Why did I use a picture of a scraggly unkempt dude holding a gerbil in a plastic ball for my recap for episode 6 of Material Queen? If you read the recap you’ll appreciate his uniqueness. We ought to first have a moment of silence for poor Elizabeth the Sixth, the innocent victim of corporate evildoers. The man holding Elizabeth is Xi Li, initially just a secondary character in this drama that appeared to be a random throwaway crazy. But it turns out not to be the case, and suddenly I’m as interested in his backstory as I am in anything else happening with the main characters or the OTP in MQ. Six-episodes in, I feel like I’m sitting in the Due South Market, just watching everything from the corner, with a giant sigh of appreciation.
Episode 6 was a needed breather from the intensity of episode 5. While it didn’t continue to ratchet up the awesome, it nevertheless continued to develop all the character and plot points intelligently and thoughtfully. I almost feel like even the tiniest secondary character has so much layers that I wouldn’t mind hanging out with them and getting to know them more. The acting is really so low-key in the drama, so even the kookiest character feels grounded in warmth and heart. Even when Chu Man behaves badly, I just can’t hate her, because she’s just living her life accordingly to the rules laid down by her mom. While it’s Jia Hao’s earnest kindness that feels so extraordinary, the way he can’t help but care about Chu Man is the very thing that conversely makes her unable to help but care about him back.
Jia Hao is at the beach, the very place he goes when he’s frustrated. He tells himself not to be envious of others, because Chu Man will never want to live in his world. Jiang Bao (the pork seller) comes to find Jia Hao, at the behest of Jia Hui, who is worried her brother is upset after he left the house with Chu Man but failed to come home. Jia Hao tries to deflect and says they ought to go to dinner, but Jiang Bao is no dummy and calls him out for being totally weird right now. Jiang Bao hilariously says that whenever Jia Hao tries to conceal something, his butt will sweat, like right now!
Jia Hao laughs and says he just went diving, so of course his butt is wet. Jiang Bao accuses Jia Hao of wanting to steal Chu Man from him, to which Jia Hao screams back that Chu Man likes someone else. In fact, Chu Man will never ever like Jia Hao because he’s not a rich man. Jia Hao says Chu Man’s behavior makes her trashy, to which Jiang Bao says that Jia Hao clearly inherited his father’s habits – easily attracted to trash (since Jia Hao’s father collected trash for recycling). I about died here.
Jia Hao tells Jiang Bao that he’s being serious right now. He’s in a lot of pain. He knows Chu Man can be cruel, so why did she help unravel his father’s mystery, why did she kiss him, why does he keep being attracted to her? Jiang Bao says love is like that – it cannot be explained. Jiang Bao says Jia Hao’s understanding of love is set at zero, which is finally something that Jiang Bao is better than Jia Hao at. He tells Jia Hao to stay away from Chu Man, keep his distance. Jia Hao decides he will forget Chu Man from now on and make his sole focus on getting into an orchestra. Jiang Bao pats Jia Hao on the back and says this is what he should be doing.
Chu Man comes home and sees Jia Hao’s dripping wet suit hanging outside to dry. She barges into Jia Hao’s room and tells him to wake up, she’s brought a late night snack for him. He mumbles that he’s sleeping already. She sees his computer still open and teases that he was just downloading porn earlier. Jia Hao sits up and retorts that he was clearly downloading applications for…… and then realizes Chu Man just called him on his pretend sleeping bull shit.
She asks why he’s pretending to be asleep, or perhaps he was waiting for her? She’s brought back expensive Japanese steak for him to thank him for helping her today and to congratulate him on getting Eugene’s encouragement. Jia Hao doesn’t want her leftovers with Yen Kai Ming, but Chu Man says she paid for this herself. He agrees to eat it later but Chu Man won’t take the hint and leave. She tries to dig for information about the government looking to break its lease with the Due South Market tenants, to which Jia Hao says she ought to ask Jia Hui. But Chu Man wants to chat with Jia Hao.
Jia Hao starts to yell at her, but finally calms down and asks her directly why she kissed him today? Chu Man says that she hates to owe people things, so the kiss was payment for what Jia Hao did for her today by not abandoning her. It’s clear she’s just not ready to consider that there were feelings involved so she rather explain it in a mercenary way. Jia Hao quietly tells her to go to sleep, he’ll eat the beef. Chu Man mutters that it’s not the best idea to use her wiles on a man who already adores her, she needs to find a way to discover if the Due South Market has any health code violations.
Chu Man gets hold of the health code laws and starts to investigate if there are any violations at the market. She finds out the bra selling auntie has all the latest fire extinguishing equipment on hand for fires. When she questions if Leo is yelling his fresh fish for sale too loudly (anything over 75 decibels is considered disturbing the peace), Leo concedes he’s got a loud voice, which is why he carries an electronic voice decimel measure with him at all times to make sure he stays under 75. He yells once and the electronic measure spits of 74.4 decibels. ROFL.
Chu Man is annoyed and goes to bug Jiang Bao the pork seller, pointing out that he’s lacking in proper fly repellent equipment to keep his fresh meat away from the bugs. Jiang Bao proudly points out all the CDs handing over his meat stall. He explains fly physiology to Chu Man, how the CDs reflect so much light it confuses the flies with their six eyes, so it keeps them away from the stall. Due South may be really run down and homey, but they’ve got their shit together.
Chu Man finds Jia Hao cleaning up at the market, chiding him for putzing around here instead of looking for a job. He explains that it’s his family’s turn to do clean up duty, plus the market is closing for the afternoon since they go to a family assistance center once a month to bring supplies and play with the kids. Chu Man snarks that they can barely take care of themselves, why are they helping others?
Chu Man meets with the government official, Mr. Jin, arrives at their secret meeting all incognito looking. Chu Man says she tried to look for violations but cannot find anything. Mr. Jin says he also tried looking for violations all year, but also couldn’t find any. He tells her he simply wants her to distract the Due South folks and he’ll handle the rest. He asks Chu Man about Xi Li (the raggedy and mute apple seller who carries around a gerbil in a clear ball) and his “rat”. Uh oh. Chu Man says today is perfect, no one will be at the market for the rest of the afternoon.
Chu Man goes back to the market and is distressed to hear that Xi Li is staying behind because the kids might get scared by his crazy look. Chu Man convinces everyone that Xi Li ought to be taken along because he feels bad to be left behind. Jia Hao is suspicious about Chu Man’s sudden concern for someone else. Jiang Bao yells at Jia Hao for being suspicious of Chu Man, who is the only person who can see how lonely Xi Li is.
Leo suggests everyone go then, no one will get left behind. Jia Hao remembers that Chu Man grew up in an orphanage so it’s probably not a good idea to take her somewhere filled with kids without parents. But the rest of the folks think Chu Man’s reluctance is because she wants to pretend to be busy, but they all know she’s not working much these days. Chu Man is dragged along, but she makes Xi Li leave his gerbil behind, pretending that she’s scared of it. She texts Mr. Jin that the market is empty now and the gerbil has been left behind. Oh Chu Man, you bad bad girl. I’m really upset at you.
The kids happily welcome the market place folks, but Chu Man looks uncomfortable to be here. Jia Hui has to drag her over to play with the kids. Jia Hao plays the violin for the kids as they sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Chu Man notices a kid trying to run away, and he’s swiped Chu Man’s cellphone. The child starts screaming when Leo tries to take the cellphone away.
Chu Man flashes back to when she was a kid and tried to run away, and stole things. She was told that she won’t be punished, because they know how much she wants to find her mom. They just worry for her.
Chu Man talks with the little boy, asking Jia Hao to bring her an orange. Everyone watches from a distance as Chu Man takes the little boy aside to talk. She offers to give him the cellphone, only asking that he answer the phone if Chu Man’s aunt calls. Chu Man says she grew up in an orphanage, and always tried to run away. But each time she ran away, her mom would come visit, so Chu Man never ended up seeing her mom. Plus each time the auntie at the orphanage will worry about Chu Man. She tells the child that his mom loves him but cannot take care of him, so left him with people that would take good care of him.
Turns out the child thinks the cellphone is pretty and his mom will like it. So if he gives it to his mom, she’ll be happy and surely she’ll take him home. Chu Man tells the child to call her if he’s lonely, and she’s come here to play with him. She says she’ll come if she’s free, but she’ll always remember to call him. The child smiles and hands Chu Man back her phone. They make a pinky swear.
Afterwards everyone is packing to go home. Jia Hao is told to go talk with Chu Man, who says that she’ll get in the car after the air conditioning has been turned on for awhile. He thanks her for being so patient with the child. Chu Man says the aunt at her orphanage treated her this way when she ran away and stole things. She used to think it was annoying, but today she actually used it on this child and made him less lonely. She wants to go wash the orange stain off her hands but Jia Hao grabs it, saying it’s the prettiest pair of hands he’s ever seen.
The child comes as Chu Man is leaving, telling her not to forget him. Chu Man kneels down and gives him a hug.
Everyone gathers in Jia Hui’s living room later that night and discuss something they need to do while the iron’s hot. Everyone is holding a piece of paper, and the bra selling auntie actually has hers lodged between her chest. Chu Man arrives and they make her sit down. They ask where Chu Man is registered right now? Leo says to stop beating around the bush, they know she is an orphan.
Chu Man rages at Jia Hao the big mouth, but Jia Hui says it’s not him, they overheard Chu Man talking with the little boy. Everyone agrees to keep her secret, and then offer to add her to anyone of their household registries. Auntie has no one on her register, Leo’s register has tons of kids from his friends and relatives because they live in a good school district. Chu Man asks why they are doing this, and is told this is Jia Hao’s idea.
She finds him practicing his violin and asks what is the meaning of this gesture? Jia Hao wants Chu Man to know that even though she had a painful past, but it’s all over now. From now on, as long as she wants, everyone at the Due South Market, and himself, will never leave her side. Chu Man can decide to be a family with them, and she can decide when and if she wants to leave. At any time. But they will never abandon her.
Chu Man says this gesture is so disgusting in its maudlin sentimentality. Jia Hao says it doesn’t matter is the gesture is disgusting, what matters is if she’s happy. Chu Man looks shocked and stunned. Before she can answer, they hear everyone yelling out for “Elizabeth the Sixth”.
Jiang Bao runs over and yells that Xi Li’s gerbil is missing. Xi Li is inconsolable. Chu Man wonders what Mr. Jin wants with the gerbil? She calls him and asks that he please halt the plan for the time being, because she has an even better idea. He agrees, but we see that he’s actually watching her. He knows Chu Man is wavering, and proceeds with Plan Gerbil Attack.
Allen’s mom is taking a bath in her swanky apartment when suddenly a gerbil crawls up next to her. She screams her head off. Next thing you know, the news is reporting about how a woman was attacked by vermin in her luxury condo, which officials suspect came from the neighboring outdoor marketplace. The government officials descend on the Due South Market to conduct a health inspection and thoroughly disenfect the entire market.
Everyone stands their grand and refuses to allow the investigation and disenfection, because the market place is clean, and if word gets out it was disenfected, no one will come there to shop anymore. They ask for evidence that the disease outbreak cam from the market. Mr. Jin holds up a red ribbon and Xi Li lunges towards it, calling out for his Elizabeth! Mr. Jin asks Xi Li if this red ribbon belongs to his gerbil? Xi Li smiles beatifically and nods.
Mr. Jin asks Xi Li if he wants the gerbil back? Xi Li is told the offending vermin has already been exterminated, which launches Xi Li into a rage. Mr. Jin says that they are ordering the market to halt business and get disenfected. He confesses to Jia Hao that the government wants this piece of land at the behest of Yen Kai Ming. Everyone starts fighting with the government officials.
Chu Man drags Mr. Jin off to talk, asking why he didn’t halt the plan. Mr. Jin congratulates Chu Man on doing a great acting job. He’ll let Yen Kai Ming know how well she performed.
Chu Man looks on in distress. Finally Jia Hui calms everyone down, saying they will shut the market down and allow the inspection and disenfection to take place. Everyone cleans up the mess, muttering that Yen Kai Ming is behind all of this. They wonder where the so-called disease came from, since Xi Li lives with that gerbil 24/7 and has never been sick before. Jia Hao asks Chu Man if she knew Yen Kai Ming was interested in this land? She knew, but doesn’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to buy land.
Xi Li starts to cry and is led away, promising they will find that gerbil. Chu Man wonders why he’s so upset about one gerbil? Jia Hao explains that Xi Li was educated in the US. His parents didn’t approve of his girl, so they decided to elope. They agreed to meet at Due South Market, but there was a typhoon that night. Xi Li showed up, but his fiancee didn’t. Since that day, Xi Li lives at this market, never once talking again. Xi Li is waiting for his fiancee to show up one day.
They raised the gerbil together, so that’s why it’s Xi Li’s most precious thing. The gerbil is already on it’s sixth generation now. Jia Hao wonders what will happen to Xi Li if the market is torn down. He won’t leave, so he’ll end up in a mental hospital. Until that fiancee shows up, no one will understand what happened to Xi Li.
Chu Man gets a call that Yen Kai Ming is very pleased with how she helped him handle the market place situation. She gets picked up the next day and whisked off to Yen Kai Ming’s private island. She’s hilariously dressed inappropriately for such a locale. Yen Kai Ming takes her inside his mansion where clothes are laid out, all for her to choose from. Lest we forget how materialistic she is, Chu Man smiles as she looks at all the gorgeous clothes for her to choose from.
Chu Man changes into a beachy dress and goes to lounge by the beach. She sees Yen Kai Ming’s private chef carrying a fresh fish which makes her think about Leo. Next she sees him preparing steak, which makes her think about Jiang Bao. She shakes her head and tells herself to wake up. It’s called a conscience, Chu Man, it’s nice to see you have one. Her grimaces are priceless. The chef explains the steaks are sirloin and is Yen Kai Ming’s favorite. In fact, grilling and coming to this island are what Yen Kai Ming does when he’s truly happy. The chef asks what Chu Man did to make Yen Kai Ming so happy?
Yen Kai Ming comes out with a bottle of 1982 Chateau Rotheschild. She notices the date as her birth year, and Yen Kai Ming since it’s to celebrate that 1982 gave birth to a woman as intelligent and resourceful as Chu Man, helping him get rid of the denizens of the Due South Market. Chu Man looks uncomfortable but toasts him and takes a sip of the wine. She watches Yen Kai Ming grilling, but all she can think about is when Jia Hao cooked for her when they first met in Paris. She downs her entire glass of wine.
Chu Man sits down to dine with Yen Kai Ming. His golden retriever comes over and Yen Kai Ming drops steak on the ground for the dog to eat. He notices that its covered in sand and tries to take it away from the dog, who growls and bites him. Chu Man rushes over to help tend to the wound, which are two big fang bites. She patches him up and asks if he’s going to punish the dog. Yen Kai Ming laughs and says of course not, the dog was starving and he tried to take away its food, so the dog reacted based on its instinct. It did nothing wrong.
Chu Man is shocked that the cold and seemingly cruel Yen Kai Ming from the business world is a decent and thoughtful person in private, actually considering actions from the perspective of the other side. Yen Kai Ming hands her a catalogue of the latest brand name items, telling her to pick anything she wants. Chu Man happily glances at the catalogue before her smile disappears.
Chu Man is at a photo shoot modeling diamonds. Another model bemoans how Chu Man can perfectly channel the hauteur of “diamonds before love” in front the camera. Peter says Chu Man worked so hard to become a great model. The photographer asks Chu Man to imagine the man she loves is proposing to her. Voila, suddenly all Chu Man can see is an imaginary Jia Hao, wearing a tux, presenting an engagement ring to her. Chu Man tries to shake the illusion but it causes her modeling to falter and the photographer takes a break because Chu Man lost her focus.
Chu Man mutters that she ought to be imaging Yen Kai Ming, so why it is Tsai Jia Hao? She thinks that she cares too much about the Due South Market’s plight, which leads to her thinking about Jia Hao. Erm, okay, if you say so. Chu Man says when she sees what happened to the Due South Market, she feels a sense of sadness and pangs of hurt. Peter tells her that what she’s feeling is called a guilty conscience, and wonders if she’s still the same Chu Man he knows. In the past 8 years, Peter has never seen Chu Man exhibit a shred of guilt.
If she’s feeling guilty, then it means she knows she did something wrong. Chu Man blurts out that she won’t, she won’t feel guilty, she won’t regret it, she won’t change her mind. She thinks that this time, too many people are affected by this. Not just the market, but some kids as well. Peter says it’s too late anyways, no one would dare oppose Yen Kai Ming. Peter says they ought to end the convo now, because seeing Chu Man so kind gives him the heebie jeebies. Peter shows Chu Man some new outfits. A famous designer is coming to help coordinate a fashion show. It’s Patricia Field. Peter says that when someone famous is involved, the media gets on it and word gets out.
Chu Man sees the market place empty and everyone sitting around. Jiang Bao reads a want about for a hostess and Leo yells at him for suggesting that Jia Hao go sell herself to make money. Turns out the market is empty because no customer wants to shop at a place that could be carrying a disease. Jia Hui shows Chu Man Chu Man a cheap rental elsewhere that Chu Man can move into, since the market will surely be torn down. They have no other means to combat Yen Kai Ming. Jia Hui apologizes to Chu Man for enduring this since she just recently moved in. The Auntie wants to borrow money from lenders advertising on the newspaper. Chu Man tells her those guys are vampire leeches. Chu Man wonders where Jia Hao went, and is told he left early in the morning carrying his violin case.
Chu Man runs out to look for Jia Hao, asking in various instrument stores in the neighborhood. She finally locates him at a park where he is playing for an audience. After he finishes, people clap and toss some coins in his violin case. He picks up the coins and packs up his violin. He heads to a store, planning to sell Eugene’s handwritten and signed score. Chu Man stops him, telling him that he can’t do that.
Jia Hao yells that they have no other choice anymore. He wryly says he still has his violin, and he’ll always remember this song in his mind. Chu Man says he can’t sell it, this has extraordinary meaning for Jia Hao, his dad, and even Eugene. Jia Hao smiles and says he’s truly happy to see Chu Man with this much humanity in her. But now is not the time for that.
The market folks all arrive and also tell Jia Hao that he can’t sell the last thing his father left for him. Chu Man says they are not at the end of the road yet. Everyone looks at Chu Man expectantly, asking if she has a way to solve their dire predicament. Chu Man says she doesn’t have a way. Jia Hui says it’s fine, whatever happens to the Due South Market has nothing to do with her. Chu Man remembers all the things the folks have done for her. She remembers what Peter said about getting the media’s attention. Chu Man looks torn, but finally says there might be a way…..
Thoughts of Mine:
I genuinely adore all the denizens of the Due South Market. I can spend paragraphs on each of them, and how their eccentricities are written with such kindness by the writer. Unlike other TW-dramas that create characters to laugh at, all the characters in MQ make you laugh with them and their silliness. They are oddballs brimming with honesty and sincerity, making them the real treasures in a drama about the pursuit of materialistic wealth. Their insistence of sticking together, on welcoming Chu Man into the folk, on giving back even when they have so little, is what adds even more sweetness to this drama. What I appreciate how toned down the drama is about all the plot developments, never hammering home any scene with unnecessary histrionics or sentimentality.
The drama is about Lin Chu Man, and the drama unfurls in the same way Chu Man lives her life. Efficiently and with tons of hard work. It doesn’t dawdle on any one scene, instead allowing the story to be shown, and asking the viewer to think about it. I feel like the drama treats me with intelligence and respect, and that’s genuinely rare in TW-dramas. I like Yen Kai Ming as a secondary male lead. He’s rich but not flashy, cold but not evil, cruel but not contemptuous. He sees through Chu Man the same way Jia Hao does, but because he is rich he can continue to use material wealth to engage her. It’s gratifying to see Chu Man subconsciously affected by the folks at the market, as well as by Jia Hao.
I can’t hate Chu Man for her part in the scheme to get rid the market. She’s always been mercenary, and it’s refreshing to see a heroine show a wide range of emotions. Chu Man sets up the market to get the gerbil stolen, but she feels bad once it happens, asking Mr. Jin to halt the plan. But then she still tries to justify it in her mind. Her internal struggle is what makes her feel like a real person, capable of selfishness and selflessness, of giving and receiving. MW continues to be both an exquisite feast for the eyes and a satisfying meal for the soul. I think about quite a lot of things after watching each episode, finding depth in the littlest gestures and the simplest of conversations between characters.