Taiwanese drama, Mars is based on the Japanese manga of the same name. Mars had been on my ‘to-watch drama’ list forever. Drama fans have been praising this drama for a long time and many drama watchers suggested I watch this drama. However, my main motivation to watch this drama was the lead couple Barbie Hsu and Vic Zhou (Zai Zai). These two actors had first featured together in the super-hit T-drama Meteor Garden (Taiwanese adaptation of Hana Yori Dango or Boys Over Flowers). Though they weren’t a couple on the show I loved their chemistry and was looking forward to seeing them together in Mars. And they did not disappoint me as it was their couple chemistry that kept me engaged for 21 long episodes.
Han Qi Luo (Barbie Hsu) is an art student who is a social recluse and does not mingle with anybody. She is shy and timid and is most afraid of interacting with boys. One day she happens to catch the attention of Chen Ling (Vic Zhou) who is the most popular boy in school. He likes her painting and tries to talk to her and despite her resistance, he manages to strike up a friendship with her. As Qi Luo and Ling get to know each other they realise that they both have a scarred past and suffer from wounds that continue to plague their present. Together they confront their haunted past while discovering love and support in each other.
Let’s weight this psychological romantic drama on our show beam balance and see what makes the drama so popular amongst drama addicts.
Vic Zhou: I personally love the character of Hanazawa Rui from Hana Yori Dango. And have a crush on all the actors playing that role in their respective versions i.e. I like Ji Hoo (Korean) and Hua Ze Lei (Taiwanese) as much as I like Rui. Vic Zhou (aka Zai Zai) played Hua Ze Lei and I have been his fan since then. After seeing him play the reticent Lei, it was interesting to see him play a completely opposite character in Mars.
In Mars, Ling is this enigmatic playboy who is often surrounded by girls vying for his attention. He is a fun loving crowd pleaser who wants to live life on his own terms. However, all of this changes when he meets Qi Luo. The fearless Ling starts to feel protective of the meek Qi Luo and wishes to provide for her. He works hard to make her feel safe and happy. But Ling himself is a broken soul and battles psychological issues because of a difficult past. He camouflages his pain and struggle with a cool, reckless attitude. He is a complex character with several shades to him.
If you talk about looks then Vic Zhou was perfectly cast for the role of a lady-killer. Acting-wise however, Vic had a slow start wherein the initial episodes his acting was far from convincing. His forced laughter and awkward facial expressions made me wonder if I would be able to sit through 21 episodes. But as the show progressed Vic seemed to get into the flesh of the character and looked every bit of the troubled Ling. He isn’t a mind-blowing Ling but he sure is decent enough to have your attention.
Barbie Hsu: I am amazed at how effortlessly Barbie pulled off the character of Qi Luo which is starkly in contrast with Shan Cai in Meteor Garden. I liked her in Meteor Garden but loved her in Mars.
Qi Luo is a restrained and diffident young girl who keeps to herself and avoids any kind of interaction with people. She has suffered a traumatic experience in the past that altered her personality. Meeting Ling helps her bring out the real Qi Luo and she realises how much she wants to be her old self again.
Barbie played the reserved and quiet Qi Luo to perfection. Her body language and dialogue delivery made her a very convincing Qi Luo. She especially shines in emotional scenes which is most required for a role like this.
Couple Chemistry: Barbie and Vic’s pairing was a much requested one by fans of Meteor Garden who shipped the couple real hard. Ling and Qi Luo’s love story follows the typical handsome, fearless, outspoken dude falling for a guarded, introverted girl concept.
Barbie and Vic have a very easy chemistry where they look extremely comfortable with each other. Mars is a dark drama with characters dealing with extremely complicated situations. Had the producers cast any other couple for Ling and Qi Luo’s role, I don’t think I would’ve been as interested in watching it, as I was knowing of the actual cast. To be able to sit through a poignant drama like Mars, you need a realistic couple to convince you of their love and for me, Barbie and Vic were perfect as the much in love couple. It was Ling and Qi Luo romance that kept me involved with the show.
Compelling Plot: Mars has three central characters, each with a dark back-story. Each of these characters has personality issues they need to address. While Ling and Qi Luo help each other overcome their personal difficulties we have the third character Tong Dao chose a completely different path to deal with his problems. The show makers have effectively justified every characters’ behaviour and choice and have done a good job in simplifying a convoluted plot.
Redundant Scenes: Considering the types of characters and their lives 21 episodes seems justified as it takes some time to create a realistic image of the characters in the minds of the viewers. However, in an attempt at giving a deeper look into the characters, the show would end up stretching unnecessary angles and storylines. It was good that they dealt with the back-stories in detail which helped in understanding the characters better, but there were too many long conversations and flashbacks that hampered the pace of the show.
Aww and Wow Moments
Episode 1: Ling is looking for a certain hospital and asks Qi Luo for direction. Frightened by Ling, Qi Luo quickly draws him a map to the place and runs away without a word. Their first encounter is so sweet and it takes that one scene to show how different they are from each other. Later in the episode, Ling saves Qi Luo from a teacher who harasses her is also an interesting scene that shows a flicker of the darker side of Ling.
Episode 2: Ling coming to Qi Luo’s rescue, after a few bullies strip her, is a heart melting scene. Barbie and Vic’s chemistry is just magical in this scene.
Episode 3: Qi Luo is in her room when she hears Ling’s bike drive in her compound and she comes running to meet him without him calling her out. He has come to visit her to tell her to stay away from him as he will only cause more trouble for her. She confesses how she too has been trying to distance herself from him but somehow hasn’t been successful in it. They share a warm kiss and Ling’s eyes glisten with tears. The anguish in his eyes makes the scene so moving.
Episode 5: Ling drops Qi Luo home and she says she wants to watch him leave as each time he leaves her she feels afraid that she may not be able to see him again. Ling is so moved by her request that he pulls her into an embrace before leaning in for a kiss.
Episode 7: Ling’s ex-girlfriend shows up out of nowhere and clings onto him like a koala to a tree. He agrees to spend some time with her and takes Qi Luo along. At a cafe, Ling’s ex-girlfriend constantly glares at Qi Luo. Ling senses Qi Luo’s discomfort and holds her hand under the table to comfort her.
Episode 14: Qi Luo tells Ling about their first encounter and how he had helped her retrieve her keys that had fallen in a gutter.
Episode 16: Ling and Qi Luo start living together. Aww…they, look so adorable.
Mars is not a regular romantic drama. It is about how two battered lives converge and connect to lead to a better fulfilling life. It is about how certain events permanently change a person’s course of life. It is about how time heals all wounds and eventually we learn to make peace with our past to save our future. The drama is slow paced and slumps occasionally but its riveting storyline will keep you engaged.
I give this show 3 out of 5 rating. If you like deep and moving dramas then go for this one. Moreover, Barbie Hsu’s acting and Vic Zhou’s charm (not to mention good looks) will easily pull you through most of the show.