where: Resorts World Theatre, Resorts World Sentosa

    When: Sunday, 7.30pm

    Admission: $38, $58, $78, $98, $118 and $138 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to
    www.sistic.com.sg)

Fang, who is also known as Daisy Fong, tells Life! that Taiwanese netizens bestowed her quarrelsome character with the nickname, zhan shen, which means warrior god in Chinese. “She quarrels with everyone. She always goes against her mum, but actually really loves her family. Everything she does is to protect her family.”

She misses the character so much that she will sometimes watch online clips of Night Market Life.

Viewers, too, love the character.

The well-loved actress who will be in Singapore for the Night Market Finale Concert at Resorts World Theatre on Sunday, says:

“Passers-by nagged at me to listen to my on-screen mum. I’ve heard stories of how actors who play villains get eggs thrown at them. Strangely, viewers like Li Youhui even though she has done plenty of annoying things.”

Fang has a 19-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. Her long-time boyfriend, who is not in show business, has reportedly proposed to her.

So while her Night Market Life co-star Wang Can is dying to play the protagonist, Fang would much prefer to be the villain.

“She explains: “There’s much more room to show off your acting range when you’re the villain. You can be more extreme. Perhaps I’ve played a goodytwo- shoes for too long and I’m craving a change.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2015, with the headline 'Night Market Life a part of life'. Print Edition | Subscribe