This year’s HIStory series, Trapped, is sexy and sweet and fun as a romance but struggles as an action drama.
It’s that time of year when we finally get our first fix of this year’s HIStory series. We get three stories this year (hopefully) and the first one is called Trap or Trapped (depending on the translation). But where the trap is and who has fallen into it remains to be seen.
The trap is set
Meng Shao Fei is a cop who has spent the last four years chasing gangster Tang Yi. Tang Yi is trying to go straight to fulfil his late mentor/ father figure’s wishes. While he seems to be in charge of his organisation, there are rumours not everybody is happy. Meng Shao Fei doesn’t seem that interested in Tang Yi’s criminal activities, he mostly wants to know what happened during an incident four years previously when his Sunbae was killed.
After playing a cat and mouse game for four years, Meng Shao Fei and Tang Yi are probably too aware of each other for their own good. So when fate throws them together a few times, sparks fly.
As you can see, this is a pretty good scenario for a Taiwanese BL. There’s a lot going on here. Meng Shao Fei’s dogged – almost obsessive – pursuit of Tang Yi translates pretty well as an analogy for a romantic pursuit. Whether Shao Fei wants justice, the truth, or Tang Yi’s hot bod is something even he seems confused about from early on.
Trap of your own making
It shows a laudable kind of emotional honesty that, when Shao Fei finally realises his feelings, he pursues them with the same persistence with which he pursued the original case. He will get his man, it seems, even if he’s been in denial as to what he wants him for. After all, he’s a cop and Tang Yi is a gangster.
So, on the surface, this is everything we like about the HIStory series. Apart from the hot guys falling for each other and the ample skinship, it’s refreshing that the main conflict is rarely homophobia. Shao Fei isn’t conflicted because Tang Yi is a man: he’s conflicted because Tang Yi is on the wrong side of the law.
The only problem is…
Shao Fei? Not that conflicted. And this is where Trap starts to have problems.
BL generally and HIStory specifically is often about crossing boundaries (pun intended). But if you want to move away from the idea that homosexuality is boundary crossing in and of itself then you need to push those boundaries with other scenarios. HIStory 2 did this quite well in Right or Wrong where it portrayed a relationship with an extraordinary power imbalance: an older teacher and a much younger student who he’d employed as his Nanny. I don’t even know where to start with everything that was wrong with that relationship and yet it worked. So, the show asked, is it Right or Wrong?
What the writers seem to have missed with Trapped is that being a cop or a criminal isn’t a boundary in the same way as the others are. Shao Fei is in a unit that investigates organised crime. His relationship with Tang Yi jeopardises those cases. This is not just a case of “Love is Love” and having the courage to pursue a relationship despite different social status or class. This is about whether Shao Fei is even capable of doing his job anymore.
At episode 12, there are eight more episodes of this story to go. So it may be that this is something the show is preparing to explore in more depth. But, honestly, I could have used a bit more time on Shao Fei grappling with the ethical conundrum he was presented with.
The relationship (as it is at the moment) represents a genuine violation of professional ethics and thus any criticism of that would be entirely legitimate. Basically, the show is acting as though there is a binary ethical decision here between ‘tolerance’ and ‘intolerance’ when there are issues at play that have nothing to do with acceptance. Especially when Tang Yi is suspected of murder (a murder that Shao Fei seems to accept as fact and that frankly should have bothered him more).
Jake Hsu is absolutely adorable as Meng Shao Fei; a playful, elfin man just as comfortable wearing pink couple shirts as he is fighting bad guys. But that doesn’t mean he’s not frequently ridiculous and rather unconvincing as a cop – all entirely due to the script and direction rather than his acting, which is very good.
The second romance here has the same issue with the cop being an oblivious adorable grandmother-loving marshmallow, to the point where you’re wondering how the hell he functions on a daily basis, let alone in an organised crime unit.
Not to say the romance in this show isn’t everything it should be. The romance storyline is sexy and sweet, something the HIStory series is exceptionally good at. It’s just the crime aspect of the show that is not entirely working. This is a similar issue for the rest of the series: as dramas they’re pretty underwhelming, as queer stories they’re excellent. In fact, they’re by far the best being made today. It’s why I wish they’d stuck to their strengths rather than trying to take on a crime story underneath it.
Overall, this year’s first HIStory series is as fun and hot as last year’s offerings and is definitely well worth watching. But it’s probably best to approach this as if it’s a campy romcom rather than a crime or action thriller.
Enjoy the sexy fun for what it is.
8/10 … for now.