It’s hard for me to describe exactly why I’m fascinated by Material Queen, but I do understand why it’s not a ratings juggernaut that the same directing-writing-acting combo of Autumn’s Concerto was. The dazzling directing finesse and cinematography aside, it’s just so odd of a drama. There is very little hook – it’s like reading a novel transposed onto a drama medium that isn’t accustomed to it.
I love how offbeat it is (the fairytale-esque vibe permeating through the story), yet how the characters think critically and behave realistically. Episode 3 is full speed ahead in terms of story development, but also has some really great quiet moments of both introspection and understanding between Chu Man and Jia Hao.
After being expelled from the Paris Music Academy, Jia Hao tries to sneak home through a seemingly empty Due South Marketplace. To no avail, as the jubilant folks of the market were just lying in wait to give him a surprise homecoming.
The erect a makeshift stage for their pride and joy – the most successful son to come out of the Due South Market. Jia Hao’s sister Jia Hui gets onstage with him and present him with a giant enlarged framed “diploma” from the Academy, which is of course the notice that Jia Hao has been expelled from the school.
It’s both heartwrenching that no one can read French to understand it, but bittersweet that they are so very proud of him. Everyone talks about how they are so proud of Jia Hao, who they know must have worked his hardest at the Academy in order to come home after accomplishing his goal.
Jia Hao tries to explain but he doesn’t have the heart to disappoint his sister, especially when mention is made of how his deceased father would have been so proud of him. Everyone cheers on Jia Hao, and he has no choice but to bow his head and promise everyone that he will continue to fulfill their expectations of him.
Jia Hao goes home with Jia Hui, who explains that she’s converted the chicken shed into a spare guest bedroom to rent out so they can make extra money. Jia Hui says that Yi Xian mailed back Jia Hao things from Paris as well. Jia Hao promises to find a job soon to make money for the family. Jia Hui is so proud and wants him to wait for the perfect job, like being a music professor at a prestigious university.
Chu Man comes home to her swanky apartment, only to be surprised to find another skanky chick in residence. Chairman Wang arrives and tells Chu Man that this new chick is the new resident of this apartment and Chu Man needs to move out. In fact, he’s tallied all the money he spent on her in the last few years and she has to pay him back.
He’s so thorough and stingy that he’s even added to the tally all the coupons and gift certificates he gave Chu Man. I swear this Chairman Wang is a piece of work, but I love how he’s not a fool. He’s a bastard, but not an idiot. Chu Man says she’ll tell the world about his miserly ways, but he’s not cowed by her threat. If she tells the world, it’s all the better, because the world will know Chu Man to be the gold digger she is.
Chairman Wang laughs and tells Chu Man to see if any other rich man will fall for her tricks. Or maybe she can find her poor student, since he’s back after being expelled from the Academy and waiting for Chu Man to go comfort him. Chu Man realizes now that Chairman Wang got Jia Hao expelled.
He remands Chu Man pay him back now. She agrees to pay him in installments. He tells her to leave now since this is no longer her home. Before she leaves, he asks her to say “I love you” once, even if for show. If she says it, he’ll forgive the NT 3 million she owes him. Chu Man refuses to say it and leaves. The Chairman is just flabbergasted that she won’t even say three little words in exchange for so much money.
Chu Man takes her luggage and leaves. She wonders why she can’t say three words in exchange for so much money. She looks at her Chaumet bracelet, thinking that it’s not her fault Jia Hao got expelled since she didn’t report him. She shakes her head and tells herself not to feel guilty about it.
Back at the marketplace, Jia Hao takes out his dad’s old rickety bike and looks at it. He remembers following behind his daddy to pick trash, and how hard his dad worked to make Jia Hao’s musical dreams come true. Jia Hao cries on the bike, sobbing silent manly tears of guilt and frustration. Man this scene was really touching.
Peter arrives at the modeling agency bright and early in the morning only to find Chu Man sleeping on the sofa. She explains that Chairman Wang kicked her out and she needed a free place to crash for the night. Peter remarks on how many suitcases she appears to own. Peter suggests that Chu Man’s life would be easier if she could just say “I love you.” He wonders if Chu Man still believes in that spell cast on her as a child.
Chu Man says she doesn’t believe in magic. As for the money she owes the Chairman, she’ll just take extra modeling assignments and work harder to pay him back. Peter looks a little uncomfortable before telling Chu Man that her assignments have been given to Sasha and the boss has decreed that Chu Man is to be frozen for the time being.
Sasha doesn’t want to be accused of stabbing Chu Man in the back, so she hands Chu Man the case file from the AG Group’s latest real estate development, where Sasha has been selected to represent the agency to attend the upcoming casting for the spokesmodel. Peter shows Chu Man that the news reports from Paris have traveled back to Taiwan.
Peter tells Chu Man to lay low and time will make people forget her scandal. Chu Man refuses to rest when Sasha is lording it over her head. She snagged the AG Group modeling assignment envelope, where she puts in her picture to deliver to the casting as well.
Chu Man is unapologetic. She has no place to live and nothing to fall back on, which offends her lifelong principles. She picks the CEO of the AG Group, young, handsome, and single Yen Kai Ming, as her next target. She’s decided to find a place to live near a very expensive high rise so she can run into rich people. The broker finds Chu Man a new apartment, right inside the Due South Market.
Turns out the ramshackle market is situated right next to a bunch of luxurious high rises. Chu Man walks inside the market and steps over vegetables and chickens to arrive outside Jia Hui’s house. Jia Hui has been waiting for her and welcomes her new renter. Jia Hui takes Chu Man inside, unable to boast a little about her younger brother who just graduated from the Paris Music Academy.
Chu Man is shown to her new apartment, which is cute but nothing like the brochure advertising the room looks like. For example, the room was advertised as having pets nearby, which turns out to be chickens. In fact, all the amenities listed on the brochure all turn out to be all clever wording by Jia Hui.
Chu Man wants her money back, but Jia Hui has already used it to pay her mortgage for the month. She asks Chu Man to stay for now. She’s even built a giant closet for Chu Man, made out of a former chicken coop. God this is priceless. Chu Man wonders how her name brands can be placed where chickens used to live, to which Jia Hui says there is nothing wrong since chickens happily lived there.
Chu Man agrees to live here for the time being until Jia Hui can return her deposit. Jia Hui promises not to tell anyone about Chu Man’s real identity as a famous model. Chu Man looks around the room and sighs.
Jia Hao goes on auditions as he searches for a job, only to be repeatedly turned down because he hasn’t graduated yet. He finally gets a job tutoring a young boy whose intense Tiger mom is forcing him to learn the violin at the expense of any childhood joy. Jia Hao can tell this boy is talented, but worries that his heart isn’t in it because his mom picked the song he has to play, telling him that he has to do this to get a good score and to make his dad proud. Jia Hao suggests teaching him to play a song he likes.
Jia Hao tries to sneak into his room later that night but is waylaid by Jia Hui. She tells him to pray to his “diploma” every time he comes home to thank the ancestors for allowing him to succeed. Jia Hui explains that their new renter is a model, to which Jia Hao says he’ll avoid her at all costs.
Chu Man is getting ready to eat instant noodles, bitching that she’s spoken to more poor people today than in years. Suddenly she hears the sounds of a violin wafting through the room. She flashes back to the time spent with Jia Hao, since it’s the same song he played for her. She wonders if maybe she’s been possessed, or maybe this song is so popular that even her landlord’s younger violinist brother can play it. Jia Hao stops playing and tells himself to stop thinking about “that girl.”
Chu Man goes to take a shower when suddenly the water turns cold, and then the power shuts off. Chu Man stumbles out in the dark and Jia Hao is told to go reset the power. He finds Chu Man on the ground and goes to help her. The two of them recognize each other simultaneously and jump apart.
Chu Man grabs her towel and asks him if he saw anything. Jia Hao snarks that it isn’t anything he hasn’t seen before. After he helps her back to her room, he asks why of all the places in Taipei she’s renting a room from his sister, especially in a place like the Due South Market where she would normally never come.
Chu Man says she doesn’t want to be here if she had a choice. Jia Hao says that if he had a choice, he’s be in Paris eating baguettes, playing the violin and enjoying the scenery, except she got him expelled from school. Jia Hao warns Chu Man not to tell his sister that he got expelled, otherwise he’d kick her out.
Chu Man could care less about Jia Hao’s charade with his sister. All she wants is to quickly get out of here, but for the fact that she needs money. Jia Hao takes her limited edition Dior bag and tells her to sell it if she needs money so badly. She refuses, telling him she’s waited since when Bush Jr. was still a president to buy this bag. Jia Hao asks if she’ll die to have one less bag and Chu Man says yes, she’ll die.
Suddenly she hears a trickle noise and is told that this room used to be a chicken coop so perhaps the pumbling isn’t so top-notch. Chu Man notices that water is leaking on her closet. She quickly grabs her clothes and then uses the comforter from the bed to cover the rest of the items. She tells Jia Hao that she’d rather not sleep with a blanket tonight and catch a cold if she can protect her brand name items.
If she got a cold, some cold medicine will fix her up. If her irreplaceable items are destroyed, nothing can fix it. Jia Hao tells her to wake up from her delusions, but Chu Man says that her brand name items talk to her. When she walks into a store wearing it, the people treat her with courtesy. She can be treated as someone important.
There is nothing wrong with a person wanting to climb the social ladder. Why take the bus when you can take a private jet. Unlike the fake people out there, she’s honest and willing to admit her own goals. She knows what she wants and she’s going to get it. Jia Hao asks why she doesn’t earn the money then, rather than getting it from another person. Always living to please that person, worried that she’ll get tossed aside at any time.
What does she have left in the end – brand name accessories? Does she have any friends or family, people who genuinely care about her? Chu Man retorts that Jia Hao is no better than her. He’s lying to his sister about getting expelled. Jia Hao says he’s lying to protect his family from getting hurt. A woman like her won’t understand what it means to care about another person and want to protect their feelings.
Chu Man says that even if she spends someone else’s money, it’s a fair trade between two people. She doesn’t lie, cheat, or steal. Jia Hao thinks she did lie in Paris, when she was trying to lure William Norman. Chu Man says they both lied in Paris to get what they wanted. One of them is gunning for money, the other for romance. Each of them is no better than the other.
Jia Hao says that when he lied back in Paris, it wasn’t because he wanted something from Chu Man. Sometimes one just wants to present the best side to the person they like. Jia Hao says she can’t possibly understand, since to her love is used to barter for money. Chu Man says they simply have different principles on this subject matter. She doesn’t care if Jia Hao thinks poorly of her.
They have no reason to have any interaction going forward because he’s not a rich man. She asks him to put up with her and stop bothering her while she’s temporarily living here. Jia Hao tells her that what she said to him in Paris about living life, she’s not worthy of saying such meaningful thoughts because she’s such a shitty person.
Chu Man is woken up at 6 am by the sound of a rooster crowing. When she gets up she sways a little, realizing she has a headache and might be coming down with a cold. She realizes that she’s covered with another blanket, even though her other blanket is still on the shelf protecting her clothes. Chu Man takes her blanket and heads outside, finding the denizens of the marketplace already up and hawking their wares.
She finds Jia Hui selling vegetables and is taken to meet all the marketplace folks. Chu Man looks around and realizes everyone is eyeing her with wonder. She agrees to meet everyone, lowering herself to wallow in the mud with the commoners. She thanks Jia Hui for bringing her a blanket last night, but is told that Jia Hao brought it to her. Awwww, he’s such a sweetie.
Jia Hui teases Chu Man as knowing Jia Hao back in Paris, since Jia Hao said that if it wasn’t for Chu Man, he wouldn’t be back in Taiwan right now. Leo asks if Chu Man is the famous model….Lin Chi Ling. ROFL. Or perhaps she’s Sasha? Finally she’s recognized as the famous Lin Chu Man, who was recently in the scandal rags for being a golddigger and also having other embarrassing moments captured by the magazines.
She’s complimented for being so classy and beautiful. The bra selling auntie brings some bras over as a gift to Chu Man, for taking care of Jia Hao in Paris. Everyone thanks her for taking care of their pride and joy Jia Hao. Chu Man is told how Jia Hui borrowed all this money to support Jia Hao, and how he’s her only hope.
Jia Hui asks Chu Man if she can deliver a cellphone to Jia Hao, who is supposedly teaching at a top university. Chu Man agrees, but when she gets to campus she finds out that there is no class today. She calls the number left by Jia Hao and finds out it’s just a simple music school.
Jia Hao is teaching the little boy Allen a song he loves, but the crazy mom finds out and starts screaming at Jia Hao for teaching her son useless music. Jia Hao tries to speak up for Allen but is told to do as the mom asked and just teach Allen the song he will be tested on. The mom is not pleased that Jia Hao has opinions of his own.
Chu Man shows up at the music school and sees Jia Hao getting chewed out by the mom. Jia Hao talks back to her and says that Allen should be playing because he loves music. The mom takes Allen away and says he won’t be coming back for more lessons. The boy cries out for his teacher. The owner fires Jia Hao, telling him that he needs to just do what the parents require of him since they are paying his salary.
Chu Man sees this and she looks genuinely distressed. As Jia Hao walks out, the receptionist hands him a phone left by a girl, described as very beautiful like a model. Jia Hao gets a call about a job that can help pay a few days bills. Peter calls Chu Man to tell her that the AG Group casting is about to begin. She promises to be right there.
At an high end auction for antiques, AG Group CEO Yen Kai Ming (played by Daniel Chan) makes his grand entrance and wins the bid. He announces that he’s planning to build more luxury homes to improve people’s living standards. We also see news reports that people are protesting his continued building to drive up real estate prices.
Chu Man hurries to the casting, but even the taxi driver can tell that she’s not feeling well and asks if she wants to go to the hospital. Chu Man doesn’t have a lot of money and asks that he just take her to the casting. We see that her skirt has a snag that is caught on the seat of the taxi.
Chu Man arrives and exits the taxi, not realizing that her skirt is unraveling behind her. She walks into the luxury building and asks the reception to point her to the casting site. We see Yen Kai Ming arrive and walk into the lobby. Chu Man notices Yen Kai Ming as simply a seemingly well-dressed, goodlooking, and single man. She smiles at him by the elevator, but Yen Kai Ming notices instead that her skirt has unraveled.
He takes off his suit jacket and offers it to Chu Man, who wraps it around her waist. She calls Peter to tell him to rush over with another outfit. The elevator arrives and Chu Man asks if Yen Kai Ming wants to get on, so she can return the jacket to him. Yen Kai Ming chooses to ride with her even though his assistant reminds him that an important client is waiting for him.
When they get off on Chu Man’s floor, she teeters a bit due to getting sick. She drops her pocketbook and Yen Kai Ming picks it up only to discover that it contains notes on his daily schedule and a vow to land him. He asks Chu Man why she’s keeping tabs on Yen Kai Ming and she sasses that it’s none of his business.
When he asks if she wants to go see a doctor, she replies that medicine can only give her temporary relief, but if she goes to the casting she can potentially land Yen Kai Ming forever. She walks away and Yen Kai Ming looks at her with a curious expression.
Thoughts of Mine:
This drama is so sleek and spare. In three episodes we’ve got Chu Man and Jia Hao back to Taiwan and living in close promixity. While the obviousness of setting the ramshackle Due South Market in the midst of luxury high rises is quite theatrical, as are the folks who inhabit the market, yet the execution and flow feels so natural.
All the market folks give off this quirky yet comfortable vibe, allowing us to see their heart and laugh at their eccentricities. I actually like all the secondary characters, from Peter to Sasha, the modeling crew definitely fits the high strung and bitchy stereotype, yet they have their own thoughts and feelings that make them feel like I understand where they are coming from.
Even Chairman Wang, damn is that one wily old dude. I hate it when rich old farts like him are made out to be morons, which begs the question how’d they get so rich if they lacked a brain. The Chairman is as smart as they come, and equally as ruthless. While I think he’s an ass for making Chu Man pay him back, he’s also the key to allow us to know that Chu Man still can’t/won’t say “I love you” unless she means it. Good for her. She can be bartered, but her heart remains locked away.
I love how Chu Man is so deadly honest with Jia Hao, and he is in turn so affected by her. He hates who she represents and her modus operandi, yet he can’t help but be moved to help her. Chu Man is also someone not as cold and self-serving as she gives off the impression of being, with the way she agreed to live at the apartment rather than force Jia Hui to return her deposit. I love the ignominy of her living in a converted chicken coop, yet her “just deal with it” attitude is what I love the most.
She’s such a fascinating character that continues to keep my attention focused on her every moment she’s onscreen. Lynn’s performance continues to impress me, and really Vanness has gradually settled into being Jia Hao. He’s might not win any awards for this performance, but his earnestness and sincerity as an actor tackling this role wins my respect, plus I like his chemistry with Lynn. In the end, this drama has so much little touches that really heighten the entire experience that it’s such a treat to savor each episode slowly.