By Maya Alexandri

In Taiwan, this past weekend—the same as the previous 16 weekends—close to 10% of the population was glued to their televisions watching “Fated to Love You.” Since first airing in March, the program has emerged as Taiwan’s hottest “idol drama.”

The idol drama roughly equates to the Latin American telenovela or the American soap opera, in that its complicated, episodic plot structures land characters in absurd situations and expose them to bizarre plot twists and coincidences–and also for the addictive hold the story has on fans.

Though called a “drama,” “Fated to Love You” is hilarious and employs a wide variety of comic conventions. In the first episode, a sex scene is intercut with clips of missiles firing and a train entering a tunnel, à la “The Naked Gun.” In the second episode, a woman runs into a public bathroom to do a pregnancy test and gets caught on a live news broadcast.

Like “Strictly Ballroom” and “Ugly Betty,” “Fated to Love You” champions a bespectacled, good-hearted, but undervalued girl, named Chen Xinyi, who has a chance at transformation. The premise, set forth in the first episode, is that Chen Xinyi—while trying to win the heart of her two-timing boyfriend on a cruise, and dizzy from having taken cold medicine—wanders into the wrong room on the ship and accidentally falls into bed with the handsome scion of a wealthy family, named Ji Cunxi, who himself has been drugged by business rivals. The ensuing, much-remarked-upon love scene doesn’t show much skin by Western standards, but the outcome is pregnancy for Chen Xinyi. Under pressure from Ji Cunxi’s spunky grandmother (first seen playing video ping pong in Episode 2), Chen Xinyi and Ji Cunxi get married.

“Fated to Love You,” has been breaking ratings records, thanks not only to its charm, but also to a public promise by male lead actor Ethan Ruan (who plays Ji Cunxi) that he’ll swim naked in an episode if the ratings exceeded 10%. Never let it be said that Taiwanese television doesn’t know how to incentivize fans: The series has occupied the number 1 ratings slot for 15 straight episodes, and ratings hit 10.93% during an episode aired in June.

But if “Fated to Love You” is winning hearts and minds in Taiwan, its reception in mainland China is more varied. “Fated to Love You” is primarily a phenomenon of the Internet phenomenon in the People’s Republic of China, as it’s not broadcast on Chinese television. On, a leading video site in China, the comments pages suggest that, naked or clothed, many viewers aren’t impressed with Ethan Ruan, with suggestions that the series would be “perfect” if it instead starred Ming Dao.

Another netizen decried what he perceived to be politically charged dialogue: “The actor’s lines are like ‘We want to march on China,’ (like [Taiwanese are] not the same as Chinese people — is it possible that they’re half-breeds?). Everybody should quickly wash their eyes.”

For American viewers, episodes with English subtitles (thanks to industrious bilingual fans) can now be viewed on YouTube.