HBO’s latest Taiwanese series Who’s By Your Side is set to give the audience a unique but relatable take on love, marriage, and relationships. The upcoming 10-episode series, which premieres on HBO Asia this October 3, comes from Golden Bell Award-winning director Peter Ho and features a star-studded cast that includes Kaiser Chuang, Vivian Hsu, Ning Chang, and Ivan Chen.
See the trailer below:
Before the first two episodes drop this Friday, we got to catch up with director Peter Ho in a virtual roundtable interview where he talked about the inspiration behind the story, working with a star-studded cast, and what he learned from directing the series.
Here’s what you need to know about this new series:
On the story
Who’s By Your Side follows Jian Zhi-Sheng who, after losing his business, ends up as a mechanic in a vehicle junkyard. He finds himself gambling during his free time, with hopes of getting rich, while his wife Zeng Yung-Jie works a few jobs to make ends meet. After their daughter runs away from home, the couple experiences great pain, with Yung-Jie’s mental illness causing great concern for her sister Zeng Yung-Chi.
Meanwhile, Yung-Chi, who is also tortured by her own demons, must also face the fear and insecurity that her marriage built inside her.
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On the inspiration for the series
Something that makes Who’s By Your Side unique from other series and films that tackle love and marriage life is how it incorporates horror elements. And according to Peter Ho, this idea originally came from a horror novel entitled The Whisper 《荒聞》. Because he’s not one to shoot something that is “purely horror,” he decided to reduce the horror elements to a small part of the story, with 95% of it focusing on “emotions, human nature, and interpersonal relationships.”
Peter also added that he thought of making a series about marriage, just as he was looking for a topic that could allow him to “start afresh.” He explained: “Since I just got married recently as well, I thought I was at quite a suitable stage and age to present something with regards to marriage.”
Working with a star-studded cast
Asked about his experience when it comes to working with such a star-studded cast, Peter said that what he wanted to do in this project was give every actor and actress a different challenge. His challenge when casting Vivan Hsu, for example, was turning her “from a superstar to a commoner.” Peter explained further, saying, “Vivian has a very happy-go-lucky personality, so when she acts, she is not inhibited at all.”
His challenge for Ning Chang, on the other hand, was how she can show a different and “more masculine side to her,” something which is very different from her “very ladylike demeanor” which the public has known her for.
Kaiser Chuang, according to Peter, used to play characters that are “very manly and very masculine.” However, in real life, he’s actually quite humorous, and that element of humor was what Kaiser infused into the character of Jian Zhi Sheng. The same goes for Ivan Chen, who used to play a killer in previous projects. For this new drama, Peter decided to give him a challenge by making him play a character “who is more caring.”
On the most memorable scene to shoot
Speaking about the hardest and most memorable scene for him to shoot, Peter mentioned a scene that was set deep into the forest and mountains. Not only was it hard to shoot because of how quickly light disappears once the sun starts to set, but he was also suffering from a bad headache because of the filming they did a day before that.
“Just before that, we actually filmed on a ship, so they gave me some anti-nausea pill. I wasn’t having any devious spells or headaches [when filming on the ship] but I had a headache for the next three days, which includes the day where we filmed in the forest,” he said. “People observe that I am normally very hyper-energetic, but during the forest scene, I was just very, very dizzy and very incapacitated by the pill.”
Directing a series that’s so different from Age of Rebellion
In case you’ve forgotten, Peter Ho’s first series as a director was Age of Rebellion, which won the prestigious Golden Bell Award in 2018, With the recognition and praise his project has received back then, it’s only natural that people also have high expectations for his second project.
Asked about why he decided to focus on the topic of marriage for his second project especially after directing a series about youth and rebellion, Peter said that he doesn’t want to make his projects formulaic. Instead, he wants to “make every project special” and to reset himself “with a new perspective.” He added: “The assistant director was telling me that if we think there’s a standard format for film or for a certain story, that’s actually dangerous. It means that we really have a fixed mindset. So I, together with the team, just have to keep breaking through.”
He also explained the difference between the treatment of Age of Rebellion and Who’s By Your Side and why he decided to do so. “For Age of Rebellion, [the direction] is more quick pan. It’s more youthful, so there’s a faster pace and more movement,” he said. “For Who’s By Your Side, I used more of a fixed shot and a very long shot. I don’t want to use the camera movement to pick up the pace, [because] I wish that the audience will forget the camera and focus on the emotion of the character.”
On what he learned from Who’s By Your Side
During the roundtable, Peter was also asked whether he put his own marriage experiences in the story. To this, he answered and said that he, fortunately, did not. Instead, he talked about how his wife is a very straightforward person who “needs to communicate for a lot of things,” he is more of an introvert who “keeps things in his heart.” He then relates these personalities to Zhi-Sheng and Yun-Jie’s problem, and how the differences in their personalities actually led to miscommunication.
“Zhi Sheng does know about the marital affair, but he did not ask. Only when his wife died that he went on to understand that it was a miscommunication that resulted in tragedy,” he explained. “I am hoping that this show will let more people reflect on the small things in life because [those] can lead to a big impact.”
What sets Who’s By Your Side apart from other dramas about marriage
With all the dramas that give the viewers a realistic take on love, marriage, and relationships, what sets Who’s By Your Side apart from them? Peter Ho said that it all boils down to the elements that are present in the story, as well as the different perspectives they take on how to tell them.
For him, something that is new and unique in his drama is how he “took something with love and relationships” and incorporated it with cult, dark, and horror elements, as well as stories that portray human nature. He also explained that he wanted to explore more on the theme of boundaries and what people would do if they find themselves in a helpless situation.
He said: “Some of us might find a friend. We might chat. We might drink. But this is only for some people. There are others who might seek help from unknown forces, from other mediums that are less conventional, [even though] it might not be good, and it might lead to tragedy. I find that some productions present the good side, and in this [series] it might be towards the bad side. Either way, it’s a chance for people to reflect.”
Who’s By Your Side premieres on HBO and HBO GO this October 3. Subscribe on HBO GO by clicking here.