Short version – Sonia Sui and Tony Yang looked good. The OST was great. It has that relaxing, understated feel. BUT – it feels real but when you peel back the layers, it’s also very unreal. The writing was inconsistent – it focused on one character (Ji An Lei / Sonia Sui) so well it sacrificed everyone else in this drama. I thought I would love this, but ultimately it didn’t work out. I don’t hate it, it was enjoyable enough and is better made than a lot of TW dramas out there. If I have to rate it, it would be about 7/10.
The 3000 words version :O
I first started writing this post at or around episode 10, then I found out The Pursuit of Happiness (愛的生存之道) was only going to have 13 episodes in total so I held off on it. Might as well wait until I finish the whole drama? It’s funny what 13 weeks can do to you. In this case when I re-read my first impressions post I’m now wondering – what happened? I really really wanted to like it but in the end it turned out fairly ordinary.
Throughout its run, TPOH had a lot of positive reviews. I think the general consensus is that TPOH is a very well made drama and many people are falling in love with it. First, let me just say up front I’m not hating on it. I agree it’s a very meaningful (at times), low key and extremely watchable drama. I have laughed and swooned over the course of thirteen episodes. However, I haven’t been motivated to write anything about it because I just don’t have any strong feelings or that sense of excitement waiting for each week to roll along.
So after reading a lot of opinions about TPOH, I’ve started to think about why the dots aren’t connecting for me. It seems to have all the ingredients I love about dramas – the subject matter (friends become lovers, 30 something woman examining her life…), no one with an annoying voice and no screaming, no crazy plot devices just to separate our leads or bring them together, a great soundtrack, good looking leads… it ticks a lot of things on the checklist. So why do I not LOVE it? WHY? I guess just like real life relationships there is no exact science when it comes to love. TPOH seems to be the type of guy who has all the qualities of a perfect man, but for some reason there’re no romantic sparks between us.
Strange thing was, once I admitted this isn’t love, a lot of things that didn’t bother me so much earlier were starting to irk me. If it went past 13 episodes I don’t think I’ll be so kind to it anymore.
The first time a woman is deceived is because she’s naive. The second time is because she’s ignorant. The third time is because she’s stupid.
This wasn’t a quote from TPOH, but rather from Fated to Love You and it really summed up how I felt about the first half of the drama. The early episodes focused so heavily on Ji An Lei (Sonia Sui)’s struggles to move on from her 15 year pining for ex-boyfriend He Wei Ting (Cash Chuang). However, the writers never really showed the audience what exactly did Lei Lei see in him? Why is she so hung up over a guy she had broken up with three times already? Her situation is completely different to Wang Yi Kang (Tony Yang)’s because Yi Kang never confessed his feelings to Hai Lun (Aggie Hsieh). Plus he moved on pretty quickly anyway, so there was no need to further explain why he liked her in the first place. Actually, Hai Lun turned out so angelic it’s easy to see why any guy would like her. In contrast, Wei Ting was just… (let’s not go there!) I’m glad at least we shut that door by episode 7, and if there was anything good about Wei Ting’s character, it would be he was quite clear in his answer when Lei Lei confessed her love for him. There was a whiff of jealousy when he found out Yi Kang is now in the picture, but luckily we didn’t go down that road either. Wei Ting has enough problems of his own, it seems.
I think I want to see a female lead that is 30+ years old AND actually happy with being single.
For me, it all started with My Queen. I was so in love with that drama back then, even marathoned 7 or 8 episodes in a day. Initially, I hated the ending. It almost felt like I invested all this time in it then got a slap in the face. But as time goes on, I started to feel more at peace with it. A brilliant touch, even. (Although the last bunch of episodes were dragging and you wished they’d end it five episodes ago.)
So back to TPOH, in the beginning we already found out Lei Lei might look strong on the outside, deep down she’s not happy being single and is very afraid of growing old alone. I guess us humans always envy what we don’t have. For a while I thought BFF Tiffany might actually be the one who will carry the ‘I’m single but happy!’ flag… but alas, like a flash of lightening she settles down with this guy. BAM. Another slap in the face. I am really over the stereotype where single 30+ woman look strong and happy on the outside, but deep down they just want to be housewives having babies. <- exaggeration, but you get the idea. It’s not TPOH’s fault, but rather, whether someone likes a drama at a given time depends on their life experiences. Maybe two years ago, I would’ve liked it more? I don’t know.
For a drama that feels very real, there are unrealistic elements shadowing closely behind.
Wang Yi Kang exists only to fall in love with Ji An Lei.
I keep going back to this ‘real, but unreal’ feeling. And this is a problem with characters which are just too perfect. Maybe my biggest reason for not loving TPOH is actually Wang Yi Kang. WHAT? HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE THAT FACE? OMG, he’s so caring and thoughtful! He always places Ji An Lei first! What is wrong with you? He has all the ingredients of a perfect man and yet you’re not falling for him! I give the writer kudos for understanding exactly what a woman is yearning for in the perfect relationship. A relationship where you can be honest with each other. A relationship where you can have deep, meaningful discussions or enjoy the silence when you’re talking because you just like to be with each other. A relationship where someone is always there to lend you his shoulder to cry on. A relationship where after a tired day at work, he will be waiting for you at home with a great meal already prepared.
Perfect right? For a drama which gives off lots of ‘real life’ vibes, Wang Yi Kang feels saint-like. If the final twist of this drama was Yi Kang and Hai Lun were actually angels from heaven who are on Earth to help lost souls with their life and love, I actually think that wouldn’t be too far-fetched. I said this very early on that Wang Yi Kang is such a nice guy, he is kind and helpful to everyone that a girl can’t tell the difference if he’s just doing the nice things because well, he’s nice. Or he’s doing the nice things because he likes her. Maybe the moment when he actually rejected someone (what’s her name I forgot already, LuLu?) you can finally distinguish whether he truly loved Lei Lei, or whether he’s just the nice guy? I’m not sure.
What is even more troubling, was that Wang Yi Kang has no life outside of Ji An Lei’s ‘sphere of influence’. We know nothing about him besides ‘a designer coming back from New Zealand’ and he has no friends other than Lei Lei’s BFF’s boyfriend/husband/people at work. Heck, we only found out he actually has a living father in the last episode. And by then his appearance was just an opportunity for the writer to insert lots of flashbacks. The conversation between father and son COULD’VE happened 5 or 6 episodes earlier to actually make Wang Yi Kang a more rounded character, but instead I’d probably argue he only exists in this drama to fall in love with Ji An Lei, with no much effort put in to gain an understanding of who he truly is outside of ‘life with Ji An Lei’.
Which leads me to think: The whole drama revolves around Ji An Lei and Ji An Lei only.
I may have been okay with this, IF in the last episode, the confession or the realisation of feelings for Wang Yi Kang actually came from her. Since Wang Yi Kang has been so consistent throughout this drama at least we need *something* to show Ji An Lei’s development. But nope. Time and again, Wang Yi Kang was the one making the move. He was the one who turned up at her apartment. He was the one who initiated the hug. He was the one who kinda proposed. He grabs her for a kiss. He grabs her for a hug again. He said sorry. Oh that’s when finally she kissed him. For all the words and actions from Wang Yi Kang that was the only hint from Ji An Lei herself that she actually wants this. I know in the beginning life was difficult for her, lost her promotion and He Wei Ting to the same person and that was when I could really feel for her. But from that point onwards, the angel Wang Yi Kang dropped from the skies and into her life. He moved on from Hei Lun very quickly and pretty much spent the majority of this drama being sweet to Ji An Lei. Even if he doesn’t actually love her in the end? It wouldn’t be so bad because at the very least she had someone there, at a difficult point in her life to help her through. That’s better than the true loneliness that she never actually experienced right?
Because the story is only about Ji An Lei, everyone else was sacrificed.
I remember reading a comment somewhere (sorry I forgot whose blog it was!!! ><) that one of TPOH’s flaws was its inconsistent writing. I completely agree with this. In a way, one of the disappointments of TPOH was that I was expecting a drama about “how to survive in love” (since that’s its Chinese title) but those tips didn’t necessarily add to the story. The words flashing across the screen also indicated the drama was aiming for something more thought provoking. But not only did some of these flashing words appear too quickly for anyone to read, let alone spent at least a few seconds to think about it, they didn’t seem to have a sense of direction at all. They seem to reflect a state of mind at that moment only, and doesn’t have a lasting effect on future episodes. In the beginning when Ji An Lei was so determined to win He Wei Ting back, the ‘survival tips’ consist of things like – if you want to win over someone you love, then you must take the initiative. Or when she was letting Wei Ting go, there will be points where the survival tip would be – being alone is ok. <- I don’t think Lei Lei ever felt alone in this drama. I’m interpreting the yellow angry bird as a sign of her insecurities and loneliness, since the bird only appeared in episode 1 (and 2?) and only reappeared in the final episode, so she pretty much had her hand held by Wang Yi Kang when experiencing all the trauma about Wei Ting. I don’t even want to think more about whether this companionship actually turned into love, or whether it was because she felt so lonely without him, the only logical thing she could do was to accept him at the end. That would be too cruel.
I digressed a bit there, but my original point was we know so much about Ji An Lei’s LOVE LIFE through her long conversations with Yi Kang, she’s the one at least we get a glimpse of family, we (sorta) get to know her BFFs… but nothing else about anyone else in her life. First, there was Tiffany, which I had already mentioned how the writers killed everything that was interesting about her and turned her into a sub-sub-subplot I no longer care about. Secondly, and I’m totally bitter about this because I must be weird, was how they pretty much threw Simon under a bus to make Wang Yi Kang look good. I’m annoyed about this. In the beginning, from the very little screentime that was given to him, Simon has shown to be one of Ji An Lei’s loyal co-workers who are willing to resign with her if she decided to leave. And this feeling is mutual, Ji An Lei respects Simon a lot and trusts him when it comes to work. So in episode 12 when it was suddenly thrown at the audience that Simon is also secretly in love with Ji An Lei (instead of being gay, which we were lead to believe some episodes earlier), this I can accept. But to make him some sort of crazy guy who tries too hard to win Lei Lei just so that Wang Yi Kang can rescue her and look like the ‘good guy’ (again)? To make things worse, he makes a mistake at work and costs the company so much money Lei Lei planned to sell the house to help him? That is just ARGHHH. By episode 12 I don’t think we need anymore proof Wang Yi Kang is perfect. There is no need to step on someone else to make him look good.
Although it does demonstrate how Lei Lei is blind to anyone else who might want to get close to her during the years she was pining for Wei Ting. But gees, that was a pretty elaborate sub-sub-subplot to do that. And I was too annoyed to appreciate it if that was the intention. In a lot of ways, Wang Yi Kang was at the right place in the right time to get the girl at the end.
So maybe I am the only one who feels bad for Simon, but at least we can agree the so called ‘secondary’ leads, Wei Ting and Hai Lun got very little screentime for their story. Good or bad thing? I know Wei Ting was getting annoying (a lot) so less screentime for him isn’t such a bad thing. But Hai Lun’s difficulties as she takes over the General Manager role? Or in the early episodes Lei Lei actually sees a lot of herself in Hai Lun? Could’ve been interesting. Their whole ending feels rushed again, BAM out of nowhere. Wait a second, he can cook? To the point where he can open his own restaurant? Oh wait, he has money to open a restaurant? This is all too hard I don’t want to think about it anymore. Oh remember Peter and LuLu? Usually, we want writers to cut out unnecessary subplots but if it was done properly (instead of introducing it in episode 11) it could’ve been interesting? I don’t know. I feel like I can use BAM a lot to describe any character besides Ji An Lei because the writing was so skewed towards her. BAM let’s introduce a guy who likes Hai Lun and make Wei Ting jealous! BAM Yi Kang meets this girl from the gym to make Ji An Lei jealous! BAM Tiffany is pregnant! BAM Jia Yi has issues having a baby! BAM Wang Yi Kang’s mother is actually dead! BAM Wang Yi Kang has parents! <- LOL I’m just getting silly now.
OK, so if we’re going to sacrifice any development for side characters, is the trade-off worth it? In exchange we have a lot, yes, that is a lot of long conversations between Lei Lei and Yi Kang about their views on relationships. I keep saying all the development is about her love life because we’re even sacrificing any possible family, friends or workplace relationship developments as well. Even when we get to see Lei Lei’s family in episode 1, they then disappeared for the next 8. Yep, I’m going back to the ‘real but unreal thing’ because the whole drama revolved around their love lives. Everytime Lei Lei and her BFFs sit down, they talk about her love life. So are her conversations with Wang Yi Kang. How is she going with work? Nope, don’t know. Oh yeah her family is here! But they’re only there to play matchmaker and then promptly disappeared again. I would like to think our lives are more rounded than just existing for love and finding a husband or devising some scheme to win your ex-boyfriend back.
AT THE END OF THE DAY…
This post sounds really negative? Does it? I didn’t intend it that way because I really wanted to like The Pursuit of Happiness. Some aspects of it makes it a quality production – such as Sonia Sui & Tony Yang, both are so watchable in their roles, the OST which I loved, its understated feel – no screaming matches, crazy plots, you just feel at ease while watching it. But the piece of the puzzle missing for me was the writing – maybe it was because I couldn’t really identify with Ji An Lei. As the story is centred around her, it kept snowballing to the point I’m glad that it ended at episode 13, otherwise any goodwill from its lead actors would’ve ran out. It also didn’t help that Wang Yi Kang is so nice to the point it feels like he’s a mythical creature. You know what, after saying that I can start to imagine why Ji An Lei was so hesitant to accept him – if it’s too good to be true then it probably is?
Photos from The Pursuit of Happiness Facebook page