This is one of those times when I feel like maybe not a lot of you guys would be immediately drawn to this show, but I feel it’s so good that I want to tell you all about it anyway.
The funny thing is, I wasn’t immediately drawn to this one either. My regular hairdresser hails from China, and he was the one who told me about this show. He said that it was really hot stuff in China when it aired, and that he’d marathoned the entire thing in less than a week when he went home to visit his parents, it was so good. He said it was very well-acted, and everything was portrayed in a very realistic manner.
It didn’t sound like my usual cup of tea, but after I got home, I downloaded it anyway, thinking my mom would be interested. She wasn’t. But I decided to give it a go all the same, just to see – and whaddya know, I love it. And I really, really hope that by writing this review, that it will entice at least some of you guys to give this one a chance, coz I kinda just want everyone to love it too. ❤️
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.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Essentially, this is the story of 37-year-old Zi Jun (Ma Yi Li), who’s enjoyed a cushy existence all her married life, with her days mainly filled with shopping and taking care of her 7-year-old son Ping Er (Wei Zhi Hao). Pretty soon into our story, her husband Jun Sheng (Lei Jia Yin) admits that he’s in love with someone else, and divorces her.
Our narrative focuses on how Zi Jun walks the difficult journey from brokenness to wholeness, with the help of her bestie Tang Jing (Yuan Quan) and Tang Jing’s boyfriend He Han (Jin Dong). From being a helpless housewife with barely any work experience, Zi Jun – by putting in lots of hard work, effort and tears – eventually becomes a strong, independent, and empowered woman.
WHO MIGHT LIKE THIS ONE
In my mind, there are several main groups of viewers who might enjoy this show.
I think you might like this one if:
- You’re a little tired of all the dramas with stories featuring teens and twentysomethings, and want something meaty featuring more mature characters.
- You’re having a hard time with real-life struggles yourself, and want to feel a sense of solidarity and release.
We journey with Zi Jun in pretty excruciating detail, so for someone going through a tough season, it helps to feel like you’re not alone; you’re not the only one who’s suffering. At the same time, we also get to see Zi Jun pick herself up from the lowest low, and start to walk a hard road towards a better tomorrow, and that’s inspiring. If she can do it, so can I. If there’s a better tomorrow for her, there’s a better tomorrow for me, too. That’s powerful, uplifting stuff.
- You simply enjoy a good, well-made drama.
STUFF I LOVED
1. It’s so well-made
When I watch this show, it consistently feels like everything is put together so well. The production values are high, and the cinematography is crisp and sharp, which is completely in line with our metropolitan setting. We also consistently get beautiful shots of the Shanghai skyline that feel meaningfully placed, and not indulgent.
I love that the background music that we are treated to, has been clearly carefully chosen and meticulously applied. Often, the lyrics are closely aligned with what’s happening on our screens. Also, generally speaking, the music leans restrained and elegant – which also lends a touch of sophistication to our drama world.
And while there’s PPL, I appreciate that it’s woven in pretty organically, and therefore doesn’t distract from the story much at all.
Overall, even though logic tells me that the wholistic effect is the result of the work of many people, I hafta say that in the experience of watching this show, it really feels like there is one all-inclusive, loving hand at work, making sure that every detail feels like a believable component of the larger organism that is this drama world.
2. It’s thoughtful, elegant and thought-provoking
Although this could be called a melodrama, I don’t like calling it that, because a lot of people associate melodrama with heightened, more theatrical drama worlds, and this.. isn’t that. This is more of a thoughtful drama that manages to feel both realistic yet polished; everyday yet elegant.
For one thing, there are no true villains in this drama world; nobody is painted in plain black or white. Show takes pains to show us each person’s context and backstory, and we eventually understand why each person might act the way they do. That feels thoughtful and true-to-life, and I appreciated that a lot.
On another note, I very much enjoyed Zi Jun’s voiceovers, which we hear regularly throughout the drama. Her voiceovers are consistently honest, thoughtful, eloquent, and even a little illuminating. While listening to her voiceovers, I felt like I had so much insight into her emotional landscape. On top of that, her voiceovers regularly gave me food for thought too, and I often found myself taking a lesson or two, from her life lessons, and that felt pretty affecting.
3. It’s really well-acted
Show’s got a pretty sizable cast, and I have to say that I found every character well-acted, from the key characters, down to the less significant supporting characters. Altogether, these actors did a fantastic job of making this drama world feel like it’s filled with real, living, breathing people, and not just characters conjured up by the writer.
Here, I’d like to give the spotlight to our 3 main actors and their characters.
Ma Yi Li as Zi Jun
One important thing I need to mention about Zi Jun as a character, is that she’s pretty annoying right off the bat, in episode 1. Plus, Ma Yi Li does such a good job bringing Zi Jun to life, that it’s extra easy to feel annoyed at the self-absorbed rants and the superiority complex she seems to have.
Very quickly, though – as soon as episode 2, in fact – I began to feel less annoyed at Zi Jun. Her innocence, naïveté and caring nature quickly came to the fore, and I soon found myself feeling rather empathetic towards her.
Zi Jun walks a long and pretty arduous journey in our story, and I quickly got on board with rooting for her. When she went through particularly rough days, my heart ached for her. And when she experienced victories, big and small, I felt like a proud mother hen.
It is a truly gratifying experience watching Zi Jun’s journey of transformation and growth. By the end of our story, I had developed not only an affection for her, but a sense of respect as well.
Here are a handful of highlights of Zi Jun’s journey that stood out to me.
E8. Zi Jun refusing to say nasty things about Jun Sheng just to gain a better standing in the divorce proceedings, says a lot about her. She may not be worldly wise, but she stands by her principles.
E15. It’s pretty great to have insight into Zi Jun’s learning journey, like how she deals with Jun Sheng’s parents while thinking of what He Han would advise her to do in that situation. It almost feels like I’m learning something too, while watching her.
E17. Zi Jun overcoming her emotions to get the upper hand with her ex-classmate in the store, was pretty great to watch. What a demonstration of growth, and emotional and mental strength.
E18. It was hard to watch Zi Jun girding herself as she ran with Ping Er in her arms, in the heavy rain. In heels, no less. All because she could not allow Jun Sheng to see her and Ping Er in that wretched state. That’s a low point in her life, and must be so exhausting on every level. Ma Yi Li really killed it, in this scene.
E27. Zi Jun’s handling of Xiao Tian’s indecent proposal is so sharply to the point and efficient. Wow.
E30. Zi Jun choosing the harder road, in order to learn, is admirable. And, I understand her. Not only does she want to do well for herself and her son, she wants to give He Han the assurance that he hasn’t wasted his time on guiding and coaching her. Good on her, for choosing the road that teaches and challenges her more, even though it will be really tough. Respect.
Jin Dong as He Han
A fangirl tangent
I’m gonna have to credit Show for clueing me in to the Jin Dong swoony. I mean, I’ve consistently found him a very good actor, having seen him in Nirvana in Fire and The Disguiser, but I’d never thought of him as swoony. Until this show, that is.
I mean, it does take a little while, since He Han does come across as a bit of a jerk in episode 1, but it really wasn’t long before I found He Han to be very interesting, as a character. And it wasn’t long after that, that I found him to be suave, charming, and generally extremely appealing. There were several times during my watch that I literally swooned, because of him (more about that, in a bit).
Let’s just say that because of Jin Dong’s fantastic portrayal of He Han in this show, I now have serious plans to check out his 2017 drama, Surgeons. And you guys know how I feel about medical dramas. 😉
He Han the character
In the beginning of our story, He Han comes across as pretty mercenary and therefore kind of unsavory, [SPOILER] like when he took over the meeting in episode 1, and basically discarded all the work that his girlfriend Tang Jing had put in prior [END SPOILER], but as with Zi Jun’s character, it isn’t long before we get to see He Han in a kinder light.
His shrewd wisdom:
By episode 7, I’d begun to have an appreciation for He Han’s brand of shrewd wisdom, which I found different and interesting. I mean, the things that he says generally aren’t things that I would think of myself, but, he does make sense when he says them. It wasn’t long before I genuinely valued He Han’s astute observations and his sharp logic.
[SPOILER] In episode 7, the things that he says to Zi Jun, about understanding why she lost Jun Sheng, and understanding his work environment and why she lost, is so logical. It’s stuff that I wouldn’t think to say to someone grieving the breakdown of her marriage. But, his kindness is tinged with a hard-hitting kind of grit. He’s not one to go easy on anyone, even if you’re grieving. Plus, he puts it all in such a business-like sort of way, that it feels like he’s got a very different way of thinking than most people.
There’s a scene in episode 14 where He Han finds himself on the line with Zi Jun when she meets with her husband’s other woman, Ling Ling (Wu Yue). Using his distinctive brand of wisdom, He Han coaches Zi Jun through her meeting with Ling Ling, and it’s pretty darn great. He ensures that Zi Jun is tough but perfectly reasonable, even in the face of the other woman, and I liked that a lot.
In episode 27, He Han advises Zi Jun about her attitude towards Ping Er’s living arrangements. Even though he’s not a parent, I really find He Han’s words about Ping Er very wise. It’s true that it’s not good for Ping Er to feel that he’s in the center of a struggle between his parents, and it’s important that he feels loved and cared for by both parties. And, it’s true that over time, Ping Er will come to realize that he belongs to no one but himself. When Zi Jun takes his words to heart, it completely changes the game in terms of Ping Er’s moods and Jun Sheng’s expectations of his ex-wife, and I appreciated He Han’s wisdom a little more, yet again. [END SPOILER]
One of the things that I ended up really admiring about He Han, is that he is really fair in dealing with (most) people.
[SPOILER] In this respect, the thing that stands out most in my mind, is how He Han doesn’t hold Jun Sheng’s messy personal life against him in the least, when he ends up being Jun Sheng’s boss. He tells Jun Sheng that he keeps business and personal matters separate, and proceeds to live up to his word. In fact, he even gives Jun Sheng more prestigious work because he feels Jun Sheng is up to the task. I liked the fact that He Han is a boss who holds people to high standards, and is fair, in keeping those standards.
I found myself pleasantly surprised at what a good boss He Han turns out to be, to Jun Sheng, and I also very much enjoyed the comradery and genuine friendship that grew between these two men. [END SPOILER]
His tough love:
The thing about He Han, is that he can be tough when he thinks you’re being too needy or weak, but when he judges that help is needed, he consistently goes above and beyond, to extend help where he feels it’s needed. I couldn’t help appreciating him more and more, as I got deeper into the show.
[SPOILER] In episode 16, He Han helps Jun Sheng finish up the work so that he can go home a little earlier, and then he not only brings over toys for Ping Er, he fixes it all up, and shows Zi Jun how to prepare dinner. That’s really not something I would’ve expected from the He Han that we were first introduced to.
In episode 17, He Han volunteers to spend more time with Zi Jun to coach her about life, which I found an interesting development, since he started the show not being to stand being in Zi Jun’s presence. His remarks to Zi Jun are a perfect example of his brand of tough love; his words aren’t always pleasant to hear, but they certainly cut to the chase and distill a lot of shrewdness and wisdom, and end up being extremely useful to the hearer. [END SPOILER]
His potential for swoony:
Let me just say that He Han has a lot of potential for swoony.
There is actually not a lot of skinship in this show, and if memory serves, there is only one kiss. But in his actions, his words, the look in his eyes – the entire vibe that he carries – He Han brings a very solid swoon quotient to the show.
I will mention a couple of other instances later in this review, but for now, here are 2 times when I found He Han decidedly captivating.
Exhibit A: Hero to the rescue
In episode 27, when Zi Jun is stranded on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere, with her phone battery dead, and under threat of a severe thunderstorm, it’s He Han who immediately drives almost 200km out of Shanghai, to track her down.
In the pouring rain, with poor visibility and no way of contacting Zi Jun, He Han drives right past her. But, just as I’m thinking that he’s missed his only chance to rescue our girl, He Han takes my breath away as he comes running through the rain, carrying an umbrella, looking all fierce yet all swoony at the same time.
OMG my heart couldn’t help but swell with fangirl squee, as I watched He Han grab Zi Jun and bundle her away under the safety of the umbrella – and his protective arm.
Exhibit B: Tang Jing’s defender
In the same episode, He Han goes to Hong Kong and makes it a point to ask to see Tang Jing. But long-time admirer and clingy, crafty fox Vivian (Zheng Luo Qian) shows up in his hotel room before Tang Jing does. Vivian does everything she can to plant doubts in Tang Jing’s mind when Tang Jing does arrive, and OMG He Han’s words to Vivian, to clear the air with Tang Jing, is the stuff that would make any woman swoon to the floor.
“Everything that you said earlier were totally quite the opposite of the truth. I hope that it can be clear to you that the person between me and Tang Jing that doesn’t want to get married is Tang Jing, not me. The person who has been shamelessly chasing after the other person is also not Tang Jing but me. The person who has been waiting all this time is me, not Tang Jing. That’s why, you and all those meddlesome gossips out there got it all wrong. The woman that my heart admires is called Tang Jing. If ever she is willing to marry me, I will immediately gratefully kneel in front of her and marry her. Understand? That’s why, no one can besmirch Tang Jing right in front of me.”
Augh. And he says it all so matter-of-factly, too.
Yuan Quan as Tang Jing
I seriously love Tang Jing as a character, and I also seriously love Yuan Quan’s wonderful delivery of the character.
As a character, I love how strong, capable and smart Tang Jing is. And she’s fiercely loyal too. Right away from episode 1, I was a fan.
I love that Tang Jing’s a strong woman; I feel like we could do with so many more strong women like her, in dramaland. There is a lot of gossip that swirls around her at the office, because of her relationship with He Han. I love that she takes things in her stride and doesn’t let the gossip or needling get to her. And even when it does get to her, she never lets it show. She has the presence of mind and strength of heart, to manage her emotions on the inside, and show only an even-tempered, collected surface. That takes a lot of emotional fortitude, and I admire her for having it in spades.
I love that Tang Jing is so smart and capable. She’s extremely successful at work, and she’s also super sharp in general. When He Han shows up at her home with a sudden marriage proposal in episode 11, she’s smart enough to ask herself what had happened prior, to trigger the sudden proposal. I love that she’s so impressively whip-smart and yet, so kind and caring, at the same time.
One of my favorite things about Tang Jing, is what a fiercely caring bestie she is. In episode 1, when she smells even a hint of trouble, with Jun Sheng’s interactions with Ling Ling, she goes out of her way to take matters into her own hands, to do everything in her power, to ensure that her best friend Zi Jun doesn’t get hurt. She has no qualms making threats to protect the ones that she loves, and there’s something very ballsy about that.
She’s elegant and beautiful:
Perhaps the thing that lingers the most with me, about Tang Jing, is how elegantly beautiful she is, even when she is in pain. Major props to Yuan Quan, for her lovely, eloquent interpretation of Tang Jing’s most painful moments.
Here are just a couple of times when I found myself entranced by Yuan Quan’s performance.
E19. I can see the pain in Tang Jing’s eyes when she talks with He Han about her date. She tries to make it sound like everything’s going swell, but it doesn’t take much for the strain to show in her temples, and the tears to sheen, ever so subtly, in her eyes. Her pain feels so acute, yet she contains it so elegantly.
E22. During a phone call with Tang Jing, Zi Jun reads aloud from Tang Jing’s early journals, of He Han’s words of advice and guidance. As she listens, Tang Jing’s mind swirls with thoughts, feelings and memories of her times with He Han, and his words of promise and affection, and the tears start to stream down her wan face, her gaze full of wistful sadness, for the past, and for the future that now would never be. Again, I’m blown away by how much elegance and eloquence there is, in Tang Jing’s tears. Yuan Quan is amazing.
E23. He Han’s final words to Tang Jing over the phone are heartbreaking. It’s cordial and sincere, but it also puts distance between them, in a way that implies finality, like there is now, officially and definitely, no way back for him and Tang Jing, to return to their romantic relationship. The way Tang Jing cries is ever so elegant and beautiful. The more I look at her, as her vulnerability and sadness shines through her tears, the more beautiful I find her.
Special shout-out: the friendship between Zi Jun and Tang Jing
You know how so many of us have been saying that we need more strong female friendships depicted in dramaland? Well, the friendship between Zi Jun and Tang Jing is one for the books. I loved the extremely strong and loving display of friendship between these two women. They always made sure they were there, one for the other, and both of them would often go out of their way, for the sake of their friendship.
Even though their friendship suffers some setbacks in the course of our story, this still ranks as one of my favorite sisterhood friendships in all of dramaland.
In the beginning of our story, Zi Jun finds herself without a husband, without work experience or skills, without a job – and without much of a will to do anything about it. It is Tang Jing who goes out of her way to help Zi Jun. She doesn’t just focus on comforting Zi Jun. She also puts a lot of effort into encouraging Zi Jun, and she basically hauls Zi Jun – mostly against her will – towards better and more positive steps.
I love the mixture of gentle care and tough love that Tang Jing shows Zi Jun, because that is exactly what Zi Jun needs. And Tang Jing cares, so much. Even when Zi Jun herself doesn’t have the drive to find herself a job, Tang Jing looks for one, for her. And talks her through it. And takes her to the interview.
And when Zi Jun finally gets a job, Tang Jing takes time out of her work day to visit her on her first day at work, and basically supplies everything that Zi Jun needs. She gives her hand cream out of her handbag, and then feeds Zi Jun lunch because coz Zi Jun’s hands are too slick from the hand cream, and she even swops shoes with Zi Jun, coz Zi Jun wore impractical high heels to work.
Tang Jing is such an awesome friend, seriously.
Of course, the care and emotion flows both ways, and Show makes sure to let us know that too. In episode 23, in the face of Tang Jing leaving Shanghai for a year or several, the two women share a private moment, where Zi Jun expresses her deep gratitude for Tang Jing, and Tang Jing reflects on her own journey as well. The tears flow easily and freely, and the two women share a heartfelt embrace as they cry into each other’s arms. There is so much raw love and honesty between them; I can palpably feel the magnitude of their gratitude, empathy and appreciation for each other, and it is all just so achingly beautiful.
When the tables are turned and Tang Jing is in trouble in episode 40, Zi Jun chooses not to board her plane to Shenzhen, so that she can help Tang Jing. Even though the two women are officially estranged, and even though Zi Jun might be putting her new job at risk, and even though she has no guarantee that she can help Tang Jing, Zi Jun shows no hesitation in making her decision. That says so much about how much she treasures Tang Jing, and how much their friendship means to her.
So much love and devotion, both ways. I love it.
Other special shout-out: Chen Dao Ming as Old Zhuo
Old Zhuo isn’t a major character in our drama world, but I really appreciated Old Zhuo’s style.
He cares, but always remains professional. He’s observant, and knows things, but never judges. He sometimes offers a friendly word of advice, but never in a very specific manner, so that he doesn’t overstep his boundaries. He’s a cool dude, and I totally can see why Luo Luo (Chuo Ni) has a crush on him.
MY TAKE ON THE MOVEMENT OF THE MAIN LOVELINE
Background [MINOR TO MODERATE SPOILERS]
If you’ve seen this show’s synopsis on DramaWiki, this wouldn’t be a spoiler for you, but basically, in the course of helping Zi Jun, He Han develops feelings for her, and her for him. But wait, before you dismiss Show as being makjang, and this being a loveline you can’t get behind, let me just say that Show treats this problematic love triangle with sensitivity and respect.
He Han and Tang Jing don’t break up because of Zi Jun; there are deep-seated issues between them that are the real cause of their break-up. And, it is only after they break up, that Show shifts the focus to the burgeoning feelings between He Han and Zi Jun. Through it all, our characters continue to behave like real people, and Show is unflinching yet sensitive, in showing us how regular people might find themselves in such a situation.
He Han & Tang Jing [SPOILERS]
Although He Han and Tang Jing look like a perfectly matched couple to the casual observer, it is true that from pretty early on in the show, we can see the cracks in their relationship.
Besides the weird condition that they have set for themselves, to not talk about marriage or the future when they are together, there is also a deep-seated trust issue that prevents them from becoming closer. Not only has He Han shown that he can be ruthless in business, even if Tang Jing is involved, there is also a big elephant in the room, in the form of He Han’s alleged past indiscretion with Vivian.
Even though He Han has gone to great lengths to assure Tang Jing that nothing happened between him and Vivian, Tang Jing can’t seem to fully believe him. Turns out that he never did betray her by sleeping with Vivian. But, he did lie about not seeing Vivian at all, since he did visit her while he was in Hong Kong. But that’s where the trust issue comes in. She can’t trust him when he says nothing happened with Vivian, and he can’t trust her to believe him, and so he doesn’t tell her about seeing Vivian in Hong Kong.
I feel that this trust issue – plus this couple’s habit of leaving more unspoken than spoken – is ultimately what breaks this relationship down.
It’s sad to see Tang Jing actually explicitly close things off with He Han, in episode 18. He clearly doesn’t want to, and she doesn’t want to either, but it’s true that the ten years speak for themselves. If in ten years they couldn’t find it in themselves to settle down together, then perhaps it never was enough, regardless of what the reasons may be.
He Han & Zi Jun [SPOILERS]
As we progress deeper into our story, He Han becomes more and more open to helping Zi Jun, and I believe that neither he nor Zi Jun saw this in a romantic light to begin with.
I believe that He Han becomes interested in helping Zi Jun more, because he sees potential in her, and is curious to see how far she can go, given the right guidance. I can see this appealing to the mentor in him. At the same time, I can see how all these moments spent in each other’s company can add up to a connection that is stronger than they originally anticipated.
At the same time, I can see how this situation would inevitably cause He Han to become more and more involved in Zi Jun’s matters. Since he’s the one who is guiding and advising her, he becomes invested. And the more invested he is, the more likely he becomes involved. Which is how, slowly but surely, we see the care and attraction growing between them.
And let me just say, the chemistry between these two, is strong.
In episode 20, there is a moment that He Han and Zi Jun share, when he tells her that she’s worked hard and deserves all the things she’s earned. She thanks him in a barely audible whisper with tears welling in her eyes, and he quietly tells her that she is welcome. It’s such a quiet, restrained moment, and yet, it felt pretty electric, to me.
And then in episode 32, there a scene where I feel like the chemistry between He Han and Zi Jun is so strong that it sizzles. At the hotel lift lobby, Zi Jun tries her best to dissuade He Han from going up to her mother’s hotel room, so that he won’t end up being entangled in more of her family matters. She works so hard to dissuade He Han that she can’t hold back the tears, and all the while, He Han resolutely refuses to agree to her request.
There is so much tension between them; the close proximity, the urgency in their voices, the restrained, low registers of his voice, even as his hands grasp her shoulders, while their faces almost touch. OMG. I simply couldn’t look away. These two are so hyperaware of each other, but at the same time, so deeply entrenched in circumstances that don’t allow them to be together.
The tangled web [SPOILERS]
In the last third of the show, things begin to unravel as Tang Jing comes back to Shanghai after a health scare, and decides to bite the bullet and propose to He Han. By this time, He Han and Zi Jun have each become aware of their feelings for the other, although things are left unsaid. And, it is excruciating watching things unravel.
During this stretch of the show, I felt like my heart was being pulled in every direction possible. I wanted all of these people to be happy, but given the situation, I knew that they couldn’t all be happy. Neither Zi Jun nor He Han wants to hurt Tang Jing, but He Han’s heart is with Zi Jun, while Zi Jun is tamping down all her feelings, in order to honor and protect her best friend.
It’s all very painfully tantalizing, because He Han and Zi Jun’s feelings for each other feel so strong that it’s palpable through my screen. And yet, at the same time, it’s just so forbidden and wrong, with Tang Jing still continuing to blissfully believe that the two most important people in her life are never going to betray her.
It’s a terrible fix to find oneself in, and I couldn’t look away.
Here are a couple of scenes that really stood out to me, during this stretch of our story.
E31. When Tang Jing is telling He Han why she wants to marry him, while glowing with happiness, He Han is fidgeting under the table, not smiling at all. But he does propose, dutifully, and when Zi Jun arrives on the scene and starts to congratulate them, He Han subtly but visibly stiffens and looks uneasy, almost like he’s been caught red-handed doing something he shouldn’t be doing. It’s pretty clear that he feels like he’s somehow cheating on Zi Jun, by proposing to Tang Jing. The body language says so much.
E36. The meeting between He Han and Zi Jun is so intense and powerful, I could barely breathe. He’s just so focused on her, and he’s finally giving voice to his feelings for her. The fire in his eyes, the urgency in his voice; it’s impossible not to be swayed. Kudos to Zi Jun for refusing to give in to her own feelings, even though she admits in voiceover that part of her was basically about to implode at his confession that he loves her.
E36. I feel so badly for Tang Jing; the realization, as it sinks in, completely breaks her. Her confrontation scene with He Han is so powerful. She’s focused, she won’t take any crap excuses, she cuts to the heart of the matter. And when she feels enough has been said, she ends the conversation, her voice wavering, but her dignity strong. She states quietly for the record, that she will buy her own pretty ring, and she will cherish herself well. Kudos. And kudos to Yuan Quan for a masterful performance. I love her and am in awe of her.
E40. The scene when He Han waited by Zi Jun’s door, to ask her to stay, is so intense and so full of restrained emotion. His confession of love for her, and his promise that he would wait for her forever; his word of honor, that he won’t marry anyone but her. I found Zi Jun’s response so beautifully restrained. She admits that she loves him; he’s been so wonderful that she possibly might never love again, but they simply cannot be together. She gently hugs him, and quietly says goodbye. So painfully beautiful and graceful.
STUFF TO KEEP IN MIND
1. It might be a bit of a slow burn, at first
I was genuinely surprised when I started this show. Right away from episode 1, I felt more interested and engaged than I had expected to, especially given this show’s more mature, melodramatic-sounding premise.
The thing is, though, the hook that made me want to watch back-to-back episodes didn’t bite until about episode 9. So I did go through a spell of going for days between episodes. I found this show absorbing once I started an episode, but in between episodes, I didn’t feel the urge to actually watch more episodes.
That all changed at around the episode 9 mark, though. I once inhaled about 5 episodes in a single day.
What I’m trying to say is, even if this one doesn’t hook you early, hang in there. It’s worth it.
2. A little bit of suspension of disbelief is required
Even though Show is pretty darn good at portraying a drama world that feels realistic, there are times when I felt the need to exercise some suspension of disbelief.
[SPOILERS] The main stretch in logic is that Zi Jun is able to enter Chen Xing after just a year at her previous company. Given that Zi Jun’s first real job in this show is as a shoe promotor on the shop floor, this is quite a stretch. It’s clear that Show is just trying to find a way to have Zi Jun in the same orbit as Ling Ling, Jun Sheng and He Han, and Show does work to make it somewhat plausible, with Ms. Wu’s (Vivian Wu) recommendation, and Zi Jun’s consistent hard work and proven ability to adapt. But it’s.. still a stretch. [END SPOILER]
3. Occasionally the subs don’t tell the full story
I am grateful that subs exist for this show, because this means that more drama fans will be able to appreciate this gem of a show. At the same time, I realize that there are times when the subs don’t manage to bring out the full meaning of the dialogue. Most times, these inconsistencies didn’t make much of a difference during my watch, but there were a couple of times that I felt the difference pretty acutely.
To help add some clarity, here’s a key scene where I found the original dialogue much more impactful than the subs.
In episode 21, He Han and Jun Sheng meet for drinks, and Jun Sheng asks about He Han’s relationship with Tang Jing. I love what He Han says about her, in response. It’s not that he doesn’t love her that he doesn’t marry her. It’s that he can’t bear to stand in the way of her ambition and potential. The subtitles don’t do his lovely words justice.
The subtitles say:
“If I married Tang Jing, there would definitely be one person who gives more in the relationship, more time. Who would it be? Me or Tang Jing? If we wanted to have a child, then Tang Jing would have to give up even more time giving birth to the child, giving even more time and effort in bringing up the child being with the child until he’s grown up. How should we divide it?
Everyone will definitely say… Of course it should be Tang Jing. But I tell you even if she is of this opinion, I neither have the patience nor want to. Because you don’t see it. I do see she has to fight with all her might on this road. You all don’t know how hard she had to work in order to achieve what she has presently. I know she wants you to see that in whatever she does, it is effortless.
She’s more like a work of art to me. You know, I’ve done numerous cases but among all of these they cannot be counted as the most satisfying work of art. Tang Jing is my most satisfying work of art. Don’t you think I love her? There are a lot of smart, virtuous young women. Tang Jing’s just one of them. But I hope she is capable of getting even better, more perfect.”
He doesn’t say “I neither have the patience nor want to” but rather, he says, “I can’t bear to.”
He doesn’t say “There are a lot of smart, virtuous young women. Tang Jing’s just one of them,” he says, “There are a lot of smart, virtuous young women. But there is only one Tang Jing.”
He loves and cherishes her so much more than the subtitles give him credit for, that I just had to get it out there.
And when he says all of this, I finally understand why he says that he knew that one day either he or Tang Jing would have left; that it would be the only way to conclude things between them. Because, as long as she is around him, he is unable to let go of her, even when they say that they are only friends. The only way he can really get over her, is if she is no longer in his orbit.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
What a poignant, bittersweet ending this finale gives us.
I was immensely disappointed with Jun Sheng for not reporting the truth, and instead, letting He Han shoulder the blame. But I was glad to see that his conscience wouldn’t let him rest easy. Additionally, it was rather gratifying to see how so many people acted selflessly in this situation.
Jun Sheng summarized it well, in his conversation with Tang Jing:
“I couldn’t bear to let [Ling Ling] suffer, so I didn’t dare say it. He Han couldn’t bear that you were misunderstood, so he risked everything and became the scapegoat. You couldn’t bear to see He Han’s reputation be destroyed like that, so you turned around and wanted to clear his name. Ling Ling, on the other hand, couldn’t bear to burden me, so she exposed the whole truth about this matter.”
Of course, it is Zi Jun who convinced Ling Ling to come clean with the truth, and it is a fitting full circle, which she points out in thoughtful voiceover. At the beginning of our story, it was Tang Jing who had taken her to Chen Xing, to show her the truth about Jun Sheng’s work life. And now, she is taking Ling Ling to Chen Xing, also to show her the truth about Jun Sheng.
Later, when Tang Jing and Zi Jun meet by chance at the restaurant, I love that Tang Jing is so non-confrontational, considered and honest in how she talks with Zi Jun. She thanks Zi Jun for being the one to convince Ling Ling to set things straight, and she is also clear about how that situation, and the personal situation between her and Zi Jun, are two different things. She is so calm, as she tells Zi Jun, without malice in her voice, that she does not know whether she will be able to forgive her in the future, but she knows that the time isn’t now. I love that she is so true to herself, and is able to express fully her thanks as well as her inability to reconcile with Zi Jun right now.
A year later, we see that Zi Jun is doing well at work, and that the new project which she will be heading, will be near a fishing wharf. We also see that He Han now works at a (the?) fishing wharf. We also see that they both still instinctively look for each other, in the people around them. We don’t see them meet, though, and Show leaves the future as an as-yet-unwritten open book.
Perhaps Old Zhuo put it best, in his conversation with Zi Jun this episode: “The process is a good one; it’s hard to say, about the outcome.”
The process of our story was a good one; each of our characters grew and matured, and ended up in various places, where they could learn to live in a way that felt true to themselves. Tang Jing no longer needs to live in a way that she feels He Han will approve of; He Han is no longer fettered by his responsibilities and reputation – nor by his guilt towards Tang Jing; Zi Jun, planting new roots in Shenzhen, is now free to learn, and grow, and explore her full potential, without the shadow of guilt hanging over her.
It’s true that we don’t see Tang Jing and Zi Jun reconciling, and it’s true that we don’t see He Han and Zi Jun finding each other again. But these are all painted as possibilities for the future, and I feel like our characters will fill in the details in due time, as they live the second half of their lives.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Thoughtful and elegant, yet approachable and accessible. Absolutely worth making time for.
FINAL GRADE: A
WHERE TO WATCH:
The full series is available on YouTube.
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