There you have it, my latest drama craze! It’s taken me a long time to write about it…and it actually ended in 2010, so I’m like, 3 years late to the party haha! But better late than never, for me anyway.
Watching this made me think a lot about life, love and relationships, and so I’m going to document my thoughts in this entry.
This is Ariel Lin’s Cheng Youqing. I think a lot of modern working women can identify with her. I can, and I’m nowhere as much of a spitfire as she is. Just based on the first episode alone, where it’s her 30th birthday and her best friend Li Daren sending her a jokey email about “The 50 Signs of Ageing”, you know that the target audience is single, working women like me who are reaching the Big Three-O soon. And yes, it worked its charm on me like it was supposed to.
In the picture, she looks confident, elegant and mature, but as you quickly realise, she’s not all that put together.
She’s very much your typical ‘tough on the outside, soft on the inside’ type - step on her tail and she’ll roar real loud, but she won’t actually bite your head off. In fact, she’s often gracious to people who have hurt her before. She loves her family, is a bit of a klutz, often misplacing important things. She’s extremely hardworking and capable, but not very ambitious - like many of us, she doesn’t really know what she wants in life, whether it’s at work or in a man. She’s very attractive, but at her core is an insecure little girl looking for love in all the wrong places.
I have to say I didn’t really identify with her that much, though. Although I’m also a klutz and I identify a bit with her work ethic. I think it’s because I’ve never had a close guy friend like Li Daren, much less treat him the same way that she does (which can be pretty mean at times).
Actually, correction: I HAVE had close guy friends before, but I always ended up liking them, only to realise that they were never interested in me. That is why I completely cannot understand how she can have such a great guy - well, subservient guy - at her side, and one who looks like Chen Bolin no less - and not fall head over heels with him.
Oh right, because he’s a doormat. And has been a doormat for the 14 years he’s known her. Which leads us to…
Ah, Li Daren. So handsome, but so confused. And so floppy, with those sad puppy eyes. (Is it just me or does he look a bit like Qi Yuwu in this photo?)
I have to admit, this character irritated me more and more as the series went on, but all is forgiven in the last episode when he finally mans up and steps up to the plate.
And why was he so annoying? He was the perfect epitome of the saying, “Nice guys finish last”. In love, at least.
That said, he is not as perfect as he seems. Nice guys can be cruel, too. We first see this in his passivity towards his girlfriend, whom he decides to be with simply because she was available and willing. She’s the one who chases him, asks him out, initiating all the hugs and kisses.
At one point she asks, “Are you going to make me be the one to kiss you even?” and she looked so sad at this point that I really disliked Li Daren at this point. Nice guys can make girls cry, too.
The worst part is he doesn’t even kiss her back when she eventually does initiate the first kiss, and stands there like a block of wood. And I thought, Omg what is wrong with this guy?! How can you resist such a cute girl?
But as it is, I’ve already concluded in my previous post that Li Daren is a unicorn. There is no man alive who can look so handsome, have a cute girl chasing after him, and still remain in love with his best friend who shows not the slightest bit of interest in him. For 14 years.
It’s really the length of time that makes this character unreal to me. A year, two, maybe even three years, I can believe. But I think any guy would eventually move on after waiting so long and gradually lose contact with their BFF once they find a new woman in their life.
Still, frustrating as this character was at times, his devotion and unconditional love for her is breathtaking. It’s the kind of love every woman yearns for. And that is the ultimate appeal of Li Daren.
Seriously, just look at those dimples. Is it really that hard to like a face like that?
I haven’t made him sound very appealing, have I? That’s the thing about Li Daren: Apart from Youqing, he’s not a very interesting guy. When he’s around her, he comes to life. He is interesting, funny, playful, sometimes sarcastic. A lot of romantic and caring, although she sadly doesn’t see it.
In front of his colleagues, his mother, his sister, he plays his role well, as the responsible supervisor/employee, the responsible only and oldest son to his single and wilful mother, and the responsible older brother to his angsty rebellious wilful teenaged sister. Wow, talk about responsibility.
Actually, when you think about it this way, it’s understandable why he is so reserved and passive. He has almost no self, because at work he has to supervise his staff and handle difficult customers, and then when he goes home he has to handle his difficult mom and sis, who are so often at loggerheads. Tellingly, in the first episode, his sister says to him, “You are going to be controlled by women all your life.”
Indeed, it is scary and a bit creepy when you think about it; how much of his life he has allowed to revolve around Youqing. He could have gone to a really good university, but chose to go to the same university and take up the same major as her.
A repeating motif in the drama is that of him trailing after her mutely as she storms home in anger, oblivious to his presence. I always feel so sorry for Li Daren when I see this scene.
Another thing that constantly annoyed me about him was how close he often came to revealing his feelings, only to retreat and bite his tongue, or say something spiteful to throw her off and make her believe that he would never fall in love with her.
I saw a rather in-depth interview Chen Bolin did on YouTube, where he discussed the popularity of the character. He said something like, “It is Cheng Youqing’s cruelty that brings out Li Daren’s gentleness.”
And that is true. However, I also think that it is Li Daren’s passivity that gives free reign to her ‘cruelty’. There is no one-way relationship in this world, even silence and inaction speaks volumes. It is saying, “I allow you to do this to me.”
We see a huge shift in the power balance when she finally realises that her best friend is in love with her. Suddenly, she’s no longer the headstrong and willful Youqing. She becomes vulnerable and shaken, and uncertainty besieges her. Her gay ex-assistant tells her, “Previously, you thought that he would never love you. But now that you know he is in love with you, all your defenses have crumbled. That means that you have feelings for him too.”
She drifts around Taipei like a lost soul, leaving him countless lonely messages on his voice mail. For the first time, he has power over her, as he invades more and more of her thoughts and she tries to rationalise away her feelings.
Throughout the whole show, there are many instances where we see Youqing considering the possibilities of a life partner in Daren, only to rationalise it away because he is her best friend, and as he has been saying for many years, he would never love someone like her.
It makes you realise that: Quite possibly, she has loved him for as long as he has loved her, except that she has suppressed the development of her feelings because she thought he would never see her that way. To such an extent that, even when he says things to her that only a man in love with a woman would say (such as “You are book worth reading over and over”), she chooses to see it through the lens of platonic friendship, when in actual fact he is practically confessing his undying love to her.
Perhaps, all her attacks on him are a subconscious ruse to get a rise out of him. All the running away and ignoring him are also subconscious tactics to make him chase after her. Perhaps, for 14 years, Cheng Youqing has been subconsciously trying to affirm her inner conviction that Li Daren will never fall in love with her, by often displaying her worst side to him. Afraid that he will fall for her, because then she would surely fall for him as well. And then what would happen to their friendship? She would lose the only man who has seen her at her worst and yet stands by her. The only man who knows her through and through and still loves her. That’s a terrifying thought.
And then I realised: Actually Li Daren is also cruel to Cheng Youqing. He thinks he is protecting her and their friendship by not revealing his feelings, but as his sister said, “It’s only a matter of time before the two of you become an item or stop talking to each other altogether.”
It must have been difficult for her to comprehend: How can a man be so good to her and not love her that way? How can he say such beautiful things to her, and still not be in love with her? She must be very very undesirable.
Isn’t love such a strange and cruel thing? When you love, you are vulnerable. You allow someone else to invoke overwhelming, powerful feelings in you that many times you feel powerless against. Yet we all long to fall in love, to be swept away by passionate feelings.
Li Daren thinks that she does not see him that way because he doesn’t know how to sweep her away, how to say things like, “I cannot live in a city that is without you,” which her boyfriend Ding Liwei says to her at some point. He thinks that what she wants is that kind of romance, whereas all he has to give her is a lifetime of his genuine, simple love.
How wrong he is. In the end, that is all she wants, because her only condition for being with him finally is: Promise me that even if Li Daren and Cheng Youqing break up, you will still be my best friend.
Personally, I think that’s quite impossible, but nevermind. We know we’ll never see Li Daren and Cheng Youqing break up, anyway.
When they are finally together, the both of them are almost unrecognisable; under the warm sunshine of Li Daren’s love, Cheng Youqing becomes coquettish, dependent. 名副其实的小女人。She was never like this in her relationship with Ding Liwei, even when he was making her all flushed and dizzy with his sweet nothings and chiselled chest.
Li Daren, having now gotten the love of his life, suddenly becomes confident, relaxed…secure. How strange, because you would think that he would be a little bit insecure. But that is the feeling he gives me when I watch them.
Li Daren and Cheng Youqing are both clearly imperfect individuals, but together, they are perfect. And whilst I don’t necessarily want a Li Daren in my life (I don’t want to wait 14 years for him!), nor am I a Cheng Youqing, the relationship of Li Daren and Cheng Youqing is definitely how I would like my future relationship to be. One in which we always have things to talk about, but also a companionship, a friendship, a partnership. Facing the world and its challenges together, supporting each other.
And here we have Maggie, the cute girl who chases Li Daren and eventually gets him - in status only, but not his heart. Poor girl, she really did try.
Usually, I dislike the ‘third party’ who tries to get in the way of the two main characters’ coupling, but this character has so much pluck that you can’t help but like her.
She’s a naive, dreamy young girl who takes a liking to Li Daren the first time she lays eyes on him, but mostly because he fits her criteria of an ideal husband: Must be handsome, but not too handsome. Must work in the same office. Must not know how to chase girls (she was really asking for it with this one).
I can’t remember the rest of the criteria, but they’re not so important. What’s so important is that Li Daren fits her list perfectly.
I think Chen Bolin is really handsome, but somehow as Li Daren, he’s perfectly believable as “handsome but not too handsome”. If it had been, say, Takeshi Kaneshiro (whom Bolin has often been compared to), then he would definitely have been too handsome. But kudos to Bolin’s acting, in that he assumed the everyman aura of Li Daren really well. He was Li Daren, with the perfect amount of vulnerability and strength.
Anyway, back to Maggie: Surprisingly, I found myself empathising with her character, because I have also once been someone’s token girlfriend.
Notice that I use the phrase ‘token girlfriend’ in place of the more commonly used ‘trophy girlfriend’. Like the ‘token black guy’ in a TV show. Because you just have to have one, and anyone would do. Maggie is described by Daren as just being “okay” and he enters into a relationship with her because he doesn’t know how to reject her affections. Then he decides to try things out, just to see if he can accept someone other than Cheng Youqing.
Being a token girlfriend is a terrible, terrible place to be in, and I’m so glad I walked away from that relationship.
The breakup scene between the both of them is heartbreaking, but also gratifying - because Li Daren finally gets the balls to do the right thing by both himself and Maggie - and that is to stop leading her on.
Like I said before, I think he was being cruel to her by leading her on with his passiveness. While it’s also true that a lot of times she had an idea of what was happening but was stubbornly in denial, his inaction and silence allowed her to continue playing out the fantasy in her head.
Still, it’s not completely Daren’s fault that she allowed herself to be led on. In many ways Maggie is still very much a child. Like when she first withholds Daren’s secret from Youqing (that he loves her, of course), and saying that she is doing this to punish him. While I think what she did was right, the motivation was childish.
Later on, at Daren’s farewell party (he had asked to transfer to Singapore), a drunk and upset Maggie finally tells Youqing the secret. Youqing is stunned, dazed, crushed. In a split second, her neat little world has been turned on its head.
A few days later, Youqing goes to seek clarification from Maggie, still unsure that she really heard the right thing. This is one of my favourite moments: Maggie telling off Youqing for denying her own feelings towards Daren, and expressing her anger at how both of them use their friendship as a shield, in the process hurting many of their past lovers for not being understanding enough toward their wonderful friendship. The look on Maggie’s face as she walks away, triumphant at first but quickly replaced by uncertainty, is heartbreaking.
There isn’t really anything much to say about this character, because his only purpose in the story, it seems, is to make Youqing realise that the one for her is really Daren. Not much character development. He’s simply a type of the ‘bad boy’ that women are supposed to fall for and get heartbroken by.
When I analyse the show this way, I find that there really are quite a lot of flaws. Eg. the weak second male lead, the creepiness of Li Daren on hindsight, and so on.
But when I’m watching it, I’m completely drawn in, and I think this is largely due to the good acting, the chemistry between the actors, and the way the whole show is pieced together into the final product.
I was in major dreamy mode for a couple of days after completing the drama, saturated with the sweetness of the last episode. Now that I’m back with my head below the clouds, I’d still say this is one of the best idol dramas I’ve watched.
Believe it or not, this is the first Ariel Lin drama I’ve watched (I’ve watched a couple of Ella Chen’s) and I think this is the most beautiful she’s ever been, having shed her baby fat. She may not be the most beautiful actress around, but she is very watchable, and the more you watch her the more you like her. As they say in Mandarin: 很耐看。Certainly that’s an important trait in a performer: the ability to draw the audience’s gaze.
Chen Bolin would certainly agree; he said so himself in an interview (same interview as mentioned above). I think the both of them have this charisma, but of course being a girl I was initially much more taken with Bolin and how you could read everything Daren was supposed to be feeling in his eyes and between his brows. Dude can act, and I’m certainly looking forward to his new works.
I think that this show is popular, and the Li Daren character is popular, because it showcases the kind of love that everyone yearns for ultimately: unconditional love.
Don’t we all want to have someone who knows everything about us, and still loves us? Don’t we all want to have someone with whom we can completely let down our guard, show what we are really like, and know that we are still loved? Don’t we all want to have someone whom we are oftentimes mean to and who yet does not reject us?
Chen Bolin has said in interviews that he thinks that Li Daren is like a Jesus figure, in that he is a representation of a religion, which I assume is the whole idea of love. I cringe a little each time I hear it, because he obviously isn’t a Christian and has little idea what Christianity is about. Jesus isn’t simply a representation of love, Jesus IS love. There is no other figure in Christianity that exemplifies, personifies, love, the way Jesus does.
But, I have to agree that in a way, Li Daren is like Jesus. Because only Jesus can love me unconditionally, in every moment. For all his patience and largeness of heart, there are times when Daren is selfish, even towards Youqing. There are times when Daren finds Youqing difficult to love. But Jesus has never been selfish with His love for me. And in His eyes, it is never difficult to love me, because His love is greater than all of my flaws, all of my sins, all of my mistakes.
I watched a clip in which Bolin wrote some notes to the audience of the show, and he wrote something like, “Whether you are waiting for your Li Daren, or you are Li Daren, always be proud of your uniqueness and your flaws.”
And I thought to myself, No, I’m not waiting for my Li Daren. Because I’m not Cheng Youqing. And I already have been found by One who loves me more than he can ever love her. Nor do I want someone who is only able to love me with his own strength; I want someone who loves me with the love of Jesus.
And on this note, I shall end this entry. Good night! :)