So many S’poreans are getting hooked on this Taiwanese soap on Ch 8 that some restaurants see a drop in business
By Tan Kee Yun
November 08, 2010
RETIREE Yeo Zhong Li wouldn’t normally miss the live getai performances near his HDB estate in the Commonwealth area.
POPULAR: Love actor Ni Qi Min (in a scene with another cast member) has received rave reviews for his portrayal as a bad guy turned good guy.
But over the past year, the 74-year-old grandfather of two has foregone such pleasures to make sure he is home every evening to plonk himself in front of the television set by 7pm.
His pop culture obsession? The intriguing melodramatic 787-episode Taiwanese soap opera Love (or Ai in Mandarin).
It revolves around the trials and tribulations of two sisters, Lin Chunhua (played by veteran Chen Meifeng) and Shuhua (Fang Xin) and is full of power struggles, bitter quarrels and family feuds.
Weekdays & weekends
Love was originally in Hokkien but a version dubbed in Mandarin is shown here. It airs daily on Channel 8 – an hour on weeknights and three hours each on Saturdays and Sundays.
According to statistics provided by MediaCorp, Love ‘attracts an average of 864,000 viewers per episode and on some days, a million viewers’.
Its ratings come close to the two top local dramas, New Beginnings (939,000 viewers per episode), aired in April and Unriddle (891,000 viewers per episode), aired in August.
Love beat September’s The Family Court (which averaged only 805,000 viewers per episode), starring heartthrobs Tay Ping Hui and Qi Yuwu.
‘It is a very good drama series,’ Mr Yeo told The New Paper on Sunday.
‘I don’t have a (video) recorder, so I try not to miss any episode.
‘All the aunties at the kopitiam I go to follow it too. So we discuss the storyline whenever we meet.’
He is not the only one in his family to be bitten by the Love bug.
Love, with its central theme of family harmony and reconciliation, brings the Yeo family’s three generations together, a rare feat for a television programme.
Mr Yeo’s wife, Madam Tan Lor Beng, 68, is a huge fan. She points out without hesitation that Love ‘beats other Taiwanese dramas such as The Unforgettable Memory and Taiwan Tornado hands down’ in terms of addictiveness.
Mr Yeo’s granddaughters, Winona, 12, and Dione, 10, are glued to the gogglebox as they finish their dinner. Dione can rattle off the names of a string of characters in Love.
‘I watch Love because Ah Gong and Ah Ma (referring to her grandparents) watch,’ she said with a shrug, when quizzed about her immense knowledge of the show.
The girls’ mum, 37-year-old human resources executive Doris Yeo, is an ‘accidental viewer’ too, as she swings by her parents’ place to pick up the kids after work.
While Ms Yeo identifies herself more as a fan of all-things Korean, she does not deny the allure and mass appeal of Love.
‘The acting is pretty solid, also the song really does have a powerful hook…everyone seems to know and like it,’ she said.
Indeed, Love’s catchy Hokkien theme song I Ask The Sky (or Wo Wen Tian in Mandarin) has reached dizzying heights of success.
Even English speakers & non-Chinese watch show
Getai artiste-host Hao Hao, 29, said that I Ask The Sky has become ‘the must-sing song’ on the getai circuit.
At several outlets of family karaoke chain K Box, it stays on the Most Popular Song Selection chart for weeks on end.
And don’t be surprised if you hear the song buzzing from mobile phones of your fellow bus and MRT passengers.
The ringtone of I Ask The Sky is ‘on the list of Top Downloads at StarHub’s Music Store’, a spokesman for StarHub told The New Paper on Sunday.
Still, much of the show’s success still lies in the strength of its story, said Mr Paul Chan, Channel 8’s vice-president of branding and promotions.
‘In Love, the roles of the good and bad characters are always well-defined and presented in a balanced perspective,’ said Mr Chan.
‘It resonates with viewers precisely because they are able to root for the good folks and jeer at the villains when the villains get their just desserts.
‘Also, the lead protagonists embody positive values such as filial piety and respect for elders, especially in the face of adversity.’
Echoing similar sentiments were Love’s increasing pool of English-speaking and even non-Chinese viewers.
And unlike previous Taiwanese soap operas that had an uncool reputation of pandering to the tastes of homemakers and heartlanders, Love has proven itself to have a more cosmopolitan appeal.
Locally based Indonesian Umy Sokilah, a tour agent in her late 20s, understands only a smattering of Mandarin but adores Love for its characters.
‘The acting is perfect…the evil characters like Hong Zhi Zhong (played by actor Huang Ying-Xun) and Xie Mingming (actress Jiang Zu-Ping) are so convincing that they make me really hate them,’ she said.
‘I don’t think any Singaporean star can act like that.’
English-educated retiree Gabriel Tan, 70, praised the scriptwriters ‘for being able to tie so many families together in one storyline’.
‘Some of the actors did really well in their roles, especially the guy who played the crook Guo Congmin (veteran actor Ni Qi Min). A lot of credit must be given to him for the show’s success,’ he said.
Ms Sherry Ng, 28, who works in marketing, enjoys Love though she considers Chinese her second language.
‘Thank goodness for the English subtitles,’ she said.
‘The characters are so appealing…I have to watch the show every day.’
She even set up a Facebook fan page for Love earlier this year.
‘If only I could find the DVD of Love, that would be a bonus,’ she said.
The New Paper on Sunday checked with local video stores and found that the DVD version of the series is not licensed to be sold or made available for rental here.
Perhaps, the only people who are a little upset by Love’s rapid conquest of Singapore’s TV-watching population are employees in the F&B industry.
In the last six months, business at some popular Chinese restaurants and tze char outlets has been affected, apparently because people have been choosing to stay home to catch Love.
A manager at Zi Yean Restaurant in Bukit Merah, who gave her name only as Ms Chin, told us that the number of customers in their non-airconditioned section has ‘dropped by 10 to 15 per cent’.
‘Our aircon section is largely unaffected, as there are three TV sets there showing Love every day, so most of our customers can still watch the show while they eat,’ said Ms Chin, who is in her 30s.
‘But the non-aircon area has only one TV set and some customers will not be able to see the screen.’
Tze char outlet Zion Fishhead Beehoon at Toa Payoh has also witnessed a slight dip in its number of patrons at night, said one of the helpers there, who gave her name only as Ms Chua.
But things are beginning to look up.
‘The television screen at our kopitiam used to show a sports channel, but one month ago, they switched to showing Channel 8 in the evenings,’ said Ms Chua, who is in her 50s.
7 ways that Love is loved
1 Love is the first Taiwanese long-form drama series to be given the primetime slot on MediaCorp Channel 8.
2 Viewership statistics from MediaCorp reveal that about 50 per cent of local students and working adults prefer Love to any other television shows screened previously in the same time slot.
3 Love is almost twice as popular as other Hong Kong or Taiwanese dramas in terms of viewership ratings.
4 Love’s theme song I Ask The Sky (Wo Wen Tian) has become the ‘must-sing song’ on the local getai circuit. It is also constantly on the Most Popular Song Selection chart for consecutive weeks at family karaoke chain K Box.
5 The official music video of I Ask The Sky (sung by Hokkien crooner Weng Li-You) has received more than 1.3million views to date on YouTube.
6 Ringtone of I Ask The Sky is on the list of Top Downloads at StarHub’s Music Store.
7 Popularity of the cast members of Love has sky-rocketed. Lead actress Fang Xin’s official page on social networking website Facebook has nearly 15,000 fans, supporting actress Jiang Zu-Ping – who plays scheming villain Xie Mingming – is close behind with nearly 10,000 fans. Veteran actress Che
n Meifeng has more than 7,000.