Funny story, you guys.
I started watching this drama because of all the enthusiastic tweets and related spazz that I saw others heaping on it. Everyone seemed so highly amused by this show, and I didn’t want to miss out. You guys know my FOMO is real, right?
But as I watched this show, I was bemused to find that I was, at best, enjoying this one in a very moderate fashion. I began to wonder what I was missing, since everyone before me seemed to have nothing but love for this show. That curiosity kept me going (ie, kept me from actually dropping this show), even though I found myself taking long breaks between episodes. I didn’t feel the loss of this show on my screen much at all, since, as you probably know, I usually juggle a whole plateful of shows at the same time, and so I had plenty of other dramas to keep me occupied between episodes of this show.
It was only at the episode 19 mark, when I decided it was time to finish this show already, and write its review, that I hit on one of the key things I’d been missing. It wasn’t my viewing lens; it was my viewing technique.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the very pleasant OST album, if you’d like to have a listen while you read the review.
My favorite track in this collection, is the third one, 結伴, which literally translates “to become a companion of someone,” or “make a companion.” It’s just so laidback-breezy and sweet.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Rookie drama scriptwriter Xiaoqian (Zhao Lu Si) finds herself trapped in the drama world that she’s created, as a minor character who’s supposed to die in her show’s early episodes. Suddenly, everything’s a matter of survival for her, as she tries to get her characters to behave the way she thinks they need to, in order for her story to arrive at its proper conclusion.
Cue mix-ups and hijinks, as her story’s male lead (Ding Yu Xi) falls for her instead, and refuses to have anything to do with her chosen female lead Chuchu (Zhou Zi Xin). Oops?
TIPS TO MAXIMIZE YOUR ENJOYMENT OF THIS SHOW
Like I mentioned in the beginning of this review, I’m a little bummed that I didn’t figure this all out earlier, as that would’ve definitely increased my personal enjoyment of this show in a big way.
BUT. That’s not to say you guys can’t learn from my mistakes, right? Here are my top tips for making this a much funner watch experience than what I managed to get out of it.
1. Show works best as a marathon
This is my top tip. Like, for reals, guys. I think if I’d marathoned this baby instead of watching just an episode a day, I would’ve had a significantly funner time.
At the episode 19 mark, I marathoned 4 episodes in a single day, instead of watching my usual one episode a day, and I was blown away by how this one simple change made this show so much more enjoyable to watch.
When you’re marathoning, the angsty stuff seems to go by faster, because you don’t mentally stay at a single place for very long. You quickly get over the angsty humps and move on to lighter, fluffier, cuter things.
2. Don’t sweat the details
There will be things that don’t make sense. Those are not important. Sometimes characters change in ways that feel a bit abrupt. That’s not important either.
Just remember that you’re here for The Cute, and keep rollin’.
3. Don’t take the angst seriously
Sometimes, Show takes an angsty turn. Don’t sweat that either. The best thing you can do, is learn to chuckle at everything – even the angst.
4. Take your cue from the musical cues
Sometimes, the musical cues might seem counter-intuitive. For example, an apparently angsty scene might be scored with light music more suited to a funny scene.
I started out finding this very odd and jarring. But then I learned that this was Show’s way of letting me know that the angst isn’t really that angsty, and that I shouldn’t take it too seriously.
Once I learned to take my cue from Show’s musical cues, my watch experience improved greatly.
5. Bear in mind Show’s happy ending
This is a bit spoilery, but in this case, I think it’s very helpful to know that Show does indeed have a happy ending up its sleeve. This is especially helpful to know, in Show’s “angstier” stretches, which might make you question whether a happy ending is in store, or whether Show will follow in the tradition of many other C-dramas, and just have everybody die in the end.
Knowing that Show will indeed serve up a happy ending complete with cuteness and rainbows, will make it much easier for you to just sit back and enjoy The Cute.
ONE MORE THING: The flipping of gender norms & stereotypes
Our drama within a drama features a world where women rule and dominate, and men are considered the weaker and inferior sex. This is played for laughs, and while it can sometimes give you pause for thought about how things run in the real world, sometimes it might make you question Show’s intended messaging.
Don’t sweat this either. By the end of our story, our rookie scriptwriter realizes that her idea of equality in creating this drama world, is flawed, and applies her gained learnings accordingly.
MY PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS
Since this is one of those shows where it’s best to just focus on the stuff you like, and ignore just about everything else, I’m going to talk about only my personal highlights in this review.
Zhao Lu Si as Qianqian
I have to say, I found Zhao Lu Si very cute as Qianqian. Given that I often find female leads portrayed as too cutesy for my taste, this is a Sizable Deal.
I found Qianqian very likable, almost without exception. There’s an earnest, cheerful, determined vibe about her, and she’s creative, funny, and yet laughably off the mark in her estimations of what her characters will do. The way she tries to work the plot of her drama world, while it’s not unfolding according to plan, is also quite entertaining. She also often moves seamlessly between being a detached scriptwriter and being an immersed character in her drama world, and the sudden abruptness of the switch makes it funny.
Over the course of my watch, I feel that Qianqian’s best traits are, 1, that she’s full of heart, and genuinely cares for the people around her, and 2, that she’s quick to reflect on her mistakes and correct them. And, despite her often bumbling ways, she also does sometimes show streaks of shrewdness, and I liked that a lot.
Overall, I could totally see why everyone in her drama world would grow to like her so much – our male lead included.
Ding Yu Xi as Han Shuo
For the record, I found Ding Yu Xi very solid as Han Shuo.
Mainly, I enjoyed watching Han Shuo getting smitten with Qianqian, in spite of himself. Every time Han Shuo leaked a smile or got hearts in his eyes, my watch experience instantly ratcheted up by quite a few points.
Additionally, I thought Ding Yu Xi infused Han Shuo with a surprising amount of emotional resonance, despite Show’s light and often comical leanings. He brought on the feels, sometimes when I least expected it, and I count that as a Very Good Thing.
On a shallow note, I think Ding Yu Xi is picture perfect as the fictional male lead of our female lead’s imagination, since he looks so perfectly coiffed and chiseled, like a living Ken doll.
Our OTP falling in love
Our OTP falling in love, while our female lead tries to fight it (because it’s not how her story is supposed to unfold) is Show’s main hook. What this means, is that you kinda have to be prepared for this will-they-or-won’t-they dance to go on for a while. On the downside, this can feel a bit frustrating, because it feels like Show is being one big perpetual tease.
On the upside, these two are very cute together, and there is enough Cute to keep you going, especially if you’re watching this as a marathon (see above section on viewing tips and techniques).
Here’s a collection of my favorite OTP moments.
E7. Han Shuo’s feelings for Qianqian are becoming more noticeable. It’s in the way he looks at her, and in the way he tries to help her and protect her. When she comes home after being harassed by the townsfolk, she pouts and says that they’re scolding her, and without a word, Han Shuo covers her ears with his hands, so that she can’t hear them, and then he lays her head on his chest, his hand still covering her exposed ear. Aw. That’s sweet.
Han Shuo’s every hopeful attempt to test Qianqian’s feelings for him is so earnest. When Qianqian praises him for acting like a hero, he asks so tentatively and hopefully, his eyes fixed on her, if the hero will eventually get the girl. And Qianqian, oblivious, just blithely replies that they usually do, as long as they don’t die. Han Shuo breathes in relief, “It’s a good thing Third Princess has already cured my heart ailment,” but Qianqian is too distracted to pay him any attention. Poor Han Shuo, trying so hard to win the heart of his wife.
Han Shuo and Qianqian, each trying to pull the other back from detonating the explosives, is quite cute. The way Qianqian declares, “You have no idea how important you are to me,” is said in innocent scriptwriter mode, but Han Shuo’s retort, “Without you, my life has no meaning,” is said in sincerity. Augh.
That Look, that Han Shuo keeps trained on Qianqian at the close of the episode, is very intent and tender. I like it.
E8. I love the scene where Han Shuo eats the pastry from Qianqian’s mouth. It’s sudden and swoony; the way he looks at her, part intense and part nonchalant, gives me feels. At the same time, Qianqian’s shocked expression, and her overly bandaged hands, just sticking up in mid-air like some kind of rag doll’s, makes the scene really funny too. I love it.
I’m not too keen on the preparation for the Crown Princess examination, just like Qianqian isn’t, but that scene, where Han Shuo makes Qianqian correct a word to 您, then expressing it meaningfully as “你在我心上” (you are on my heart) is cheeky and swoony. His amused, pleased expression as he watches Qianqian write the word, also elevates the scene – as does the smug look he tosses in Pei Heng’s (Sheng Ying Hao) direction, once he’s made his indirect declaration.
Also, Han Shuo volunteering to test Qianqian, and daring her to make a bet, where, if he wins, she gives him a kiss, and if she wins, he’ll give her a kiss. Pffft. Boy just wants to kiss his wife, and it’s so silly that Qianqian actually plays along with him. Too bad she dodges the kiss he tries to plant on her, when she wins.
E9. Han Shuo pranking Qianqian, just so that he can catch her losing her balance, and thus steal a bit of skinship is quite cheeky. His tamped down looks of delight are very cute.
Han Shuo taking Qianqian to sit on the roof, so that she can wish on the moon, is quite a sweet gesture. It’s like a romantic gesture out of a fairytale, and it’s sweet that while she wishes for victory in the next day’s fight, he wishes for her safety.
Han Shuo can’t bear to see Qianqian get hurt during the fight, but he resists the urge to protect her, or hit the truce gong, because he understands how important the fight is to her. On the other hand Pei Heng and even her own mother don’t understand this, and only want to save her from being hurt.
Qianqian understands Han Shuo too; she guesses correctly that Han Shuo will take steps to get revenge on Lin Qi, and stops him from doing so, saying that she has a better plan to punish Lin Qi.
E10. Qianqian punishing Lin Qi (Wei Xiao) with 27 rats is childish and innocent, which suits her, but the highlight is when she leaps into Han Shuo’s arms at the sight of a stray rat. Han Shuo’s expression, of quiet gladness, is really nice to see, and it’s quite melty how he doesn’t take his eyes off her for a second, while she’s in his arms. Of course, afterwards, when Bai Ji (Liu Shu Yuan) apologizes, it’s cute and amusing that Han Shuo tells him that he’ll be rewarded instead. Aw. He’s just so pleased to have had bonus closeness with Qianqian.
Aw. Han Shuo tries to pacify Qianqian by letting her tear off his garment the way hers got torn. That’s dorky and sweet, actually, and it’s to his credit that Qianqian actually brightens up at the fun of it. He put his pride aside for this; guy should get credit for choosing his lady’s mood over his own dignity.
E12. Drunk Qianqian is cute and honest. She’s so upfront about how handsome Han Shuo is, and how she’d like to have him for a husband, hee. And when she hears that he is her husband, because she’d snatched him, she declares that she’ll snatch him again. And when she manages to recognize Han Shuo through her drunken stupor, her tearful wails are endearingly poignant, “What took you so long to come? I was so scared – did you see how big their knives are?”
And Han Shuo is sweet while comforting her, “I was wrong” … “Aren’t I here now?” … “Don’t cry.” Aw.
When Qianqian blubbers tearfully that he belongs to the female lead, he just ups and princess-carries her, to take her back to the camp.
“Since you snatched me away, you should take responsibility for me to the end. Hm?” The way he says that to her is gentle and persuasive; he acknowledges that he’d intended to get close to Chuchu, but that was before he met her. I like this gently persuasive vibe; it feels caring and sincere.
E15. Finally, under perceived threat that Huayuan City is about to be destroyed, Qianqian confesses her feelings to Han Shuo. She’s quite the all or nothing girl. Before this, she was keeping Han Shuo at arm’s length, and now, she’s saying that she likes him, and is willing to stay with him forever. That’s a big statement, since in her mind, this means giving up the notion of going back to her world.
Also, Han Shuo is ever sweet and smitten. The way that he thinks of the copper bracelet not as a representation of punishment or branding, but as a representation of her, is very touching. He is more than happy to wear it, if it represents her, even if she is a rose with thorns that pricks him. Aw.
E16. Han Shuo’s reason for his decision to replace the explosives with fireworks is sweet; if she doesn’t like him, he’d treat her better to win her heart, but if he kills her mother and destroys Huayuan City, she’d never forgive him. In the end, it’s all for Qianqian, unreservedly and unabashedly, and that’s sweet.
Han Shuo’s appeal is that he’s a mix between being able to exert his manly presence, and being completely smitten for Qianqian. That makes the way he looks at her very alluring.
Han Shuo and Qianqian being openly smitten with each other is very cute to watch. The scene where they’re unwilling to say goodnight, and Bai Ji and Zi Rui are practically dragging them apart, while they’re still busy making googly eyes at each other, is quite silly. And then, Han Shuo sneaks right back into Qianqian’s quarters, just to bring her a snack. Aw.
And how sweet, that Han Shuo takes Qianqian’s modest nature into account, and tells her that he’ll wait until she’s ready to consummate their relationship, even though they are already married. Han Shuo’s bedroomy eyes and heavy breathing, as he holds Qianqian in bed, is quite intoxicating though.
Zi Rui and Bai Ji
I found Zi Rui (Wu Yi Jia) and Bai Ji, Qianqian’s and Han Shuo’s respective assistants, consistently amusing. Zi Rui is a total hoot, with his elastic expressions and his tendency to talk a mile a minute, while Bai Ji is more of a straitlaced, slightly dim but sometimes surprisingly sharp kinda guy.
I thought they were great foils not just for their respective masters, but for each other too.
Qianqian and her storyteller advisors are a bit of a running gag, with them analyzing everything in Qianqian’s drama world using fruit avatars. The banana, orange and apple stand-ins in Qianqian’s story while she’s with the storytellers gets funnier, the more Show repeats it.
As ridiculous as it is, I found it a nice touch that Qianqian would find fellow storytellers to consult with, on her scriptwriter struggles, as she tries to navigate her way through the world that she’s created.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
I actually liked Show’s chosen ending, though I’d been warned that the last couple of episodes weren’t as good as the ones that had come before.
Qianqian discovers that some story events and character milestones just can’t be prevented, and Han Shuo gets stabbed by Chuchu’s sword and is mortally wounded. At his urging, Qianqian walks the carpet for the coronation ceremony, and the heavens respond with the auspicious sign that she’d written into her story’s final scenes.
..And with that, she arrives at the end of her story, and wakes up in her own world again. She’s heartbroken that Han Shuo hadn’t been real, but when she hears that Actor Han (who plays Han Shuo in her drama) had gotten in an accident and hurt his lungs (just like Han Shuo had hurt his lungs), she rushes to the hospital to see him.
She questions Actor Han about whether he remembers her from the story world, and he denies everything – but lets slip an important giveaway clue, when he addresses her as Miss Orange, a detail she hadn’t included in her original script.
She realizes that Actor Han really had been Han Shuo, for the duration of his coma, and muddled conversation and tearful hug later, our real life OTP is happily established.
We then see Xiaoqian going back to revise her script, correcting all the things that she’d realized were wrong. This time, Chuchu becomes City Owner with Qianqian’s help, and Han Shuo and Qianqian resolve their misunderstandings and become a loving couple. The end.
Listen, I know some viewers might find this all too convenient, coz everything’s basically solved by our protagonist waking up from a dream. BUT, y’know, if our story’s entire premise is that she fell into her drama world via a dream, this makes perfect sense. And, importantly, it’s not treated in the vague, mystical way in which The Eternal Love‘s ending was written, where [VAGUE HIGH LEVEL SPOILER] the couple reunites in the modern world, but with no explanation given (at least in Season 1. I didn’t watch Season 2, so I’m not sure if Show addresses it then). [END SPOILER]
Ultimately, I just like the fact that Han Shuo doesn’t die in the end, and that we get a happy ending for our couple, both in real life and in the drama world, with a reasonable explanation to go with, so that we can leave our watch basking in cuteness and smiles.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Fun for a silly-but-ultimately-feel-good, the-brain’s-on-vacation, kinda marathon.
FINAL GRADE: B