Sometimes an oldie really is a goodie, my friends.
In Time With You had been recommended to me by several of you, and I’d dutifully put it on my list with the best of intentions, but as you might have guessed, I kept putting off actually checking it out, because there was always something newer and shinier to watch.
So what was the catalyst that finally drew me into watching this 2011 modern classic?
Well. My interest was first kindled not too ago, when my friend DDee started spazzing about this show on Twitter, as she embarked on her personal first watch of it. That made me bump this show up my list by a lot, in my head. But THEN, she finished the show, and promptly announced on Twitter that this show had officially unseated Coffee Prince from the #1 drama spot in her heart. Woah. That’s a BIG statement, coz DDee loves Coffee Prince, and so do I. I just couldn’t not watch it now, could I?
And now that I’ve finished my watch, let me just say, THANK YOU, dear DDee.. this truly was a gem of a drama. If not for your wholehearted, enthusiastic spazzing, I might’ve never gotten around to checking this out, and that would’ve been such a pity. <3
STUFF I LIKED
Listen. Show has its faults, for sure. For example, it took me a little while to get into this one, because the first episode felt kind of slow and meandering, and also kind of random, with the multiple flashbacks and toggling of several timelines. The jumping across timelines between the present and the past also felt a bit confusing, and I lost track of some details in the present timeline because of this.
BUT. My favorite thing about this drama, is that once I settled into it, I found that Show just knew how to get a reaction outta me. I mean, I’m usually a pretty calm and collected viewer, but as early as episode 3, I found myself making all kinds of aggravated sounds at my screen and banging my hand on the table, in frustrated response to various plot developments. It was a good kind of frustration, though, coz I found myself very much engaged, and I continued to feel fully engaged all the way through to the end.
How very refreshing, to find myself giggling, squeeing, moaning, and yelling at my screen in turn, when I usually am able to take everything in dignified stride, heh.
Another of my favorite things about this show, is that writer Mag Hsu obviously understands people and emotions. These are all brought out so well and in such a relatable manner, from so many angles, and definitely added a great deal to how real and organic our characters and their journeys feel, beyond any dramatic tropes in our narrative.
Here’s the quickish spotlight on some of my favorite characters and relationships.
Chen Bolin as Li Da Ren
Augh. You guys. Over the years, I’ve watched probably a lot more than my fair share of dramas, and I hafta say, Chen Bolin as Li Da Ren has established himself wayyy up high on my mental list of appealing male leads.
I freaking love Da Ren as a character, and Chen Bolin brings him to life in such a lovable, endearing, down-to-earth, relatable and just-a-touch goofy way that I can’t help but want to serve my heart up on him on a plate, and squish him into my pocket, all at the same time. <3
The more I got to know Da Ren, the more I saw what a good and decent guy he is. He’s kind, reliable, capable, sweet, and thoughtful to a fault – and he’s deeply, madly, sincerely, secretly in love with his best friend. The way Da Ren looks at You Qing (Ariel Lin) is just heart-wobblingly melty. There’s an affection and intensity in his gaze, as if he really sees her for all that she is, flaws and all, and finds what he sees both amusing and likable. Melt.
I really enjoyed how loyal and smitten Da Ren is, even if he refuses to admit it.
Plus, Chen Bolin has the most endearing smile. His broad smiles are a touch goofy in the cutest way, and his stifled smiles make me want to smile. His adorable dimples are just icing on the cake. This lovable, slight goofball quality about him gives me some Gong Yoo vibes, circa Coffee Prince, which I count a Very Good Thing indeed.
Even though I also enjoyed You Qing very much, I have to admit that far and away, Da Ren was my favorite character in this drama world, and I was firmly rooting for him, all the way to the end.
Here’s a slightly sprawling collection of Da Ren moments, both the good and the not so good, which I collected over the course of my watch:
E1. How sweet, that Da Ren waits for You Qing at the restaurant until it closes, and then gets all the food to go, and then waits outside the closed restaurant, until You Qing arrives. He’s so patient and good-natured about this!
E3. I can rationalize that Da Ren is rationalizing himself into accepting this relationship with Maggie (Andrea Chen). He’s basically too nice to tell her when she’s crossed a line and made him feel uncomfortable, and then later, he feels that he’s let it go too long and too far, to actually tell her to stop and that he doesn’t actually like her that way. Since he wants to be in a relationship, and since she appears pretty and sweet and totally into him, it falls into place in an unobjectionable way for him.
E5. Da Ren is honest. He doesn’t omit the fact that he’s with You Qing at the mall, when Maggie calls. But his fatal flaw is that he’s just too passive. That’s how he ended up with an accidental girlfriend. He always looks so bewildered with Maggie, like he’s wondering how he ended up there. His passiveness is also why he’s never confessed his feelings to You Qing all these years. He needs to be galvanized into confessing, I think.
E5. Da Ren always looks so exhausted while talking to Maggie, while he always looks happy to be talking to You Qing. That already tells me that Maggie drains him of energy, while You Qing recharges him and gives him energy.
E7. Da Ren is so affected by seeing You Qing in the arms of her ex-boyfriend Ding Li Wei (Sunny Wang), that he sets down his little gift – and along with it, his desire to take responsibility for You Qing – and it literally makes him sick. Poor guy.
Sick Da Ren is very endearing though. There’s something very small-boi and vulnerable about him, even as he allows You Qing to fuss over him and rub oil on his temples. Poor sick baby.
E9. Ahh! Da Ren totally gave up his first choice university to go to You Qing! Oh my. All so that he could be near her. The dedicationnn.
E10. Poor Da Ren, it must hurt so much, for him to feel the urge to need to leave his family behind and move to Singapore.
E11. It’s hard to watch Da Ren in pain over his move and over You Qing. The silent moping, the bittersweet smiles when he’s reminded of her in conversation, the imagined sightings; there is so much love and wistfulness exuding out of him, it makes my heart squeeze up. I just wanna give him a hug and tell him it’s all going to be ok.
E11. The way Da Ren moves aside at You Qing’s reunion with Li Wei, and then can’t stop the tears from falling, right there in public, is so heart-wrenching to watch. Just as heart-wrenching, is the way his tears found their way down his cheeks even as he was singing with a smile on his face, with his friends at his farewell. I just really want Da Ren to stop hurting. He’s a pure-hearted, sweet, special cinnamon roll, and I don’t ever want him to be in pain.
Ariel Lin as You Qing
You Qing is a flawed female lead done right. She’s far from perfect, and her flaws can really rub you the wrong way, but there’s also a lot of good in her, and that good ends up outweighing the bad by a lot. Which means that her good points feel aspirational, while she’s still a very relatable character overall.
Ariel Lin is pitch perfect as You Qing, and she inhabits You Qing’s skin in a way that feels so real that I actually believe You Qing is a living, breathing person in all of her tough-talking, borderline aggressive glory, who’s hiding a plethora of inner vulnerabilities on the inside.
It very much helps that we get multiple voice-overs from You Qing over the course of our story, and we are often privy to how she thinks and feels about everything. We can see how she arrives at her various decisions, and so, even when I disagreed with a decision she made, I could understand how she ended up making the decision in the first place.
Even though my soft spot was greater for Da Ren, I genuinely liked You Qing as a character, and wanted her to be happy – even when I felt frustrated with her.
Here’s a collection of my various observations about You Qing, as a character:
E1. I do like the fact that You Qing is presented as a flawed character. She can be rather aggressive and in-yo-face, but she’s also got a good heart and she’s very loyal as well. It’s also clear to see that at least some of the tough talk is to cover her inner vulnerabilities and insecurities. This all makes her feel real. And, I like that she takes things to heart. The way she went home to hug her mother (Lin Mei-hsiu), after staying with her colleague through childbirth, and thanked her mother for giving birth to her, tells me a lot about how sincere she is.
E3. I think the thing with Nic (David Hsu) is such a blow to You Qing because the attention he paid her made her feel attractive and appealing and vital, in ways that she thought she wasn’t anymore. His attention validated her in her own eyes, and when that attention is shown to have all been fake, all of that validation crumbles away, and she’s hit hard, all over again, by how unlovable and undesirable she is, and how now she’s dumb, to boot, for having believed the lies of a trickster.
E4. You Qing is so relatable in her vulnerabilities. She’s strong and capable and professional, but underneath it all, she shows us her vulnerabilities, like when she calls her mom and cries about whether she’s lovable and whether anyone would ever love her.
E4. You Qing recommending Nic for the promotion, and then speaking to him in such a gracious manner after what he’d done to her, is admirable. She doesn’t do it like a doormat; she does it as a sign of strength and impartiality, and I have to admire her for that.
E7. You Qing keeps promising herself not to date Ding Li Wei, and yet she keeps breaking her promise to herself. For her, it seems to me that 1, skinship is her weakness, because she can’t seem to resist Ding Li Wei every time he touches her, and 2, she’s very concerned about the uptick in other people’s opinions and perceptions of her when she is viewed as someone with a significant other.
E8. Ugh. Just when I thought You Qing had kicked Ding Li Wei to the curb, she calls him because her mum had a fall, and she ends up back in his arms again. ARGH. I don’t even see why she felt she had to call someone. Just call the ambulance. It comes with people. People who are trained to handle the emergency. What can Ding Li Wei do for you, except offer you a shoulder to cry on? I’m not pleased with You Qing’s behavior here.
E9. You Qing doesn’t even look like she’s enjoying the relationship. She doesn’t look like she loves Li Wei, and she’s stressed about a potential proposal, and when it happens, she works to get out of it. That says a lot. She just seems to feel like she now has to play the role of a dutiful girlfriend.
E10. You Qing seems to possibly not trust her instincts right now. Her gut instinct has always been to speak up and stand up for herself, but because there’ve been enough remarks thrown her way to make her doubt if that’s the best way to go, she’s choosing change. She’s behaving unlike herself, believing that this will be better. The old You Qing would not have stood for anyone disallowing her to make a career move to Singapore. But here, with Ding Li Wei, she’s crying and apologizing, saying that she knows she’s bad. Ugh. So hard to watch that.
E11. I don’t quite understand You Qing’s intentions where Da Ren is concerned. She doesn’t want to love him back because it would mean losing her best friend. But.. then she proceeds to alienate herself from him by avoiding him at all costs. And her parting thought to Da Ren at the airport was “Farewell forever.” What is that supposed to mean? How is this protecting their friendship, if she’s going to say goodbye to him forever? That’s arguably even worse than not loving him back and then breaking up? Headdesk.
E11. You Qing’s quick to flare up, but she’s also quick to be kind. Once she realizes that Maggie has a point, she goes to apologize and even brings a peace offering pair of shoes. And once she realizes that Grace (Joelle Lu) is struggling with being a young widow with a young son, she moves to send Grace’s son a gift, to encourage Grace. You Qing’s a good person, underneath the so-called arrogance, and that’s probably a large part of why Da Ren loves her.
E12. You Qing not telling Da Ren that she’s getting married, and asking Da Ren’s mom (Zhou Dan Wei) to tell him for her, is really poor behavior. That’s so cowardly. Surely Da Ren deserves more courage from her than this? I’m upset.
E12. You Qing’s new habit of leaving messages for Da Ren on his Taiwan phone number is also a cowardly move. She doesn’t want to call him, but she wants the comfort of talking to him. I hate that she leaves messages like “I can’t wait to see your wife” – what is that supposed to mean, especially given that she knows he loves her? Greargh.
At this point, I’m rather disappointed with You Qing, and all I want is for Da Ren to be happy. My rooting for You Qing and Da Ren to have a happy ending is more skewed towards Da Ren than You Qing. He’s been self-sacrificial and giving for so long, always putting You Qing before himself. Now I want her to confess her love to him. It’s time for him to be on the receiving end.
Da Ren & You Qing together
All the times Da Ren and You Qing are together basically made up the bulk of my personal highlights during my watch of this show. These two fit together so perfectly, that it didn’t take me very long at all, to start rooting for them to be together.
Chen Bolin and Ariel Lin share an easy, comfortable, sparky chemistry that made it super easy for me to believe that Da Ren and You Qing have known each other for a long time, and have spent many years of their lives as besties who hang out with each other often, call each other regularly, and have lengthy, uninhibited conversations with each other, so much so that they know each other like the backs of their own hands.
This whole story hinges on Da Ren’s one reflex remark when he was 16 years old, declaring that he could never love You Qing, still haunting them both, 14 years later. It’s clear to see that they both do have feelings for each other – Da Ren more cognizantly than You Qing – but won’t entertain the possibility, so the whole crack factor of this watch is whether or not each of them will finally acknowledge &/or act on their feelings for the other. Sounds basic and simple, yes, but this is teased out in such a wonderfully organic fashion, that I was very firmly along for the ride.
Here’s a collection of OTP highlights:
E2. My favorite thing this hour, is Da Ren and You Qing going supermarketing together, then washing the dishes together, then having coffee and conversation in the semi-darkness of the living room. So much easy, comfortable, cozy domesticity. These two belong together so seamlessly and perfectly; they’re clearly already soulmates.
E3. I do love that Da Ren goes to You Qing when she’s in a moment of need, even though he had just met up with Maggie, fresh on the resolution of making things work with her. His priorities are clear; You Qing is more important to him and he would literally drop Maggie for her, if it came down to it. And the way he talks to her, when he gets to her hotel room, is so gentle, so patient, and also, so empathetic, and so encouraging.
“You’re right… The mirror simply can’t reflect your beautiful side. Because that side only I know. Even if she’s so busy that she’s in terrible shape she will still put down everything and comfort her friend first. Even if her brother, sister, sister-in-law, always take advantage of her. Yet, she feels that being needed is a kind of happiness. Even if someone hurt her she would still praise his strong points.
In this whole world, I can’t find another Cheng You Qing like this who’s worthy of the one and a half hours I spent to get here now. But, Cheng You Qing also have many weak points. Among them, her weakest point is… She doesn’t like to trouble others even though she always put herself in trouble. Because of other’s evil intentions, why do you… hate yourself, and see yourself negatively? You definitely have to drop this weak point. You have to believe that you are someone who’s worthy of family, friends, colleagues, as well as that good man who hasn’t shown up yet. Cheng You Qing, who need to be treasured well, and loved dearly.”
E4. Da Ren and You Qing are so natural and organic together. They are so comfortable together and can talk about anything, and even comfortably lounge on the same bed together. Not only that, they think of each other first, as a reflex. Whenever she’s upset, she reaches for him first, not someone else. And he always runs to her first, not someone else. They belong together, and just haven’t admitted it yet.
E4. Da Ren always looks visibly uncomfortable around Maggie, like he doesn’t quite know how he got into this relationship. Basically Maggie invaded his space and then adopted him when he wasn’t looking, and now he feels obligated to fulfill the role of the good boyfriend that he’s been given.
E4. The multiple missed messages from Da Ren to You Qing are so plaintive and heart-tugging. You can totally feel his tentative uncertainty, and his deep desire to reconnect with You Qing, and how much he misses her. And, as expected, hearing from Da Ren makes You Qing smile in a huge, genuine way.
E5. Show is really doing a great job of showing us how special the bond is, between Da Ren and You Qing, and why it would be such a risk for Da Ren to confess his feelings. I can feel the emotional stakes; there’s something very special here, and if You Qing doesn’t reciprocate, then there’s a lot that might never be the same again.
E5. I do like seeing that Da Ren and You Qing are constantly thinking of each other. Even in You Qing’s philosophical musings about passwords, she phrases it in relation to Da Ren, “Da Ren, will you ever find someone whom you want to share your passwords with?” They are always keeping each other top of mind, and I like seeing all the signs of that.
E6. Da Ren and You Qing are so lost without each other, when they’re estranged this episode. You can see that they each feel it very deeply.
E6. Da Ren’s make-up message to You Qing is the sweetest: “That day, actually, you weren’t ugly; you weren’t pathetic either. In my eyes, you’re the most precious rose in the desert. I only wish for you to be happy. Then I will have no regrets.”
That’s such a loving message, it’s remarkable that You Qing is still convinced that Da Ren is unable to love her romantically. But she does acknowledge in her voiceover that it’s his unconditional acceptance and presence that keeps her going; that he will always be there for her, and that’s enough for her. Augh. If she only knew how hopelessly Da Ren is head over heels for her.
E6. Every time Da Ren is on the verge of confessing his feelings for You Qing, he’s thwarted. It’s such a journey for him to actually be galvanized into wanting to tell her how he feels, and then, to have that come to a screeching halt as he’s opening his mouth to say the words, because You Qing is excited that her ex-boyfriend called, is just so deflating. Oof. I feel for him.
E7. This episode, both You Qing and Da Ren are shown to be cognizant of their feelings for the other person. Both of them regard the other and think, what a pity.. if only.. And instead of bringing us progress, this just brings us more angst.
E8. I love that when Ding Li Wei throws You Qing a hypothetical ultimatum, she doesn’t hesitate to choose Da Ren. YES.
E8. The imagined scene of Da Ren removing her makeup is so sensual and so lovely. The way he looks at her is just so affectionate and gentle and loving. Melt. Swoon. I want Da Ren to remove my makeup too.
E9. You Qing feels most relaxed and comfortable with Da Ren. When she’s uncomfortable at the party, she leaves the room to call him.
E11. What a fake-out, having You Qing’s confrontation with Da Ren at the airport and the sweet, wordless hug he gives her, turn out to all be in You Qing’s imagination. But she does know him well; that’s the exact way I’d imagine him responding. Wordless, tender, comforting; just grateful to be holding her, in the moment. Augh.
You Qing’s parents
You Qing’s parents really are an adorable pair, and even though they don’t get a great deal of screen time, I found them amusing and entertaining in their adorkable, naggy ways. More than that, they had me by the heart for how loving they are towards You Qing, underneath the sometimes gruff, nonchalant surface.
Dad (Luo Bei An) always looks like he’s only interested in watching TV, but he really does love his family, in his own dorky way. My favorite thing, though, is Earnest Mom trying to encourage a romance between Da Ren and You Qing, despite You Qing’s protests. Her enthusiasm to have Da Ren as her son-in-law is really cute, and she’s so not subtle, that I couldn’t help but giggle at the funny.
[SPOILER] My biggest takeaway from this show is Mom’s words of wisdom in episode 12, about what it means to think carefully before marrying someone. That it’s not about whether you love the person, but about what your life will look like, with the other person. So very wise. [END SPOILER]
My other favorite parent figure in this drama world is Uncle Bai (Chin Shih-chieh), who’s best friends with Da Ren’s mom, a friendship that is clearly Show’s effort to give the friendship between Da Ren and You Qing a more mature parallel.
I found Uncle Bai consistently very sweet, cute and endearing. He cares so much for Da Ren’s mom and their family. And he’s such a cheerleader too, encouraging Da Ren, and also, cheering on his sister Tao Tao (Summer Meng) at her band competition.
To my eyes, Da Ren is Cinnamon Roll #1 in this show, and Uncle Bai is firmly Cinnamon Roll #2. <3
STUFF I LIKED LESS
As much as I enjoyed my watch, I didn’t love everything about Show, so here’s the stuff that I didn’t like so much.
Show’s fantastical flourishes can feel random & weird
Show’s got a rather fantastical bent, thanks to us having access to You Qing’s thoughts, her flights of fancy and imagination, and her dreamscape. Often, these are introduced without warning, and because – for a while at least – we’re assuming that the weird stuff onscreen might be real, Show can feel rather random and strange.
Case in point, this gorilla-esque figure in episode 1’s opening scene, which I found very odd, until it became clear that this was all part of You Qing’s dreamscape, and the hairy figure was a quirky representation of Time.
I didn’t dislike this about Show, but the regular dips into the not-real sometimes confused me.
Sunny Wang as Ding Li Wei
Ding Li Wei (Sunny Wang) is the kind of guy that your parents would likely warn you about. Charming and smooth, with all sorts of moves to charm the ladies, he’s slick to the point of being oily.
A very effective counter-point to warmhearted Da Ren, Ding Li Wei was the epitome of everything that You Qing shouldn’t settle for, in a romantic partner or husband. I never felt like I could trust him, even when he was saying sweet words to You Qing, and I suppose to that end, Sunny Wang did a solid job of portraying him.
With Ding Li Wei, everything was always more about him and his reputation, rather than about wanting to actually nurture a healthy relationship with You Qing, and the deeper I got into my watch, the clearer this became, to me.
Here’s a quickish unpacking of my impressions of him.
E7. Ding Li Wei is so stalkery and he constantly invades You Qing’s personal space. The thing is, though, You Qing doesn’t quite protest enough. She protests, but she doesn’t go the full extent of kicking him out. She gives him room to be there, because a part of her is weak to what he represents, and he senses that and takes full advantage.
I do think Ding Li Wei is there more for the thrill of the chase, than for actual strong feelings for You Qing. He comes across as very aggressive and predatory.
E8. I sort of wonder whether Ding Li Wei’s being sincere. He doesn’t come across as being sincere, but I do wonder whether that’s an actor limitation, or a deliberate acting choice.
E8. Lots of sexytimes between Ding Li Wei and You Qing, and I can’t deny that Ding Li Wei can turn on the sex appeal. He does have a bit of bad boy schmexy Imma-kiss-you-now sort of draw. But the moment things don’t go his way, Ding Li Wei’s self-centeredness and his temper come flaring out. Red flag!
E8. Argh!!! Da Ren finally plucks up the courage to tell You Qing how he feels, and his text is intercepted and deleted by Ding Li Wei! I literally yelled at my screen. At the same time, I can understand why Ding Li Wei would want to do that. He doesn’t want anything to rock the boat, now that he’s got You Qing dating him again.
E9. This episode feels like a study on how Ding Li Wei is a lousy, self-centered boyfriend.
When Da Ren looks him up and shares with him how to best love and support You Qing even though it’s clearly killing him on the inside, Ding Li Wei gets all defensive and demands to know who Da Ren thinks he is, to be teaching him how to love his girlfriend. Granted, I can see why he would be suspicious and jealous of Da Ren.
The way Ding Li Wei calls You Qing and says he wants to eat beef noodles and also wants to see her, and basically tells her to come to him with beef noodles, is so annoying. It’s even more annoying that she drops everything – and blows off Da Ren, whom she really did want to spend time with – in order to be that delivery girl. All she gets to do is deliver the noodles and tuck in a sleeping Ding Li Wei. Free noodles, free delivery, and a free tuck-in. That’s what Ding Li Wei wanted. Ugh.
Ding Li Wei proposing to a toilet door was the most tasteless thing in the history of all the dramas I’ve ever watched. Who even dreams up this stuff?? His idea of being romantic is so off the mark. Essentially, the proposal and party was all about him. He drags her to a party without telling her ahead of time, and then leaves her to her own devices while he mingles, and when she texts to tell him that she’s tired and would like to leave, he pleads with her to stay by mouthing it across the room, then sends his secretary on an assignment to talk to her? Ugh. And he doesn’t even get his own flowers for the proposal either. Hmph.
And then Ding Li Wei yells at poor Da Ren when he finds You Qing on the phone with him instead of on the other side of the toilet door, receiving his tasteless proposal.
E10. Ding Li Wei is so self-centered. Everything always has to be about his own reputation and comfort. He is unhappy with You Qing for cutting her hair without consulting him, even after she informs him that it’s her hair. And when You Qing asks him to give her 2 years to focus on her career in Singapore, he flatly refuses. It’s only when You Qing sheds tears that he gives in – and allows her 3 months. Wow. Magnanimous much?
E10. Ding Li Wei not wanting You Qing to drink with the boys. On the one hand, I get that he’s thrown by how familiar You Qing is with Da Ren’s colleagues, thus indicating that they are even closer than he’d imagined. At the same time, I feel that his act of stepping in to drink on You Qing’s behalf, speaks of the kind of woman he wants to be with: a docile, ladylike, deferential 小女人 (literally, small woman). He’s not thrilled to see You Qing knocking back her drinks like one of the boys. He wants a damsel to save.
E11. I do think that Li Wei loves You Qing – in the limited understanding that he has, of love. He doesn’t know how to love selflessly and unconditionally the way Da Ren loves You Qing, but in his own limited way, he does care for You Qing and want to do his best for her. Of course, that best does involve imposing his opinions and decisions on her, but I sincerely think that he’s not actually capable of more than that.
E12. The wedding preparation is bringing out the reality for You Qing, of what it would be like to live with Ding Li Wei, in a crash course sort of way. There’s way more compromise than seems healthy. This sort of continual quashing of herself is just the thing to kill You Qing over time.
E12. Fundamentally, Li Wei’s approach to the wedding is the same as his approach to the proposal. It’s all for show, and not about what makes You Qing happy. Not cool at all.
Andrea Chen as Maggie
Narratively speaking, Maggie (Andrea Chen) is the female equivalent of Ding Li Wei; a romantic interest paired with Da Ren, to spice things up and also, to make You Qing jealous.
On the one hand, I found Maggie less toxic than Ding Li Wei, and Show does take steps to redeem her character in its later episodes. On the other hand, for the period of time where Maggie is shown angling for Da Ren’s affections, I found her very aggravating to watch indeed. In that sense, it all sort of works out to neutral in the end, but the fact remains that Maggie is still not one of my favorite things in this show, and I just wanted to highlight some of the more frustrating aspects of her as a character.
E3. It’s aggravating to see Maggie succeed at every attempt to push herself onto Da Ren, or have Da Ren enter her space. I yelled at my screen when she put her head on Da Ren’s shoulder, and then again, when she tried to seduce Da Ren, and also, when Da Ren hugged her because she was acting distraught over her sick mom. I actually wondered whether she is being truthful about her mom, or if it was just a ploy to make Da Ren feel sorry for her.
E4. Maggie trying to force things with Da Ren is her trying to force love. She’s very insecure, and she thinks that forcing all the signs of a healthy relationship – cooking in, couple t-shirts, kisses goodnight, access to house keys – will give her the security that she’s looking for. It’s flawed, but it’s also relatable. Many women would identify with having tried to make a relationship look healthier than it really is, by looking for &/or forcing similar signs, whether in a new relationship that you really want to work, or an older relationship that’s starting to show signs of breaking down.
E5. Maggie always looks unhappy &/or injured, like she’s fighting a losing battle. She knows that Da Ren’s heart isn’t with her, and the more she tries to secure his heart, the more she feels like she’s losing any hold on it. Having said that, I have to admit, I would be jealous in Maggie’s shoes. She’s got a boyfriend who feels distant from her, and at the same time, she sees that he’s so comfortable and in sync with another woman.
E5. Maggie likes to play games. When Da Ren tells her to consult with You Qing about where to go the next day, she remarks that Da Ren seems scared of You Qing. I do love Da Ren’s clarification on this, that it’s about respect (yes, it absolutely is). But then Maggie twists the phrasing of the question the next time she sees You Qing, so that it sounds like she and Da Ren have already made plans, and is it ok with You Qing? That’s sneaky and manipulative. Ugh.
Other characters’ general lack of boundaries
So I don’t know if this is a cultural thing, or just a thing in Taiwanese dramas; I found myself rather weirded out by the lack of social boundaries by a good number of characters.
[SPOILERS] For example, I found it really bizarre how both La La and Henry (Yu Han Mi and Jerry Huang) keep dragging You Qing into their affairs, when You Qing is Henry’s ex-girlfriend. Have they no sense of decorum or shame? Henry insisting in episode 2, that You Qing help him pick out a bag for La La, because she has the best taste among his girlfriends, is just so insensitive and crass, I thought.
I also thought the way Da Ren and You Qing’s ex-classmates crashed their entire wedding night was in very poor taste. [END SPOILER]
The thing is, though, the other characters don’t seem to mind, and everyone seems to think that this is all very normal behavior. So maybe it’s just me?
THEMES / IDEAS [MINOR-ISH SPOILERS]
Thanks to You Qing’s regular voice-overs exploring her thoughts, as she grapples with the various so-called signs of aging, we get pretty clear themes each episode. The themes are managed with a bit of a heavy hand, but I do find them meaningful and organic to our story. Here’s a broad overview:
E1. The idea of time and how it’s always hot on your heels chasing you down; the idea of aging; the idea of liking and accepting yourself.
E2. The idea that possession is the beginning of loss. Da Ren and You Qing are both so afraid of losing each other, that they’d rather not risk losing each other by entertaining romantic possibilities between them.
E2. I do like You Qing’s statement at the end of the episode, that she’ll use her own money to buy her own bag, to create her own future. Such a statement of independence. She doesn’t need someone to buy her a bag or give her a future. She’s plenty self-sufficient and will create a future for herself, thank you very much. I like that.
E4. The idea of love validating your self-worth. Maggie looking for a good boyfriend so that she doesn’t end up like her mother. The need for some people to always have a significant other, like Henry. You Qing’s embarrassment at still being single, and wondering if anyone would ever love her.
E6. The idea of misplacing something important because you put it in an important place and then forget where that was. We see it as a sign of aging, with You Qing misplacing her boss’s ring. But at the same time, it’s about misplacing her self-confidence and rationality. I do like that this episode indicates that You Qing finds her self-confidence and rationality with Da Ren.
E6. The idea that a diamond is a diamond; even after it’s soaked in coffee overnight, it’s still a diamond. The idea that people can still shine brightly even after having been through adversity. Also, the idea that there is beauty born of adversity, in You Qing’s voiceover that the beauty of a mature woman is in her eyes, after the tears.
E7. Today’s theme is about expiry dates. Also, the idea of self-worth that comes from being loved.
E8. The idea that the do-over relationship is one that you can’t back out of, because failing twice at the same relationship would be too humiliating.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Ahh.. this was one of those finales that I really looked forward to, because of the happy ending that I knew was coming, but that I also kinda dreaded – because I just didn’t feel ready to say goodbye to these characters, least of all Da Ren, whom I found the most endearing of all.
Now that I’ve emerged on the other side, I have to say that this was a very emotionally satisfying conclusion to our story.
There’s a requisite amount of angst before we start to see a happy ending at the end of the tunnel, but importantly, the angst feels real and organic. You Qing, sufficiently rattled from hearing Da Ren’s confession in song, realizes she can’t marry Li Wei, and sobs to Mom and Dad about it. I love that Mom and Dad are all ready to do whatever it takes to ensure You Qing’s happiness, and even offer to go with her, to kneel in front of Li Wei to seek his forgiveness. So much love in here. <3
Of course, a leopard can’t change its spots – or a cheating lying dog can’t change his habits – coz You Qing finds Li Wei and his secretary in a rather.. compromising situation. To think that even when she’s caught Li Wei with another woman, he still tries to lie his way out of it. Ugh. So glad You Qing didn’t end up marrying him; that would’ve been a huge mistake, and not just because of Da Ren either.
I very much appreciate that You Qing doesn’t jump right into a romantic relationship with Da Ren, after breaking up with Li Wei. Instead, she quits her job and goes traveling to clear her mind and do some soul-searching, sending Da Ren regular postcards with various thoughts and musings, the comfort in their relationship fully restored.
In the meantime, Uncle Bai finally gets Da Ren’s mom to agree to marry him, and they have the sweetest, most sheepish little wedding.
When You Qing’s wanderlust is satisfied, she lands a job at IKEA, and on her birthday, in the mock-up that has an uncanny resemblance to the perfect little apartment home she’d seen in her dream, Da Ren makes a surprise appearance.
I think it’s on purpose that Show presents the scene in such a way that we’re kept guessing for some time, about whether this scene is for real, or is another one of You Qing’s flights of imagination. We find out soon enough that this scene is, happily, for real, and after bantering a bit about what to have for dinner, You Qing sighs contentedly that sitting in a living room like this, thinking about what to have for dinner, is so pleasant and comfortable.
Smooth as butter, Da Ren moves to casually ask the big question, “Then.. do you want to sit like this for the rest of our lives?” Squee!
You Qing evades the question a little bit, instead quoting the price of the living room set to Da Ren, which, pfft. But Da Ren, good man that he is, persists, and asks if the price includes her in the package. You Qing hedges, saying she needs to consult her best friend, and calls Da Ren, right there on the couch, ha.
Finally, after affirming that her taste in men has improved (hur, and so true!), and promising to be with her always, whether they break up or not, Da Ren finally moves in for the kiss. It’s a little awkward and embarrassing, but nothing a little good-natured joking and goofing around can’t solve, and our lovebirds finally drown in feels and kisses. Eee!
Cue more fanservice: You Qing going to Singapore to visit Da Ren, to find that while he’s too busy to spend a lot of time with her, he’s put a lot of care into all the thoughtful post-it notes that greet her in every nook and cranny of the apartment. Sweetness.
We then get a highlight reel of Da Ren and You Qing working to visit each other and keep in contact while in a long-distance relationship. There’s lots of cuteness and kisses, but what stands out to me, is the urgent need they have to talk to each other, every time they see each other. Da Ren’s right; they really are never going to run out of things to talk about, and I love it.
Da Ren tells You Qing that he’s requested for a transfer back to Taiwan, citing marriage as his reason, and along with this very lame proposal, whips out an equally lame paper ring, which had me howling with laughter. It’s so perfectly off-the-wall and humorous, and such a great reflection for how comfortable and casual these two are with each other.
After the wedding, they survive the rowdy wedding night, which is thoroughly crashed by their over-enthusiastic classmates, and I do rather love that they just shrug it off like it’s no big deal. Da Ren sings his song to You Qing on their honeymoon flight to Singapore, off-key but with lots of heart, and amid more goofy awkwardness, our couple finally has their wedding night. Rawr.
We even get an epilogue of sorts, where we see that Da Ren and You Qing have settled into married life and adopted a french bulldog (such a cutie! And, such a great nod to You Qing giving in to Da Ren on something; a great throwback to their high school opposing campaigns), and how they navigate the ups and downs of married life, sticking it out through the disagreements and squabbles, and then kissing happily ever after.
I actually really love that nothing with these two is picture-perfect and pitch-perfect romantic. Everything’s a little awkward and a lot down-to-earth, all peppered with bantering, bickering, smiles and lots of laughter. It makes me feel like that’s exactly how these two will manage to weather the storms of life together, for a long, long time to come, and I really like the thought of that. <3
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Raw, real, heartfelt, and just so very engaging, despite a few rough edges.
FINAL GRADE: A-