Light The Night Series Review: An engrossing series capturing the lives of women
This engrossing Taiwanese series set in the 80s sheds light on the trials and tribulations of its predominantly women characters working at a nightclub in Taipei’s Red Light District
Part 1 of the Taiwanese series Light The Night has a telling exchange between the two primary leads, encapsulating the lives of the many women who front the 80s narrative. Su Ching-yi (Cheryl Yang) tells Luo Yu-nung (Ruby Lin), “We don’t love those who love us. We fall for those we shouldn’t fall for.” The two best friends run an exclusive Japanese nightclub by the name of Light in Taipei’s tough Red Light District. At the Club, the former becomes Ms Sue and the latter, Ms. Rose. They are referred to respectfully as mamasan (a madam, who calls all the shots). The establishment, along the lines of a Geisha House or an okiya, caters mainly to rich, middle-aged, and respectable businessman from Japan. Each woman working there has a stage name (usually Japanese); clients refer to them by those names only. The duties of the hostesses are to entertain guests by engaging in conversation and revelry (the more expensive alcohol a hostess is able to order for her table, the better her cut is). Sex is never part of the equation. If patrons get a bit too handsy or boisterous, the mamasans step in, and handle the situation with subtlety and grace.
Director: Lien Yi-chi
Cast: Ruby Lin, Cheryl Yang, Tony Yang, Rhydian Vaughan, Puff Kuo, Derek Chang, Esther Liu,
Streaming On: Netflix
But beneath all the cultured touch and gloss, lie the women’s fractured lives. What one sees at Light is mere fantasy. Envy, rivalry, revenge, back-biting, resentment and rage abound, despite every effort by the madams to mentor their wards. Rose and Sue have a seemingly unshakeable bond. The latter gets her friend up and running after her extended prison sentence for assault. They open the club on the promise of having each other’s back, no matter the circumstance. Opposites, Rose tends to wear her heart on her sleeve in private settings while her friend is the ‘still waters run deep’ sort (she says much but gives away little). Ah-chi is the oldest hostess in the club (older than her two madams), and by far, the most bitter. Losing clients because of her waning youth, and mixed up in some bad deals with the Triads, she is in trouble. Wang Ai-lien / Aiko is still in college, working at the club without her family suspecting. She harbours feelings for her classmate, He Yu-en (Derek Chang), who is infatuated by the enigmatic Ms. Sue. Li Shu-hua / Hana used to be a prostitute before landing this job. And Huang Pai-he / Yuri falls for a suave man who gets her to sell drugs to selective clients at the club. Sue and Rose attempt to counsel her, but they’re hardly ones to talk. The latter is involved with Chiang Han (Rhydian Vaughan) a handsome, talented and emotionally unavailable screenwriter. To make matters worse, Sue has complicated feelings towards him as well. He is the kind of man who appears to love you and says all the right things when he wants you, but as soon you get too close, he withdraws. The two experienced ladies should know better, but that’s not how the heart works, does it?
Light The Night fails the Bechdel Test, because the women are constantly on about which man screwed them over and how. The men are the overwhelming problem here, make no mistake – they’re either the entitled type (as seen by the majority of folks frequenting the establishment) or the manipulative type (like Chiang Han or Yuri’s boyfriend) or the downright violent type. Sue’s words to Rose from earlier are understood more clearly through their problematic choices. Add an intriguing murder mystery/investigation to this, and you have yourselves a watchable show. All the audience knows is that the victim has red heels and a box of matches from Light on her person.
The dynamic between Sue and Rose is Light The Night’s highpoint. Their relationship gets a bit derailed owing to betrayal, but never does the regard for one another completely cease. The acting (especially on the part of Sheryl Yang) and writing give us a glimpse into a complicated and difficult trade...and how those complications play out in the female-centric setting of the club. Don’t let your guard down, be wary, differentiate fake from real, are the overwhelming messages here, but following through on those words remain a distant dream. In spite of its serious/intense nature, the show gets a tad surface-level every now and then; the topics of conversation need some looking into. Perhaps Parts II and III delve deeper into character to provide us with greater insight.