This year I actually watched a lot of TV shows. I have no idea how I did this because I was quite busy for the first third of the year, and then I had a chaotic summer. I still managed to be hedonistic enough, I guess. Although it was and is a shitty year for [everyone], I got to watch some interesting stuff, and I figured I’d share some thoughts on some of the things I watched. They aren’t all good thoughts or even coherent at all, but why not?
After some thinking, I condensed it down to 5 new releases and 3 from previous years. They’re all TV series since I’m ignoring the few movies I watched. These aren’t reviews/summaries either, so there will be spoilers.
Anyway, without further ado…
- because of love (今生有你) – Jan 18, 2022 – Feb 1, 2022
This show is really not my usual genre. I tend to like crime and politics and lots of old men going at each other (in all sense of the phrase), but something about this show’s trailers convinced me. From what I recall of January-2022-Grace, I was interested because it was a middle-aged person idol drama, pretty much, and because everyone kept their original accents. I was also just chilling in my room because the first few months of the semester were online only, so I had a lot of time to waste.
It was so sappy and cute and cathartic!!! I forgot how much fun romances can be, LOL. I’ll sum it up quickly so I can talk more about my favourite parts:
The main character, Tan Jing, struggles to raise her (very cute) young son by herself as she works at a cafe. She often crosses paths with her university love interest (who is now a successful heart surgeon with depression), Nie Yu Sheng, which is awkward but they ignore each other every time. Eventually they have to actually face each other and face The Past when her son’s heart problems get worse and she finds out they are eligible for a new program at the hospital that could cover the costs for the kid’s surgery, but it’s run by NYS.
And enter other characters like his dad (rich old man who loves kids but hates TJ and surprise! The kid’s your grandson), his stepbrother (a successful businessman who also becomes entangled with TJ after he sees his past with his mom in her struggles caring for her son. Also NYS’ best friend from university’s boyfriend), his aforementioned best friend (great personality, a great friend, and a great girlfriend), TJ’s “husband” (one-sided love… part of Her Past is that because of a workplace accident, her own dad died. Then she was bullied by NYS’ dad to leave him. The only person who helped her out as she navigated that whole mess as well as pregnancy was this guy! Great guy!!), the cute baby boy himself, and the cute neighbours.
One scene from the trailer that really got me was a clip of NYS crying in TJ’s arms. Even without context, it was heartwrenching and made me really curious. What could make a 40-year-old cry like that? Weren’t they exes? Where’s the kid? Also why are they making out so violently in the shower?? Lots of questions.
Another thing I found cute (and painful) was the beginning of each episode, where there was a sort of dream sequence. It was ambiguous and usually featured a main thought from either TJ or NYS that pertained to the episode. One of my favourite ones was of TJ and NYS and their son in a sunlit happy house enjoying a breakfast. It was a what-if situation, a happy reimagining, an ideal world where they never had to leave each other and the little boy was healthy and beloved. There were many parallels to this specific “daydream” later in the show, since at some point NYS and his dad learn their relation to the little boy and have to learn to co-parent. NYS learns that his depression can get better and it isn’t TJ’s fault entirely, and he invites her and their kid to his place and they try really, really hard to cope.
I guess that’s the whole point of the show! Learning to cope and apologize, and to love and have patience. Also to prove that middle-aged idol romances are a GOOD investment and I greatly enjoy them. And okay, it’s a drama so there’s a lot of cringe things and that-really-didn’t-need-to-happen things and Class Reunions but it was kinda fun. I did mention earlier that it was cathartic… I’m not going to dump another whole essay about that here, but it was great. Highly recommend.
2. the crack of dawn (江照黎明) – Jan 27, 2022 – Feb 27, 2022
I surprisingly liked this drama. Not going to spoil this one too much because the suspense and mystery is important, but it ended a lot more hopeful than I expected. I mean, based off of the title it makes sense, but it really was a lot cuter than expected. I suspect this is because of the main dude. Wang Cheng’s actor is cute in the just-some-guy way, which is really appreciated.
Ahem. Other than that, the setting was really nice. The vibes and colours were excellent, and the details in the different interior and exterior environments really added to the Feel. Since it’s a webdrama and meant more for smaller screens (like my laptop), having a more visually engaging picture on the screen all the time kept me focused.
The story itself was nothing too surprising, but featured more of a spotlight on domestic violence and like… female empowerment than in other crime/suspense shows. It’s a nice change, though I will keep my thoughts on feminism in China and other social issues in my head. Just know that I have many qualms.
3. pride and price (盛装) – Feb 7, 2022 – Feb 22, 2022
I watched this because of the director. He usually produces some bangers (either in production quality or story) and the trailers were really fashionable (because it’s about fashion magazines in an increasingly digital world). The show was pretty fun to watch, even though any workplace drama is super… drama and a bit over-the-top. The first episode was pretty banger. Highly recommend.
I also just like the depiction of friendship. I don’t know about realism, but it’s nice to see people respect each other first, and then become friends no matter how grudgingly. And I love David Wang. He can be truly terrifying when he wants to. Apparently he doesn’t eat carbs when playing those types of character in order to truly be Scary and Unhappy. I can see how that would work. I can’t live without rice. Anyway, the girls are pretty in here and I love France.
Not much else to say about this. There are a few obnoxious characters but I just kept reminding myself that this is about rich insane “Art” people. It’s pretty predictable but it was still pretty fun to watch.
4. out of court (庭外) – Jul 14, 2022 – Aug 10, 2022
Time for my beloved QST! I watched this as it aired, which was an excruciating experience on its own. I recall it had a really stupid airing schedule for the second part, 落水者. The first part was only six episodes, and was called 盲区. What was interesting was that the first six episodes actually took place in the middle of the second part, telling the story of a specific 16 hours where two plots bounced off of each other. …or something like that. In terms of pacing, the first six were a lot more fun to watch since everything was cut very quickly and you really had to use your brain to remember details. The second part, on the other hand, was more of a traditional crime/law show.
To be honest, what really convinced me to watch this was the fact that this takes place in the ZWCU, or the Zhi Wen Cinematic Universe, where Day and Night and Reborn take place in. Look, I love Day and Night. I’ll take anything that takes place in Jingang at this point. (Please give me season 2)
Anyway, so. Qiao Shaoting. He’s a fancy workaholic crazy lawyer-man with best friends and enemies and a soon-to-be ex-wife. While pursuing a case related to his first love, he gets framed by his former teacher and arrested. After three months or so, he gets to leave but everything’s a little different now. He’s on probation and there’s an even crazier young lawyer following him everywhere. Somehow, he uses what he has and then loses what little he has and then gains some stuff and then ends up winning… or does he? It’s a mystery. Not going to lie, I’m not really sure what the ending really means. He and Han Bin agree to disagree and there’s a really pretty shot of them in the Fingerprint cafe as they share a drink. The bad guy’s been arrested and it seems like everyone’s got the better end of the deal except QST himself. He’s still getting divorced.
Something about him is different from other straggly male characters on crime-y shows. I wrote a bunch of notes and stuff but he’s pretty much a Main Girl, which is a topic I want to get more in-depth about later on. The basic run-down is that he’s the dream self-insert for most viewers while also embodying an ideological perfect (anti) hero love interest. You know? He would have been an ideal self-insert protagonist if it wasn’t for the screenwriter’s existing self-insert that he named after himself (Han Bin). QST is probably someone’s ideal self. Kinda like Zhou Xun from Day and Night, who the portrayer says is the ideal male character. I’m going off topic here, but basically: this show is fast and fun and kinda pretty.
5. challenges at midlife (相逢时节) – Feb 23, 2022 – Mar 15, 2022
Okay, this show isn’t really that good, but it was really entertaining. That’s enough, right? A few good laughs and some funny-awkward-stupid situations. It’s kind of similar in set-up to JSYN, but less idealistic and more… not necessarily realistic, but more straight. Dramatized facts and too many coincidences. Two people dated in university, broke up, and find each other many years later. What happens next? They’ve all got kids and new problems, and perhaps… a hidden shared past?!
They don’t get together at the end. It makes sense, since it focuses more on family than middle-age-romance-idol-drama, but it’s also so laughable that if I try to explain any more than I already have, no one’s gonna watch it. Even if I say Zhang Yixing is in here and plays a vengeful baby brother. His character is very pitiful in a funny way. My favourites are the main male character’s older sister and brother-in-law. They’ve got so much personality and so much… cowardice and hatred, it’s almost beautiful how chaotic their scenes are. The main leads are also fun, but I ended up just feeling really bad for them. They pretty much babysit their family members and that’s the reason why they can’t even be friends at the end.
The title also isn’t true. These people have had challenges all their life, not just at midlife. The fact that this show is on this list is also hilarious. It’s not even that good, but I straight-up just didn’t watch that many things. Well, it was pretty funny. That’s about it.
3 older things
- royal nirvana + byj (鹤唳华亭 + 别云间) – 2019 – 2020
I had planned to write a whole thing just on this show itself, but I think it’s better to do this in parts. This time I’ll just talk about my initial thoughts, which I have briefly mentioned on my blog before.
It’s really good. I love it. As a fan of messy family drama and pretty old-men-characters, this was great. As someone who has some family issues and is the oldest (or one with relatively more responsibility within the family), this hit close to home. Genuinely enjoyed it, but I don’t know if I can watch it more than one. I cried at the end with my siblings.
My favourite themes and scenes were mostly when the main character, our beloved baby crown prince, manages to confront and face his father, the emperor. He’s facing his father, his country, his responsibility, his fate. It’s everything but it’s also nothing. He’s still a kid at heart, and wants to be treated with love, affection, and equity. Unfortunately for him, it’s impossible all things considered. After all, he’s the crown prince and his dad’s the emperor.
The circular nature of their relationship drives the 72 episodes up and everywhere, and my siblings and I got more and more desperate alongside the main characters. Why can’t they all just get along? Even though we knew the answer and knew the most likely outcome, we were still filled with trepidation and a little bit of hope. As kids, we want the best for other kids, I guess.
The only way out of a vicious cycle is to completely leave it, and sometimes the only way to escape your fate is to die. This show doesn’t leave you with any big take-aways or morals, it doesn’t give you any tips on how to live your life or reconcile with your child, it doesn’t even tell you what not to do… but for a few months, you’re just hanging out with the crown prince. He’s a dumbass little guy who wants things to change and tries to change things, but the powers above (or the powers that keep him where he is, at least) prevent him from doing anything, really.
I still love his shitty emperor dad. He’s cute and truly the embodiment of Chinese Fathers, if not East Asian Fathers, which may seem counterintuitive. There’s a lot I don’t understand about Chinese Dads, even if I find them to be predictable. Like, you understand their circumstances and their ways of reasoning considering their role, your role as child (or subject or employee), and the specific situation, but it still makes no sense. Why can’t they just show their emotions a little more? Why can’t they accept other people’s emotions? Is everything really more important than your own kid?
Yes and no, I guess. Again: we understand it, but we also just don’t. That’s just how it is. I recommended this show to my friend because it did a better job summing up my issues than I do myself, and if she wanted to see a beautifully dramatized simpler version of my experiences, this was the best way. I’m only half-joking, a lot of the emotions the crown prince experienced were extremely Relatable. And how well the show did also proves that there’s a lot of people out there who either love these kind of stories (politics! family problems! grand schemes and plans! there’s really pretty people and sets!), or can relate to some degree.
2. reborn (重生) – 2020
I watched this because it’s in the same universe and city as Day and Night! And GHF appears in all his round and sullen glory. I ended up binging it in a bit over a day, partly because it’s a pretty fast watch and partly because I liked Qin Chi so much. The character was a miserable pathetic guy, a sad abandoned cat, a confused PTSD-ridden babygirl… he’s so cute! I love that shit. Uh, and also the story was nice.
And by that I mean it had a very neat beginning-middle-end, and the main characters all had an ending suitable for their personalities and all the loose ends tied up nicely. In that way, Reborn is like a fairytale. A man gets to remedy his past (sort of) with the help of some stronger characters and quirky little helpers. Like Cinderella! It’s great! It’s also super depressing and grey-blue and made for computer screens since it’s a webdrama but whatever, it didn’t really take away from the experience.
3. the glorious era (光荣时代) – 2019
As you may or may not know, I love Republican era dramas. My favourite is of course The Disguiser, but I’ve also watched some bangers (this is sarcastic) like Inside Man, Spy Hunter, and Belief (also from 2022). Less directly political ones too: Winter Begonia, City of Streamer, Miss S, and also the incredibly bad Insects Awaken. I hate-love these shows and it’s so much fun to compare them, both to each other and to history. Of course, by history I am referring to the information readily available to Western society and less so what is accepted as true history in East Asian countries, so there’s obviously bias and questionable record-keeping, but that’s a tangent saved for another time.
The Glorious Era is hilarious. I enjoyed it a lot, surprisingly. I watched it after Reborn for no real reason other than boredom, so I had very little expectations, but it truly was funny. I’m not saying it’s good, or that any part of it was better than the others listed above (except maybe the ending song. That’s an actual Banger), it’s just that there are a few small things that made it more palatable.
First, the actors are really good. Even if one of them was added in post. The CGI is obvious and it adds to the humour. The old guys are really cute and they have a fun and believable rapport. The colours are easy on the eyes (my eyes, at least), and the fits are great. The story is as expected (brothers fight, brothers love each other, girls are unimportant or annoying or otherwise nonexistent, there is war) and ends ambiguously.
My absolute favourite thing is that the show is so over-the-top it seems self-aware almost. At times, the nationalism and blind faith is so strong it could be satire. I’m not going to say that the producers were aiming for that, but there’s no way no one thought of it. It’s genuinely too funny to be entirely straight. The ending song was also created with the inspiration of musicals. What do we know about musicals? That there’s an audience directly viewing the stage, and that there’s a clear delineation between fact and fiction, past and present, you and me. Is it a joke? Are they serious? What really is the glory they are speaking of? Where can anyone attain that glory? Was that really the Glorious Era?
That pretty much sums up my top 5 of the 2022 releases. I was pretty busy so I really didn’t watch much else in the beginning of the year, and there was nothing that caught my eye in Q4. I’m currently starting a new show and it’s fun so far! Hopefully it doesn’t disappoint; I’m watching it really slowly these days so it might take a while for me to come to any real thoughts. Until then.