You're either Team Dao Ming Si and a rehabilitation center for bad boys or Team Hua Ze Lei and a therapist for soft boys.

/ 19 September 2020

Anyone at least in their 20s right now would probably know what Meteor Garden is, and who the notorious F4 were. For most of us, it was the first foreign Asian drama we watched growing up when it was first picked up and dubbed by a local network back in 2003. It kickstarted the love Filipinos have for Asianovelas, and it truly was a phenomenon unlike any we’ve seen at the time. There were major concerts held in the Philippines starring the main cast with original songs in a foreign tongue, and does anyone else remember those Meteor Garden-themed notebooks, bags, shirts, and any piece of unofficial merchandise that were sold in our local markets?

Yep, Meteor Garden was a big deal.

The Philippines wasn’t alone in this endearment towards Meteor Garden‘s story of forbidden love and underdog leads, though. Social media wasn’t a big thing back then yet, and we didn’t have much access to see how other countries were reacting in real-time, but the amount of remakes across Asia seems like a pretty solid representation of how beloved the franchise was; and, still is.

In fact, on September 16, it was announced that Thailand will be releasing its take on the classic Meteor Garden story, almost twenty years since its initial TV airing. This will be the fifth adaptation of Japanese manga Boys Over Flowers added to the list of Taiwanese, Japanese, and South Korean retellings.

While Meteor Garden will always have a special place in our hearts, it’s time to admit that the story has some pretty misleading themes to it — most of which have been perpetuated throughout all its previous versions.

Despite the story being around for almost two decades, here’s a major spoiler alert for you.

For someone like me who was first introduced to the Filipino-dubbed version at six years old, even with close parental supervision, it wasn’t until the release of later reboots that the overall toxic, borderline misogynistic messaging, of the show comes about—with the whole school playing as accomplice to the meanness of the F4 led by Dao Ming Si to our main lead San Chai. It is hard to recognize that Dao Ming Si’s blatant bullying, and near-harassment because he couldn’t take NO for an answer, was a clear, tell-tale sign of a toxic man. And you know what we are talking about.

Throughout the years, there have been altercations made to lessen the bullying in some ways, and to soften the blow of that scary scene when a desperate Dao Ming Si was begging—no, harassing—poor San Chai to go out with him. But these themes are so tightly knitted to the story that it’s pretty difficult to remove it all entirely. Especially when so much of Dao Ming Si’s appeal comes from his character development of starting as an arrogant, insensitive, and downright mean bad boy, to an innocent, caring, and loving man when he fully immersed himself into San Chai’s world. Plus, the amount of times he had to physically protect her and sacrifice himself when she was in danger (most of the time, his fault too) also added to his charm.

But, maybe that’s why so many young girls grew up believing they can “fix” messed up young boys who bully them.

On top of this inherent character toxicity, one more theme that we hope to be properly acknowledged and respectfully handled in this series is the extreme cases of bullying due to class divide and the classic trope of female jealousy. This includes physical and verbal abuse and setting up your classmate on a random one night stand with a stranger and spreading it all over the internet.

One of the greatest things about Meteor Garden, though, is the refreshing strong character of San Chai. Even in the face of all the mistreatments to her, she still stood her ground and refused to give in to the bullies, to rich mothers bribing her, and even the hard times with Dao Ming Si and his peers. This is just one of the things that contributed to the franchise’s success—the bold and strong portrayal of its lead female protagonist.

Now that we’re set on a new retelling, the challenge presented to the Thai remake is to evolve the legacy of this Asianovela classic to reflect the progressive themes of the current society. It now holds a bigger responsibility to instill the correct mindset to the next generation of viewers by highlighting the wrongness of certain plot points and veering away from the traditional ways the story was previously told. That even though character development is a necessary driver of narrative, we can leave the romanticization of assault scenes, toxic masculinity, and unnecessary teen angst in it that weren’t carefully portrayed in the past.

So above all else, we hope to see an even stronger San Chai who doesn’t need a man to protect her, a mature Dao Ming Si who can respect a girl’s decisions, and a society who realizes its mistakes and grows from it. If done sincerely aligned with progressive themes, this series might just breathe in new life to the beloved franchise, and make its distinct mark to fit with the times without being just another rendition.

Watch the latest teaser for #F4Thailand: