Autumn’s Concerto / Next Stop, Happiness

It’s not too often that I watch live dramas during my free time. It seems  like I’ve seen a lot since each episode is an hour long and existentially is more exhausting to plow through than 20 minutes anime episodes, but the truth is that I can count all the live action dramas I’ve seen on basically one hand (maybe two). Based on my limited experience, dramas tend to follow similar constructions and pot devices, but Autumn’s Concerto proved to be an utterly new experience in many ways.

About a week ago, I decided to watch Autumn’s Concerto (mysoju) based on a “given what I’ve researched, this looks half-decent” attitude. I booted up the first episode and was understandably skeptical of the entire premise; after all, drama synopsis’s on dramawiki and wiki.d-addicts are hardly tantalizing enough to pique my interest. However, I ended up eating my own skeptism and came to thoroughly enjoy the show.

I was initially taking notes while watching the series in order to intellectually record my impressions in a post, but ran into problems with focusing on the series itself. Unfortunately, after finally finishing the series, anything specific that happened is lost, and I am merely left with an everlasting overall reaction (a positive one, by the way). EFuzzy may criticize this result as me marathoning through 21 episodes too quickly, but sometimes that how dramas need to be finished. Besides, if I had to sit here and write a lengthy review covering every thought I had for nearly everything that happened (trust me, a lot happens within 21 one hour episodes), you wouldn’t want to read this. So I will try to keep my thoughts brief, concise, and thought out.

Autumn’s Concerto” is actually a bit of a misnomer, as the initial image the title procures is a series regarding music on a grand scale (though the synopsis quickly throws any impression of that out the window). The title “Next Stop, Happiness” actually evokes the sentiment that is series explores most readily (as well as basically using the title as a kicker romantic line in the finale episode. Autumn’s Concerto ends up being a love drama (surprise, surprise) with a lawyer twist, and it’s fortunate that the series doesn’t belabor the law aspect of its premise without cause. It [pullquote_left]Autumn’s Concerto is constructed with great care, intention, and finesse. This series knows when to take itself seriously, and it does so in believable ways.[/pullquote_left]is used in only the most of important situations, be even then, the budget and professionalism of execution is a couple steps down from American Dramas that it becomes difficult to fully invest into the case. This isn’t entirely bad, though, since Autumn’s Concerto is constructed with great care, intention, and finesse where required, lending to believable settings and characters.

What is extremely impressive throughout this series is the casts’ ability to pull out all stops and illustrate each episode with fiery color, passion, and conviction. Actors such as Ady An (second link) as Mu Cheng and Chris Wu as Tuo Ye truly shown in nearly every scene, displaying vulnerability and depth. There’s a sense of sadness that runs through An’s performance here, from the way she blinks back tears to the way she longingly looks at Guang Xi, to even the way she smiles. If anything, though not to the fault of Ady An, Mu Cheng’s character overall is too pitiful and painful to watch. She epitomizes the best woman there is, faithful, caring, and loving, and probably to such intense extremes that watching her suffer as she sacrifices her own image and face to protect the people she loves (over and OVER again), is at times truly frustrating (though I suppose that’s what makes a drama drama.)

Though, after watching Ady An’s character, Mu Cheng, (as well as the others) I learned that smiling is beautiful. You may say, Christopher, what a strange observation; of course smiling is beautiful! I’ll admit that it sounds pretty stupid, but Mu Cheng’s constantly troubled and worried face for basically the entire series is so ingrained in my mind, that every time she smiles (and dang, her smile is really great), my insides get all warm and fuzzy. This is similar to Guang Xi (played by Vaness Wu), who looks infinitely more handsome and cute (eeer…) [pullquote_right]I found myself cheering Tuo Ye on instead of Guang Xi, purely because I identify with his character more.[/pullquote_right]when he smiles. That’s entirely opinion, but smiles truly warm a person’s face and heart. OK; enough of my transgressions.

Chris Wu’s performance as Tuo Ye, the male loser in love, is fantastic. He’s angry, devoted and determined all at the same time. Sometimes it became difficult to read his face, as his expressions seem to encompass a multitude of emotions, but it’s one that looks honest and real, and truly shows Tuo Ye’s constant experiences of conflict within himself and between others. His character background is one that I warm up to more, compared to the male protagonist of Autumn’s Concerto. A poor farmer from Hua Tian village, he gets admitted into Sheng De based on smarts and hardwork, and strives to eventually catch Mu Chen’gs heart. His honest love and sheer determination that gets him into even sometimes questionable situations truly elevates him to status of overprotective, but dependable, brother and companion. I found myself cheering Tuo Ye on instead of Guang Xi, purely because I identify with his character more. He’s also more handsome…but what do I know?

Vaness Wu, who plays Guang Xi, is passable. Despite inconsistent performances in scenes such as the lawyer court cases, his nearly perfect chemistry with Ady and his convincing display of reluctance to talk about his illness are certainly commendable. Wu’s main issue derives from his overreaction and contortion of facial features, lending to unnatural and sometimes peculiar expressions. This is particularly noticable before the point of surgery (in the series), as this is where we are supposed to see Guang Xi’s character change the most (and emptahize with teh chance so we can feel teh “one-two punch” grab-a-box-of-tissue sequences in the second half to full effect). Wu’s performance consquently improves with every episode, and makes for quite the cute father for Xiao Xiao Bin’s Liang Xiao Le.

And finally, I get to talk about favorite person: Xiao Xiao Bin. A scene-stealer, Bin’s so precious as Xiao Le. His witty snapbacks, joyous cries, and angelic smile are more than enough to make me want to watch the series again. There are numerous instances where Bin’s character sees through his mother trying to lie and hide her feelings, and his pure ability to display a child’s underestimated observation ability reveal a relationship that most characters in the series don’t share. Actually, most relationships in a series are created through misunderstanding, the chariot tool for drama intensity. Regardless, Xiao Xiao Bin…GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

To get it out of the way, I cried during episodes 3, 10 13, and 20. I won’t exactly say why I cried during these episodes, but Autumn’s Concerto does a substantially decent job at implementing the all-too-important catharsis moments during most of the subplots (and this is usually due to the wonderful performance of the actors).

There definitely are flaws in Autumn’s Concerto, the main one being how both main characters wallop around for about 10-12 episodes not able to lay their feelings down on the table. This is a typical theme in many dramas (even in anime), where characters hurt from previous love (or not even) are afraid of committing to their feelings, and it strangles me every time when I see the two characters never stepping up to the plate. Believable plto developments help delay and suspend belief for short periods of time, but each time we boomerang back to misunderstandings between the two characters, watching Guang Xi run away from being hurt again and Mu Cheng standing silently letting Guang Xi abuse her (verbally, not physically), sometimes get outrageous. I’ve screamed at my computer [pullquote_left]This is established through the sometimes arduous and uneventful boring dialogues, character interactions, and eye-roll inducing pre-story arcs, but it is exactly these scenes that help us understand the characters we are trying to follow. [/pullquote_left]several times to the dismay of my sleeping parents, but give them no heed. Autumn’s Concerto is more important. The ending, also, seemed to run out of steam and lose all the friction the previous episodes had carried. The finale episode, only 20-30 minutes, seemed to wrap up rather quickly and left me feeling slightly unsatisfied. Despite these flaws, however, I finished the series with a smile on my face, and happy that the characters had finally reunited with Xiao Xiao Bin under their arms.

Other points of note include are the crying-inducing hormonal soundtrack (Della Ding’s I Love Him is particularly awesome) and certain character’s themes are melodic. A strong cast of supportingcharacters fully fleshes out the setting for Autumn’s Concerto and there is constant reference to previous portions of past events. This conveys a solid and realistic sense of situations and conveys a solidness in the plot that is rather unheard of in the series I’ve watched myself.

My most favorite parts of the entire series revolve around every scene where Ren Guang Xi, Liang Mu Cheng, and Ren/Liang Xiao Le are together, interacting in ways that break any cute-meter I’ve ever possessed. These family scenes (including the ending credits) are so poignant and heartwarming in their simplicity, that I can never stop thinking about having my own family (bah; I realize that what I see on screen is an idealized version and can hardly project my family like that, but still…let me indulge).

After 21 episodes, I realize that accounts to about an entire day’s worth expended. Despite the relatively large time consumption, I found the time spent watching Autumn’s Concerto enjoyable. Dramas, in their own naked form, are love stories with great embellishments. Despite these embellishments not entirely being necessary and most series having the ability to condense themselves into shorter forms and still be marginally effective (I ended up reading the SparkNotes version of Les Miserables due to time procrastination and still managed to shed tears at the closing chapters…go figure), it’s really these unnecessary plot developments and embellishments that give characters their meat and bone. What makes a drama successful is if you can invest emotionally and intellectually into its characters and setting. This is established through the sometimes arduous and uneventful boring dialogues, character interactions, and eye-roll inducing pre-story arcs, but it is exactly these scenes that help us understand the characters we are trying to follow. A drama without such scenes is akin to meeting a person at a bar party, sweet talking (perhaps dancing, and then leaving. We end up hardly getting to know the acquaintence and developing any attachment or care. This understanding from exposure to a character instigates our heart’s yearning for certain characters together (or not get together), and for the pure love that us romantics wish for to truly shine in light of reality’s grimness.

Leave a Reply