This series utterly confounded me. I did not understand it – initially. The story was choppy, incoherent at times, and made little sense to my western-oriented mind. Frankly, I did not understand the fairy-tale related title and what it had to do with the series. Humbly, I want to explain my bewilderment of this series from two vastly different perspectives.
First, I cannot change who I am, with my perceptions inherently ingrained in me. So, while I watched this series, I could not wrap my head around why a doctor with such a cultured and educated background could be so passive and astonishingly stupid in dealing with the love of his life. I also did not understand the toxic work environment at the clinic where he worked. Sexual harassment was rampant in that clinic – simply outright or by innuendo. The long and belaboring journey towards a relationship coupled with the constant bantering and insults between the doctor and the gangster became insufferable, and at several points, I almost given up on completing this series. I cannot even begin to unravel the mental health issues of the assistant and the appalling, obsessive, possessive, criminal behavior he displayed. All of his actions were a calculated cruelty to an individual with whom he was deeply in love with. He was by definition a true example of someone who is psychopathically obsessed with another individual to the point that reason, logic, and basic decency were void. And everyone around him seemed more-or-less tolerant of it. A truly astonishing incoherent series filled with so many ‘bad’ people, I began to wonder if there was anyone in this series that had any socially redeeming qualities about them.
And now comes the second and most difficult explanation of this series with some frank admissions. Something, however, kept gnawing at me while I watched this series that I could not shake. It was why was the story of Cinderella referred to here? So, I researched the origins and versions of this fable. I thought smugly, I knew its origins, but I was so very wrong.
My research of Cinderella left me shocked, startled, and embarrassed to discover that there are many, many variations, and versions of this story from around the world, including one from Vietnam. Therefore, I read what I could about their version of Cinderella called Tấm and Cám. I was so moved by its beauty and complexities that I began to understand WHY these characters were the way they were in this series. Whether the intention of this story is based on Vietnam’s version, or the Western version, I do not know. But after reading about Tấm and Cám, I understood (to a certain extent, that an outsider can) the direction of this particular story and why the characters’ actions were drafted in this manner. I understood the need to foster this relationship slowly, to mirror the many trials and tribulations in their own story of Cinderella. I understood the meaning of the odd deception of the doctor being taken as a female and how that related to the gangster’s character development. I understood the doctor’s reticence in dealing with his sister more forcefully (as we undoubtedly would have in the United States) when she berated and humiliated her brother’s love choice. In their version of Cinderella, it is just not Cinderella who is made to suffer but her ‘prince’ as well. Both must go through many trials and tribulations before they ultimately realize their true love. This story is an allegorical tale of such profound intensity that shamefully I almost missed appreciating; because I was so blinded by my own perceptions of our version of Cinderella and not experiencing theirs. In that sense, this story is brilliantly told, despite its flawed execution.
This modern-day fable is centered around a young doctor named Anh Khoa (Truong Minh Thao) who treats a street ‘gangster’ named Anh Dung (Nguyen Ba Vinh). Although there is an instant attraction, the fruit of that labor is the evolution of this story. Dung is savvy, but trouble seems to follow him continuously. Being a graduate of street smartness, he has learned to adapt, be suspicious and not rely on anyone. However, there is something about Khoa that draws him intuitively, as if he knew him previously. Despite his outward appearance, Dung’s heart is utterly pure. The doctor is an upfront individual but is too easy-going. His acceptance of all people is almost his downfall rather than an asset. Yet, that is who he is.
Alongside working with him, is his assistant, Gia Huynh (Kan Hy). These two had been in a previous relationship but have been separated for a long time. Huynh becomes jealous of the budding relationship between Khoa and Dung and does what he can to thwart the relationship. Some of which are shocking and appalling. The other assistant is Y Ta Thao (Pham Nguyen Tuong Vi). She is forever forlornly lamenting about the problems in her love life and is constantly trying to pair herself with the doctor, knowing full well that he is not remotely interested in her sexually. Dung has a ‘brother’ named Quoc Thinh (Tran Vu Duc Duy). While not related by blood, they have been through so much together from being orphaned and fending for themselves on the streets; that they consider each other as brothers. Thinh falls hard for Huynh but in the end is summarily, cruelly, and callously rejected by him. That exchange was so painful to watch and done with so much realism, I wept. I felt to my core how devastating those words were. Hoang Danh (Minh Thu), is Khoe’s sister who arrogantly and cruelly demeans and attempts to diminish and extinguish the relationship between Khoe and Dung. So, these are the characters in this love story envisaged as if the audience were watching a theater-in-the-round production.
The story of the ups and downs as well as twists and turns are somewhat difficult to describe and a bit overdone at times. But, beginning with episode 6, this story’s light begins to shine with a profound message and its sullen impact embarks into taking a new direction. We finally see the strength of their relationship increase with intensity. Not so much by external signs, but internally. Their continuous bantering and teasing each other, which seems almost annoying at times, are portents to the development of their relationship. Ironically, these are tests of the limits; each one establishes as to what is acceptable to one other in their budding relationship. They are setting up their boundaries. So, when the tender intimate moments do come, they are so beautiful since they developed from a sense of understanding and true acceptance of each other.
Truong Minh Thao and Nguyen Ba Vinh respectively are THE story here. These two have such a natural chemistry together that I believed them from the first instant. Both are astonishingly handsome, but Nguyen Ba Vin as Dung has a natural tendency to draw you into his world. Not just with his boyish good-looks but also with his persona as a ‘bad-boy’. There is something about him and subsequently his character that exudes an animalistic magnetism. Perhaps that is why we become so attracted to ‘bad-boy’ characters. They KNOW what they want and how to get it and give us exactly what we expect them to. Yet, he never lost sight of his true nature, never downplaying his character to appear unworthy, while continuously fighting to maintain his respectability. He depicted the character with dignity and respect and never once used people. He is so hard to take your eyes off. As an example of the true depthness of his character, when asked by Khoa about the expectations from the relationship, Dung says,
“I’d rather keep it short but happy, then have my whole life without you.”
He says those lines with complete sincerity with the underlying meaning “I am yours forever”. The astonishing connection he displayed in laconic fashion, but with the power of a thousand burning suns, moved me so deeply, I cried. I thought that scene was one of the most stunningly intense, softly intimate, and beautiful love scenes between two men I have ever seen. So convincingly, that I thought I was ease-dropping on a documentary.
A big “Honorary Mention” must go to Kan Hy as Gia Huynh whose performance is nothing short of astonishing. His spiral downward into a complete break from reality is not just with words but shown on his face, eyes, his mannerisms, and behaviors. His evilness grows and our dislike for him grows exponentially as well. I wanted to feel compassion for him at the end, but could not. That is a testament to a genuine understanding of what this role was about. While Khoa advised him,
“Please don’t spend time hating someone. Spend that time loving someone else instead.”
Those words would not have been mine to him. But that is what makes this series so astonishing. It makes you think and feel from someone else’s perspective. Kan Ha did this role with such intensity and passion. Kudos to all of these performers.
Normally, here is where I would be explaining why I rated a series the way I did. But I cannot here. My intellect tells me to hate this series for its feel, based on my life and the sensibilities from my perspective. I despise bullying. I loathe arrogance. Continually using bantering and insults to display love is loathsome to me. Attempted murder is simply unacceptable. And not dealing more effectively with serious mental health issues is intolerable. Yet, reflectively, this is what it must be. My feelings have no bearings on what this story is about. It is a fable of a journey for love that does not go linear but swerves into different geometric patterns. Without question, the production level left a lot to be desired. It was hard to follow and the translation into English was not always making sense. Yet, I was swept away by its meaning. I got it. It is a modern-day version of Cinderella and Tấm and Cám.
Rating- Read Tấm and Cám and decide
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2 thoughts on ““Mr. Cinderella” Series Review (Ep.1 to 8)”
Thank you for being upfront about the things you learned. While I don’t always agree with your reviews, your credibility shot up to the stars with this one. I will definitely be reading more of your writing.
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Thank you! I appreciated your comments.
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