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With a bitter and divisive presidential election season in full swing, dueling campaign staffers must keep their candidates afloat — and their images squeaky clean — amidst political machinations, mudslinging, and personal conflicts in this riveting Taiwanese political drama.
Golden Horse winner Hsieh Ying-hsuan (Dear Ex) and Gingle Wang (Detention) play pivotal roles while The World Between Us director Lin Chun-Yang takes the helm.
In a male-dominated world of Asian politics (onscreen and offscreen), women are making their voices heard vicariously through Wave Makers, Netflix’s new international political drama. To say that this Taiwanese show is groundbreaking is a gross understatement. In a genre populated by one-dimensional male characters, the central character and both presidential candidates are women — charismatic, highly motivated, independent women more than capable of standing up for their beliefs. It’s the first of its kind—a unique and exceptionally brave approach in a tired, trite, and predictable subgenre of political drama.
Bringing together an exceptional cast is one thing, but Wave Makers takes it up a notch by masterfully pulling back the curtain on political campaigns and highlighting the unrealistic demands placed on women–not only those who are aiming for a seat of power, but those who are working behind the scenes.
The Key Characters
At the center of the political storm is Weng Wen-fang (Hsieh), a deputy director of the opposition party whose sexuality is under intense scrutiny; she has been in a same-sex relationship for several years. Although she tries to keep her personal life under wraps, her sexual orientation continues to cause problems in the campaign and strain her relationship with her father, a former legislator. To the rescue is Wen-fang’s mother who serves as a mediator and peacemaker of the family as she constantly tries to smooth things out between father and daughter.
Opposition presidential candidate Lin Yue Chen’s (Tammy Lai Pei-hsia) marital status is also under a microscope, dissected publicly, and deemed a liability by the media, the rival party, and a large portion of the voting population. She’s being unfairly judged as an inadequate candidate because she was never married or had children.
Following this logic, incumbent President Sun (Hsueh-Feng Lu) should be able to capitalize on Chen’s predicament by simply showing her traditional family, right? Wrong! Married women are not exactly viewed in a positive light by the Taiwanese electorate either.
Ironically, Sun takes advantage of the ‘family values’ rhetoric by showcasing her male running mate Chao Chang-ze’s (Leon Dai) family credentials. And to add insult to injury, Chao is later found to be a philanderer whose inappropriate sexual behavior paints a grim yet realistic picture of hypocrisy, abuse of power, workplace sexual harassment, and gender inequality prevalent in contemporary politics.
Unfortunately, even in a flourishing democracy like Taiwan (it’s ranked as the no.1 full democracy in Asia in the 2022 Democracy Index), the disparity of standards between men and women, especially in politics, is still frustratingly glaring. Families are expected to support and take care of men while women are supposed to stay at home and look after their families. We may have achieved several milestones on the path to gender equality, but we still have a long way to go as a democratic society.
In Wave Makers, the people behind the scenes—the hardworking and resilient civil servants who share the impossible task of keeping the campaign running while up against smear campaigns, and a relentless 24-hour media cycle—are being brought to the fore. The unsung heroes remain in the shadows as their bosses bask in the limelight, but here they are finally getting fair treatment. Watching them grapple with their own morality as they try to do the right thing in a corrupt system is fascinating. They are as engaging as they are flawed, relatable, complex, and properly fleshed out.
In the end, Wave Makers encapsulates the current political climate in Taiwan as the country contends with heated debates around immigration, the environment, workplace sexual harassment, energy policies, and other issues — all of which are humanized through the lives and quandaries of the political staffers toiling behind the scenes to ensure the hotly contested Taiwanese presidential election goes their way.
The first Taiwan-based political drama available to a worldwide audience, Wave Makers is a groundbreaking political drama populated with relatable characters, timely issues, teachable moments, and engaging plots. A thoroughly engaging and positive wave of change in a sea of predictability and male-skewing political dramas.
Where to watch it: Netflix
Fans of politics, political campaigns, and international affairs will be intrigued, as will viewers looking for strong female leads.
Although countries in the Indo-Pacific region such as Taiwan and the Philippines consider the United States as the shining beacon of democracy and gender equality, both countries are ahead of the curve in terms of electing women to the highest-ranking constitutional position in a sovereign state. For instance, Tsai Ing-wen is currently serving as the president of Taiwan, a post she has held since 2016 as the first female president of the country. Meanwhile, two women have already held the highest office in the Philippines, including the late Corazon Aquino (1986-92) who was elected as president after the People Power Revolution, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (2001-2010), who is currently serving as the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Philippines.
While Wave Makers is laudable for its accurate portrayal of the political climate in Taiwan, it fails to address the biggest elephant in the room which is the Taiwan-China conflict. It’s a topic that dominates the political discussions currently in the country and would undoubtedly be a hot-button issue in the incoming 2024 Taiwanese presidential election. Some pundits and commentators have opined that the creators of the show have squandered a great opportunity to show the American and global audience their country’s general sentiments and perspectives on the Taiwan-China dispute.