TV Series: Light the Night (华灯初上) (2021-2022)

On the eve of the New Year, I asked my niece to give me the lowdown on some dramas on my watch list, Designated Survivor (Korean), Welcome to Samdal-ri and My Demon and whether I should dive into any of them. She gave me the quick Cliff-notes versions of all of them and instead pointed me to something called Light the Night (华灯初上) (2021-2022) since she knows I like 告五人 songs.

So on the eve of 2023 when everybody was partying and watching the fireworks, Choo and I did what we love to do. We effortlessly binged 4 episodes of this 24-episode Taiwanese series divided into 3 parts of 8 episodes each.

What will grab you first is the setting: In the early 20th century, this was a residential neighborhood for the Japanese elite in Taipei, and it retained its Japanese character even after World War II, becoming the favorite haunt of Japanese businessmen from the 1960s as it evolved into a nightlife hotspot complete with a red-light district. Even today, Tiaotong’s bars, restaurants, karaoke lounges and nightclubs have an authentic Japanese flavor that continues to draw tourists and locals. In this red light district of 1980s Taipei, women at a popular Japanese night club navigate jealousy, heartbreak, friendship and love. It has to be mentioned that without handphones and the internet, interesting stories can be told.

The show begins with a dead body and part 1 will reveal who she was. Part 2 is the investigation culminating in the revelation of who the perpetrator is. Part 3 is the why and how, and we are left with just 6 episodes. Judging by the growing strength of the show, I have full confidence it will nail the ending.

The second thing that will grab you is the characters. The show doesn’t merely use Ruby Lin and Cheryl Yang who play the mamasans of a nightclub, it loves them. Over the course of the show it will reveal layers to both of them, including the other 4 girls under their charge.

The next thing that will hit you is the languid pacing and this part is the weeding element. For me, the mystery isn’t that important, it is finding out who the 6 women are and the tapestries of lies they spin with each other. This is a show that shows you the unfathomable human heart and how all of us are capable of being good and evil. The switch to the other mode is but a split second. The scenes breathe with authenticity and the sisterhood is a marvel to behold. It might have a mystery as its spine, but the oxygen that sustains it is the intricate characterisation.

The show also boasts many cameos - Gingle Wang plays a young Rose Lo Yu-nung, Wallace Huo (Ruby Lin’s husband) plays a gangster, Greg Han and Wu Kang Ren hams it up as a drag queen.

The cinematography is gorgeous and the editing is nifty, playing effortlessly with the timeline of the plot. The haute couture is sweet, reminiscent of the 80s fashion.

This is a gem. A menagerie of vile human behaviour engaging in evil drug deals, sordid police corruption and nothing beats women’s jealousy. They can justify their reckless actions anytime and weaponise their bodies and parts of speech for maximum carnage. This is a vivid showcase of female relationships, lies, betrayals, breaking bad, breaking good and the uneasy burden of friendships.

I have done the Math for Choo - if we start at 7, we will be done at 1130 tonight. It is always great to start with something awesome for the year and tomorrow will be my turn to jump on the hamster wheel again.

爱你的, 你不爱。爱上的, 永远不是你该爱的人。

Thank goodness it’s not true for me and I hope it’s not true for you too.

How I have never heard of this series back in 2021 and 2022 is a mystery and I do pride myself for being in the know of everything noteworthy on TV and in the theatres. I am so appreciative my niece directed me to this absorbing and excellent series. I might be late to the party but I am so glad I am finally here.

Like all the great ones, a show’s setting is an unsung hero. In this case it’s 1988 when the streets of Tiaolong, Taipei, served the Japanese businessmen and high-rollers of society. Many a time my eyes would wander to the articles on the shelves, the hairstyles and the gaudy fashion (remember those shoulder pads?) which would transport me to the 1980s. Even the postures and etiquette of the ladies in the nightclub do a great job of placing you in that particular time and place.

The ensemble acting is phenomenal. Every woman has a sad back story and every arc is beautifully drawn and closed. The nightclub, Light, becomes a place of respite, shelter and transformation for the women. They fight, backstab and throw words at each other like daggers, but when they will close up like a thundering fist when anyone is in trouble. While I was engrossed in the proceedings, I mentioned to Choo that I love how they close ranks and their closeness is so palpable and I distinctly told her it is never possible between men. It’s like there is an unwritten code between women. They see the best and worse in each other, and perhaps that is why they can see through any fakery in each other. There is no point in putting up an act; leave the fakery for the men.

I mentioned previously the spine and oxygen that carry the show. The heart is definitely the relationship between Rose Lo Yu-nung (Ruby Lin) and Su Ching-yi (Cheryl Yang), childhood friends to business partners. Their back stories are poignantly portrayed and their coming together feels like a cosmic event. Though bosom friends they still allow a man to come between them. It’s that age old cliche problem between two women. On my side of the screen the friendship is a thousand times more worthy than the man, but we are talking about matters of the heart here. To see the friendship crumbling is great storytelling and suddenly you see what they are capable of. These are women who love with their entire being and hate with a vengeance. The chemistry between Ruby Lin and Cheryl Yang is electric.

The show nailed the ending. It’s the type of ending that has the perfect balance between profound unpredictability and heartbreaking inevitability. The end of ep22 was gearing towards the revelation of the murderer and my heart sank. Choo went: “why…please no”. I watched the whole of ep23 with a heavy heart and a lump in my throat. The entire episode is a flashback to the night of the murder and parts of it were so blurry because my eyes were teary. This is a cautionary tale that sin is murky quicksand. At that moment, your mind’s reasoning is gone. There is still a way back after the commit but this is the scary part because our self-preservation comes to the fore in full force. Once you sink into that quicksand there’s no way back - you are a different person. You have killed whatever good that is in you and nothing you do can bring that old self back except when you come clean. It is a heartbreaking episode.

The last episode brings in the feels and it makes perfect sense that the final scene is in Light, the vortex of friendship, joy and love. We are not privy what eventually happens within but the ending is written in my mind. I wish the women well and thank you for the lessons in love. :cry:

We started 2024 with a great one and we will riding Slow Horses S3 next.