Drama Reviews, Taiwanese Dramas

Recap: The Haunted Heart (Ep. 1)

No Falling Into You this week, so I decided to pick up a new drama instead. The Haunted Heart (腦波小姐, lit. “Miss Brainwave) started airing about two months ago, so I have about ten episodes to catch up on, but I’m happily surprised with how much I enjoyed this first episode! I’ve been eyeing this drama for a few months, but was slightly skeptical about cheesy CGI, so I put it off until now. Between this and The Devil Punisher, it seems like ghosts are all the rage these days. The Haunted Heart stars Ouyang Ni Ni as protagonist Wei Xiao Ling, a QA tester at a gaming company who can see ghosts — though she calls them hallucinations — and Bryan Chang as Shi Da Yong, her overbearing CEO boss.

Recap

Wei Xiao Ling (Ouyang Ni Ni), sits anxiously in her doctor’s office as he asks her how her trial period at work is going. Images flash through her mind — her boss yelling at her, her saying “shut down,” him collapsing — and she admits to her doctor that she’s been fired. She launches into a recap of her day.

She woke up at 7, as usual, was into work by 9 — before all her coworkers — and worked overtime until 10 — long after everyone had gone. But… it also wasn’t the same. She woke up in the morning as usual, but spotted something shocking when her building’s elevator doors opened. She saw sky and heard someone singing a nursery rhyme.

Xiao Ling confides that she might be getting punished for something. She can see and feel things that ordinary people can’t. She read online that people’s brainwaves become abnormally strong right before they’re about to die. She thinks that she can sense these remnants of their brainwaves, and they’re troubling her.

Her doctor, He Qing Feng (Chang Chieh), doesn’t understand.

“I’m saying I can see ghosts!” Xiao Ling snaps, before lowering her head. At least, other people say they’re ghosts, but Xiao Ling knows they’re just hallucinations.

Qing Feng commends Xiao Ling’s eagerness to find a cause for her illness and recover from it, but he asks if something happened. Why does she hate her illness so much? Xiao Ling evasively responds that no one wants to be ill. She says that she just wants to get better, and begs her doctor to help her.

He agrees to help and asks her about the history of her illness. Xiao Ling explains that it started when she was 8. After she started her most recent treatment, she hadn’t experienced any symptoms — until the last day of her trial period. That day, when she entered her elevator in the morning, she stepped into the clouds, trying her best to pretend she couldn’t see the ghost swinging on a swing, singing a nursery rhyme. But the ghost could tell that Xiao Ling could see her again. She taunted her, saying that her new coworkers would find out and she’d get fired again and laughed at how she didn’t have any friends.

On her way to work, she sees more ghosts, their deaths looping endlessly.

Xiao Ling flags a cab to get to work and the ride is mostly quiet — until a chatty ghost dressed in Qing dynasty robes appears in the passenger seat. She tries to ignore him, but when he comments on how the bridge route the cab driver wants to take is gridlocked, she asks the cab driver to take a different route. The ghost realizes that Xiao Ling can see him. He introduces himself as Shi Yi Shao (“Eleventh Son”, Di Zhi Jie). She tries to ignore him, but then lets out a yelp when he detaches his head to get a reaction out of her.

Shi Yi Shao begs Xiao Ling to help him remove the lucky knot hanging from the cab driver’s rearview mirror. The knot is what binds him to this cab. Xiao Ling continues to ignore him, so Shi Yi Shao releases what seems like a mini EMP that disables the car, the car locks, and the cab driver’s phone. Xiao Ling is forced to ask the cab driver if she can buy his lucky knot.

Shi Yi Shao is ever so grateful and trails Xiao Ling as she exits the cab, chattering about how he can repay her for this favor. She just wants him to leave her alone and tosses his knot into a tree, then runs away.

The knot isn’t very secure and falls into the hood of a man walking by. Shi Yi Shao hitches a piggyback ride on the man, who doesn’t notice.

Xiao Ling is still ghost-wary as she arrives at work. She bumps into an elevator repairman who is installing a one-of-a-kind elevator that can be controlled using brainwaves — all you have to do is think at it where you want to go. Xiao Ling seems wowed by this invention and steps in, mentally telling the elevator doors to close.

The man with the knot in his hood, Jerry (Enson Chang), stops the elevator doors before they close and gets in. Xiao Ling greets him as her senior. He teases her about being late for work. The doors start closing, but then someone else gets in at the last minute — the CEO, Shi Da Yong (Bryan Chang).

Xiao Ling is dismayed when she spots Shi Yi Shao in the elevator and the knot in Jerry’s hood. She tries to surreptitiously snag it, but the elevator reaches her floor. Flustered, she claims that she’ll go with them up to their floor. She frowns at Shi Yi Shao as he peeks at Da Yong’s phone, then tries to grab the knot again, but Jerry steps forward to talk to Da Yong right as the elevator comes to a stop, and Xiao Ling loses her balance. She falls into Da Yong, making him spill his coffee.

Xiao Ling hastily apologizes. Da Yong says that she should never take the elevator with him again, then leaves. Jerry also leaves and the elevator doors close behind him before Xiao Ling can react.

Shi Yi Shao laughs at Xiao Ling, then asks for her help in getting the knot back. Again. He prattles on. She tells him to go away. He disappears.

When Xiao Ling finally gets to her desk, her coworkers, Ya Zi and Ah Wu, tease her about being late, then tell her that a game the company’s been developing has had its release date moved up to later this afternoon. Xiao Ling freaks out — she hasn’t finished testing it yet; what if there’s a bug? She runs off to go apologize to Jerry.

Jerry is in a meeting to pitch brainwave-controlled gaming to investors. Shi Yi Shao yawns at how boring this new owner of his knot is. A hologram of Da Yong pops up to request $300 million USD from the investors. When one of the investors immediately objects, saying that tech companies love to waste money, Da Yong shows up in person to introduce himself and manages to talk the man down. Shi Yi Shao admires his abilities.

Xiao Ling sneaks into the meeting room and Jerry frowns. Shi Yi Shao surprises her, and she lets out a startled yell, attracting everyone’s attention. Jerry quickly pushes her outside before heading back into the meeting.

Shi Yi Shao follows Xiao Ling outside, where he continues to pester her about burning his knot or at least take the knot from Jerry. He’d rather die again than have to follow Jerry around. He begs her to burn something for him so that he can have sustenance (from carbon emissions). Xiao Ling tries to ignore him.

Da Yong manages to convince the stubborn investor to agree to match someone else’s investment. The meeting is adjourned. Xiao Ling tries to catch up to Jerry as they all leave the meeting room, but gets cut off by everyone else exiting. She ends up taking the stairs to look for Jerry. On each floor she tries, Shi Yi Shao appears by the stairwell door and tells her that Jerry isn’t here.

Part of Da Yong’s guarantee to the investor hinges on finding a tester with strong brainwaves. Jerry is skeptical that he’ll be able to find such a rare kind of person.

Xiao Ling arrives in the parking garage right as Jerry and Da Yong drive off. She chases after the car. Shi Yi Shao tries to follow, but he trips and his head falls off. Xiao Ling screams and tries to jump over it. She bumps into a stack of boxes, which fall over and create a domino-like effect until one heavy box slams into Da Yong’s Tesla, denting it.

Xiao Ling rushes over to apologize and says she’ll pay for it. Da Yong is dismayed to see that it’s her, again. He points out that she won’t be able to afford paying to replace all four doors. She’s confused by why all the doors need to be replaced. Da Yong checks her nametag, realizes that she’s in Jerry’s organization, then asks Jerry if he tested her IQ before letting her in the company.

Da Yong starts lecturing Xiao Ling, telling her that the car isn’t just a car — it also represents the company. Does she know who he’s supposed to be meeting with right now? Not only has she damaged the car, she’s wasting his time and might make him late. If they lose this investor, then it’s all on her. Xiao Ling shrinks into herself.

Meanwhile, Shi Yi Shao’s head coaches his body into finding it and putting it back into place. He cringes as he watches Da Yong lecture Xiao Ling. Jerry pats Da Yong’s shoulder, trying to calm him down.

Xiao Ling suddenly gets an idea and tells them that she has a solution. She runs off and comes back with a plunger, then attempts to fix the dent with suction. Da Yong demands that she immediately get such a disgusting thing off his car, then tells Jerry to pull her away.

Jerry pulls at Xiao Ling, who stubbornly hangs onto the plunger. The plunger comes free and she can Jerry go flying back. Shi Yi’s knot falls out of his hood in the process. Both Xiao Ling and Jerry are amazed that the plunger trick actually worked to fix the dent.

Da Yong is less impressed and tells Jerry to hurry up and get in. After they drive off, Shi Yi reminds Xiao Ling that she forgot to do what she came here to do — tell Jerry that she hadn’t finished testing the game. She asks him where Jerry is, then realizes that he shouldn’t even be here right now if Jerry drove off. They both realize that they’ve lost the knot.

Shi Yi Shao begs Xiao Ling not to abandon him here. She points out that if he loves carbon emissions so much, this is the perfect place for him. There’s plenty of car exhaust. Shi Yi Shao frowns and hugs himself and admits that he’s afraid of Yin.

In the present, Dr. He asks Xiao Ling if she’s afraid of Yin, too. She says of course. He asks if she met Shi Yi Shao before — she hadn’t. She describes him to Dr. He and guesses that he must be from the Qing dynasty, based on the way he speaks and dresses.

Dr. He is mostly concerned with Xiao Ling’s story. Why was she fired? Was it because of Shi Yi Shao?

Later in the afternoon of that fateful day, the company is in an uproar over numerous bugs in the game that they rushed to release. Ah Wu and Ya Zi try to reassure Xiao Ling that they’ll be fine, but she’s nervous. Shi Yi Shao appears and starts putting on a fashion show, trying out different more modern styles of clothing, but she just hides behind a book and tries to ignore him.

Da Yong summons Xiao Ling to his office, where he yells at her for not doing her job properly and allowing their newly-released game to have so many bugs. Why was she running around in the parking lot instead of testing the game? Xiao Ling tries to explain that she was there to tell Jerry that she wasn’t able to finish testing, but forgot to tell him, but that just makes Da Yong more annoyed.

Xiao Ling suddenly asks Da Yong if he believes in ghosts. Would he be less angry if she said that this all happened because of a ghost? Da Yong scoffs, thinking she’s just trying to absolve herself of responsibility. He doesn’t believe that people are capable of seeing ghosts, and demands to know why they’re talking about ghosts right now.

They’re interrupted by a phone call for Da Yong. Xiao Ling overhears Da Yong reassure a director that the issues with the game have already been resolved. But after he hangs up, Da Yong calls Jerry in and declares that Xiao Ling is to pack up her things and leave immediately. Jerry tries to defend Xiao Ling — it’s not entirely her fault — but Da Yong asks who else should take responsibility if not her. Jerry may be his friend, but Da Yong has standards and expectations for his company.

Ah Wu and Ya Zi apologize to Xiao Ling for getting her in trouble, but neither wants to clear things up and risk getting fired, too. Xiao Ling forces a smile and reassures them that she doesn’t blame them. It’s Da Yong who is being too strict when the problem has already been solved.

Ya Zi and Ah Wu hand Xiao Ling a congratulations card. They had planned on giving it to her later that night at dinner to celebrate the end of her trial period, but… since they bought it, they should she might as well have it.

Jerry shows up and tells Xiao Ling that he knows she worked hard before, but there’s nothing he can do when Da Yong is angry. He says that he’ll write her a recommendation letter.

Shi Yi Shao watches from behind Jerry and says that he’s sad to see Xiao Ling leave and asks she take him with her. Xiao Ling glares at him and says that this is all his fault, but because no one else can see Shi Yi, they all think she’s talking to Jerry. Jerry thinks she’s being ungrateful and tells her to leave. She grabs her bag and storms out without taking anything else.

At home, the elevator ghost tries to chat with Xiao Ling again, but she ignores her and complains about how unfair Da Yong was. Things were going so well this time, until the ghosts appeared again. She blames them for her failure. The elevator ghost takes offense to being lumped in with all problem ghosts and points out that some people are weaker than others, and Xiao Ling is one of the weak ones. Xiao Ling acknowledges it with a sigh. The elevator ghost tries to cheer her up — what happened to the girl who would talk back at her? It’s just a job. Now she can sleep in.

The elevator ghost suggests that Xiao Ling either find a new job or beg the CEO for her job back. Anything is better than just standing here.

At night, Xiao Ling drinks by herself while imagining different ways of asking Da Yong for a second chance. In every one of her imagined conversations, he shuts her down. Xiao Ling makes a wish on an origami star, asking for the courage to face the demon king. She vows that she won’t be defeated by Da Yong.

A timer beeps — Xiao Ling’s time with Dr. He is up, but she’s not finished with her story yet. Dr. He tells her to continue even though he has another event to go to. Xiao Ling forgets where she was. Dr. He gives her a recorder. When she remembers, she can just record herself telling the story and he’ll listen to it next time.

Before she leaves, Xiao Ling confesses to Dr. He that she thinks she killed her boss, then rushes out. Dr. He hurries after her and asks what she means. He thinks it’s perfectly normal for people to imagine killing their boss, but maybe it’s just a hallucination. Xiao Ling worries that maybe it wasn’t just a hallucination. What if she actually did kill him?

Dr. He slowly asks when she thinks it happened. She tells him that it the night she was fired. She went back to the office and she killed him in the elevator. With her brainwaves.

When Dr. He repeats what she said, Xiao Ling forces a laugh at how ludicrous it sounds out loud. How could she have killed her boss with brainwaves? Of course it was just a hallucination. Dr. He smiles too and asks if she feels better now. She’s just glad that in this whole world, at least he believes her. He responds that it’s not important whether he believes her or not. What’s more important is figuring out why her hallucinations feel so real to her. Is there some trauma she’s trying to avoid?

Xiao Ling thanks Dr. He for his help and says goodbye. He smiles and reminds her to call him when she gets home. But after she turns away, his smile drops.

Xiao Ling narrates that going to Dr. He’s office always feels like being in heaven, but the moment she leaves, she feels like Satan appears to test her. She encounters so many people, sights, and sounds every day, but she always has to ask herself which of them are hallucinations. Some people aren’t hallucinations, but you only ever meet them once in your life and never see them again. Some people are hallucinations, but you’re unable to forget them and they live on in your memory. That makes them real.

Xiao Ling doesn’t know how to explain to Dr. He that some things can be hallucinations, yet can also be real. Like what she’s about to tell him. She tells him that she did kill her boss last night, with her brainwaves.

Back to last night: Xiao Ling arrives at the office, drunk. She hides when she sees Da Yong leaving his office, then reminds herself that she didn’t come here to hide. She follows him to the elevators and tells him to wait, but the doors close before she can get in. She thinks that Da Yong obviously saw her and is ignoring her, then remembers that the elevator he got into is controlled by brainwaves. She tells the elevator to shut down.

The elevator stops completely, turning into airless metal box. Xiao Ling faints while Da Yong slowly loses air and suffocates.

When Xiao Ling wakes up, she finds Da Yong looking down at her. She immediately gets up and apologizes for being drunk. Shi Yi Shao shows up and tells Xiao Ling that she’s made things complicated. Da Yong can see Shi Yi Shao and asks why he’s cosplaying here, and why Xiao Ling, a fired employee, is here. He notices that his watch has stopped and wanders off to go look for a clock, passing through a wall in the process. Xiao Ling realizes that he’s dead.

Xiao Ling claims that she didn’t mean to kill him — she’s not a murderer — and blames him for firing her. If she hadn’t gotten drunk, then she wouldn’t have come and tried to kill him. Da Yong is amazed at how she still refuses to take responsibility for her actions, just like at work.

Shi Yi tells Xiao Ling that there’s still a chance to save Da Yong. If she can fulfill his last dying wish within the next 49 days, she can resurrect him. But when Xiao Ling turns around, Da Yong has disappeared. She finds him crouching and facing the wall, possibly having a panic attack. He tells her that he forgot what his last wish was. She says that he doesn’t forget to eat or breathe — how could he forget something so important? He finds the words familiar because they are — he said the exact same words to her earlier right before he fired her.

Xiao Ling tells him to think harder about what his last wish is. She tries to remind him of his last moments before he entered the elevator, hoping it’ll jog his memory, but he thinks she’s just saying nonsense.

Xiao Ling tries a different tactic and tells him to follow her. He floats along behind her. She suddenly turns and tries to scare him. He’s so startled that he disappears, then re-forms. But instead of remembering something, he looks around, confused. Who is she? Where is he? Why is he here?


Commentary

This is such a solid first episode. For something that I came into with zero expectations (and maybe some skepticism for cheesy CGI), I don’t think I’ve watched a first episode that has made me so excited in such a long time! From the first ten minutes, I was hooked. It’s quirky and bizarre but also so intriguing. There’s a wacky mix of comedy, yet also darkness. We have the usual rom-com cliches — overbearing CEO, bumbling and “dumb” female lead — yet the supernatural/sci-fi twist makes it feel fresh. Xiao Ling herself is such a fascinating character, because she is frustrating with the way she acts all timid but tries to push blame around, but her relationship with her supernatural ability/self-perceived “illness” is so complex! I loved her little monologue when she narrated to Dr. He the way she experiences the world, especially the take on how some people are real but the impression they leave is so fleeting they may as well be an illusion, whereas some illusions are so memorable that they feel real.

Both Xiao Ling and Da Yong feel a bit overacted, but hey, I watch Taiwanese dramas for the cheesy good feels, not the stellar acting.

Can I just say that Chang Chieh looks way better without his glasses from his character in Back to 1989? Maybe I just associate that look too much with his character’s vaguely antagonistic storyline. I hope he doesn’t take on too much of an antagonistic role here, but I’m not quite sure how to read his reaction to Xiao Ling’s story.

After watching this first episode, I decided to do a little more digging into this show (i.e. I read the Wikipedia page.) It looks like the screenwriting/directing team behind The Haunted Heart also worked on In a Good Way, which is one of my favorites, though it’s tonally very different from this show. The screenplay itself is adapted from a script that won some national screenwriting award back in 2012 or so, so I have some high hopes for where this show will go!

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