Let’s go to the beach

We’ve been enduring an overlong and dreary winter here in the Midwest, but the latest drama I’ve been watching was as refreshing as a summer’s day.

The Taiwanese series, “Wayward Kenting,” although starring idol actors Eddie Peng and Ethan Ruan is far from being a typical, frivolous and fun idol drama. Produced by PBS (Taiwan’s public television station), the story is set in the oceanside town of Kenting and in the first episode identifies the type of individuals who find themselves in a tropical paradise: those who are born to it and embrace it as their home and those who land there in their journey to find something else or to lose themselves. 

Happy-go-lucky Han Wen (played by Eddie Peng) is a Kenting native, living to surf and enjoy the natural beauties of his home. Uncomplicated, simple even, he understands the value of life at its most basic level. Two childhood friends, Liang (Lee Kang Yee) and Ah Zho (Lee Shiau Shiang) complete his perfect circle of happiness. His sunny existence is in sharp contrast to Ah Nan (Ethan Ruan), who comes to Kenting in search of a friend who has left him with debts. Abandoned by his father and raised by his mother and grandmother in a similar setting, there is something about the peace of Kenting that calls to him. Befriended by Han Wen and Liang he discovers that life can have meaning for himself too. Another who runs away to Kenting is internet writer Xiao Wei (Janine Chang), fleeing the memories of an unhappy romance. Her writer persona, Yu Bu Ting, just happens to be Han Wen’s favorite author and he dreams of meeting her.

The drama deservedly won the Golden Bell Award for best script in 2008 and Eddie Peng received a nomination for his work, but the real standout is Ethan Ruan who is absolutely immersed in his role as Ah Nan. While he was interesting in “Summer X Summer,” in “Wayward Kenting” it is impossible to see any break in character. The pain and isolation the young man feels is visible in his self-contained walk, his haunted eyes, the tilt of his head. It is a remarkable and unforgettable performance.

Another strong selling point for the drama is its skillful use of Joanna Wang’s songs “Lost in Paradise” and “As Love Begins to Mend.” With a voice that may remind one of Norah Jones, Joanna Wang sings of hope and despair and sets the tone perfectly.