I watched Go Ahead (以家人之名) back in August/September as it was airing and I loved it so much. Even though the year’s not over yet, it’s absolutely one of my favorites of 2020.
More than anything, Go Ahead is a story about healing, and how important family and friends are. This show is so emotional, and frequently had me laughing out loud and tearing up in the same episode. The pacing was great until the very last episode, which offered a rushed and tidy conclusion. Normally I’d side-eye that 46-episode count, but I would’ve watched additional episodes of Go Ahead. It’s available on YouTube and Viki with English subtitles.
Go Ahead begins with the start of Li Jianjian, Ling Xiao, and He Ziqiu’s bond as kids before jumping to them in high school. Normally I’m eager for the characters to age up, but the childhood and high school episodes are so impactful and well-paced. Li Jianjian is played by Tan Songyun (aka Seven Tan), who I’ve been a fan of since The Fox’s Summer. She excels here at both the humor and the emotional moments, and really pulled off both the high school and young adult look so believably. I love Jianjian’s silliness, her love of sweets, and her career as an artist! It’s so rare to see a main character who is happily living as an artist. Despite her silliness she’s not naive, she’s used to diffusing tension and easing pain with humor, and she’s a loyal friend who stands up to bullies.
I’ve been seeking out lighter historical dramas where the comedic elements aren’t over the top, and I loved The Legend of Jin Yan. Is this yet another ‘two princes in love with the same girl’ story? Is the male lead constantly catching the tripping female lead in her arms? Yes and yes. But this drama is very romance-centric and low-stress with minimal political plotting and harem scheming, and no particularly terrible villains. The episodes are around 30 minutes so although there are 34 episodes, they pass very quickly.
The Legend of Jin Yan is available on YouTube and WeTV with English subtitles. To briefly summarize the plot: Jin Yan is a general’s daughter who tries to escape her arranged marriage with the king (the male lead), causing her sister to marry the king in her place. As she begins having dreams that come true, Jin Yan enters the palace as a maid to save her sister’s life. The king’s older brother, who is Jin Yan’s childhood friend, is in love with Jin Yan and tries to help her leave the palace.
Perhaps the actress who plays the titular character, Xu Ya Ting (aka Kabby Hui), is a little over the top and childish with her acting, but I really liked her character. Jin Yan is kind but not overly self-sacrificing, loyal to her friends and family, and somewhat gullible but not unintelligent. It’s understandable that she doesn’t want a life in the palace; she’s not a schemer. She deliberately utilizes her antics to challenge the male lead, Xiao Yu, and she calls him out on his unreasonable actions. I loved when she sassed him. (In a more serious historical drama, she’d probably have lost her head several times over, but this is a lighter drama!) However, she does say “oh” and pout a million times, which does get annoying.
In comparison, Xiao Yu, played by new actor Chen Jing Ke, is rather petty sometimes and it often feels like he has too much time on his hands. In his position, it’s understandable that he’s suspicious. If he weren’t, he’d probably lose his life, but it’s the major obstacle between him and Jin Yan. He loves offering grand gestures, but how about some mature communication? But like I said, I was here for the romance, and they have so many sweet moments. His suspicions aside, Xiao Yu’s heart doesn’t waver and I loved every scene between Xiao Yu and Jin Yan.
Zhang He (aka Ryan Zhang), who I recognized from his supporting roles in dramas like Love O2O, Eternal Love, and The Flame’s Daughter, plays the second male lead here, Xiao Qi. Although Jin Yan cherishes her friendship with Xiao Qi, it’s clear that she never has romantic feelings for him and she makes it clear to him. But of course, he’s yet another persistent SML and any goodwill I felt towards him was cancelled out by his ‘I know what’s best for you’ attitude.
The supporting characters were a treat. Xiao Yu’s guard and friend, Zhong Li, balanced out Xiao Yu’s impulsiveness. The actor, Zhou Yi Ran, is only nineteen! I’m sure we’ll see more of him. It’s also nice to see supporting female characters who aren’t there just to fight for a prince’s affections. The poised and insightful Consort Wen was low-key my favorite character, and I wish she had more scenes! Given how many consorts the prince has, it’s actually surprising that there wasn’t anyone trying to sabotage Jin Yan, but I’m okay with that because it made the viewing experience more easygoing. Even when a new female character was introduced later in the drama, she was really likable.
That’s not to say every single character was likable… let’s not speak of Jin Yan’s sister, Su Yu. The drama never really develops her character, so I never felt sympathy for her and instead dreaded all her scenes. Her character truly gets worse and worse as the drama continues.
The Legend of Jin Yan does have a mystery within the plot: who keeps killing the king’s consorts? But the romance greatly outshadows the mystery. It’s kind of bizarre how no one seems to be actively investigating, and in the end it’s just straightforwardly explained. The murder mystery storyline could’ve helped increase the dramatic tension and urgency. Apparently this drama is adapted from a novel/manga, so perhaps I’ll read it and see how it compares.
In any case, I recommend if you’re looking for a low-stress romance, but if you find the main actress annoying then go ahead and drop it.
I wasn’t planning to watch My Girl because I’m tired of all these dramas that pair a male CEO with some kind of flaw & a sweet, innocent female lead, especially when they both look so young! However, I randomly watched a clip from this drama that made me laugh out loud, and I was intrigued. My Girl is on Viki and YouTube with English subtitles.
My Girl is funny, cute, generally not frustrating, and there are great friendships and side couples as well. Yes, the premise is really far-fetched and the female lead’s disorder being described as PTSD seems wildly inaccurate but if you can suspend your disbelief and accept the premise, this drama is really enjoyable.
Meng Hui, the female lead, has a second personality that is triggered by emotional distress, and these episodes conclude only when her goal is fulfilled. What this sets up is the opportunity for a bold, fearless Meng Hui to emerge, and this version of Meng Hui was so fun to watch and constantly made me laugh out loud. Meng Hui is likable because she has a sunny personality, but she’s not so kind, sweet, and naive that it makes you roll your eyes. Lia Jia Qi really shines in this role, and it wasn’t until I looked her up afterwards that I realized she played Xiao You in the 2018 Meteor Garden remake! She really won me over in this role.
As for the male lead, Zhao Yi Qin has had a stream of dramas come out recently but I’ve only seen him in his supporting role in Accidentally in Love. (Fake Princess aired prior to this, and Love Story of Court Enemies and Consummation aired afterwards.) Zhao Yi Qin’s character, Shen Yi, is extremely stingy, which is really funny to watch, but he’s also consumed by guilt. A major part of his storyline is the bumpy road to unraveling that guilt. I was definitely yelling at the screen at some of his actions, and at around episode 17 this storyline gets really messy. I wish it had been resolved with more honest conversations.
Shortly after watching Eternal Love of Dream (which I haven’t reviewed yet, sorry!), I found myself watching another Dilraba Dilmurat drama: Love Designer, a modern drama where Dilraba finally plays a character who isn’t naive, silly, and clumsy! (Aside from Eternal Love of Dream, I’m thinking of Sweet Dreams and Pretty Li Hui Zhen.)
Zhou Fang (Dilraba Dilmurat) is a motivated, ambitious fashion designer who speaks her mind. Refreshingly, she’s not a spectacularly talented designer, but someone who is learning and recognizes how far she has to grow. Song Lin (Johnny Huang) is a workaholic CEO of an e-commerce company who is, for the most part, straightforward and realistic.
This drama had so much potential, with interesting characters and an avoidance of many annoying cliches I’ve repeatedly encountered in modern dramas lately. However, it was ultimately very disappointing, with a lot of storylines that lacked depth and an extremely rushed ending.
Love Designer finished its 45-episode run on June 21 and is available with English subtitles on Viki and YouTube.
When it comes to Korean dramas, I enjoy fun (and tropey) romantic comedies and exciting action thrillers, but there’s something so moving about these relatable slice of life dramas that capture everyday life, including friendship, family, and career struggles. Recently I watched Because This is My First Life, Hello My Twenties, and Prison Playbook on Netflix (U.S.), and highly recommend all three! Because This is My First Life is also on Viki.
It’s time for me to catch up on writing some reviews! Skate into Love aired in March-April of this year and is available with English subtitles on YouTube and Viki. This is based on a novel but I haven’t read it so I can’t make any comparisons.
This drama had a great mix of romance, humor, and characters who pursued their dreams. Wu Qian (Janice Wu) plays the female lead, who gave up on her speed skating career after an injury but regrets it. At university, she encounters her childhood friend, played by Zhang Xin Cheng (Steven Zhang), who is the star of the hockey team. There are realistic obstacles relating to both their dreams and relationships, and for the most part, no prolonged misunderstandings. However, some supporting characters were too one-dimensional and with a total of 40 episodes, I lost interest as the series went on.
As you may know, I really like Wu Qian. I loved last year’s Le Coup de Foudre, but dropped The Brightest Star in the Sky due to awful writing. Her character in Skate into Love, Tang Xue, is close to the character I wanted her to be in The Brightest Star in the Sky: someone who speaks her mind unapologetically and stands up for herself. So many Chinese dramas in this genre have female leads who are naive and sweet, who keep their heads down. Tang Xue is the opposite, but she is still fiercely loyal and kindhearted. I liked her friendships and her determined efforts to regain her speed skating skills, and she genuinely reflected about herself when faced with the realization that she may have been perceived as a bully.
I have never seen Steven Zhang in anything before, but I thought he did a great job with his character Li Yu Bing’s humor. The enemies-to-lovers dynamic between Tang Xue and Li Yu Bing was fun to watch, but when they got sappy, I’m sorry but it was too much for me. 😂Their misunderstandings were due to poor communication, but due to their youth, I guess it was realistic!
In episodes 2-5, Zhi Yao is unbothered by Shi Chu’s efforts to one-up him at the company, as he tries to figure out if Qin Shu is Qi Luo. Qin Shu is devastated by the news she learns about A Ze and retaliates against Zhi Yao, but learns some surprising things about what he has done in the past and present.
These are shorter recaps than the one I wrote for episode one, with no screen caps.
I can’t resist a mysterious, melodramatic premise! You Are My Starlight (also known as Look Up There’s Starlight) is a Chinese drama that’s currently airing, with episodes available on Tencent Video’s YouTube channel. Strangely enough, there are no English subtitles for this one, even though they’re uploading with subs for basically all their other dramas—Forget You Remember Love, As Long As You Love Me, The Love Equations, Held in the Lonely Castle, Imperfect Love. Yes, Tencent has quite a lineup out right now!
Anyways, back to You Are My Starlight. 18 of 40 episodes are available, and I’ve watched 16. I was planning to go back to the beginning to write some brief summaries about what’s happening in each episode but accidentally wrote an entire recap for episode one. Now that I’ve watched this episode multiple times, I can say that it definitely hooks you quickly! There’s a lot of mystery, and the cast is very easy on the eyes. The lead actress Liu Jia is so pretty, and I’m liking all the actors! (One of them isn’t in this episode but his character is so fun.)
Recommended if you like: mysterious/tragic backstory, secret identity, and second chance romance.
Episode 1 Recap
Three years ago, Xue Qiluo (Liu Jia) was happily in love with Lu Zhiyao (Niu Zifan). She accepted his marriage proposal, only to discover soonafter that Zhiyao was marrying someone else. After being trapped in a terrible fire, she woke up heavily bandaged next to another heavily bandaged person. In the voiceover, she says she was given another chance at life…
I heard so many good things about the 13-episode Taiwanese drama Someday or One Day that I had to give it a try, and I loved it. This is a very emotional, well-paced time slip mystery-romance. The beginning is extremely sad but by the end of episode three, I was HOOKED. It’s available on Viki with English subtitles.
The less you know about the drama before watching it, the better! The basic premise: Alice Ke stars as Huang Yu Xuan, a 27-year-old woman who is grieving after the death of her boyfriend Wang Quan Sheng, played by Greg Hsu. A strange occurrence leads to her waking up in the body of a high school student named Chen Yun Ru 10 years in the past, after someone has attacked her. Mysteriously, Chen Yun Ru and her classmate Li Zi Wei look identical to Huang Yu Xuan and Wang Quan Sheng.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Chinese drama Find Yourself, which is available on Netflix! It had me laughing out loud, loving almost every character, and relating to so many different storylines. I personally loved the Victoria Song & Song Weilong pairing, but there’s a great balance of other storylines aside from their romance. Although, I did find the ending rushed and would’ve loved more depth from certain characters.
Find Yourself centers around He Fanxing (Victoria Song), a 32-year old woman who has never dated, and the intern 10 years her junior, Yuan Song (Song Weilong) who pursues her. Although Fanxing genuinely likes him, she is aware of what family friends and society would say about their relationship. Her parents are anxious for her to get married, while her twin brother He Canyang (Zhang Yujian) has a never-ending stream of girlfriends. Meanwhile, her two best friends, Xiao Xue and Song Xue, have different relationship situations. At work, He Fanxing faces uncertainty as the company she works for is potentially being acquired.
Yes, He Fanxing is naive and sometimes quite silly, and you will shake your head at some of her actions. But not everyone has the same experiences at the same age, and she does learn from her mistakes. Plus, her silliness is exactly what Yuan Song likes about her. Yuan Song approaches the relationship with the passion of youth; I love his fearless pursuit of Fanxing even though I knew he couldn’t truly understand the societal and familial pressure she feels. However, I thought him being an intern at the company she works at would have probably been a bigger issue than the age difference!