Drama Reviews, Taiwanese Dramas

Drama Review: Bromance (愛上哥們)

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Baron Chen and Megan Lai being all bromantic (or romantic?) in Bromance

Oh, Bromance, how do I feel about you? In some ways, Bromance is so ground-breaking and beautifully executed in terms of chemistry, character development, relationship development, and concept. But in some ways it is also just completely ridiculous.

Bromance, starring Baron Chen as Du Zi Feng and Megan Lai as Pi Ya Nuo, is a classic gender-bending drama. Pi Ya Nuo has been raised as a male for the first 26 years of her life in order to protect her life because her superstitious parents bought into the somewhat questionable predictions of a shady fortune teller when she was born. Ya Nuo eagerly awaits the day when she no longer has to live a lie. She operates a hot dog truck with her best friend A Chao, is good at martial arts and the object of college girls’ crushes, but for the most part flies under the radar and is well on the way to uneventfully turning 26–that is, until 100 days before her 26th birthday, when she happens to help Du Zi Feng fend off a group of thugs. They quickly become sworn brothers and best friends… and perhaps more?

In addition to this main drama of man and woman-pretending-to-be-man, there are also a few other subplots going on: power-hungry gangsters, birth secrets, amnesia, cancer, betrayal, and the list goes on. You know, the usual. But Bromance manages to take these overdone plots and execute them in a way that really explores the relationships between characters, which is why I am willing to forgive some of the cliché and other general ridiculousness. (Although at this point, there’s no point in being angry about cliché because true originality is impossible. It’s all about the execution.)

For all its faults, I find Bromance to be incredibly progressive and ground-breaking in its portrayal of a “homosexual” relationship and support of LGBT rights.  With any gender-bending drama, there is a lot of potential to some really great things with exploring and representing complex ideas in terms of gender, sexuality, and identity. Of course, entertainment doesn’t always need to be politicized, but a drama like this begs to be talked about. We have a homosexual relationship being treated as a tabloid scandal, but also the flip side of that, in which random strangers approach Zi Feng and Ya Nuo proclaiming their support for homosexuality and gay marriage. We see family being uncomfortable, but also their acceptance. We see repeated declarations that love is love regardless of gender.

The relationship is made palatable by the fact that Ya Nuo is actually female, so technically Zi Feng is in a heterosexual relationship, but having Zi Feng and all the people around them believe in and react to this “homosexual” relationship is so important and ground-breaking, in some ways. So many gender-bending dramas are built on guy acknowledging feelings for girl after learning early on that she is in fact a girl. Bromance changes that dynamic, and that is one of the reasons why I view it as favorably as I do.

It also helps that Megan Lai is one of my favorites, and I think she does a remarkable job in Bromance. I’m very used to seeing her in more cutesy roles, but the subtleties in her portrayal of Ya Nuo are spot on. She turns Ya Nuo into a believable woman pretending to be a man, really embodying some masculine stereotypes in order to make Ya Nuo’s disguise believable.

Enjoying Bromance requires a certain suspension of disbelief. How do Zi Feng and Ya Nuo become such fast friends when they both have trust issues? What is up with the very abrupt meeting and relationship forming between our adorable secondary couple, Qing Yang and Na Na? There are some odd directorial choices, such as very abrupt jumps from scene to scene without context that left me quite confused, and this bizarre, creepy, carnival circus music that played whenever Zi Feng got jealous or started thinking about Ya Nuo and questioning his sexuality. I couldn’t really take any of it seriously. There are some very real questions such as: how do two people not hear each other when they are the only two people talking to themselves on opposite sites of a not-very-large Christmas tree? Or, how does Zi Feng not feel Ya Nuo’s boobs when they are in such close proximity?

If you don’t let these questions bother you too much, and don’t take anything too seriously, Bromance is quite enjoyable.

(Disclaimer: potential spoilers to follow!)

Creating characters I can care about is where Bromance really shines. For the most part, every character acts rationally in a way that I can understand and connect with. I love Xiao Jing, Ya Nuo’s unwaveringly supportive cousin who is a Zi Feng-Ya Nuo shipper from the start. I love Ya Nuo’s mother, who can be frustratingly overprotective, but in a completely reasonable, motherly way. I love Feng Jie, Zi Feng’s mother, who is one part classic rich mother, and many parts an all-around fierce mother who puts her children’s happiness first. I don’t even hate our primary antagonist, Zi Feng’s childhood best friend Hao Sheng, that much, because he has really great abs.

The relationships in Bromance are refreshing because they are complex, well-developed, and meaningful. I find the parent-child relationships the most compelling: Uncle Tian’s struggle to connect with the daughter he never knew he had, Zi Feng’s struggle to reconnect with a father who doesn’t remember him, Uncle Hao’s role in creating his own son’s demise. In fact, the most heart-breaking part of the show is the relationship between Uncle Tian and Na Na, from her viciously pushing him away, to her slow acceptance of him, to her running away yet again.

But of course, the bromance and romance between Zi Feng and Ya Nuo are the heart of the show. Baron Chen and Megan Lai have sizzling chemistry as Zi Feng and Ya Nuo. The emotion and depth of feeling between them is palpable and feels so natural (beyond the abruptness of their initial friendship.)  It is so refreshing to see a relationship built so solidly on a foundation of trust and support. Zi Feng has his petty, jealous moments, but he and Ya Nuo never waver in their trust in each other. For once, we have a drama romance that works to overcome obstacles rather than let themselves be torn apart by melodramatic nonsense that doesn’t matter.

I greatly appreciate what Bromance is able to do with Zi Feng and Ya Nuo’s pseudo-homosexual relationship, but it is far from perfect. Ya Nuo pretending to be male allows her to transcend some of the usual male-female character boundaries in dramas, but there’s still a lot of wrist-grabbing and dragging around, which I dislike. I also was pretty disappointed that Zi Feng knew about Ya Nuo’s true gender identity before she chose to tell him, since it seems to negate some of the ground-breaking aspects of how their relationship is portrayed. It’s so much more impactful if Zi Feng really thought he was falling in love with a man, since that would reinforce the idea that people fall in love with people, regardless of gender. However, since this big reveal is left for the last episode, the audience still spends most of the show believing that Zi Feng is falling for, and accepting his own love for, a man, and that’s what really matters in the end, right?

Bromance is far from a perfect drama, but its emotions are real and the message it sends is so important that I’m willing to overlook its imperfections.

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