Remember when I fell hearts-in-eyes in love with Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, for how simple and endearing it was? So many of us remarked, then, that we wanted more of such simple and endearing shows like it, to love.
Well. Guess what, you guys? I think I’ve found a pretty strong contender for your affections, in this sweet lil drama.
And, I honestly think it doesn’t even matter if you don’t usually watch Chinese dramas. I feel pretty confident that kdrama fans will find it pretty easy to love this one too. Coz, first of all, there are familiar elements in it, that will make this one feel extra accessible to the average kdrama fan; to me, this show kinda-sorta feels like Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, Answer Me 1988 and Playful Kiss all got together and had a cute baby.
Second – and most importantly – of all, aren’t simplicity and warm fuzzies universal, after all? 😉
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
THE ALMOST WHOOPSIE
Y’know, I’m a little horrified that I almost missed out on this charming little show.
See, despite my newfound appreciation for Chinese dramas in general, I hadn’t been having much success with the Chinese youth dramas in particular, and was close to the conclusion that maybe Chinese youth dramas just weren’t for me. Happily, though, this show didn’t give up on me. It kept popping up in my line of vision, along with generally positive reactions from viewers, and before long, I was intrigued enough to actually give this one a try.
I dived in hoping for the best, and I’m so pleased that I did, coz this lil show turned out to be so easy to love. ❤️
THE SENSE OF FAMILIARITY
In this section, let me break down, in as spoiler-free a manner as possible, how this show reminds me of various well-known – and for the most part, well-loved – kdramas.
As I mentioned in my 2017 year-in-review post, there is a distinct Itazura Na Kiss / Mischievous Kiss / Playful Kiss feel about this show, because our story revolves around a simple girl who likes a smart boy. Now, one of the things that used to bother me about the Playful Kiss franchise, is that in that story, Boy is too cold and too mean, while Girl willingly takes the mean treatment, and proceeds to build her whole life around Boy.
Happily, that’s not the case here. Here, Boy is on the distant side, but not only does he have a plausible explanation for his reserved and distant personality, he also leaks concern and affection much earlier in our story, and in a much more noticeable manner. Also happily, while Girl does wear her heart on her sleeve, she has her own dreams and doesn’t build her life around Boy, and, she isn’t afraid to literally kick him in the shin, if she feels that he’s done her wrong. I liked these differences a lot.
Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo
Like Weightlifting Fairy, Show possesses a similar angst-lite, earnest, warm, slice-of-life feel, and focuses mainly on everyday, relatable stuff like school, friends, family and – of course – young love. I liked that a lot.
Answer Me 1988
As a bonus, Show has a nostalgia about it because our story starts in 2005. The nostalgia isn’t the main event, and Show doesn’t make a big deal out of it, but I liked the matter-of-fact attention to detail. I noticed the passing of time, with the evolution of the types of mobile phones that our characters were using, and in the style of the clothes they were wearing. All this provided a lovely sentimental sheen to our drama world, and that reminded me of the lovely old-school nostalgic vibe of the Answer Me series.
Specifically, I reference Answer Me 1988 because our female lead Xiao Xi (Shen Yue) reminds me of AM88’s Deok Sun (Hye Ri), for their similar hairstyles and slightly ungainly personas. Also, both characters are generally well-liked, have tight circles of caring friends, and are part of loving families. I personally find Shen Yue a more promising actress, which I also counted as a plus.
Altogether, this show serves up a lot of familiar elements, ones that I tend to love, not just in kdramas, but just about anywhere.
STUFF I LOVED
This show isn’t brilliant or anything, but this definitely was a fun a little watch. And with each episode clocking in at around 40 minutes for a total of 23 episodes (episode 24 is a special), it was an easy watch too.
Here’s a quickish rundown of my favorite things about it.
Everything’s warm & easy-breezy
Everything in this drama world is simple and angst-lite, which I very much enjoy. There’s nothing earth-shattering in this dramaverse; it’s just us, following the ups and downs of a bunch of teenage friends, as they stumble through life and its accompanying challenges. And because Show starts its story in 2005, which feels like a simpler time, that also adds to Show’s everyday, somewhat nostalgic sort of charm.
The happy Spring palette and breezy music also help make this sweet drama world pop, and I very much enjoyed immersing myself in it.
A little cultural bonus
Show doesn’t set out to be a cultural showcase, but there are little, almost throwaway details that show up, which inform us about Chinese culture. I’m pretty sure these sorts of details appear in other Chinese dramas too, but since I only really became conscious of them in this drama, I thought I’d mention it in this review.
For example, we occasionally get scenes of the students filling up their water bottles at the water station. In any other culture, it would be normal for the water bottles to be filled with cold or tepid water. But here, we consistently see the kids walking away from the water station with steaming thermos bottles of hot water, which is so very Chinese. Little breakfast scenes – or even quick mentions of breakfast – inform us of the kind of food that is fairly common in Chinese breakfasts: buns and dough fritters.
As a Chinese who doesn’t live in China, and who doesn’t often stop to think about the details that are unique to Chinese culture, these little details gave me a bit of a thrill.
I will talk more about each of our main characters a little later, but I just wanted to say here, that I found all our main characters endearing and likable in their own ways.
I recently realized all over again, while watching The Package – where it took me a longer time than average to like any of the characters – how important it is, to actually like the characters in a show. I didn’t have any such issues in this drama.
I became very fond of these characters pretty early in my watch, and as I neared the final episodes, I found myself feeling distinctly wistful, because I just really didn’t want to end my journey with them.
Our 5 main characters don’t really start out as friends, with besties Xiao Xi and Jing Xiao (Wang Zi Wei) sharing the most established bond. Over the course of the show, though, these 5 characters truly become a bunch of good friends who genuinely care about one another, and I found it gratifying to witness the process of that bonding. This 5-way friendship among this rather ragtag bunch quickly became one of my favorite things in this show.
Here are 3 of my favorite times, when the bonds of friendship among the group really shone.
E8. Xiao Xi lets on that she wants Man U tickets for her birthday – well, more because she wants to take Jiang Chen (Hu Yi Tian) to see the match – and literally everyone in her orbit clicks into gear to do everything they can, to get her those tickets.
Bestie Jing Xiao gives up her breakfast money for the chance to get the tickets; Lu Yang (Sun Ning) tries to work his network for the tickets; Bo Song (Gao Zhi Ting) splashes out on BBQ so that his senior will agree to get the tickets for him; and Dad winds up buying fake tickets off the black market. I mean, sure, she doesn’t get to even see the match in the end, but it’s just so sweet that everyone went to all that effort, simply based on her declaration that she wanted tickets. Aw.
E7. This episode’s big theme seems to be friendship, as the bunch of friends support one another in the various things that come up: Xiao Xi’s anxiety over her father’s possible affair; Lu Yang and his fixation on getting his fake prize; Bo Song in his swimming competition. Through it all, even when there’s naiveté or stupidity involved, it’s sweet to see the friends rallying round anyway, without more judgment than the occasional initial eye-roll. It’s all just very good-natured, which I find very endearing.
E9. When Lu Yang’s secret about being bullied comes to light, the friends gather around to comfort him, each sharing their own embarrassing stories, in order to make him feel better. That is just so sweet.
Of course, I also want to give a shout-out to the friendship that Xiao Xi and Jing Xiao share. I loved seeing the two of them getting together and indulging in girl talk over their respective crushes. So honest, and so cute.
One of my favorite moments between these besties, is in episode 4. Both Xiao Xi and Jing Xiao sign up for the hurdles event because they want to win the first prize watch; Xiao Xi for Jiang Chen’s birthday gift, and Jing Xiao for her dad’s welcome present. The girls set out to train hard, dearly wanting to win, but when Jing Xiao injures her ankle and can’t compete, she roots for Xiao Xi instead, and even asks Jiang Chen to help Xiao Xi train.
And then, when Xiao Xi actually wins, but hears that bestie Jing Xiao had wanted to win the watch as a gift for her dad, she hands it over without a hint of reservation. I love that Jing Xiao supported Xiao Xi without regret about her own inability to compete. And I love that even though Xiao Xi may have a crush on Jiang Chen, she’s got her priorities straight; friends come before boys, even when it involves a prize that she worked super hard to win. Aww.
The main loveline
Shen Yue as Chen Xiao Xi
What I love about Xiao Xi, is that even though she’s nursing a giant crush on Jiang Chen, she doesn’t let it define her. She has other interests and passions, and when she sets her mind to do something, she’s unfailingly earnest about it. [SPOILER] Like the time in episode 3, when she joined the monitor election because she wanted to protect Jiang Chen, but then became super earnest about wanting to do a good and proper job. [END SPOILER]
I love too, that when she mucks up something, she will own up to it and apologize, even if she’s terrified.
Generally speaking, Xiao Xi’s bubbly, hard-to-get-down nature is a pleasure to behold, and I love her for it. [SPOILER] An instance that stands out in my mind, is the time in episode 5, when the elite group in class prepares a super serious play for the competition. Xiao Xi doesn’t let that discourage her, and decides that they can be as serious as they want; she’s going to shine in a different way, and plans a funny play instead. I liked that a whole lot. [END SPOILER]
All in all, I just really liked the fact that even though Xiao Xi is very much focused on Jiang Chen, she also manages to come across as enjoying other things in life; she revels in the snow, she has fun with her friends. I like that. A lot.
Hu Yi Tian as Jiang Chen
As I mentioned earlier in this review, I actually like the fact that Jiang Chen has a reason to be as reserved and emotionally distant as he is. In Playful Kiss and Mischievous Kiss, both male leads had happy families, loving parents, excellent grades and loads of popularity, to boot. There didn’t seem to be any good reason that they would be the cold, distant, unpleasant personalities that they were. But in this case, [MINOR SPOILER] Jiang Chen has lost his dad at a young age, and has lived alone since then, with barely any contact with his mother. He does well in school, but it’s understandable that he’s emotionally isolated. [END SPOILER]
With Jiang Chen’s context established pretty early in the show, I found it much easier to understand his words and actions, and much easier to root for him as well.
Every time Jiang Chen let his guard down, and we got a glimpse at his true personality and feelings underneath, I cheered. As our episodes progress, we see more and more, how caring and decent Jiang Chen really is, and I couldn’t help but like him more and more too.
Our OTP together
Since Xiao Xi’s feelings for Jiang Chen are made clear from the very beginning of our story, the thrill of this OTP journey pretty much comes from Jiang Chen’s end of the table. Importantly, despite the Playful Kiss similarities, Jiang Chen isn’t even that brusque when he talks to Xiao Xi. He’s distant and matter-of-fact, but he isn’t nasty or unkind. Jiang Chen starting to leak smiles around Xiao Xi; Jiang Chen showing flickers of interest and jealousy; basically every time Jiang Chen gave an indication that he might have feelings for Xiao Xi, it was an occasion to squee, heh.
Here are just a couple of my favorite moments relating to this very cute OTP.
E13. After the Big Misunderstanding of seeing Li Wei in Jiang Chen’s arms during their class outing, Xiao Xi makes it a point to avoid Jiang Chen, and ends up falling over her own feet, to her great embarrassment. Without a word, Jiang Chen walks over and picks her up. I love that he is so gentle with her, not only when he first picks her up, and then helps her dress her wound, but also in the way he picks her up afterwards, to piggyback her home. Through it all, he barely says anything, but that gentle manner as he cares for her, says so much. ❤️
E18. The kisses in this show are pretty static and tame, but there are a couple of times when Jiang Chen made my breath catch in my throat. Like in episode 18, when he tells Xiao Xi to go back home after a very brief meet-up, then has a change of heart, and races up the stairs and encircles her in his arms. That last surge of energy from Jiang Chen to catch up with Xiao Xi, and his gaze, all intently searching her face, is pretty hot. Clearly, he wanted to kiss her, and badly. Flail.
Serious second-lead syndrome: Gao Zhi Ting as Wu Bo Song
Guh. I just love Wu Bo Song, you guys. As our second lead nursing a crush on Xiao Xi, Bo Song ripped my heart out on a regular basis – and it hurt so good. So many times, I just wanted to reach into my screen and hug him, and tell him that everything was going to be ok.
I love that he’s so matter-of-fact in his support for Xiao Xi, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. It feels like he doesn’t even need to think about it; he’s got her back, consistently and unquestioningly. And he’s always super accepting of her weirdness, even though he keeps finding her talking to herself on the field. He goes out of his way to be nice to Xiao Xi, and make her happy, and protect her, all while her eyes are fixed on Jiang Chen. And even though he almost knows for certain that it’s a lost cause, he doesn’t stop. He would literally give her all the meat on his tray, and all the money in his wallet, and all the time that he has, just to see her smile. Augh. I can’t help but melt at this boy.
Plus, I love that he basically christened her his Da Ge (Big Brother) the very first moment he met her. So Freaking Cute.
Bo Song stole my heart many times during the course of our show, but here are 2 times that he stole my heart extra.
E11. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I realized that Bo Song actually made it snow for Xiao Xi, just because she’d mentioned wistfully that she really wanted it to snow. The way he was so happy to be racing up and down the rooftop, spraying fake snow madly into the air, just to make Xiao Xi smile, melted my heart right to the floor. ❤️
E16. Bo Song’s final confession and goodbye to Xiao Xi ripped my heart out, so much. He details every single moment about his time with Xiao Xi, down to the first time he liked her. And yet, he says it all with so much bittersweet pathos, because he knows that her heart is not with him, and that telling her this is more for closure than anything else. He knows that he’s expressing these things, to give release to his feelings, so that he can let them go, and not to give them life. And that’s really sad. And yet, he puts on a brave smile and tells Xiao Xi that it’s ok, that he’s going to stop liking her now, and pursue his dreams – even though we know that he totally can’t stop his heart. Augh. This boy.
The secondary loveline
Sun Ning as Lu Yang
Lu Yang started out the show as the joker of the group, in my mind, but bit by bit, this boy’s big heart really grew on me, and he became so much more than just the funny guy, to me.
[SPOILER] In episode 5, Show casually reveals that Lu Yang has a heart condition, and needs medication to keep it under control. That added a layer of pathos to just about everything Lu Yang said, from that point on. The moment that really gutted me, though, is in episode 16, when Lu Yang confesses that he doesn’t feel like he deserves to like anyone, because of his heart condition. He clearly still cares for Jing Xiao a lot, but he distances himself from her, in order to protect her. The way he said that she would only be in more pain if anything were to happen to him in the future, is so real in the light of his heart condition, that it hurts. He’s a really good guy, he is. [END SPOILER]
Wang Zi Wei as Lin Jing Xiao
Jing Xiao is quite the all-rounder, and is pretty much the most balanced member of the group. She’s smart, pretty, generally does well at everything she sets her hand to, and she’s fiercely loyal too. Her loyalty to her friends is one my personal favorite things about her.
[SPOILER] I love the moment in episode 9 when Jing Xiao goes to Lu Yang’s defense in the face of 5 other guys, without hesitation and without blinking an eye. Yet, when the moment is over, she’s so overwhelmed that she goes weak in the knees. She’d actually been terrified the whole time, but had rushed in to save Lu Yang anyway. She really put saving her friend above her own safety, and that reflex loyalty is so very endearing. [END SPOILER]
Lu Yang and Jing Xiao together
Lu Yang and Jing Xiao make a rather unlikely couple, but they are very cute together all the same. There aren’t as many swoony moments dedicated to this couple, but there are a couple that I’d like to highlight.
E14. Lu Yang steals the episode, with his audacious declaration of love in front of the whole school, complete with multi-colored hair and tears sheening in his eyes. He’s also really sweet, to go spend time with Jing Xiao’s mother. His goodbye to Jing Xiao at the end feels so poignant, as if he’s never going to see her again. It’s clear that Jing Xiao is moved by his sincerity, and so am I.
E18. I felt a lump in my throat when Jing Xiao accepted Lu Yang’s proposal, wearing her soda can pull-tab ring, as he got wheeled in to surgery. That wistful soft gaze that Lu Yang gave her – the one that he always saves only for her – just got me right in the heart. ❤️
STUFF I LOVED LESS
Generally speaking, there is some suspension of disbelief required, in order to enjoy this show. For one thing, it feels like not a lot of actual studying gets done in these schools. And for another, some of the relationship reconciliations feel too simplistic. However, those are, in my mind, acceptable, and par for the course with a show like this.
Here are 2 other things that I didn’t love so much, during my watch.
When they left high school
This isn’t a bad thing per se, but I found it very bittersweet to see these kids grow up.
Once we hit episode 17, Show pretty much speeds through the college years, and it just feels like these kids are growing up way too fast, before my eyes. I found myself rationing out the episodes, because it felt like the end was racing towards me faster than I wanted it to, and I sorely didn’t want to get to the end.
Also, it felt kinda sad, to see things evolving in our gang of 5. Bo Song not being around the gang much because he’s not in college with them, is one big example. I mean, it’s lovely to see that they’re still good friends who make time for one another, but it’s also poignant to know that the days of them hanging out together all the time, are gone. Sniffle.
When I got mad at Show [SPOILERS]
There was one time that I legit got mad at Show. In Show’s defense, it righted things in the episodes immediately after, but I still wanted to tell you guys about it.
In episode 19, it was hard to see Jiang Chen and Xiao Xi drift apart because of their schedules and lack of communication, but I recognized that that’s something that happens in just about every relationship, and that our OTP needed to learn to work through this too. I was bummed when Xiao Xi broke up with Jiang Chen, but I had faith that Show would reunite them soon enough, since we were all gunning for a happy ending after all.
The thing is, though, Jiang Chen went away in episode 20, and then didn’t contact Xiao Xi nor any of the other friends, for 3 whole years. I didn’t find that very nice of him. Next, he doesn’t even say anything nice to Xiao Xi when he does see her again, 3 years later. He’s still as blunt with her as ever. Still, this, I could tolerate.
But, I didn’t think it made any sense for Jiang Chen to bring a fake girlfriend to Lu Yang’s bachelor party. I thought that was dumb. What I was most angry about though, was that he wanted to get back together with Xiao Xi, but wouldn’t actually say anything to her about it, let alone say something nice to her about it. Worse, he made her apologize – without actually telling her what he wanted her to apologize for, mind you – before instructing her to come nearer, before he kissed her.
I was blazing-eyes angry with Show for this. To me, there was no excuse for Jiang Chen’s behavior, and I was so mad at Show for orchestrating such a degrading reunion.
…or so I thought.
Happily, Show redeemed itself, by making Xiao Xi reject Jiang Chen’s attempts to get her back. And, I was pleased that Xiao Xi stood her ground and didn’t take him back easily nor quickly. I’m glad – and relieved – that in the end, Jiang Chen is forced to finally articulate that he’s sorry, that he’s at fault, and that he wants to be with her.
That mollified me a great deal, and by the following episode, which happened to be Show’s finale, I was fully back on board with our OTP romance again. Yay!
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
I wasn’t expecting any surprises with Show’s ending, because of course this sweet little show would give us a sweet little ending, right?
Well, yes and no.
It’s unsurprising that Xiao Xi and Jiang Chen make up and have a happy ending together, and it’s unsurprising that Bo Song continues to be a successful swimming star and loyal friend, and it’s unsurprising that Lu Yang and Jing Xiao continue to be as endearing as a married couple as they were when they were courting. On top of it all, our gang of 5 continues to be supportive of one another – which is another thing that I absolutely expected, going into this finale.
But, Show managed to throw in a couple of surprises that I ended up loving.
I particularly love the season just after Jiang Chen and Xiao Xi get back together. Jiang Chen is the most visibly needy and smitten that we’ve ever seen him, and it’s glorious. He just can’t stop holding Xiao Xi’s hand, or hugging her, or spending time with her, and I love it. I love that he’s just so happy to have Xiao Xi back in his life that he is trying to soak it all in, down to the very last drop. Also, after all the running-after that Xiao Xi’s done in their relationship, this almost feels like a prize hard-won, of sorts. In my mind, she deserves to soak in this outpouring of affection and sweetness from her beloved Jiang Chen, who has heretofore been internalizing everything, and allowing only little blips of affection to show.
The proposal is so typically Jiang Chen, and I was a little disappointed that he didn’t say more. But, he made up for it later that night, when he tells Xiao Xi that it doesn’t matter if there are other prettier, slimmer, smarter girls out there, he only loves her and wants to be with her. Plus, the way he moves in to kiss her without hesitation, when she baits him, is pretty swoony.
I love the little touch, after Xiao Xi’s book-signing event at the bookstore near their high school, where the shot of Jiang Chen and Xiao Xi walking hand in hand, morphs into the same shot of them walking hand-in-hand as teenagers again, back in their school uniforms. It’s a lovely full-circle note on which the show ends, and I love the warm fuzzy feels the scene gives me.
And just when I think Show’s out of surprises, Show gifts us with one more: an extended epilogue from Jiang Chen’s point of view, and it’s gold. I love – so, so much! – that we finally get insight into Jiang Chen’s thoughts and feelings about Xiao Xi, not only in the now, but also, from the very beginning. I love the twist it puts on a lot of events; it helps us see that he cared so much more than he had let on.
In particular, my favorite bit is knowing that he put so much work into helping Xiao Xi find the lost class fund that she’d misplaced. Also, I couldn’t help but giggle that the real reason he didn’t vote for her for class president, is because he was jealous that she’d been having fun with Bo Song earlier, on the field. This epilogue highlight reel seriously makes me want to rewatch the show; it’d be so much fun to see everything again, except that this time, I will be on to Jiang Chen’s little secret. ❤️
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A lovely little show that is sweet, simple & feel-good, with bonus lashings of nostalgia.
FINAL GRADE: A-