Doom at Your Service was my most anticipated drama of the first half of 2021, because the trailer seemed to promise a dark, emotionally devastating story with a fantasy element. And while I’m not saying the drama doesn’t have these aspects, it turns out that my favorite parts of the drama were the slice-of-life moments, the humor, and one of the side characters.
The Central Storyline
Seo In Guk plays Doom, who isn’t a human or god, to perfection. His facial expressions, his wardrobe. I recently watched Reply 1997, the first time I’d seen him in a lead role, and really wanted to see more of him, so the timing worked out well! Doom is a very unhappy character, trapped eternally by his responsibility.
Park Bo Young, plays Tak Dong Kyung, a web novel editor who is diagnosed with a brain tumor and learns that she only has three months to live. To top it off, the first episode also reveals that her boyfriend is a dirtbag and that her parents passed away in an accident when she was young. I’ve been a fan of Park Bo Young after watching Oh My Ghostess (one of my favorites!!) and Strong Woman Do Bong Soon (too comedic for my taste, but I love her character and her chemistry with Park Hyung Sik is incredible). In Doom at Your Service, she really cries her heart out!
The premise of this drama is that Doom and Tak Dong Kyung enter into a contract that presents them both with a difficult, heartbreaking choice. It sounds so simple when I type it out, but I was extremely confused for the first few episodes, wondering if I missed something or failed to read between the lines. There were some very cryptic, mysterious lines that probably went over my head.
Can you believe we’re almost halfway through 2021? I’m going to go ahead and name You Are My Hero, which aired in March, my favorite modern Chinese drama of the year so far.
You Are My Hero is a 40-episode drama that mixes high-stakes, action-packed situations with a very sweet first-love romance, and it’s available on Viki and YouTube with English subtitles. I was initially skeptical about the pairing of Bai Jingting and Ma Sichun but they proved me wrong! Although there’s a six-year age gap between them in real life, they matched extremely well and had great chemistry. I hadn’t seen Bai Jingting in anything previously, but he really pulled off the humor and now I’m excited to see more of his acting. I was already a fan of Ma Sichun after seeing her 2015 drama Love Me If You Dare and 2016 film Soul Mate.
It’s refreshing that there are no prolonged misunderstandings for the main couple’s storyline, but it did sometimes veer into cheesy/cliché territory when I personally would’ve preferred a more slice-of-life vibe. Also, there were some frustrating storylines for the supporting characters that caused this drama to lose some points with me. Overall though, I watched this as it was airing and it held my attention for it’s entire 40-episode run!
Keep reading for more of my thoughts on the characters and storylines, with only minor/vague spoilers as usual.
It’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed any dramas, but don’t worry, I have watched quite a few recently so hopefully this is a first of a spree of reviews!
Sunshine of My Life (若你安好便是晴天) aired back in March/April, and although it doesn’t offer anything new, it was an enjoyable romance drama set in the fashion industry. Although it’s 45 episodes, this drama doesn’t feel long because the lead couple have plenty of sweet scenes together and there was *almost* no unreasonable scheming villain character. I’d call this cliches done well, and I often rewatch clips from this drama when YouTube recommends them to me. This drama is available on both Viki and YouTube.
Premise / Plot
First of all, I have seen PLENTY of dramas that feature a pairing between a male CEO in the fashion industry and an aspiring fashion designer. It was just last year that I watched Love Designer and Dear Designer (some really creative drama titles..). Our Glamorous Time from 2018 comes to mind as well, but I dropped that one.
The romance between the main character Tang Ming Xuan (Zhang Han) and Mo Fei (Xu Lu) is very satisfying. You won’t be suffering for 40+ episodes to finally see them together. They support each other’s careers, they work through normal relationship issues, and they’re unfazed by others who try to stand between them. Sure, there’s some jealousy but they don’t go down the “I’m not good enough for you” route or the self-sacrificing “I should leave because it’s better for you” route. Zhang Han and Xu Lu had such great chemistry that I don’t think I can watch Xu Lu paired with Lin Yi in her new drama.
Although this drama uses a lot of common tropes, it uses them in a reasonable way that isn’t over-the-top. Aside from one specific storyline, things were resolved pretty calmly. Scheming and angst are pretty low, and I didn’t feel any second lead syndrome.
Read more for my thoughts on the cast & characters, with no spoilers!
Why is it that I keep writing reviews for dramas that I didn’t end up liking?! I promise that after this one, I’ll post a list of my favorite 2020 Chinese dramas.
You Complete Me (小风暴之时间的玫瑰) is a 40-episode Chinese drama that aired in December, available with English subtitles on Viki and YouTube, and the beginning wasn’t actually terrible. However, I started losing interest at around episode 25 and had to force myself to finish it. There’s some inconsistency in tone and direction, and a character is introduced about halfway through who had no redeeming qualities!
First of all, I have to mention that I’m not a huge fan of Qiao Xin/Bridgette Qiao or Hu Yi Tian. I’ve tried a few of the dramas Qiao Xin stars in, and there’s just something about her acting, her voice, and her facial expressions, and possible also the roles she plays. As for Hu Yi Tian, I’ve seen parts of A Love So Beautiful, his supporting role in Go Go Squid, and one episode of My Roommate is a Detective, and I’m just not impressed by his acting so far.
I heard a lot about The Wolf, so I was curious and decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, this 49-episode drama was a miss for me, and I forced myself to finish it in case the ending somehow changed my opinion of it. However, if you like romance-centric dramas you may enjoy this! The Wolf is available on Viki and YouTube with English subtitles.
The first portion of this review will not have spoilers, and the spoiler section will be clearly marked. I also want to warn anyone giving this drama a try that the CGI in the first couple episodes was a tad cringe-worthy so don’t be discouraged.
The Wolf centers foremost around the love story of Bo Wang* (played by Darren Wang) and Ma Zhai Xing (played by Li Qin). Bo Wang was raised by wolves, and when Ma Zhai Xing encounters him, she becomes his friend and introduces him to the human world. Circumstances tear them apart for years, and when they are reunited, Bo Wang has become an entirely different person, a prince as well as a leader of a team of assassins, the Night Fury.
*I know Bo Wang is his title and not really his name, but I’m just going to refer to him this way because that’s what he’s called throughout the drama.
I know, I know, why am I even bothering to dedicate a full post to Dear Designer? This 38-episode drama was total garbage and I recommend it to absolutely no one. I’m glad that I only watched up to episode 25, read (negative) comments by other viewers, and skipped to the last three episodes.
I’m going to summarize what I watched so this is a SPOILER ZONE!
I confess that I am always curious about trope-filled melodramas: the kind with love triangles/squares, intense business rivalries, company heirs forced into arranged marriages, buried secrets / birth secrets. For example, last year’s To Be With You (which I even partially recapped) and Nice to Meet You, or Royal Princess Returns (2017) and Love & Life & Lie (2017).
Fate (also known as Just to See You), a 40-episode Chinese drama that began airing in late November, definitely fits this profile. Noting that this drama was actually filmed back in 2017 but is finally airing, but aside from noticing outdated phones, it hasn’t made a difference in the viewing experience so far. I’m recapping the first five episodes here, so there will be spoilers below!
The first couple episodes were a little cringey so I skimmed through some parts, but I’m really liking the main characters together. Despite the unrealistic way they meet and start living together, I like that their friendship forms over time and that the male lead supports the female lead and helps her strategize. If it weren’t for the love square, I feel like this drama could’ve been a lighter rom-com! After all, there’s already a worthy villain storyline and the female lead seems to have plenty of potential romantic interests already. Unfortunately, I feel that a lot of angst and heartbreak will follow.
I haven’t been writing first impression posts anymore because I frequently enjoy the first fourth or third of a drama, only to find myself losing interest during the remainder and dropping it. 😅 However, I’m watching the currently-airing Chinese drama The Centimeter of Love (爱的厘米), and it’s impossible to watch without discussing it. It’s available on YouTube, and it looks like they’ve added English subtitles!
The main characters, Guan Yu Qing (Tong Liya) and Xu Qing Feng (Tong Dawei), are both multi-layered, likable, and mature, and have great chemistry. Yu Qing is a skilled pilot, while Qing Feng is a talented surgeon. It’s refreshing to see older characters who are successful; I’ve been a little tired of watching CEOs in every single drama. It’s over time that Yu Qing and Qing Feng begin to develop feelings for each other. I really appreciate the pacing here, and that it’s not love at first sight or some dramatic set-up.
BUT, almost every supporting character is almost unbearable to watch. 😬 It’s truly a battle of which character is the absolute worst, and there are moments in every single episode that will probably enrage you.
I’ve watched 16 episodes, but there are 44 in total, so it’s too soon for me to determine whether I’d recommend it or not. So far, I’d say: yes, despite some extremely frustrating side characters, the main characters are fantastic.
(Also: I really liked Tong Liya’s supporting role in Nirvana in Fire 2 and wanted to watch more of her dramas, but couldn’t get into Perfect Partner from earlier this year. I haven’t seen Tong Dawei since 2017’s Love Actually; I caught a few episodes of If I Can Love You So last year but it seemed too melodramatic. I didn’t really have any thoughts on their pairing before watching, but now I love them together!)
SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT! I will rant about and rank the worst characters.
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.