Sunday, December 9, 2018

REVIEW: Love 020 (live action TV series)

Love 020 is a Chinese romantic drama based on a book (which sadly does not appear to be available in English, although I admit I haven't gone hunting for fan translations).

Review:

I started watching this while I was on vacation, got sucked in, and ended up watching it when I should have been plowing through manga. I'll blame this show for my relatively low vacation reading total.

The series stars Bei Weiwei and Xiao Nai. Bei Weiwei is a Computer Science major who is known as the "department belle." She's also considered the second most beautiful female student at her university, with the first being a young woman named Yiran who probably cheated. However, Weiwei could care less about both those things. She just wants to study, get good grades, find herself a nice internship, and play her favorite MMORPG, "A Chinese Ghost Story."

Weiwei also doesn't really care when her in-game husband, whose screen name is Zhenshui Wuxiang, dumps her for someone else. But what she doesn't realize is that she was noticed, in real life, by one of the game's top players and the hottest guy at her university, Xiao Nai, whose screen name is Yixiao Naihe. When Naihe asks her (screen name Lu Weiwei) to marry him in the game, she agrees, figuring that the pairing will be practical and beneficial to them both. Soon, however, she finds herself falling for Naihe and wondering about the player behind the avatar.

One of this show's biggest faults is that too many things that should have been more difficult go absolutely perfectly.

Xiao Nai was perfect at everything he did on-screen: basketball, swimming, programming, romance, you name it. Also, he was rich (how? do professors make a lot of money in China?). At one point he told Weiwei that he wasn't really perfect at everything - he only knows how to cook one thing - but I didn't believe it. I'm pretty sure he could cook a perfect multi-course meal if he absolutely had to. His only true flaw seemed to be that he tended to be a bit stiff and overly serious, to the point that Weiwei, at the beginning of their relationship, sometimes wondered if he was upset with her.

Bei Weiwei was also perfect: good grades, able to accomplish any seemingly impossible task she was given at her internship (granted, she wasn't given many), demure, and beautiful. Her only flaw seemed to be that she liked to eat more than was lady-like. Not that her appearance made that believable (I sincerely hope that the actress who played her, Zheng Shuang, was just naturally thin and not starving herself, because her arms and legs occasionally made me wince). And both characters were adored by all of their friends. Honestly, it was a bit much.

When the show tried to introduce complications, they often fizzled out, didn't have the proper groundwork, or didn't come to fruition until much later in the series than I would have expected. For example, at one point Xiao Nai was hit by a car and one of his friends suddenly started talking about how he'd been jealous of him but wouldn't be any longer. Meanwhile, I was asking myself when he'd ever shown any signs of jealousy. Also, there were multiple love triangles, but Xiao Nai and Weiwei were so completely devoted to each other that those other characters might as well have been throwing themselves at a brick wall. Nothing anyone did could make Xiao Nai doubt Weiwei.

I kept telling myself that all of this perfection should be sickening and cloying...and yet somehow it was kind of part of the series' appeal. I liked that Weiwei and Xiao Nai were never tempted by anyone else and never swayed by others' machinations. I wish some K-dramas would take a page from their book. I liked that nothing ever went too wrong. No matter what happened, Xiao Nai always had a backup plan, and Weiwei could always count on him.

I also found several of the minor characters growing on me in ways I hadn't expected. Yiran, for example, started off as Weiwei's romantic rival, a spoiled and cutesy rich girl who was used to having everything handed to her on a platter. She eventually backed off because Xiao Nai seemed happy with Weiwei (one of those complications that I expected would blow up and then fizzled out instead), only to jump back into the fray when it seemed to her like Weiwei was potentially using Xiao Nai. In the end she found herself reevaluating her relationships with others, something that quite a few other minor characters also ended up doing.

I particularly liked how the subplot involving Erxi, one of Weiwei's best friends, was handled. Erxi was Weiwei's kooky friend and, to be honest, she annoyed the heck out of me for the bulk of the series. She was loud, not particularly bright, and leeched off of Weiwei. She didn't deserve the internship she ended up getting, and nearly all of her in-game accomplishments in "A Chinese Ghost Story" came as a result of her begging Weiwei to take over her avatar for a few minutes and play in her place. I really liked that 1) all of this did actually blow up in Erxi's face and 2) Erxi and Weiwei's resulting friendship troubles were handled in a way that was mostly believable and addressed some of my biggest issues with Erxi as a character. OMG at the number of characters who said Erxi wasn't pretty, though. And why didn't Weiwei ever interject and say that was a lie?

The subplot that completely surprised me was the one involving KO and Hao Mei, and I must admit that I'm not 100% sure how the writers intended the audience to interpret it. From my (very much non-Chinese) perspective, it sure as heck looked like KO was gay and had a huge crush on Hao Mei, which Hao Mei allowed himself to be convinced to accept. Based on a couple reviews I've read, I'm not the only one who interpreted it that way. I mean, I suppose you could interpret their relationship as a brotherly one, but KO's devotion seemed a bit too intense for that, and all of the other characters seemed to sense that there was more to it as well.

From a KO and Hao Mei shipping standpoint, my absolute favorite part was when Hao Mei offered anyone at his workplace who wanted it a rent-free room in his apartment. KO was stiff as a board during that entire work dinner, and I kept waiting for him to blow up. Instead, something even better happened: he plopped himself into Hao Mei's life like he belonged and bribed him into giving him the room. Go KO.

The series had some other issues that I haven't really gotten into. For example, I wish Weiwei had been given more opportunities to display her computer science prowess. Instead, there were only two or three incidents. Also, while I liked that she didn't whine and wait for Xiao Nai to save her all the time, she was disappointingly passive when it came to their romance, and the focus on her purity was a little annoying at times. It didn't bother me that she wanted to wait until marriage to have sex with Xiao Nai, but I outright snorted when she turned down a sexy red dress for her first date with him because (paraphrasing here, I can't remember her exact words) it wasn't something a proper lady would wear. I'm a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl who hasn't worn a dress since my high school prom. That dress covered me from my neck to my ankles, and even I rolled my eyes at Weiwei's reason for rejecting the dress.

Some aspects of the "Chinese Ghost Story" game irked me as well. This was a game in which male and female avatars could be equally awesome fighters, but when Xiao Nai and Weiwei participated in a couples quest (a quest only in-game wedded couples could participate in), Weiwei didn't seem to have any objections to the final part of the quest literally requiring her avatar to sit in a cave and wait to be rescued.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention this, but the bits of the series with Cao Guang's cat stressed me out. Do all Scottish Folds pant like that at the drop of a hat, or was that cat extremely stressed out? Also, ugh, Erxi poking the cat gave me yet another reason to dislike her, and her sudden transformation into a cat lover wasn't believable under the circumstances. Also, an indoor-only cat is not going to give you rabies! 

Overall, despite my complaints, I really enjoyed this show. It made me want to try out another Chinese drama, although I haven't decided yet which one. If you know of a good one playing on Netflix (or Amazon Prime, or Viki), feel free to recommend it to me in a comment.

4 comments:

  1. Way late to read this, but I recently re-watched the show and absolutely fell in love all over again. I agree I wish WeiWei was given the chance to show her computer skills outside of gaming. Although they made it clear she was intelligent, I wanted to see her in action more. In the movie adaptation she has a couple of badass moments, one in particular with Cao Guang.

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    1. I'm rewatching it myself, in between watching a few new-to-me shows. Despite the things I think the show could have done better, like letting WeiWei have more awesome moments, I still love it. For some reason the movie version didn't quite work for me on the same level, even though it did some things better than the show.

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  2. Highly recommend you watch The Untamed, a Chinese drama on Netflix. I will warn that it’s a BL (in case you’re not into that). However, the show is not centered around BL (bc it’s a drama and Netflix), but rather the actual story unfolding. It’s very interesting, it’s based on the MDZS novel. Even my dad got into it!
    I will say that yes, about the first 30 episodes are a flashback (and they’re in order) that build up to the preview shown in the first 5 minutes. Everyone that watches it get confused because you’re wondering if the next episode is a flashback too, and yes it is! It’s quite heart-wrenching, so while it’s funny and interesting, it has really good drama.

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    1. I started watching that series a while back but got frustrated with the pacing - I wanted it to stop being a flashback and show more of what I assume is the series present. So the flashback aspect lasts for 30 episodes? I need to figure out where I stopped... I do know that the first volume of the official translation of the book is coming out in December, and I'm very much looking forward to that.

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