Lovestore At The Corner (巷弄裡的那家書店) has been a great ride so far, there’s really not many Taiwanese dramas that can be this contemplative, complex and intriguing, I could only count a few using my hands. I’ve been following Lovestore at the Corner on and off. I don’t exactly follow it actively because you really need the mood to watch as it’s not as fast-paced or as easy to understand as other dramas. However, whenever I pick it back up, it always seem to grab my attention fully. If you think that its pilot episode is a little bit too heavy and sombre, good news is that the later episodes seem to be slightly more upbeat than the pilot episode so it may be easier to swallow for some people. I’ll talk more on that in my thoughts section after my quick summary.
It’s been performing really, really bad in rating, their lowest rating is at a dismal 0.08 and their highest rating is around 0.26, they’re in the last place as compared to other Friday dramas and I suspect that this may be the reason why CTS is pushing their broadcast time to 11PM instead of the original 10PM. At least they didn’t decide to cut it short, it’s a 27 episode drama and the shooting had finished since long time ago so I really hope the higher-ups of CTS would be more lenient to this drama and not think about profit only.
This is a great drama that promotes book-reading culture and the theme can be boring to some so performing low in rating is expected. However, I think the main reason of its low rating is the lack of promotion and bad marketing from CTS, this is a channel that’s considered half-dead as they mostly air foreign dramas in their channel in the recent years, (with the exception of Rock ‘n’ Road, which is doing alright, but it’s a TVBS production and only TVBS is putting a lot of effort to market it!), so broadcasting local drama in such a channel will only make the drama suffer. CTS, please learn a few marketing tricks from your competitor, SETTV. To add salt to the wound, Lovestore at the Corner livestreams in a Chinese video site, LETV, meaning that people could always go online to watch live instead of watching it on TV, further decreasing the TV rating. This is a bad marketing strategy from the production team.
I won’t be writing a detailed recap about what happened in ep2-8 because this is a drama that can’t be explained by mere words, you need to watch it, digest it and understand it for yourself. One thing for sure is that watching this drama, it makes me want to check out the books they recommended in the drama, some of the poems are just so beautiful. Lovestore at the corner made me understand that books speak volume about a person.
Quick Summary of EP2~8
*May not be in exact order as I’m summarizing based on my memory, I only put parts that I feel are the most important developments in the story.
A few years have passed ever since the disappearance of Du Ke-Jie (Tracy Chou), Du Ke-Xin (Nikki Hsieh), Xiang Shu-Lei (Lee Wei), Dong Xin-Ni (Chloe Wang), the people that she left behind have slowly moved on with their lives and not as badly affected as when she first disappeared. The memories of Du Ke-Jie slowly became foggy in their mind but the wound will easily re-open again when they meet familiar people as Du Ke-Jie will forever occupy the small corner in their hearts.
Du Ke-Xin’s family situation improved quite a lot as compared to when her sister just went missing, at least the family found a peaceful way to live together. Even though her father is still fixated on Ke-Jie, he’s still able to continue his life, teaching classes in university as usual. However, Ke-Xin and her father are drifting apart, even though they live in the same house, Ke-Xin and her mother often ignores his presence and so does he, as he will always be reminded of Ke-Jie whenever he stays in the house or sees Ke-Xin and her mother.
Besides the change in her family situation, she now also has a sweet boyfriend, Li Ze-Xuan (Alien Huang), the son of her mother’s friend. Even though at first Ke-Xin hated the idea of being introduced to a man by her mother, she finds him kind and reliable as he always plan things ahead and think about the future so she started to accept him as her boyfriend, their relationship has been pretty stable since then.
One day, Ze-Xuan and Ke-Xin went for a trip to Yi Lan, a county of Taiwan and in the midst of it, they went on separate ways to tour the place. Ke-Xin stumbles upon a strange small second-hand bookstore and encounters the owner of the bookstore, Yang Mo-Cheng (Lee Wei). She finds him very familiar looking but she couldn’t immediately recognize that he look exactly like her sister’s boyfriend, Xiang Shu-Lei. It was only after she went home to flip through the pictures of her sister, then she realized that Yang Mo-Cheng is Xiang Shu-Lei. She wants to ask him about what happened between him and her sister before the disappearance but is baffled at why did he named himself as another person. She wasn’t sure whether he is really her sister’s boyfriend from the picture so she decided to ask Dong Xin-Ni, who was the only close friend of her sister that she knows.
When asked by Ke-Xin, Xin-Ni is surprised to hear the news of Xiang Shu-Lei but she tries to remain calm in front of Ke-Xin. She reveals that Xiang Shu-Lei got into a car accident about 1 year after Ke-Jie’s disappearance and when he woke up from the accident, he couldn’t remember who is he, couldn’t recognize his family members and he’s unwilling to go back home. After then, he disappears before the eyes of his family members. Ever since then, no one has heard any news about him.
Ze-Xuan suggests Ke-Xin to go back to Yi Lan one more time to question Yang Mo-Cheng and test whether he is really not Xiang Shu-Lei. They went back to the bookstore in Yi Lan together and she starts questioning about Yang Mo-Cheng’s upbringing but all his answers are totally different from what she heard about Xiang Shu-Lei’s upbringing. She’s puzzled and went back to Taipei with more unanswered mysteries.
She went to look for Xiang Shu-Lei’s brother and ask him about more details. From his answers, she knows that Xiang Shu-Lei has a psychogenic kind of amnesia, meaning that he chose to not remember about his past because of his own psychological problem. She decided to go back to the bookstore again to test Yang Mo-Cheng whether he recognizes the couple photo of him and her sister. When he sees the photo, he remarks that the man in the photo resembles him but he doesn’t know who these two people are. At his answer, she angrily reprimands him for forgetting her sister and about to huff off before Mo-Cheng stops her and ask to have a chat with her.
They talk about her sister and when asked what kind of person is her sister is, Ke-Xin have a hard time answering it, she realized that she never really know her sister well enough and memories of her sister have become foggy. While waiting the train back to Taipei, she blames herself about forgetting her sister and thinks that she has no right to reprimand Xiang Shu-Lei as he forgets about her sister because of a car accident but she has not valid reasons to.
After the confrontation with Yang Mo-Cheng the other time, she decided to help him get back his memory as she still have many things to ask him about her sister once he remembers. She will visit his bookstore once in a while to talk to him and finds herself enjoying chatting with him and Yang Mo-Cheng is full of wisdom, he often uses quotes from books he read to guide the people in the village. She often feels enlightened by his words.
Work is not going very smoothly for Ke-Xin in Taipei as she’s wrongly accused of a mistake she didn’t do in her company. Finally, she had enough and decided to quit and go to Yi Lan to work as a staff of Mo-Cheng’s bookstore. She also thinks it will be a great idea to stay close with Mo-Cheng so she can help him remember about his past. At her decision, Ze-Xuan can’t bear to part with Ke-Xin as her moving to Yi Lan means that they will have a long-distance relationship but still decide to support her decision.
Then, Ke-Xin moves to Yi Lan and starts pestering Mo-Cheng for him to take her in as a staff. At first, he was reluctant but soon he decided to give her a test, to collect books with “warmth”. She thinks that he’s deliberately giving her a difficult test so that he can chase her away but after meeting with some of the book donators, she discovered how strong the connection between books and its owners is. The books have been accompanying some of the owners for decades and the types of book can easily expose the owner’s character, personality, hobbies and preference. Thus, she understood the “warmth” that he was referring to and got accepted officially as the staff member of Mo-Cheng’s bookstore.
In the small village of Yi Lan and in the small bookstore of Yang Mo-Cheng, she encounters many kinds of people. One of them is Ah Bi (Liu Yu Qian), a teenage boy that hates the small village he is in and dreams of traveling around the world, he often comes to the bookstore to read travel books. His parents are owners of a small restaurant which business isn’t doing well. Ke-Xin also rents a room in his house so not long after, they became close like a family. Xiao Ba (Xiao Xiao Bin), a small boy who lives with his fierce grandma who sells dumpling for a living, he often comes to the bookstore to write homework and loves listening to Mo-Cheng telling him stories. The people of the village are strange people but they are kind and filled with warmth, Ke-Xin feels the strong bond between herself and the villagers. The more she interacts with the villagers, the more entangled she is with the lives of the villagers.
Furthermore, the longer she stays in Yi Lan, the more she drifts apart from Ze-Xuan as Mo-Cheng often reminds her of what she used to be, a girl with dreams and who likes to imagine. Different from when she’s with Ze-Xuan where he’s all about planning. She also feels that she’s slowly falling for Mo-Cheng and feels guilty for that, this makes things complicated.
Thoughts on EP2~8
The later part of the story isn’t as cloudy as the pilot episode and the tone became more upbeat as it’s been years after the disappearance of Ke-Jie. In the pilot episode, I could strongly feel the suffocating devastation of the people Ke-Jie left behind at that time, the aftermath effect was significant. Xiang Shu-Lei was in the verge of destruction, Dong Xin-Ni was trying to numb her guilt with endless works and Ke-Jie was isolated at home, filled with sadness and loneliness. However, in the later episodes, the dark clouds that loomed over them became less suffocating, people moved on. Like I said, years have passed so although Ke-Jie remains in a part of their heart, the memories of Ke-Jie in their mind slowly become foggy. There are many changes after the time jump so I will be talking about these changes and the significance behind it.
If losing a beloved one can make a person totally change into another person, that will be Xiang Shu-lei, he used to be a playboy but now, he became like a totally different person, Yang Mo-Cheng. Mo-Cheng is very mature, wise, kind and always reliable when it comes to guiding people around him who feel lost because of their life’s circumstances. Most of his wisdom comes from the huge amount of books he read. The Xiang Shu-Lei who would fall asleep by reading a few page of a book has now become a bookworm. He’s very collected but also can be playful at times when he teases Ke-Xin, Xiao-Ba or Ah-Bi. If Xiang Shu-Lei is like an untamed, destructive beast, then Yang Mo-Cheng is totally the opposite, he’s the tamer instead. Sometimes, I feel that there’s an old man’s soul living inside him, jaded and clear of many things. Ironically, ever since he became Yang Mo-Cheng, the more he resembles Ke-Jie in terms of the atmosphere around him. He also imitates the way Ke-Jie arrange her bookshelf in his bookstore and tells Ke-Xin that the particular bookshelf will never change, that’s a big revelation that he never forgets about Ke-Jie and his feelings for her will never change.
Another interesting part about Xiang Shu-Lei is that when he’s Yang Mo-Cheng, his memory is all jumbled up. He mix in life stories of the characters from the books he read with the distorted version of Xiang Shu-Lei’s past memories. At first, I wasn’t sure whether he really forgotten about his past and becomes another person, just like he’s having split-personality disorder or whether he’s only pretending to be another person with his memories still in-tact and acts like he’ve totally forgotten so that he can run away from his past. As the story unfolds, the writer gave us clues here and there that he may not have totally forgotten about his past, and may even remember it fully but in Ep7-8, I’m almost 100% sure that he still has his memories in-tact. The micro-changes in his expression when he met Dong Xin-Ni, when he’s asked about Ke-Jie and many, many other small details that gave out he’s just pretending to be another person.
No matter which one is it, I think he finds tranquillity when he’s being Yang Mo-Cheng and when he’s in the village. Like Ke-Jie, he couldn’t find warmth in his family and with Ke-Jie’s disappearance, the more he will feel depressed if he stays with his family.
I remember a quote from the drama which totally relates to Shu-Lei’s current situation:
*Note that the following passage is a direct translation from the Chinese translated book version so it may not be totally similar to the original English passage.
During those nineteen years of torture and slavery, his soul both rose and fell at the same time. He also saw his life continue to follow two sets of incompatible rules. Concealing his own identity to redeem his soul.
– Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
The key phrase in this passage is “concealing his own identity to redeem his soul”, but will it really redeem his soul? The guilt and loss has long inhabited his body, he still wakes up from nightmares at times, trying to chase after Ke-Jie who left with unanswered mysteries. I really don’t know how far he can go by escaping his past and not making a direct confrontation to it. It will come back to haunt him eventually and that may damage him again for the second time.
Also, I feel that the isolated and falling village in Yi Lan works magic for the wounded souls like Ke-Xin and Shu-Lei, they found solace in such a strange small village and in the small bookstore. Both of them have embarked on a journey to find themselves in the serene Yi Lan, but where does it leads them to? I’m curious to what kind of future will their healing trip brings them.
In Ep7, Ke-Xin finally had semi-reconciliation with her estranged father, they talked about their past and why is he acting like that. From their conversations, I realized that her father may be the one who’s suffering the most from the loss of Ke-Jie in her whole family because of how much guilt he felt. He used to show preferential treatment to Ke-Xin as Ke-Jie is always mature, wise and never let him worry about her so he often unintentionally neglects her. The reason why Ke-Xin feels that Ke-Jie stole her father from her is because she used to be the loved child of the family so the sudden change made her feel unbearable, as if all of her happiness were stripped apart from her. But anyways, it was great to see them finally have a serious talk instead of the father keep on avoiding her.
Ke-Xin and Ze-Xuan relationship is sweet, stable and she’s actually happy with him but everything changes after she meets with Yang Mo-Cheng. He unlocks the hidden dreams that she always had in her and made her think whether she had only been going with the flow, not making her mother worry so even though she doesn’t feel her heart beating for him, she finds him pleasant enough so she accepts him as her boyfriend. She conceals her passion for ballet dancing as she knows that her mother will worry that she’s having unrealistic dreams but Mo-Cheng’s words echoes in her mind.
So there are some things that you may think you’ve thought out carefully. You think that if you follow the traditional routine, your wish will come true, or you’ll find an answer. But usually…it’s not that easy. So we shouldn’t always think about how we are supposed to do this and that. But instead, we should think about the surprise that the “uncertainty” may bring us, don’t you think so?
– by Yang Mo-Cheng in Ep6
Her feelings for Ze-Xuan may not be as deep as true love but the happiness she feels when he’s by her side are real too. So when she feels attracted to Mo-Cheng, I honestly feel bad for Ze-Xuan as he had been a great, sweet, supportive boyfriend of her. I really wish that the writers will stop emphasizing on Ke-Xin falling for Ze-Xuan as I feel disturbed. I think part of the reasons Ke-Xin is attracted to Mo-Cheng is as what I mentioned, he resembles the sister she missed so much in terms of the way he talks, the atmosphere around him and it’s like there’s an old soul living inside them. So, the only match that I think is suitable for Mo-Cheng is Ke-Jie because only a more jaded, more mature person can save him from his concealed misery. I’m hoping that in the end, it will still be Ke-Xin with Ze-Xuan and if Ke-Jie really does come back (not sure how big the possibility is), I hope by then, Shu-Lei/Mo-Cheng is still waiting for her. If not, I would prefer Mo-Cheng to be single, at least I won’t see Ke-Xin getting together with him.
Honestly, this “Ke-Xin falling for Mo-Cheng” is my least favorite plot from the drama but fortunately, romance is never a big part of the story as there’s a strong slice-of-life tone when they also talk about the villager’s lives and their struggles in the falling village. It makes thing much more interesting and meaningful. Yes, Shu-Lei and Ke-Xin are the central plot but having subplots that further elevates them, make them grow as a person is also amazing to watch.
I didn’t really mention much about Dong Xin-Ni in my quick summary but I really, really feel that Chloe Wang is doing a great job in acting out such a conflicted, restrained character. Even though Xin-Ni is the third party to Shu-Lei and Ke-Jie’s relationship and she betrayed her best friend so she should be label as the “horrible woman”. I felt pity for her when memories of Ke-Jie often comes back to haunt her as she entrapped in her own self-loathing and conflicted feelings. She’s just a poor lonely woman who fell in love with her best friend’s boyfriend. She loves the both of them but the feeling of love towards a man is beyond her control. Who can control feelings? Many times, she tried to peek a glimpse of Yang Mo-Cheng but she always restrain herself as she knows that he wouldn’t want to meet her and the guilt in her is forbidding her too.
In my opinion, Shu-Lei is actually the worse person in the infidelity case as he doesn’t even have feelings for Xin-Ni but stays with her because of his insecurity and urge to cheat on a relationship because of his own psychological problems. Years have passed, people change, I hope that one day, they will try to move on from this issue and start anew. But I doubt it will be an easy road ahead for them as guilt is never easy to erase. I’m expecting more interactions between Xin-Ni and Mo-Cheng in the future as she’s now in charge of a real-estate development plan in Yi Lan, the acquisition plan includes Mo-Cheng’s bookstore and the businesses of the villages Mo-Cheng know.
Lee Wei and Chloe Wang are rocking my socks off with their acting. They’re both great with subtle expressions, Chloe Wang has improved so much ever since I first saw her acting in 4Gifts (女王不下班) and even better than IUUI (我愛你愛你愛我). She was pretty good in IUUI but she shines in this drama. I feel out of the cast, Nikki Hsieh and Alien Huang are the weaker links in terms of acting but they shine out in different scenes. For Nikki Hsieh, it’s the scenes with her family and as for Alien Huang, it’s the more serious scenes.
Pardon me for writing such a long post as there are so many things in the story that can be discussed about. But I already tried my best to make a concise and comprehensive review of the story. This is not an easy drama to watch as it consumes a lot of my brain storage and makes me feel emotional at some of the scenes. It will be a great watch for some if you’re in the mood for a complex and meaningful drama. Plus, the OST and the cinematography are really pretty, the camera angles actually elevate the emotions in the particular scene and that creates a much more enjoyable viewing experience.
The full OST are out, listen to it below!
Opening Theme: Shi Shi – Shouldn’t be, Shouldn’t be
Ending Theme: Alien Huang – Emotional Love Song