Dao Ming Si/Domyouji has always been my favorite character in the manga and live drama.
As a character, Dao Ming Si is spoiled, rude, violent. Not really positive traits and enough to make girls run very, very fast to very, very far (though when it comes to the girl he loves, Ah Si is both a fighter and a lover.) Obviously, he’s not exactly a politically correct character. We all know that. Yet we still swooned over his many resurrections anyway from Jerry Yan to Matsumoto Jun to Lee Min Ho and now, Dylan Wang He Di.
But relax. This is just a drama character (thank goodness).
What I like about the latest adaptation, Meteor Garden 2018, is that it was able to flesh out and make room for substantial character development. It’s obviously because they had many episodes to do that so Dao Ming Si’s emotional and mental growth from a spoiled boy to a grown man felt organic.
At the root of Dao Ming Si’s immaturity is a poor little rich boy who grew up with money and not much else. But this Dao Ming Si was also different. He’s got the smarts (earned his first million from stock trading when he was 18) and didn’t mix up his idioms though this was the root of many things funny about the character in the first place. In fact, this was one thing I missed most in Dylan’s version because this made for such genuine comedic moments in the previous Dao Ming Si/Domyouji.
And while previous portrayals made Ah Si such an overbearing classist, it was toned down in this version (in accordance with censorship guidelines in China). Sure, he still commented on how small the Dongs’ house was and even attempted to transform Shan Cai into a woman of class by giving her a makeover he thought she’d appreciate. Most of this snobbishness came from the fact that he has been surrounded by wealth since he was young (he’s puzzled why Shan Cai can’t afford to go to Hawaii for a vacation) so he hasn’t known of any other world but that of luxury and comfort and he thought that everything can be bought or compensated with money and influence. Poverty and mundane concerns of regular folks were alien to him. To his credit, he did not dwell or obsess over these details and realized that being insensitive was not going to win her over.
Sure, it took him a long time to understand this but when he begrudgingly started to pursue Shan Cai seriously instead of playing childish pranks on her, he did it in the most endearing ways. He tried to adjust to her lifestyle (such as moving in to the apartment next to her that had a lot of bugs and a small bed his tall frame couldn’t fit in), be friends with her friends (he accompanied Shan Cai to karaoke to cheer up Xiao You even if he wasn’t really keen on it) and be a reliable support she and her family could rely on (he offered his black card without any second thoughts to help out Shan Cai’s father when he got into trouble, and even stated with pride that it’s money he earned). He also tried to see things from her perspective. For instance, in that scene where he bought her shoes, he didn’t take her to his usual playground of signature shops (the old Dao Ming Si would have done so) but instead they went to the small shop where she’s been buying her shoes since grade school, and in the end, even declared that the shoes were “surprisingly okay.” He tried out commoners’ food, attempted to go on a commoners’ date and remained polite in dealing with them (unless provoked); and maybe, to a certain extent, all these new experiences represented an adventure for him.
Let’s not forget that Ah Si is just a child at heart, wrought by a lonely childhood where his authority figure was his older sister. The way he behaved towards his friends and Shan Cai was akin to a grade schooler in a playground fight. In his sister’s words: “Ah Si is actually a kind person. He’s not mean at all. He just doesn’t know how to express himself. Actually he’s just a big kid that wants to be loved.”
As a newbie actor, Didi did very well. On the surface it may seem that the Dao Ming Si role is easy to play. Just act like a brat and bully and that’s it. But the truth is, Dao Ming Si is wrapped in many layers of complexities: a kid who did not get the attention of his parents growing up, a kid who was used to have his way and if he didn’t, getting his way by means of force, and yet, buried deeper within was a boy who has built all these walls to protect himself from loneliness, and who just wanted to be loved.
The range that Didi exhibited to express all these layers was very impressive, considering that this is his first acting role. These are some of the scenes that stood out and displayed his thespic talent: that bridge game when he looked at Shan Cai with the hurt and fear of losing her to his best friend and rival; that drunk scene where he cried yet pretended to be very happy; that hotpot scene in London where he put a brave front while letting her go; and basically just every scene where Shan Cai rejected him and you could see the pain, confusion, frustration and anger all mirrored palpably in his eyes.
That’s why when Shan Cai finally accepted and loved him unconditionally the same way that he did, and despite her fears of only being able to return 10 percent of his feelings, you couldn’t blame her. Because despite Ah Si’s personality flaws, he has endeared himself at this point not only to her but to the audience, including me who has watched two other drama adaptations with equally convincing and memorable Dao Ming Si and Domyouji.
An article has described Dylan’s Dao Ming Si as endearing, and this is so true. It would seem that Didi has studied the manga so thoroughly that he perfectly translated his facial expressions from the comics pages to the small screen. His chiseled looks made it look like the manga had come to life indeed; but even if he’s the best looking actor in the entire universe, the portrayal would have fallen flat like when Dao Ming Si was kicked by Shan Cai, if he couldn’t act. Dylan’s looks may be the first thing that gets people’s attention but it’s his effective portrayal as Dao Ming Si that they’d remember. And more than his height and looks, it’s his eyes that are his primary asset. And as an actor, this would propel him to greater heights if used and developed properly. Rest assured he will be able to hone that talent further in future projects.
I’m looking forward to how Dylan will chart his course from hereon. Thank you for giving us a Dao Ming Si that was simple yet complex, that captured the essence of a man-child and his journey to self-discovery, love and happiness.
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