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Television review: Ex-Taiwanese heart-throb Chin Han still worries about his make-up on Chinese version of Grandpas Over Flowers

In Grandpas Over Flowers, movie idol Chin Han must be the flower of the show. A 100 Year Legacy, starring actress Eugene and actor Lee Jung Jin (both above), tackles the topic of love and divorce. -- PHOTO: STARHUB
In Grandpas Over Flowers, movie idol Chin Han must be the flower of the show. A 100 Year Legacy, starring actress Eugene and actor Lee Jung Jin (both above), tackles the topic of love and divorce. -- PHOTO: STARHUB
In Grandpas Over Flowers, movie idol Chin Han (above) must be the flower of the show. A 100 Year Legacy, starring actress Eugene and actor Lee Jung Jin, tackles the topic of love and divorce. -- PHOTO: YOUTUBE
In Grandpas Over Flowers, movie idol Chin Han (above) must be the flower of the show. A 100 Year Legacy, starring actress Eugene and actor Lee Jung Jin, tackles the topic of love and divorce. -- PHOTO: YOUTUBE

The Chinese version of Grandpas Over Flowers is duller than the original Korean reality show, but big names redeem it somewhat

Kenneth Tsang, an elder statesman of Hong Kong cinema, is the bossy, worldly grandpa in Grandpas Over Flowers, the Chinese version of the South Korean reality show hit that took four aged actors backpacking around Europe.

Mainland Chinese actor Niu Ben is the impish one, scampering around attractions in Paris, scoffing down ice cream and rebelling against Tsang's directions on, for example, the right way to eat French food. Lei Quesheng, the other mainlander, is the undemanding, beer-guzzling one.

And erstwhile Taiwanese movie idol Chin Han must be the flower - the good-looking, imageconscious senior citizen who worries that the cameraman might catch him without his make-up on.

Getting a leading man of Chin's iconic standing is surely a coup for the show.

The Korean version's conceit was that elderly men could be as appealing as K-drama's well-groomed flower boys and as worthy of the idol-drama visual treatment (cartoon showers of pink petals and so on), but it didn't have a pretty grandpa like Chin. For eye candy, it had to bring on board a younger Korean actor, Lee Seo Jin, as the grandpas' errand boy.

The Chinese brand-name approach can falter, though. Having won the casting battle - the Chinese grandpas' errand boy is none other than Liu Ye, the mainland Golden Horse-winning actor - the show arrives in Paris, the first stop of the trip, and droops. It goes to the usual sights (the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum and so on) and does the usual things (someone falls behind and the others have to find him).

There are a few pinpricks of drama when, for instance, Tsang tells Liu off for disappearing from their tour of Notre-Dame Cathedral without warning (Liu went out to buy beer for Lei). But there is nothing as sharp and funny as in the Korean version, which had the grandpas sweating over how to cook instant noodles.

The Chinese show picks up only at the second stop, in Nice, where the grandpas make themselves comfortable in the airy apartment of Liu and his French wife Anais, retreat to his in-laws' country villa and play with his two young children.

In other words, the grandpas get to be grandpas. In particular, Chin (who is divorced with two grown-up children and has no grandchildren) takes pleasure in talking to Liu's boy in nonsense words.

Being around a couple as amorous as Liu and his wife - who make out in the kitchen, in the street and by the sea with the sweetness of newlyweds - also seems to rub off on the grandpas.

Tsang pours his heart out to Liu's wife, telling her about how he and his wife are at the age when each has to be prepared for the other's death.

Lei calls his wife, and Niu wants to, as soon as he finds his mobile phone.

And Chin gives the show a scrap of a pay-off. Lying alone and looking morose on a beach, fully and incongruously clothed in a sea of topless sunbathers, he reveals that he was last here more than 20 years ago with a "friend". He doesn't name the friend - he doesn't have to - as the show cuts to footage of him with his former reel-life and real-life lover, Lin Ching-hsia, who is now married to billionaire Michael Ying.

The beauty of casting a much-loved star, clearly, is how he comes with a well-known story. Clouded by a wealth of associations, hopefully you won't notice how skimpy the show is.

A 100 Year Legacy, a Korean drama about love during and after divorce, is a somewhat richer show - if you grit your teeth and get past the first episode.

The show starts like a harsh cartoon about being married to money, as a housewife (Eugene, formerly of K-pop girl group S.E.S.) seeking a way out of an miserable marriage is outmanoeuvred by her mother-in-law and locked up in a psychiatric hospital.

But about 49 other episodes are spent humanising the characters. The mother-in-law is two-faced but also a tired single mother who feels unloved by her children. Her son is a weak-willed womaniser but his sorrow over his dying marriage and his own spinelessness feels true.

The housewife is less helpless than she looks and capable of owning her decisions, good and bad. She chose to marry him three years ago, she tells her husband, and she chooses to divorce him now.

The least probable character is a businessman (Lee Jung Jin) who comes to her rescue repeatedly and is more reliable than a prince in a fairy tale.

It is a welcome spot of fantasy, though. At the end of the day, the least a self-respecting show for housewives can do is allow its audience a little escapade.

woeiwan@sph.com.sg

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