Material Queen feels like an anomaly. It’s like the incongruity of having The Sopranos air on the CW after an episode of Gossip Girl. It’s thought-provoking, with none of the characters being one-dimensionally stupid or as a plot device. Episode 2 completes the Paris arc and moves the story back to Taiwan again, where suddenly the world of MQ doubles in size when the denizens of the Due South Marketplace are introduced. We suddenly have the hardworking poor bumping up against the astonishingly rich. But before we get there, Chu Man and Jia Hao reveal who they really are to each other, and the results are not what either expected.
Chu Man rushes back to the hotel to sneak in before Chairman Wang notices that she’s gone. She orders poor Peter to stall her sugar daddy.
Jia Hao goes home to his tiny little Parisian flat. He finds a bowl of pickles on the desk and eats one. His roommate Ke Mai Long grabs the rest and reminds him that they can only eat one per meal. Mai Long suggest they go wait outside a restaurant known for distributing leftovers after closing time. Jia Hao is told that there was a tiny fire today in the apartment and Yi Xian got smoked.
Jia Hao runs to the bathroom, where Yi Xian walks out with her face still sooty. Mai Long says Yi Xian got smoked because she was more worried about saving a music book from Jia Hao’s idol Eugene. Jia Hao cleans Yi Xian’s face and tells her not to do this again. Yi Xian makes an excuse that soot is good for her facial complexion. Jia Hao reminds her that as a pianist she needs to protect her finger so they can play together in the future.
Yi Xian leaves and Mai Long remarks that Yi Xian will do anything for Jia Hao, which she has been doing her entire life. He thinks Yi Xian considers herself Mrs. Tsai. Jia Hao says that Yi Xian thinks of herself as his sister, and he’s confirmed it with her. Mai Long says that the day Jia Hao gets with another woman, then they’ll see if Yi Xian still thinks of herself as his sister. Jia Hao says that day has arrived.
Peter hides in Chu Man’s room and tries to stall Chairman Wang. He calls the Chairman and explains that Chu Man is doing a facial in the bathroom. Peter ends up pretending to be Chu Man and sticking his hand out the door to caress the Chairman to allay his suspicious.
Chu Man finally runs back into the hotel room and switches places with Peter, pretending that she changed into a dress to put on a fashion show for the Chairman. He appears to be mollified, but later that night when they are sleeping in bed, he sees Chu Man smiling in her sleep and clutching a solitary earring in her palm. The Chairman notices that she’s not wearing his engagement ring. This Chairman, he’s no idiot.
Jia Hao has his violin recital the next morning at the Paris Music Academy. He takes a deep breath, thinking back to what Chu Man said to him on the Seine (that if he wants to play, he just needs to go ahead and play). Jia Hao starts his performance and his professor listens intently. Jia Hao thinks back to all his interactions with Chu Man the day before.
The professor compliments him on his performance being the best he has ever heard from Jia Hao, and the most emotional piece played today by anyone. Professor asks him what happened yesterday that he was able to put such emotion into the playing?
Jia Hao goes to Chaumet to buy a very special gift for the girl he likes. He explains that she doesn’t know the real him, but he wants to show her. The sales lady brings out the same bracelet shown to Chu Man, which can only be put on by a person who genuinely loves another, and can only be taken off by the person who put it on. Jia Hao doesn’t have enough money to buy it, but the sales lady wraps it for him and charges it to William Norman. Jia Hao accepts it and decides to deal with the consequences later.
Jia Hao leaves the store, and we see that shady men in another car is tracking him. Chu Man is at a photoshoot and she gets a call from Chairman Wang. He wants to know where she is and if he can come visit her? She tells him not to come because she’s busy and working late. The Chairman asks his driver what Chu Man’s schedule is today, and is told that she’s supposedly done by noon.
Jia Hao comes to see Chu Man at her photoshoot. Peter and all the other models run over to watch the two pretty people together. Chu Man apologizes for leaving yesterday without saying goodbye. Jia Hao asks if he’s not supposed to see her again? Chu Man says she left because his performance was subpar yesterday, which leaves poor Jia Hao mortified.
Then Chu Man laughs and says she was just joking. Jia Hao smiles and tells her that he did very well in his violin performance today because he found his muse. Chu Man is thrilled and tells him that she’s happy to hear how he really feels. Chu Man is willing to be his muse.
Jia Hao notices that everyone is watching them and asks if they can go somewhere quiet to talk. They take off and we notice Chairman Wang has arrived on set. Peter tries to stall him but Sasha, the other upcoming model, reveals that Chu Man just left with another man. Ooooh, evil viper bitch.
Jia Hao asks again if Chu Man meant it when she agreed to be his muse, but what if he’s not a member of the Norman family? Chu Man thinks he’s just being cautious with her and gives him her bullshit that she doesn’t care if he’s rich, she likes him for who he is. Jia Hao takes out the bracelet and offers it to Chu Man.
He tells her that he’s just an ordinary guy who wants to be with Chu Man, so will she accept him? Chu Man says that another man wanted to put this bracelet on her but she declined. For a woman to agree to eternity takes a lot of courage, but for him, she’s will to take this chance. Jia Hao puts the bracelet on her.
Suddenly a car pulls up and drags Jia Hao away. Chu Man notices but is too late as the car has sped off. She gets on a moped and takes off after them. William Norman’s family retainer is on the phone with the police and confirm that the kidnappers after William Norman have been lured out by the substitute.
Jia Hao gets taken to an empty house where he’s grilled by the kidnappers on the passwords to the Norman family bank accounts. Jia Hao tries to explain that he is NOT the real William Norman but no one believes him. Chu Man arrives and runs inside to help Jia Hao but she’s grabbed as well. She lies that the bank password is her measurements, which changes every day.
A kidnapper takes Chu Man’s measurements and it’s inputted into the computer. Chu Man is warned that if she lied to them, there will be two dead bodies in the front page of the newspaper tomorrow. Funny enough, the password works, but luckily the police arrive right then and rescue Jia Hao and Chu Man.
Outside the police station, the media is congregated and want an interview. Chu Man decides to preen and make a public declaration. She announces to the world that she is Lin Chu Man, and she is William Norman’s lady love. She tells the live broadcast watching audience that William Norman loves her so much that her measurements were used as the password to the family bank account.
She’s willing to be with William forever. She announces to Chairman Wang that they are over and he shouldn’t come bother her anymore. The media tells Chu Man that the real William Norman is in hiding and this guy was just a substitute used to lure out the kidnappers.
Jia Hao gets paid his final wages for being William Norman’s substitute, but he’s mad that he was lured to do such a dangerous activity. He gets paid his final wages and is told to keep the suit as a bonus payment. Chu Man overhears all this. She runs out after the retainer leaves and asks Jia Hao if he’s William Norman?
Jia Hao confesses that his real name is Tsai Jia Hao, but he really is a student at the Paris Music Academy. He tells Chu Man not to reveal his side gig as William Norman’s substitute otherwise he’ll get kicked out of school. Chu Man asks what his real family does for a living, and is told that they sell vegetables in the market.
Chu Man can’t believe that she would end her engagement to one of the richest men in China for the son of a vegetable seller with such a poor-sounding name. Chu Man grabs his phone and tries to call Chairman Wang.
Jia Hao chases after her, asking if she doesn’t really like him? Chu Man says that she thought he was a rich guy otherwise she wouldn’t give him the time of day. She runs out and sees Chairman Wang waiting for her. Jia Hao tries to stop her but Chu Man tells him to let go – she’s a materialistic girl and Jia Hao shouldn’t think otherwise of her.
Jia Hao begs her to stop considering wealth and position, spending the last two days together, doesn’t she have real feelings for him? She tells him to let go, he can’t afford to tear her expensive outfit. She threatens to tell the school that he was taking a part time job and get him kicked out if he doesn’t let go.
Jia Hao lets go and Chu Man quickly runs to Chairman Wang. The Chairman asks who the boy is and Chu Man says that person is a nobody. She kisses the Chairman on the cheek and they get in the car. Jia Hao walks away with a stunned expression, unable to believe that this is the real Chu Man.
Chairman Wang takes Chu Man to a park, telling her that they need to talk without the driver around. He asks her where her engagement ring went? She says that she doesn’t wear the ring for work. He takes out the ring and says that today he’s here to take the ring back. He congratulates her on finding the man of her dreams.
Chu Man tries to mollify him but he tells her that his brain is not made out of tofu. He shows her pictures of all the men she cheated on him with. For the last six months that she’s been with him, she’s been riding an ass while looking for a stallion. LOL, love the analogy. Also love Chairman Wang not being a complete tool and actually knows when he’s being used.
Chairman Wang says that they are already engaged and she’s still looking for a better prospect. He takes her expensive limited edition purse and throws it on the ground, telling her to keep it as a memento. Chu Man tells the Chairman that he ought to show some gentlemanly behavior right now and let them end this with some class.
The Chairman walks back and tells Chu Man that he can display class, but then he grabs her wrist with the Chaumet bracelet, and tells Chu Man and he can’t accept this level of trampling on his male ego. She wouldn’t accept that bracelet from him, but she let some boy she just met put it on her. During their time together, she’s refused to say “I Love You” to him. She’s willing to playact and say anything, but she never ever is willing to say I love you.
Chairman Wang tells Chu Man not to think so highly of herself. Shallow materialistic girls like her are a dime a dozen. He even knows that she orchestrated their first meeling when she picked him up. The Chaiman gives her a dirty look and asks how her mother raised her?
Chu Man walks over and picks up the purse. Her mother abandoned her to live a better life, so her mother taught her that the only way to live a better life in this world is to marry a rich man and climb the social ladder. Chu Man then turns it on Chairman Wang – does he think having money means he can buy a person’s real emotions?
She shows him the Chaumet bracelet, which a poor student bought, but it’s worth a million times what Chairman Wang did. Because it’s genuine. She tells the Chairman that he will never find a prettier girl than her. All the Chairman does is use money to get pretty young girls, but no one will give him their genuine emotions. If the Chairman had no money, then no woman would want him.
Chu Man leaves and tells the Chairman to live a long happy life. The Chairman yells out after her that he won’t let Chu Man or Jia Hao get away with this. We see the Chairman get connected on the phone to the Paris Music Academy.
Later that night, Yi Xian comes running inside to tell Jia Hao that she warned him not to take part time jobs. Suddenly both Jia Hao and Mai Long get a call to come to school. Jia Hao has been expelled for violating school rules, especially since this matter has been altered to the media that he hoodwinked a Taiwanese model.
Chu Man is packing up to head back to Taiwan, complaining that Chairman Wang won’t even pay for the room which costs an arm and a leg. The other models arrive to rub some salt on the wound and pretend they are here to give her some lunch. Sasha says that Chu Man needs to change her basic materialistic philosophy or else she’ll always lose in the end.
Sasha shows Chu Man the news articles that report she fell for a fake wealthy man. The other model say they don’t want to land a rich man, they just want a successful modeling career. In fact, they all claim to believe in true love. It’s revealed that Sasha got the magazine cover. They models leave and Chu Man tells Peter that it’s horrible how even these newbie models like Sasha can deride her.
Peter notices the Chaumet bracelet on Chu Man and informs her that the legend attached to that bracelet is true. If a woman dares to take the bracelet off, then she’ll be doomed to a lifetime of being alone. Chu Man tries to remove the bracelet and suddenly there is a clap of thunder outside and a photo frame falls down. Chu Man decides that the bracelet is a genuine brand name item unlike the lying Jia Hao, so she’ll keep wearing it.
Jia Hao is packing his bags to go home. He looks at his suit and thinks back to his time with Chu Man. The poor boy looks around the apartment building and starts to sniffle. He finds a bag of Chinese herbs and medicine that his older sister packed for him before he left for Paris, and her reminder that his deceased dad is waiting to see Jia Hao accomplish great things. Jao Hao cries and tells his sister and dad that he didn’t fulfill their expectations of him, all because of this horrible girl he met.
Chu Man and Peter arrive back in Taiwan from Paris. At the arrival terminal, Chu Man wonders why there are no paparrazi around to welcome her. Suddenly they notice Jia Hao sitting on top of his luggage in the terminal. Peter wonders if he already graduated from the Academy so quickly? Chu Man realizes that Jia Hao looks so genuinely poor, milking his drink for every last drop of goodness. Chu Man walks out of the terminal, muttering to herself that she better not see him again.
At a very luxurious condo building, a rich older woman sits down to her breakfast. Suddenly her table starts to shake because of the noisy reverberations from outside. Her face tightens and she walks to the window and looks down. Outside are all these luxury high rises, but there is a ramshackle outdoor market situated right in the middle like an eyesore.
The camera takes us down to the marketplace. Three young hoodlums (one is a little boy) walk through the marketplace looking like they are here to pick a fight. [As an FYI, this scene is a parody to the Taiwanese youth gangster movie Monga directed by Doze Niu starring Ethan Ruan and Mark Chao].
The three hoodlums ask if there is a “Handsome Boy Gang” around here (this marketplace is actually called Due South Market – but the Chinese characters sound like handsome boy). The three hoodlums find the three young boys and beat them up, asking where the Handsome Boy Gang is. Suddenly all the market place denizens show up and announce that they are the Due South Gang.
The meat seller introduces everyone and this scene is so freaking hilarious if you get both the Monga and the Stephen Chow movie Kung Fu homage. We have the dorky meatseller, the hobo beggar apple seller Si Li, the handsome muscular fishmonger Leo. Jia Hao’s sister is a vegetable seller at the market.
Suddenly a man in a suit arrives pretending he wants to buy vegetables. The marketplace denizens know he’s here to buy them out so that the market can be razed to make way for yet another luxury high rise. The market folks refuse to sell because this is their livelihood and their community, no matter how much money is offered. In fact, Si Li the apple seller has been waiting for his fiancee to come back after many years, and she promised to meet him at this market so he can’t leave. And neither can any of them because they are a family.
Jia Hao arrives back at the market to find it empty. He breathes a sigh of relief that no one is around to welcome him back from his disgrace at getting expelled from the Academy.
Thoughts of Mine:
I don’t necessarily find the love story all that compelling about MQ at this point. Not to say it won’t get there, because I think it will, but what’s keeping me fascinated is the character of Lin Chu Man and her journey. I don’t think either Jia Hao or Chu Man are in love after a brief dalliance, but I do believe that they did have a genuine connection inspite of all the pretending that was going on.
What I love so much about Chu Man isn’t just her candor about her materialistic belief system, it’s also how she takes responsibility for her own actions and is willing to accept the consequences. She doesn’t whine, she keeps marching to her own drummer and forging ahead even when she hits stumbling blocks. I appreciated the drama making Chairman Wang such a smart and smarmy character, not some old rich dude to be hoodwinked despite all appearances to the contrary.
He knows Chu Man was playing him, but he was okay with it for awhile. He even knew Chu Man refused to say “I love you” and that was exactly what he wanted to hear from her, even if it’s just an act. From the moment her mom abandoned her, Chu Man has been acting. She put on a strong and protective barrier, but she’s never worked through her genuine childhood trauma of being thrown away by her mom. It’s chilling how functional she is, yet heart-wrenching to consider how scarred she must be.
Unlike Chu Man, Jia Hao is all honestly and emotion, a man who accepts his origins and limitations while trying to better himself through hard work. He’s such a puppy around Chu Man (for now), yet I can see how their relationship can be on equal footing one day. I also think Vanness Wu’s acting improved significantly once he was being Tsai Jia Hao and not William Norman. Lynn Xiong continues to be excellent in her nuanced portrayal of Chu Man.
I love how this drama so deftly balances the funny with the serious, never letting either dominate the tone. The crazy and off-beat denizens of the Due South Marketplace are somewhat freaks, but already they have such colorful personalities. MQ continues to be innovative with the directing and cinematography, really taking the viewers into its world rather than just glossing over it. The ratings are still rock-bottom, but have been increasing a little bit each week. I feel like MQ is my own little special treasure, for me to savor and tuck away for the gem that it is.