Taste of Love had all the ingredients for a successful drama.
It features Macau, Taiwan, Jeju Island and China (Zhangjiajie), the rustic but charming countryside life in Taiwan that has been promoted through its farm tourism, the nightmarkets and, yes, even teddy bears.
Taste of Love is about the search for the recipe of a special sauce for roast goose. After his mother went into a coma, Wen Feng (Bryant Chang), the second heir of the Macau-based Michelin star Man Kee Restaurant travels to Taiwan in search of the recipe, with only a postcard as clue. There, he meets Ye Xiao He (Vivian Sung), who becomes his tour guide. Xiao He’s father owns an organic farm and Wen Feng becomes their reluctant guest after he lost his passport and wallet at the airport.
Up to this point, the drama had so much promise. In fact, it felt like Instagram in motion for the first few episodes.
“Real food can warm people’s stomachs as much as their hearts.” – Wen Feng
Then it started to falter and became a cookie cutter Taiwan drama: love square, ridiculous and random plot points, contrived situations and manipulative scenes. Taiwanese dramas really love to see how far they could go with the cheese sometimes.
I know that we have to suspend disbelief when watching dramas; they are after all an approximation or sometimes, an exaggeration, of real life. But a lot of the story arcs thrown to the audience in Taste of Love weren’t just a test in patience but a test in intelligence. At first, I was just skipping the scenes of the second leads (the fickle-minded, manipulative Qiao Ling and the lame Jun Hao) but it became so bad and ridiculous that I had to skip entire episodes.
“Smart people use their brains, dumb people use their hands.” – Wen Feng
What went wrong? From the simple premise of a recipe that’s so secretive only the mother knows how to make it, it became a wild goose chase (pun definitely intended). From having so much promise, everything became a recipe for disaster. Was it a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth? The drama had two writers and while that is not uncommon and not a lot, it could have been a case of each writer taking charge of specific story arcs. Many scenes had that disjointed feeling. Like, this guy is supposed to be worrying about the recipe that he needs to find to save the ailing restaurant but why is he acting so indifferent in one scene calmly adapting to life in the farm and then panicky the next? It was as if the writers just threw in random scenes altogether like tossing in whatever ingredients you could find into a soup.
The drama does tackle some issues about the F&B industry. One is how food bloggers (or bloggers in general) can ruin reputations with careless typing on a keyboard. It also takes a look at the food habits that we have developed over time, preferring fastfood to slow-cooked meals, cheaper alternatives to organic produce etc.
I quite liked how they also gave a background on each dish that was being featured, from the history to the ingredients, although it did give that impression that the characters were just reciting lines from a script as if they were making an ad. But I could consume that instead of having to stomach the pointless melodrama that the characters, especially Qiao Ling and Jun Hao, engaged in.
These “relevant” points aside, the drama became so predictable you could guess what’s going to happen next to push the storytelling, also known as creating more stupid scenes for the sake of drama: phone runs out of battery, car runs out of gas, an ex-fiance who cheated becomes a swindler and goes nuts, a kidnapping, possible incest, sibling rivalry, characters suddenly becoming childish and petty…throw in absurd scenes like weight-training with bears (thank goodness Bryant Chang looks cute when he’s interacting with these inanimate objects). And when they’ve ran out of ideas, they threw in possibly life-threatening diseases.
Then there’s the perennial problem with dramas: Everyone is bloody connected. The ex-fiance who is a swindler who is a kidnapper also happens to be interested in the recipe, the heroine’s father may be the long-lost love of the hero’s mother, someone is bound to be a classmate of someone, and what’s more amazing, they all live in Hongli Village. Like Mickey Mouse said, it’s a small world after all.
The product placement was also everywhere: HTC, Transasia, a credit card brand, YOLO make-up brand…I’m guessing even some of the restaurants and food products featured were sponsored. Oh and this was supported by Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture too.
But as one character asked in the final episode (thank god there were only 15 episodes though they could have cut them into half and it wouldn’t have made a difference): “How did it get to be like this?”
I had a field day reading the “live” comments on Viki. I usually switch off comments because they only distract me but for the final episode, I had to know what the rest of the viewers thought. And the common joke was: “I was such an idiot to finish this drama” with several others chiming in to be counted too.
It wasn’t all that bad but don’t trust me since I watched maybe just half of the entire thing. There’s the Instagram-worthy food porn to begin with though they became as rare as white truffle as the drama progressed. Then there’s the affecting Vivian Sung (she of Our Times fame) and the charming Bryant Chang (seems he goes by the English screen name Ray Chang these days) who plays another character with the prince syndrome. Bryant has been in many films and dramas including the critically acclaimed Eternal Summer. If not for these factors, the drama would have totally left a bad aftertaste.
The drama did remind me of my love for Taiwan. There was a time I was often there, celebrating new year, discovering night markets, watching plays, visiting museums (I still love Ju Ming’s and Jimmy Liao’s works) and making new friends. It makes me want to pay friends another visit and gorge in their food.
At the end of Taste of Love, was the question: “Is there any dish that makes you think of someone?”
Well not necessarily someone, but sanbeiji, lu rou fan, fried chicken and bubble tea make me think and miss Taiwan. Just no stinky tofu for me please. Xie xie.
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