This day arrived much earlier than I expected. Since I started recapping, I figured one day I’d recap a TW-drama. I never thought it come anytime soon, since I haven’t liked one from start to finish in years. Lo and behold, surprises may catch one off guard, but it never fails to delight from the unexpected. I’ve decided to recap Sunny Happiness (“SH” or 幸福最晴天), because I simply have so much I want to discuss. If you’ve never watched a TW-drama and have no desire to do so, but have decided to read the recaps anyways, I nevertheless welcome you to chime in anytime.
Some drama-related fun facts first: SH is part II of a three-part trilogy of dramas all sharing the word “Happy” (幸福) in its title. The first drama was Happy and Love Forever (幸福一定强) starring Ming Dao and Annie Chen (who pop up in episode one of SH for a cameo). The third drama is tentatively called Happy Three Stars (幸福三颗星) currently finalizing its casting (rumors are its Blue Lan and Cheryl Yang – weird combo but after the magic that is Mike He and Janine Chang, I’m not counting anything out).
On the surface, SH is premised on both the Cinderella story and the contract marriage. But as the drama progresses, it becomes clearer and clearer that the trite set-ups don’t dictate the plot. Rather the characters and their emotions and hopes drive this story forward, and its grounded in the best kind of romance – two people getting to know each other by *gasp* talking a lot. There are no histrionics, a lack of big dun-dun-dun moments, no gotcha reveals, and plenty of believable and reasonable discussions that create this memorable love story.
With that said, my recaps will be on the Taiwan airing schedule, which means one new episode airs every Sunday (currently two episodes have aired, and both times led the ratings in its time slot). It’s my greatest pleasure to bring you Sunny Happiness episode 1!
Episode 1 Recap:
We meet a couple at their wedding reception – he in black tie, she in her white bridal gown – sitting in front of the ubiquitious red backdrop present at every single Chinese wedding banquet. They drink their wine, but the expression of discomfort and awkwardness hovers over their every move.
The bride – who we know to be Fang Yong Yong (played by Janine Chang) – voiceovers: I never imagined that my wedding would take place under these circumstances.
The groom – who we know to be Xian Yun Jie (played by Mike He) voiceovers: I never thought, with such a unbelievable wedding, that an unexpected surprise would happen during the wedding night.
Yong Yong and Yun Jie make out in bed, and wake up the next morning shocked to see each other naked and in bed together. They tussle over the covers, but Yong Yong kicks him off the bed and steals the covers.
Yong Yong voiceovers: What were each of us thinking that night, do you remember? All I know is that had I never met you that day, then our lives would not be in this situation.
Cue the opening credits.
The title card reads – two months earlier – and it’s a rainy day out. Yong Yong puts on her raincoat and rides her bike to work. She voiceovers that had it not rained that day, had she not been late and took a detour, had she not stopped to help someone in need, then she would have never met him.
Yun Jie drives his car and is clearly in a rush. He voiceovers that had he not been stuck in traffic, had he not dropped his cellphone and was looking for it, then he would have never met her. We see Yong Yong in the middle of the road picking up oranges, and Yun Jie drives up behind her.
Yong Yong voiceovers that there so were many “had been fors” that day, otherwise their lives would not have become so entangled. Yun Jie voiceovers that because there were so many reasons that led them to meet, at that very moment when they met, the rain stopped, and the sun peeked through the clouds.
Yun Jie swerves and brakes just in time, but he plows into Yong Yong’s bike. He gets out and checks his own car first (hehe), and says that at least nothing was hurt. Yong Yong gets up and yells at him, telling him that the bike is hers and he owes her a new bike. He tells her that it’s her fault for leaving her bike in the middle of the road.
He tries to leave and she grabs his arm, ripping his jacket. They accuse each other of being bullies, with neither willing to budge. Yun Jie tries to leave the scene, only to have Yong Yong sit behind his car to prevent him. He ends up buying her a new bike, and she promises to buy him a new suit. He says she can’t afford it and leaves. You are a cold cold man, Xian Yun Jie.
Yong Yong realizes she is late for work, and rushes off in her new bike. She arrives at a luxury hotel where she works in the cleaning staff. She is about to be assigned to clean the office of the new hotel president (the hotel was purchased by the Tian Yu Group last week), who is rumored to be exacting, demanding, and cold. Yun Jie arrives at his office, and tells his subordinate that whomever is cleaning is office needs to be fired.
When he arrives at work, it has to be clean, and it wasn’t clean today. The subordinate reminds him that he works so late and arrives so early its hard for the cleaning staff to clean during his (few) off hours. Yun Jie heads off to a meeting, but not before reminding that the office has to be perfectly clean when he gets back.
Yong Yong gets assigned to clean the office of the new president, and is told that he is ridiculously demanding, and has fired a handful of cleaning staff employees already. Yong Yong approaches this new assignment with a happy attitude – she isn’t nicknamed “Miss Can Do” for nothing. She finds out from her supervisor that the new boss is young and handsome.
Yong Yong is cleaning the elevator when some guests spill a drink. She goes to get a mop, during which time Yun Jie brings his guests into the hotel and arrive at that same elevator. The guests are Ming Dao and Annie Chen, supposedly back from their honeymoon. They are fine with the mess, but Yun Jie is furious that it has not been cleaned up.
Yong Yong arrives with her mop, and asks to clean it up. She tells Yun Jie to stop being such jerk and let her clean it up, since her new boss is a real stickler for cleaniness. During which time Ming Dao and Annie are totally sniggering and watching these two bicker. So. Adorable. Which is when another employeee arrives and addresses Yun Jie as the president of the hotel. Yong Yong realizes what a potential pickle she may be, having gotten on the wrong side of her new boss.
After discussing a upcoming product release party to be held at the hotel, Yun Jie sends off his guests and sees Yong Yong eating lunch outside in the patio. He heads outside to talk with her, and is totally put off by her eating in public and having a grain of rice on her mouth and not even realizing it. He informs her that he doesn’t want to see cleaning people cleaning, he only wants to see sterling results.
He’s finds her first attempt to clean his office to be satisfactory, so he will give her a probationary period. She cannot make another mistake, because his rule is perfection and cleanliness. He warns her again NOT to let him see her cleaning his office.
Yong Yong takes a picnic basket and heads to an orphange, where she is welcomed warmly by the director and kids. We find out that Yong Yong once lived there, but left a long time ago. But she still comes back all the time to bring gifts and visit with the children. She finds out that the orphanage has been sold by their landlord, and the kids are about to be evicted.
Yong Yong has dinner at her with her two sisters, skinny first sister, and plump second sister. First sister complains about not being able to land a good guy, second sister complains about not having a job. The girls mom tells the older two to stop complaining, and says that if Yong Yong gets a second job, then they can still maintain their current standard of living.
Yong Yong calls her little mother (hence she is a stepmother), and tells her that she’s already working full time. Her stepmother reminds her to not skimp on bringing home the dough. Older sister says that she will handle the situation – as soon as she marries a rich guy everyone will be taken care of. She takes out a magazine with Yun Jie on the cover, and Yong Yong calls him a cold-blooded bastard.
The two older sisters following Yong Yong to the hotel, with first sister using this opportunity to try and entice him. When Yong Yong is cleaning, she hears Yun Jie arriving, and she runs to hide because of his warning not to let him see her. He realizes that she is hiding outside in the patio, and eavesdropping, and he says so out loud.
Before he can bust Yong Yong, there is a knock on his door and his younger brother arrives, having been summoned. Before they leave, Yun Jie tells the hidden Yong Yong that she needs to use this opportunity to save her skin. The two brothers walk down to their meeting, but not before running into the two older sisters, with first sister hilariously pretending to faint and getting saved by Yun Jie.
She pretends she’s not feeling well, and he tells younger brother Yun Chao (played by Li Yi Feng – remember ALL MINE, okay?) to have HR fire all non-healthy employees. Later that night, Yong Yong is waiting outside for him to leave work, and its already midnight and he’s still here. Finally he leaves, but not before he notices her duster and realizes she’s stayed to clean up after him per his requirements.
After Yong Yong cleans, her sisters sneak back in and leave a love letter and all sorts of presents for Yun Jie. The next morning, Yong Yong is called to meet with Yun Jie. When she arrives, he tells her that she truly made a deep impression on him. She’s confused, and he continues, telling her that a deep impression means two different reactions – either unforgettable, or makes one run for the hills.
Her confusion pisses him off more, and he stands up and approaches her. He leans right into her face, and asks whether she really loves him so much. Mwahaha, in your dreams, Yun Jie! He recites the love letter (something about such a surprising meeting leaving an indelible impression and such flowery language), and then hands it to her along with all the presents.
He derides the love letter, and she questions why he thinks she wrote it. He hands her a lunchbox given to him, and its Yong Yong’s lunchbox from when he caught her eating outside. He tells her to take everything and leave, he’s not interested in it, or her. He’s so dismissive, and he tells her that its her lunchbox and she was the last person to leave his office yesterday, so clearly it must’ve been left by her.
He tells her that she is harassing him, and that he will never ever fall in love with her. His brusque and condescending attitude really hurts, and she tells him that she will never ever fall in love with him. She takes everything and leaves. Yong Yong stands outside his office and swallows her tears. She asks her surpervisor if she can leave early today, because she feels like barfing right now.
My boys Yun Jie and Yun Chao are having dinner at home. Yun Chao tells big bro that he wants a chance to help with more company affairs, he doesn’t want to be just an accessory in this family. Yun Chao hands a magazine to his brother, with a woman on the cover that we find out is a famed television anchor (and later revealed to be Yun Jie’s ex-wife).
Yun Jie’s ex-wife is Wan Lan, and she’s a career woman raising a son that she has told the world is her nephew (good one, lady). Xiao Nian gets into trouble at school because he needs a father figure, and Wan Lan tries her best to be a good mother. She’s told Xiao Nian that his dad is dead. She’s off to Taipei for an interview, and she agrees to take Xiao Nian with her as his birthday present. Wan Lan’s producer (who totally has a crush on her) is already in Taipei.
Yun Jie brings Yun Chao to the office, and informs him that he’s been promoted to a vice-president of Tian Yu Group. Yun Chao is shocked but pleased, especially at the thought that Yun Jie listened to him and is willing to give him a chance to prove himself professionally. Yun Chao genuinely thanks his brother, who tells him that Yun Chao is now in charge of the development of a new shopping center.
Yun Chao is handed the shopping center project, which will be on the orphanage land. He looks into other orphanages in the area, clearly more interested in helping the orphans than Yun Jie ever was. His subordinate tries to insinuate that Yun Jie will not be a hands off boss and will try to micro-manage Yun Chao, who doesn’t (yet) buy into his attempt to start any discord between the brothers.
Yong Yong is at the orphanage visiting with the kids when Yun Chao arrives to meet with the director. She is rude to Yun Chao, who is here to discuss the children’s move from the orphanage. He shows them a file he created showing orphanages he has contacted, which have agreed to take the kids. Yong Yong cuts him off, telling him that moving the kids is cruel regardless.
Orphans want a warm home and stability, moving children who are orphans uproots children who have no one in their lives. She lectures Yun Chao that the children will be separated because they will be sent to various orphanages. We find out that Yong Yong arrived at the orphanage when she was eight and lived there for seven years. Yun Chao calmly tells them that he will continue with the project.
Thoughts of Mine:
The last time I was this chomping at the bit to recap an episode of a drama was episode 7 of Mary Stayed Out All Night (that was a damn good episode – too bad the rest of the drama was downhill from there). I’m pretty much done watching SH, but I will do my best to keep my discussions strictly on what happened only in the episode I am recapping.
What a great first episode – fast, logical, and the main characters are immediately fleshed out with a few great scenes. Yong Yong and Yun Jie’s first meeting is straight out of a drama/manga/romance novel, complete with rain turning into sunshine. But what I love about SH is how it never dawdles on milking any moment. The inherent dramatic crescendo of music is missing, and all we get are the voiceovers that tell us this moment will later be remembered as something special.
Yong Yong is kind but has a short temper, loyal but not a pushover, hardworking but pragmatic. She is not cutesy or spirited, but rather an ordinary girl with a full personality. Knowing she lived in an orphanage before (why we don’t know yet), I can glimpse the orphan mentality in her, the need to give and receive affection for fear of being discarded and alone.
Yun Jie is, thus far, a stereotypical good looking, confident and smart chaebol. What I love is that he doesn’t seem to have any hang ups, and is not so much a mean asshole as he is someone without any patience for anything less exacting than his own sky high standards. His interactions with Yong Yong are always calm and collected, but she gets under his skin even when he doesn’t seem to realize it.
Yun Chao seems an interesting character already. He clearly has a second sibling syndrome, always living under the shadow of his older and more capable brother (and a successful father). Yet he doesn’t seem overly bothered by it, and is frank in telling Yun Jie that he wants to succeed. I love that the brothers have an open and caring relationship with each other, but one that delineates that Yun Jie makes the final decisions.
What I like most about this episode is how the tone remains so calm and controlled, every scene flowing into the next, every conversation interesting and brisk. I liked the fact that SH starts with a mid-point flashback, from their wedding and wedding night to two months earlier to begin the story. Clearly the wedding night scene isn’t the final scene of the drama, so things are sure to get much more complicated between Yong Yong and Yun Jie before they get their sunny happiness together.
I’ve discovered that my love for a drama can be heightened a notch when the drama is properly scored, with a great soundtrack and spot-on usage of music in the appropriate scenes. I love the SH soundtrack, with a blend of upbeat songs with mellow fare and even a heart stirring ballad that I foresee we’ll be hearing a lot of in the upcoming episodes.
This is the best performance I have seen from Janine and Mike. I don’t mean sheer acting ability-wise, but a connection with each other and the character each plays that it completely elevates the material. Mike tends to overthink his acting (you can usually see Mike think as he acts), and he does it here, but it’s overcome by his chemistry with Janine and his heightened ability to bring the emotion. Janine doesn’t feel as aloof as she normally comes across, instead channeling a genuinely warm persona that is delightful to watch.
Second male lead Li Yi Feng is a natural at acting. I felt it immediately (since most young Chinese actors are rather stilted when they perform), and he has this reserved aura that is just so intriguing. I can’t explain it. I know I promised to keep this recap spoiler-free, but I can safely say that this drama will not have a midway meltdown, and instead, each episode keeps getting better and better.