TV review: China drama Honey Bee Man has an unlikely hero in a mumsy male matchmaker

Honey Bee Man has an unlikely hero in a mumsy matchmaker in love with his self-deceiving client

In medical dramedy Golden Time, Lee Seon Gyun (far left) plays an inept doctor whose life changes after a patient's death.
In medical dramedy Golden Time, Lee Seon Gyun (far left) plays an inept doctor whose life changes after a patient's death.
Chinese romcom Honey Bee Man is at its best when its eloquent lead Huang Lei (left) become love-struck and lost for words. PHOTOS: YOUTUBE, STARHUB

Fang Jun (Huang Lei) is frugal, maternal, a bit of a nag and quite a cook. A long-time matchmaker, he has cultivated an image of safety and asexuality to put single clients and their mothers at ease. Wearing suits that are tight around his tummy and a perm that only grandmothers could envy, he's practically a human Teletubby.

And, as nutty as it might seem, he is the romantic hero of Honey Bee Man, a Chinese hit romcom that touts a newfound mythical species known as the nan guimi, or male girlfriend. Apparently, a male girlfriend is like a gay boyfriend, only more perfect because he is straight and can be promoted to a full boyfriend if a girl wishes.

The show has Jun chasing Ye Shan (Chen Shu), a demanding, high-powered divorcee, almost immediately - after they meet at her former husband's wedding and Jun fights to prevent her from disrupting the ceremony - but it's not what you think.

Subverting the ritual of romcom courtship, he sends her flowers, stalks her and barges into her flat to whip up a healthy meal because he wants her as a client, not a girlfriend.

Later, as a suitor, he is less confident. In love with her but stuck in the male- girlfriend zone, he becomes her dating coach after she sets her sights on David Yang (Denny Huang), an expat hunk in her office building.

Then again, Jun is not just helping her but also keeping an eye on his competition.

Here, a predictable pattern emerges, though the gender roles are reversed.

Like the self-deceiving male lead in an idol drama (Ethan Juan in 2008's You're My Destiny or Joe Cheng in 2005's It Started With A Kiss), Shan is the successful person who has to date a beautiful person to discover that she loves someone else.

And Jun is as good as the selfless female lead. He grew up an orphan and brought up a sister single-handedly and, now, he is waiting for someone to find him worthy of love.

I know. By now, Jun sounds as dateable as a mother hen. But one of the joys of the show is how much fun it has selling you the idea of him as a hot- blooded Beijing man, under his bird's nest-like perm.

As his barber friend notes, it takes a self-assured male to be thick-skinned enough to do a traditionally feminine job. Besides, if smart is sexy, then Jun is a stud.

Sharp-witted and silver-tongued, he is a master of the spiel and a poet of the put-down, as he manages not just his clients but also their fretful parents (and sometimes, their shameless exes).

To reassure a divorcee's mother, he argues: "Divorce is nothing. It only shows her high expectations for her quality of life."

To ridicule another divorcee's former husband who is spoiling for a fight, he declares: "I never abuse animals."

The show is talky, too, and it has much to say - cheerfully, cynically or wisely - about coupledom. But it is a love story ultimately, and it is the most moving when its eloquent characters are so love-struck, they turn incoherent.

Golden Time, a South Korean medical dramedy, is shouty, sweaty and bloody. But it is also a relief from recent medical-genius dramas such as Good Doctor and Doctor Stranger.

Topical yet timeless, Golden Time centres around an inept doctor (Lee Seon Gyun) shaken out of his complacency after a child dies on the night he stands in for a friend.

A medical graduate who passed up an internship for an easy job as a pencil- pushing hospital official, he was the type who would rather post photographs of a pile-up on social media than help car-crash victims. After his patient's death, however, he starts an exhausting internship to clear his conscience.

On the whole, the show is not that different from other medical dramas. It is packed with stock characters (the dedicated, frustrated doctor, the scheming careerist and so on) and has its share of numbingly standard storylines.

But it does come to life whenever it steps away from the tired cliches and shows you Lee's character falling in love with his job.

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