Expectations count for a lot in drama-watching, I’ve come to find. If a show exceeds your expectations, it’s always a happy thing. But if a show doesn’t live up to your expectations, it can feel like a real disappointment. The problem is, expectations can be.. a rather tricky thing to manage.
Lots of drama friends – bloggers and readers alike – had recommended this show to me, and all of them had enthusiastically assured me that this one was Stinkin’ Cute, and that I would absolutely love it. That kind of created a bit of a challenge for Show, since with all that glowing praise, my expectations unconsciously inched higher with each positive pronouncement I heard about it.
That then inadvertently put Show on an instant uphill task in my head. From the first minute I dipped my toes into this watch, Show had to prove itself worthy of all the squee. And that’s an unnecessary challenge that just helps nobody, amiright?
…Which is why I’m here to help. I’ll help manage your expectations so that hopefully you’ll end up enjoying your watch more easily than I did. We drama fans gotta help one another out, after all. 😉
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while reading the review.
THE LENS FOR THIS SHOW
The look and feel for this show is pretty fresh, sharp and bright. Everything’s really rather pretty to look at, especially if you’re watching in Ultra HD, which I was.
Also, I found out an interesting factoid after my watch. Apparently, this production had hired a Korean styling team. No wonder the hair and makeup looked so Korean. During my watch, I’d been rather intrigued that Shan Shan’s (Zhao Li Ying) eyebrows in particular looked so Korean in the way they were filled in. Now I know why, heh.
In terms of the lens that best works for this show, I’ve come to realize that keeping these few things in mind helps:
It took me eight episodes to figure this out, but Show actually leans logic-lite, in a fairly similar way to how TW drama Bromance leans logic-lite. Yes, I know that was pretty slow of me, considering the rather ludicrous circumstance that opens the show in episode 1, but I genuinely thought that the absurdity of the situation itself was where it ended, and that Show would have a robust thread of internal logic connecting everything else in its story.
Well, turns out I was a little off, in my assumption. It wasn’t the case all the time, but there were definitely more than a few occasions when plot points felt very awkwardly introduced, like they were written in a clumsy, we-just-need-this-to-happen-never-mind-how, connect-the-dots fashion, where plausibility was not a priority.
[SPOILERS] A prime example of this type of writing, is in episode 8, when Shan Shan gets lost in the woods and a concerned Feng Teng (Zhang Han) goes looking for her and ends up piggybacking her back to civilization. The way Shan Shan got lost was super awkward, I thought. I mean, Feng Teng and Li Shu (Li Cheng Yuan) breaking away from the group is fine, I get that. But the way Shan Shan then hollered after them, and started racing to try to keep up with them, made no sense to me. I mean, why would she? She wasn’t close friends with either of them, nor had there been any agreement that she should stick close to them. She could’ve easily stayed behind with the rest of the group, and she would’ve been fine. I get that Show was gunning for an OTP Moment, where Shan Shan and Feng Teng would have a bonding opportunity, and they definitely got that, but it wasn’t well set up at all.
On a smaller but similar note, I always wondered what Feng Yue (Zhangyang Guo Er) was thinking, packing liver every single day, for both Feng Teng and Shan Shan’s lunch. It sort of makes sense when it comes to Shan Shan’s lunch, since Shan Shan needs to “build up” her blood and all that, but why would Feng Teng need to eat liver every day too? I found that quite odd. [END SPOILERS]
Once I decided that I needed to put on a more casual lens with this show, and just ignore all the lapses in logic, though, I managed to enjoy this show a lot more.
It was around episode 10 that I felt like I was finally getting a handle on Show’s pace (guess I was really quite the slow learner with this drama, eh?). I realized that this show is just not like the typical kdrama trendy that I have more experience with, where stuff moves along pretty fast in order to finish telling Show’s story within 16 hours.
In this one, it feels like Show is taking a stroll in the park, and allowing itself the time and freedom to stop and smell the flowers, and play with bugs, and stare at whatever catches its fancy. [MINOR SPOILER] That’s why we get to see Shan Shan taking a leisurely stroll in episode 10, enjoying the snow, while contemplating her new situation with Feng Teng. [END SPOILER] It doesn’t feel like a scene with a means to an end, put there in order to accomplish something. It’s just.. there, to give Shan Shan some time and space to ponder.
Once I realized and accepted that Show would occasionally go off on tangents that wouldn’t always feel necessarily significant to our story, I had an easier time with my watch.
The humor isn’t always funny
This one’s subjective, so it might not apply to you.
Personally, I didn’t always jive with Show’s sense of humor, which often felt try-hard, stilted and overly exaggerated for my taste. Fairly often, I found myself cringing when I was supposed to have been laughing. I couldn’t help it; I just didn’t feel the funny.
The good news is, sometimes I did genuinely feel the funny, so it wasn’t all terrible. The other good news is, even with my struggle with Show’s sense of humor, I still found this a worthwhile watch.
There’s a lotta PPL
There’s a lot of PPL in this show, and alcoholic drink Rio takes the cake for the most number of PPL appearances in this drama world.
Seriously, this drink is everywhere in this show. It popped up so often that it became a cringey-funny running gag for me. More than once, our cast even had actual lines to say, that plugged the tasty virtues of this drink, and the various colors and flavors it comes in. This was distractingly unnatural, to say the least.
Still, if you just roll your eyes and roll with it, there ought to be no major harm done. Unless you suddenly find yourself with a raging craving for one of these frosted bottles of colored booze, heh.
STUFF I LIKED
In a nutshell, I liked our leads, and together, they kept me engaged through my watch, even when Show wasn’t at its best.
Zhao Li Ying as Shan Shan
I really enjoyed Zhao Li Ying as Shan Shan. She made Shan Shan’s innocence and slight ditziness come across as cute and endearing rather than frustrating. To me, finding it easy to like our protagonist made a big positive difference to my watch.
I liked how genuinely kind, earnest and sincere Shan Shan is, right off the bat. [SPOILER] I mean, who else would roll out of bed in the middle of the night and donate blood to a stranger without hesitation – despite the odd circumstances? [END SPOILER] Plus, I do love that she is a hard worker, and possesses a sense of humor that allows her to easily laugh at herself.
Here are just a handful of times when I felt Shan Shan shone extra bright:
E2. I love how Shan Shan perked up so much after receiving the first lunch box. From being completely downcast, to becoming a chirpy, motivated ray of sunshine. Doesn’t take much to make this girl happy, and I find that very charming.
E7. I thought it was pretty ballsy of Shan Shan to go right up to Zheng Qi (Huang You Ming) and tell him that she won’t have a crush on him anymore. She totally didn’t have to do that. Most people would just deal with their crush closure on their own. But not Shan Shan. She made it a point to go visit Zheng Qi in his office and tell him so. I had to admire her for that.
E18. Gotta admire Shan Shan’s decision and determination to be a self-sufficient woman and not abuse the credit card that Feng Teng’s given her. Coz, he’s actually encouraging her to use it, and keeps telling her to get used to this kind of lifestyle. It would be easy for innocent Shan Shan to agree and use the card, especially since his manner is so warm, kind and affectionate as he tells her to use it. But she doesn’t. Bravo.
On a related tangent, in a drama world where logic wasn’t always strong, I really found Shan Shan’s regular voiceovers very helpful. It helped me to make sense of her reactions to things, even when her reactions seemed odd for a normal person. Like when she regularly misinterpreted Feng Teng’s advances towards her, and rationalized them away. With the voiceover, I could follow her train of thought, and found it easier to understand her reasons for behaving in a certain way.
Zhang Han as Feng Teng
In comparison to Shan Shan, Feng Teng is a much more inscrutable character, and during my watch, I sometimes found myself struggling to understand his actions.
That said, I did find him intriguing right away, with him being such a young Chairman of such a large corporation, with no parents or grandparents in sight. I wondered where his family was, and why he was Chairman at such a young age.
At the same time, Show hinted that there was more beneath Feng Teng’s cold haughty exterior. [SPOILER] Like when he spots Shan Shan near the basketball court, and hides out of sight because he worries that she might see him looking less than immaculate. Ha. [END SPOILER] I loved the idea that there might be a dork lurking underneath his aloof facade, and looked forward to getting to know him better.
[SPOILER ALERT] I actually found it refreshing that Feng Teng isn’t glammed up to be the typical too-cool-for-school chaebol prince. He’s distant and private, not because of his position, but because that’s just how he is. He’s private even with his closest friends, and even Zheng Qi says that he always needs to force information out of him.
I liked that even as he falls in love with Shan Shan, his personality essentially remains the same. He doesn’t become super romantic and expressive with Shan Shan all of a sudden. So when he and Shan Shan start dating, her challenge isn’t so much Feng Teng’s position, so much as it is really getting to know Feng Teng’s person. His position only magnifies the situation for dramatic effect, but the core issue is his private personality and his difficulty in letting people in. To me, that feels more organic and real, and I liked that quite a bit.
Another thing that I liked quite a bit, is the fact that Feng Teng falls for Shan Shan first. There’s something extra satisfying about seeing a powerful chaebol prince lose his heart to the girl whom everyone else thinks is a nobody. I loved watching Feng Teng secretly eating with her, behind closed blinds. There is just something very sweet yet wistful about how he appreciates her company, as they eat the same food, even while they are technically separated by a glass wall, and he’s invisible to her. [END SPOILER]
For me, Feng Teng was a slow but steady burn. At first, he seemed so inscrutable and distant, but the more I saw of him, the more I discovered that he’s a good and kind person; a romantic lead I could really get behind.
Shan Shan and Feng Teng together
These two together can be super adorable, and many of my favorite moments in this show are of our OTP just having fun together. Seriously, Zhang Han and Zhao Li Ying have fantastic chemistry, and look amazingly comfortable and natural even in close couply proximity. I could really believe that these two were a couple in love, who had spent many, many hours in each other’s arms. Ahem.
Having said that, though, I must qualify that I did have issues with the early stretch of this OTP relationship.
The somewhat objectionable early days
In the earlier stretch of our story, Feng Teng regularly orders Shan Shan around a whole lot, even outside of the office context. I didn’t like that much at all. In fact, by episode 4, I was reflexively frowning every time he did that. I felt like he was brandishing his power in order to get Shan Shan to do what he wanted. That didn’t sit right with me; that’s just not how you treat a lady – particularly a lady that you like.
The power imbalance doesn’t go away quickly either. In episode 11, Feng Teng basically forces a semi-confession out of Shan Shan. Not only did that feel ungentlemanly to me, it also felt like he was taking advantage of the fact that he was the only one who could help her in her time of need.
Whenever this type of stuff happened on my screen, I found myself struggling a bit, to root for Feng Teng.
The better stuff
HOWEVER. Like I said, there’s quite a lot of squee to be had with this couple.
One of my favorites is the scene in episode 12 when Feng Teng starts to teach Shan Shan how to fish. I mean, yes, the issues I just mentioned are still issues at this point, but that whole metaphor – about letting people know that the whole pond belongs to her – is essentially him schooling her on how to show the world that he belongs to her, and that is quite squeeworthy. Especially when he says it while holding her from behind, his cheek next to hers, his hand over hers, his voice next to her ear, and with a resolute look in his eyes.
Perhaps more than the big moments like these, though, I enjoyed the smaller moments. Like when Feng Teng made a brand new tag for her in the same episode, and put his name down as her emergency contact. It feels like a small thing, but it really shows us his thoughtfulness. He really wants to be her next-of-kin. Aw.
It feels real
One of my favorite things about this OTP relationship, is how we’re allowed to explore our OTP’s struggles down to an almost nitty-gritty sort of level.
I liked watching Feng Teng and Shan Shan having conversations about stuff, instead of seething quietly or going nobly idiotic on each other. Like in episode 14, when Shan Shan confesses that she felt uncomfortable seeing Li Shu walking into his room in her pajamas. He says that he understands. He also warns her that there will many times that he will be surrounded by women, and that at those times, she has to only remember that he loves her. That conversation felt healthy, and real, and I liked it a lot.
I also liked how Show explores the difficulties and differences between Shan Shan and Feng Teng that arise due to their different stations in life. Shan Shan is clear that there is no third party between them, and yet, the everyday differences, and the lack of communication, already make things hard for her to bear. This angle felt true-to-life, which I appreciated.
At the same time, I began to appreciate just how invested Feng Teng is, in their relationship. In episode 21, even though Show turns the conversation into a disagreement which results in a cold war, I actually really liked Feng Teng’s intensity when he asks Shan Shan if she is ashamed of their relationship, or if she feels that they will end up breaking up sooner or later, or if she doesn’t think him worthy enough, to be her boyfriend.
I found his unequivocal belief in their relationship very appealing. It’s clear that he’s completely invested, and is in it for the long haul, never mind what anyone might say. And in his own way, he’s working to get Shan Shan to really open up to him and let him into her life. The fact that he sees that, and cares about it, and wants to change it, is very sweet.
A little scene in episode 23 pretty much sums up what I ultimately find so appealing about this OTP.
Feng Teng asks Shan Shan to stop going to CPA prep school because it leaves little time for her to spend with him, and she replies that she wants to match his level as best as she can. Essentially, he says he doesn’t care about that, and she says she cares about that. And so, just like that, he smiles and gives in, and says she’ll have to take care of him then, and she happily agrees.
It’s a short little moment, but packed with so much. There’s healthy conversation, trust, respect, affection, warmth and a whole lotta cuteness. <3
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Li Cheng Yuan as Li Shu
Not gonna lie; Li Shu was not one of my favorite characters in this drama world. Show does work to make her more likable in the later episodes, but I found the turnaround rather awkward and therefore not as believable as Show probably would’ve liked.
Li Shu is introduced in episode 7 as Shan Shan’s love rival, and for a good long while, I didn’t like her very much at all. When she was nice to Shan Shan, it never really felt genuine, and every interaction Li Shu had with Feng Teng felt loaded with strategic intent.
[SPOILER] At her most unsavory, Li Shu tells Shan Shan she wants to be her friend, yet, at the same time, Li Shu is really just looking for ways to sabotage Shan Shan, while waiting for Feng Teng to become single again. Ugh.
In episode 19, Li Shu’s plan to go to England to spend time with Feng Teng away from Shan Shan doesn’t make sense at all, since she’s going as Zheng Qi’s fake girlfriend. I mean, does she seriously expect Feng Teng to consider his bestie’s girlfriend as a potential romantic partner? What kind of person does she even think Feng Teng is, right?
At the same time, it’s so clear that Li Shu doesn’t care about hurting Zheng Qi at all. She takes advantage of the knowledge that Zheng Qi loves her and would do anything for her, and doesn’t bat an eye while stomping all over his poor bleeding heart. I disliked her so much, in that moment. [END SPOILER]
A small consolation is that at one point, Li Shu does admit that lately, she doesn’t even like herself. That measure of self-awareness helped, a little. But I never did truly warm to Li Shu or her relationship with Zheng Qi.
The secondary loveline
Even though we are eventually shown many happy scenes featuring this secondary couple, I never quite felt on board with their relationship.
Mostly, I felt sorry for Zheng Qi, for all the times that Li Shu hurt him and took advantage of him. Her turnaround in realizing her feelings for him didn’t feel organic to me, and I had trouble believing that she really did love him. And so, I always felt like I could only root for this couple in a very nominal way. Since Zheng Qi loves her so much, I’m glad he got to be with her. And.. that’s about it, really.
I have to say, though, that Zheng Qi’s love for Li Shu is long-suffering and unconditional. At first, I felt like he didn’t know when to cut himself loose. But, on hindsight, I appreciate that he cares for her, not based on whether her behavior is good; even when he’s seen Li Shu at her worst, he chooses to care for her. Even though I don’t quite feel that Li Shu necessarily deserves it, that’s pretty moving stuff, all the same.
THE PENULTIMATE STRETCH
It’s too much to talk about in detail, but I will say that Show’s last stretch wasn’t quite as fun to watch. There was just so much unhappiness and tension floating about. Zheng Qi unhappy with Feng Teng; Li Shu uncertain of her feelings for Zheng Qi; Shan Shan uncertain about Feng Teng’s feelings for her.
Happily, there are some brighter spots in the midst of the gloom, and Show manages to end on a very satisfying note, so it all works out.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Despite feeling relatively less engaged with this show in its final stretch, I must say that I am plenty satisfied with this finale.
I mean, yes, there are happy bows pretty much all around, and Shan Shan and Feng Teng – along with almost everyone else – get their happy ending. What I liked even more than Shan Shan and Feng Teng’s happy ending, though, is how Show uses its final episode to show us that Shan Shan has grown and matured over the course of our story.
In the past, Shan Shan would’ve quickly ducked away from someone like Wang Pin Ruo (Yang Kai Lin) and felt intimidated by her beauty and success. Instead, we see Shan Shan facing her head-on, without malice or petty jealousy, and without losing her good nature or confidence either. How apt, that Shan Shan applies her trademark simplicity to explain why she’s able to tolerate having Feng Teng’s ex-girlfriend as her product ambassador. Simply, she trusts him, and that’s all that matters.
I also liked the fact that Shan Shan ultimately had a choice about how she wanted to live her life; not as a big-shot business owner, but simply, as Mrs. Feng. Feng Teng himself had always expressed that this was all he wanted of her; that she didn’t need to do anything except be by his side. In the past, though, Shan Shan literally couldn’t do anything except be by his side. Now, she’s proven that she can do something else; she can be a big-shot business owner, and she can be a senior executive in the company, if she wants to be. And now that she’s tried it out – and succeeded at it too – she knows for sure, that that’s not what she wants. To see her make that informed choice about what she wanted to be, post-marriage, felt extra meaningful and weighty to me.
I also enjoyed the little touch, of having Shan Shan finally use the credit card Feng Teng gave her, to choose her own wedding ring – and then blithely pop the question to him. Again, that’s something that I don’t think Past Shan Shan would’ve been able to do, because she always used to defer to Feng Teng. What a statement it is, then, to have her not only decide when they would officially get engaged, but also what ring she wants, and exactly how she wants to celebrate their wedding – with a trip for two, around the world. I really love how much Shan Shan has grown in confidence, and I love seeing that confidence show up not only in her work life, but in her relationship with Feng Teng too.
As Show closes in on its last minutes, Shan Shan muses in voiceover:
“Someone once told me Cinderella won’t be able to have everyone’s good wishes to enter the palace. Although Feng Teng is a Prince, I’m not Cinderella. I’m only a girl who’s lucky enough to meet the love of her life… True love deserves everyone’s good wishes. Thereafter, the Prince and Miss Xue live happily ever after.”
I like that Shan Shan doesn’t see herself as a Cinderella who gets to live happily ever after with her prince. I do feel that Show has successfully demonstrated that Shan Shan isn’t a person who is content to take a free ride on her rich boyfriend’s coattails just because she can. She’s worked extra hard to avoid doing just that, so that she can demonstrate to everyone else – and most importantly, to herself – that she’s an equal partner in this relationship.
That just makes this happy ending feel extra well-earned and meaningful, and I liked that a lot.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A little meandering, and therefore feels a bit unfocused at times, but warm, sweet & feel-good all the same.
FINAL GRADE: B