《杉杉来吃》Boss & Me

e69d89e69d89e69da5e59083Title: 《杉杉来吃》
Actors: Zhao Liying, Zhang HanGenre: Romance, Contemporary
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0/5.0

Rare is the trope I hate more than the “in love with the boss” trope. I make no secret of the fact that I despise emotionally stale male protagonists who can’t do any of their own emotional labour. I hate authors who idealise extreme power differences in a relationship. And most of all, I abhor the Chinese trope of the 霸道总裁. Somehow, though, every winter since its release, I’ve found time to rewatch Boss & Me.

It’s not for the acting, that’s for sure. Zhao Liying is incredibly talented, and her bubbly and sweet Shanshan comes across as genuine and kind, with a heart as big as her appetite. But Zhang Han leaves me cold, like he always does in every drama that isn’t titled Queen of SOP, mostly because he doesn’t know how to move his face, and he has the perfect excuse not to in human iceberg Feng Teng. (No microexpressions? Blank expression? Zero personality? I mean, okay.)

It’s not the story, either, because it’s a fairly standard one. After Shanshan donates blood to Feng Teng’s younger sister Feng Yue during a difficult pregnancy, she comes to his attention, despite not being outstanding at work or particularly competent outside of it. When she begins to eat on the balcony outside his office in order to escape office rumours, he becomes enamored with her optimism and her sweetness, and, not really knowing how to interact with her, orders her to come up and eat lunch with him daily, which of course, only begins to fan the flames of the gossip.

Why! O why! Do I like it so much?

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Cleverman

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Cleverman || Hunter Page-Lochard, Rob Collins || Sci-fi, Dystopia, Contemporary || ★★★★☆ – 4 stars

warnings for: racism, medical abuse/human experimentation, state violence/police violence, sexual violence, general violence/gore,

At once heartbreaking and hopeful, the Australian dystopian series Cleverman follows Aboriginal brothers Koen and Waruu West in the aftermath of a world that has just discovered the existence of Hairypeople.

I’ve been trying to write this review for months, but there’s just so much to talk about, and I have nothing coherent to say, so I’m just going to recommend that you watch this show. Don’t watch it all at once, because I marathoned it, and it kind of fucked me up, because it’s really heavy. I don’t mean it in that maudlin, overwrought way of writers who want sympathy for cheap, but because the way oppression is realised within the world of Cleverman so closely mirrors the way those structures actually play out in real life.

For all this is a fantasy series, it often rings so close to life that it was extremely difficult to watch, but one of the things Cleverman does really well is show how being at the intersections of differently oppressed identities may change the nature of your oppression––for Djukara, for example, this manifests as police brutality and prison abuse. For Araluen, on the other hand, it becomes the basis for sexual exploitation and rape.

But the one thing Cleverman doesn’t do is negate the oppression that exists in real life in favour of its fantasy oppressions. The title of the series, after all, is Cleverman, a position of great importance in many Aboriginal cultures. Much of the cast is Aboriginal, as is the series creator, and within the narrative, Aboriginal rights and racism against Aboriginal Australians is very closely tied with discrimination against Hairypeople. I don’t have much knowledge of Australian racial politics and even less knowledge about Aboriginal cultures, but the way it was handled in the series felt nuanced.

One of the strongest interpersonal dynamics in the series was the relationship between the main characters, half brothers Koen (the titular Cleverman) and Waruu (who more openly covets the position). To be honest, they’re both pretty horrible people, but there is a volatile energy in their mutual hatred (and our initial disdain for them) that really drives the emotional heart of the story forward, even as the sociopolitical events of the plotline belong in the hands of the rich and powerful.

There were a few things that I felt could have been done better. Aside from the possible exception of Latani, most of the women in the narrative felt secondary and sidelined, and all of them felt underdeveloped and underutilised for all that I thought they were the most interesting characters. Most of the portrayals also felt a little regressive, and many of the women have absolutely no agency in their own lives. All this felt quite disconcerting for a series that did so well in other areas (though some of the other characters felt kind of stock-y as well), but I have high hopes that this will be sorted in the second season. Which, if you can’t tell, I’m eagerly waiting for.

Under the Lights

underthelightsdahliaadlercoverTitle: Under the Lights
Author: Dahlia Adler
Genre: romance, contemporary, realistic, new adult
Rating: ★★★☆☆ | 3.0

I had the opposite problem with this book as I did Labyrinth Lost––I tried really hard to dislike this novel, but I don’t think I can. There was a lot about it I felt I should dislike––one of the POV characters was a misogynist who wouldn’t stop talking about getting head, I’m kind of uncomfortable with the way Vanessa’s parents were portrayed, etc. etc. etc. ––but honestly, I couldn’t bring myself to write this off.

Under the Lights is the second of the Daylight Falls novel (though you don’t have to read the first novel to follow this one), and it follows the best friends of the main characters of the first novel––Josh Chester and Vanessa Park. Josh is Hollywood’s resident playboy, but he hasn’t had a project in ages, and he’s being forced to star in a reality TV show with his mother. Vanessa is the star of the long-running Daylight Falls, but she’s worried about maintaining her career after the show ends––there’s hardly work abound for a Korean American actress, especially one who’s struggling with her feelings towards her agent’s daughter.

I’ve been writing too much recently; the words aren’t coming out in quite the numbers they used to. There’s not really much I can say about this novel–it was adequate, I enjoyed it. I don’t think it’s something I’d read again, but I also don’t regret having read. This was in some ways a good thing–it lent left to what little dead time I had, and it was a fluffy read that helped bridge the moments between heavier course reading. And if it didn’t leave too strong an impression, it’s because it didn’t do much wrong.

There was some stuff that made me pause and wonder if a white woman should be writing the way she writes about Korean American households, but it wasn’t anything that was super out of line. And yeah, Josh is an asshole, but he’s reacted to as an asshole, it’s canon that he’s an asshole, and there aren’t excuses for his assholery.

I don’t know. I thought I’d have more to say, but I really don’t. It was cute. I liked it fine. That’s all.

The Diabolic (S.J. Kincaid)

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Title: The Diabolic
Author: S.J. Kincaid
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Rating: ★★★☆☆ || 2.5

So Diabolic is being described as Star Wars meets The Hunger Games meets The Red Queen, and as far as I’m aware it lives up to those expectations, but I’d add in a touch of Jupiter Ascending also––and I mean that as a good thing, as someone who thoroughly enjoyed the film and did not think it was trash.

Nemesis is a Diabolic, a creature bred to bond with and protect –– and love –– only one person. Thus, when her master, Sidonia, is called to a treacherous court, Nemesis is chosen to go in her place, to keep her safe. But the court itself is a cesspit, and Nemesis may find that humanity (and, of course, love) are not so far from her grasp as she thought.

Whoo boy is this a complicated novel to talk about.

[Spoilers under the cut]

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