Drama Recaps, Taiwanese Dramas

Recap: Amensalism (Ep. 1)

Amensalism (覆活) is a currently-airing Taiwanese drama starring Wang Zi and Lorene Ren. I’m trying out recapping dramas that are currently airing because I feel like it’ll be easier to keep up with them! This one caught my eye because I loved Lorene Ren in In a Good Way, which is one of my favorite dramas, and I have an appetite for more mystery dramas while finishing up Someday or One Day.

Recap

On a night with a blood red waning moon, a man (Wang Zi as Cheng You Kuan) runs down an empty street. He pauses at an empty intersection and sees flashes of images: a building number, accelerant being poured, a woman struggling with bonds accompanied by sounds of her shrieking.

He continues to run down the middle of the street, despite cars coming his way. Suddenly all the streetlights turn off and he collapses to the ground as blooming red flowers constrict around his heart.

His veins glow and his eyes turn red. He pants, sweating, then forces himself up and continues running.

Present

The world is in slow motion as Cheng You Kuan walks by a scene of chaos. Bystanders stare as fire trucks battle a fire in an apartment building. You Kuan walks over some caution tape, somehow getting through police officers who are holding back the rest of the onlookers, and stares as a body covered in a white sheet is wheeled past him.

Red flowers — specifically red spider lilies (aka hell flower or resurrection lily) — constrict around his heart. He collapses against a fire truck and clutches his chest, thinking that if the red spider lily could speak, it would definitely be laughing at him. Laughing at how for the past 19 years, he has always been the loser. It doesn’t matter that he had once died and was brought back to life.

Flashback to 19 years ago. Doctors perform CPR and try to revive a young You Kuan, who has flatlined. His mother calls someone who doesn’t pick up, angrily exclaiming “pick up!” when no one picks up on the other side.

Young You Kuan finds himself wandering along a railroad toward a tunnel. He calls for his parents, saying he wants to go home. A voice tells him to go through the tunnel. He runs in and suddenly finds himself running through a bed of lilies. He repeats a phrase that someone told him. If he names a bad person, he can have his life back. He suddenly thinks of something and turns to look behind him, where a girl is spinning a red umbrella.

The adult You Kuan explains that he didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel when he died. Instead what he got was a deal. If he gave the name of a certain person, he could live again. Ever since then, his dreams have been full of the deaths of others.

He’s in a session with a psychiatrist, who thinks he just has PTSD and wants to put him on a treatment plan. But You Kuan doesn’t need a specialized treatment plan: he knows it won’t work. All he wants is for his doctor to renew his prescriptions for Ambien and antidepressants. He pops some pills and spins his pill bottle.

As You Kuan walks home that night, he narrates that when he was ten years old, he didn’t cross over to the other side. But since then, he’s always felt like he’s living on the shores of where life meets death.

Meanwhile, we meet Bi Ke Wei (Lorene Ren), a hotshot lawyer known for taking on and closing numerous traffic accident-related cases. Her latest client, a Ms. Li, finds her in an arcade, having drawn a crowd while beating one of the Tekken games.

Ke Wei attends a meeting with her client, whose husband was killed in a DUI incident, to discuss a settlement. Her client gets upset, rightfully so, when the offender wants to pay a reduced settlement on a payment plan. Ke Wei keeps a calm demeanor during the meeting, but fumes to a coworker on the phone afterward. The coworker offers to help her file an appeal, but she tells him to forget about it. The commissioner in charge of the case comes from a strong background.

But the commissioner walks by and Ke Wei overhears him talking about how her client is out of their mind for thinking she can get such a large settlement. She proceeds to punch him.

You Kuan goes to his day job as a bodyguard for Xu Ming Fei (Yao Yi Ti), a celebrity turned CEO. But their relationship is clearly a little more than just bodyguard and CEO. He questions her on her choice of outfit for a business client meeting — she wears a crop top under a yellow blazer. She explains that men are easy to manipulate. She knows that her outfit will make her client think that he’s in power, which gives her a chance to get what she really wants. She’s not worried about pervs or celebrity stalkers either; that’s what she has him for. She gives him a playful punch. You Kuan says no more about her outfit, instead wrapping a scarf around her neck and fixing her hair for her in a gesture that is much more intimate than anything your typical bodyguard would do.

You Kuan’s bodyguard partner, Ace, takes the car they arrived in through the roads of Taipei. He seems to ignore the sedan that is obviously tailing him until he gets trapped in an alley by a second car coming from the front. A group of thugs attempt to break into their vehicle to get Ming Fei, but Ace and Xiao Mi, a third bodyguard partner, dispatch them and reveal that Ming Fei isn’t with them at all. Ace reports to You Kuan that all is clear.

You Kuan and Ming Fei are actually in a second car and arrive at the hotel where the business meeting is to take place with no problem. But once they get into the hotel room, an anti-recording alarm is set off and in the confusion Ming Fei’s bag with the all-important business contract has gone missing. You Kuan uses his astute sense of observation to deduce that the porter who showed them to their hotel room was a fake employee and had stolen the bag.

He organizes his security team to herd the culprit to the garage, where he and Ace confront him and retrieve the contract.

You Kuan waits in the lobby for Ming Fei to finish with her business meeting. She catches him yawning and teases him about it. He asks her if she knows who is behind these targeted attacks. It’s clear that someone wanted to stop her from getting that contract signed. She starts counting her enemies. You Kuan assures her that he and his team will make sure nothing happens to her. She teases him about yawning again and tells him to go get some rest.

Ke Wei is walking through the streets of Taipei when she sees a news report on a man, Zhang Zhi Zhong, who is wanted for a series of arson-murder cases. She recognizes him.

You Kuan sits at a coffee shop that Ke Wei also happens to be in. She is at a client meeting with an assault victim, a Miss Liu, who claims that her manager, Fang Jing An, attacked her when she was working late at the office one day. She finds holes in Liu’s story and deduces that this isn’t a simple case of assault, but actually a case of domestic violence, because Liu and Fang Jing An were having an affair. Liu is reluctant to admit to the true story, but Ke Wei tells her that she can file for a restraining order if this is a case of domestic violence.

While they chat, You Kuan accidentally drops his pill bottle, which rolls to a stop behind Ke Wei’s chair. He grabs it and on his way back to his seat, Fang Jing An walks in and roughly brushes past him with a boxcutter in hand.

Fang approaches Ke Wei and her client, who screams when she sees him. Ke Wei stands up and picks up her red umbrella to use as a defense weapon against him, warning him not to approach. She opens it as he gets closer. Fang slashes at it with his boxcutter, shredding it.

You Kuan watches the situation unfold. He gets momentary PTSD from the sight of the red umbrella opening. It reminds him of the girl with the red umbrella in that tunnel he went to while on the brink of death as a child. But he recovers and quickly incapacitates Fang with a few efficient motions.

After the police take Fang away, Ke Wei catches You Kuan on his way out of the coffee shop. She thanks him for his assistance and saving her from a trip to the hospital. He tells her that she probably would have been fine, but her umbrella is probably unusable now. She opens it and spins it, dismayed at its shredded state. The spinning triggers You Kuan’s PTSD again and he snaps at her to stop spinning it.

A pair of police officers approach, asking You Kuan to go with them down to the station. His presence is requested as a potential witness in an ongoing investigation.

Ke Wei follows You Kuan to the station and he’s surprised when she enters his interrogation room. She tells him that it’s best to have a lawyer in situations like these, because as a witness, he has no obligation to answer any of the police’s questions.

Ke Wei does her due diligence when the police start to question You Kuan, making sure that they don’t ask questions that could make You Kuan implicate himself as a suspect when he’s only there in a witness capacity. The police’s questions surround You Kuan’s presence at the scene of the arson-murder we saw earlier this episode.

You Kuan claims that he was restless at night and walking around when he saw the commotion. He was overwhelmed by the sight of a body being wheeled away, and that’s why he left, to go get some chicken at a local stall. Ke Wei watches him with a slight frown.

Afterward, Ke Wei tells You Kuan that the police probably suspect him of being an accomplice, but let him go so easily because they don’t have enough evidence to actually bring him in. You Kuan responds that it’s reasonable they would suspect him. It’s common for perpetrators to return to the scenes of their crime out of curiosity, and his presence there probably stood out because he didn’t live in the neighborhood.

Ke Wei asks You Yuan if he frequently gets called into the police, but he says that it was his first time. She comments that he seems pretty calm. He responds confidently that he knows he’s not the culprit and he’s experienced more bewildering things. She asks what could be more bewildering than being suspected in a case like this, but instead of responding, he asks if she’s going to throw away her umbrella. He shoves some money in her hand and takes the umbrella, saying she should buy herself a new one — make sure it’s not red — and consider it her legal fee.

“Oh, and thanks,” he says before strolling off, leaving her bewildered.

You Kuan dreams of another death while at his psychiatrist’s office. He angrily leaves, telling his doctor that he can’t sleep well there either, then tells Lin Chun Xiong, the hacker on his security team, to look up all the apartment and condo buildings in Taipei with “Star” in the name.

You Kuan drives around to different apartment buildings, looking for the right one. At one of his destinations, he notices a taxi following him. He finds a place to confront his tail: it’s Ke Wei.

He thinks she’s working with the police to investigate him, but she responds that her only goal is to find the arsonist. You Kuan insists that he’s not an accomplice. Then why did he lie? Ke Wei asks.

Over coffee, Ke Wei tells You Kuan that her aunt has real estate connections and knows the owner of the chicken shop. She verified that the shop was closed during the arson, so You Kuan lied about going there. You Kuan asks why she’s following him instead of telling the police. She responds that in the eyes of the court, a person is innocent until proven guilty. She’s looking for more evidence.

Did she find it? You Kuan asks. She tells him about her findings. At first she thought he did have something to do with the crime. She followed him to his psychiatrist’s office, then around to several different apartment complexes. She thought it was highly likely that he was the arsonist’s accomplice and surveying for the next target. But she found it odd that he didn’t talk to anyone at the buildings. She would’ve thought that he and the arsonist would be targeting an individual. Then she thought that maybe he was looking for a specific location.

She acknowledges that her findings don’t prove anything, but her main question is: why did he lie? What is he hiding?

He decides to tell her the truth: that he dreams about these deaths before they happen and goes to try and stop them, but is always too late. He knows that the next victim is a female, surname Wang, who lives on the 12th floor of a building in a complex that has “Star” in the name. He introduces her to the drugs he takes, telling her that he suffers from depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Maybe he lied to the police because he wanted to be seen as a normal person instead of a drug-dependent crazy person. Maybe he lied because he didn’t want to see the expression on her face right now.

He takes his pill bottle and leaves, but is surprised when Ke Wei opens the door of his car and gets in. “Don’t say anything and give me ten seconds,” she says, and closes her eyes, taking deep breaths while he watches her, confused. An image of a car crash and a little girl saying, “Dad, Mom,” flash through her mind.

She finally opens her eyes and turns to You Kuan, saying she can help him find buildings that have “Star” in her name via her aunt’s real estate connections. “You believe me?” he asks, surprised. She says that she wants to believe him.

Her main goal is to find Zhang Zhi Zhong. He likely has the answer she needs to a question she has. In order to get that answer, she’s willing to do anything.

“Where to next?” she asks. He’s surprised that she still plans on following him, but he’s the one who’s mentally ill, so he says that he’s not the one who should be worried. Ke Wei pulls out a taser and says that if he loses control, she won’t take it easy on him.

Xu Ming Fei texts You Kuan while waiting at a restaurant for her lunch partner. She tells him that the “Emperor” asked to meet her for lunch. She’s in a lot of danger; he should come save her. But he leaves her on read.

She’s about to send another text when she’s interrupted by the arrival of her lunch guest, but it’s not who she expects. Instead of the chairman, it’s Li Yao Qing (Andy Wu), general counsel of her company. She doesn’t look happy to see him.

In the next room, they hear some men gossiping about her, saying that they don’t think she deserves to be CEO. Instead, they think Li should be CEO and say they’ll support a motion to remove Ming Fei and vote in Li at the next opportunity.

Yao Qing can tell that Ming Fei is upset, and says that he intentionally invited the three board members next door. She asks him if he’s just trying to show off how much support he has on the board of directors, but he responds that today he’s just trying to prove that he’s competent at his job.

He gets up and goes to the next room, where the board members greet him warmly. But his response is coolly professional and he throws down some papers for them to read. He intends to sue them for harassment and intimidation. He knows all about the role they played in hiring people to try and intimidate Ming Fei and dissuade her from completing the contract signing. He claims the Ming Fei was the one who convinced him to just give the directors a warning this time so as not to disrupt the board, but next time, he’ll meet them in court.

Job done, Yao Qing gathers up his things and gives Ming Fei a smile before leaving.

While waiting for the elevator, he gets a text. It’s a video of Ke Wei punching the commissioner. He sighs and says to himself, “Doesn’t she know he comes from a powerful background?”

Ke Wei munches on a pineapple bun while You Kuan naps. He wakes up with a start, surprised to find out that he had slept for over half an hour without being interrupted by dreams. He’s also surprised that Ke Wei actually came back. When she stopped them to use the restroom earlier, he thought she was just making an excuse so she could leave.

She asks why he waited if he thought she would leave. He claims that he just wanted to see if he was right, but Ke Wei guesses that he was hoping she would come back, because that would mean that someone actually believes him.

Their next destination is the correct one. You Kuan pretends that they’re a real estate agent and client looking to tour a property in the complex to get them in, using his keen observation skills to pull and apartment number off a flyer in the window of the real estate office across the street. They decide to split up to try and figure out which building in the complex is the correct one. Little do they know that their time is running out, because Zhang Zhi Zhong is already there lying in wait for his next victim.

You Kuan finds the right building and can tell he’s close because his heart suddenly constricts again in the elevator up. He manages to stumble his way out and make it to the correct apartment door, where he knocks asking if Ms. Wang is there. She doesn’t respond, because she’s already been knocked unconscious by Zhang Zhi Zhong, who is still inside.

Zhang forces his way out, but You Kuan tries to hinder his escape. Still weakened by his constricting heart, he easily gets overpowered. Zhang attempts to strangle him and almost succeeds if not for Ke Wei finding them at the right time. It’s enough to distract Zhang, who tries to escape. Ke Wei manages to tase him, but it’s not enough to stop him. He shoves her aside, knocking her head against the wall. Before he escapes into the stairwell, they make eye contact. Then he’s gone.

Ke Wei hurries to check on You Kuan, who is still coughing and trying to recover from both his chest pain and the strangling. He tells her to check on Ms. Wang, who is unconscious and bound in her apartment.

Wang isn’t breathing, but Ke Wei stubbornly starts to do CPR and try to revive her. You Kuan tries to tell her it’s no use, she’s already dead. The painful squeezing of his heart is evidence of that. But Ke Wei persists and Wang suddenly coughs and starts breathing again. At the same time, flowers relinquish their hold on You Kuan’s heart and the pain goes away.

You Kuan stares at her. And continues to stare after the ambulance has taken Wang away and the police have taken Ke Wei’s statement. She sees him and smiles. He walks toward her. She asks if he got his injuries checked. He doesn’t respond and instead gently cups the back of her head with his hand… just to check her head injury.

She doesn’t have a concussion, but it does still hurt, especially when he touches it like this. To him, this is proof that this isn’t a dream. He tells her that for the first time in 19 years that someone hasn’t died because of his dream. Or maybe it’s just a very long dream that he hasn’t waken from yet?

Ke Wei takes his hand and looks into his eyes while she earnestly tells him that today, he saved someone. This isn’t a dream. It’s reality, because she’s here with him. She is his witness. He turns away from her so she can’t see the tears sliding down his face. She asks if he’s okay and moves to turn him when he doesn’t respond. He hugs her instead, to her surprise, but she leans into it and gently pats him on the back.

Afterward, she pinches him on the cheek to tease him and remind him that this isn’t a dream. Her only regret is that Zhang Zhi Zhong got away.

When they finally turn to go their separate ways, they pause for a moment, looking at each other, then Ke Wei says goodbye and starts to go her on way. You Kuan awkwardly says, “Umbrella!” after her, making her turn around. He clarifies, saying that she should buy a new umbrella soon because girls can use them for defense as well as practical reasons. She nods and turns away, but he stops her again with a call of “Food!” and suggests that they get dinner sometime. Except… he doesn’t even know her name or how to contact her.

She hands him her business card. They look at each other for a long moment again, then say good night. She turns and slowly walks away.

You Kuan looks at Ke Wei’s business card in his car. His eyes widen he reads her name: Bi Ke Wei. He thinks back to that moment in the tunnel when he gave a bad person’s name in exchange for his own life. He had given Bi Ke Wei’s name. She was the girl in the tunnel with the red umbrella.

Meanwhile, Ke Wei waits for her train on the station platform. She doesn’t notice that Zhang Zhi Zhong is also at the train station, standing at the platform across from her.

Oh man. I was prepared for something dark, potentially a little scary, and pensive after watching Someday or One Day, but Amensalism is not what I expected at all! There are dark elements, but the show as a whole feels like its idol drama roots. I found parts of this first episode hilarious, though I probably wasn’t supposed to, but it’s really hard for me to take overly-dramatic scenes seriously when they involve a lot of cliche posing, zooming in, long pauses, and dramatic music. Seriously, what is with all the sloooow moooootion?!

Perhaps part of the problem is that the acting isn’t… the best. I’ve never seen any of Wang Zi’s other dramas, but I find his acting and line delivery to be quite stiff, especially in some of the more serious scenes. Maybe it’s just the character though? We’ll see.

My finding this episode unintentionally comical is not necessarily a bad thing! I can stomach the laughably cringey “serious” scenes for some good intrigue, and I am curious to find out more about how You Kuan and Ke Wei are linked together, as well as how all the other characters fit in.

I have little opinion about You Kuan other than he seems like a classic brooding, jaded male lead. I’m liking Ke Wei so far. She seems like a competent, capable female lead who has a bit of a temper and that makes her badass! As for our second leads Xu Ming Fei and Li Yao Qing, I’m still trying to figure them out.

I had to look up what “amensalism” means before starting this show. Wikipedia defines “amensalism” as “an interaction where an organism inflicts harm to another organism without any costs or benefits received by itself”.

From what we’ve seen so far, it’s hard to tell who this unidirectional relationship applies to. Is it You Kuan benefiting from giving Ke Wei’s name in return for his life? Or is it Ke Wei, who exists unscathed while You Kuan has suffered?

I think it’s important to note that even though the official English title is Amensalism, the title in Chinese translates more to “resurrection.” We already know that You Kuan was basically resurrected, and this episode Ke Wei was able to revive the would-be murder victim. But what else could it mean?

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