Summary: I’m debating whether ‘In Time with You’ is my favourite Taiwan drama EVER. So it’s not perfect, but I still love it to bits.
For whatever reason I hadn’t really watched any Taiwan dramas for a while, like a couple of years. Recently, I felt the urge to try a few out again (first with Ring Ring Bell) and now In Time with you because it had received great reviews and of course Best Actor & Best Actress awards for Bolin Chen and Ariel Lin at the last Golden Bell Awards. Originally, I was planning to probably write a mid-point and end review like I did with RRB but I was so hooked on this drama I had to continue watching. Although the latter half began to frustrate me (and the desire to ‘chase’ it had decreased), by that time ITwY had built up enough goodwill for me to overlook some of the flaws in the second half.
Besides the awards and positive reviews the storyline of boy and girl being friends and maybe turning it into something more is really the type of story I enjoy time and again. So on that basis, ITWY had peaked my interest already. Since I haven’t really watched that many TW dramas, I have actually never watched Ariel Lin or Bolin Chen in a series before. Both are actors whom I have heard of in the past, but just never watched any of their works. So I guess I don’t have any preconceptions about their acting before ITWY…..
Just in case people don’t know already – the series synopsis from Drama Wiki:
On her 30th birthday, Cheng You Qing received an email on “the symptoms of premature aging” from Li Da Ren, her best friend of 14 years. Unable to accept that Li Da Ren is like a fine wine that will get better with age and she is like a grape that will dry into a raisin as years go by, she made a bet with Li to see who will get married first before they turn 35. As she looked around for a potential husband, she discovered that she was surrounded by unacceptable candidates, like gay assistant or cheating ex-boyfriend. The only man who could love her despite all her flaws is her best friend. The only problem was that they both swore that they were not or will ever be romantically attracted to each other.
I’m curious how different genders/age groups will view this drama. I guess I’m the ‘targeted’ market – a lot of the things You Qing experiences, I can definitely relate to. None of the main characters are perfect, so although I might disagree with their choices, I can understand where they are coming from.
Why I loved In Time with You
1. I feel conflicted about each character
On the surface, this doesn’t really make sense. But to put it another way, I didn’t feel that I completely ‘love’ or ‘hate’ each character. (*maybe* except Ding Li Wei, whom I don’t care much for, one way or another) For You Qing, Da Ren and Maggie, there is a realistic human element to each of them.
You Qing is pretty stubborn, opinionated and speaks her mind. She is dedicated to her job and loves her family and friends. All of these traits can be interpreted positively, and negatively. Her stubbornness and opinions can be seen as mean and condescending (eg. the way she treats Maggie) but on the other hand, she is dedicated to her friends and family, often being the ‘go to’ person if anyone has issues with their work and life.
I have issues with the choices You Qing makes during this drama, especially towards the end when Da Ren left for Singapore and she was contemplating a life married to Ding Li Wei, living this big, lonely house. If she already knew how miserable her life will be, why would she still want to marry Ding Li Wei? Is marriage THAT important? To throw away your own happiness?
Looking at that in isolation, it would be obvious that You Qing is making the biggest mistake of her life. But with all of the events leading up to this point, I can understand why someone would make this decision. In many of their interactions, You Qing had asked Da Ren – “why did you say you would never love me?” or “I can understand why you would never love me”. Yes, it was a stupid thing to say so many years ago but clearly, it still affects You Qing deeply. Let’s face it, Da Ren has never irrevocably retracted this statement. I know he tried to prove it in his actions but he has never said (oh how short this drama would be if he actually did) – “Cheng You Qing, what I said 15 years ago was a LIE. I said it because I was stupid and nervous.” So this “I will never fall in love with someone like you” has been the boogeyman in You Qing’s mind for the last 15 years. She might not admit it, but she feels hurt by it. I would argue that the closer their friendship is, the more it hurts. This was probably why she felt she had to change whenever she is in a relationship. She had to compromise, because if someone can see all of her flaws, (like Da Ren does), they could not possibly love her.
Oh Li Da Ren, now a term synonymous with the ‘perfect’ man. NO! Since I watched ‘Ring Ring Bell’ just before ITwY, I will make this comparison – I am almost convinced that if in a fantasy world I need to choose between two men, Li Da Ren and Ren Jia Kai (Peter Ho from Ring Ring Bell), I would pick Ren Jia Kai. Why? I think it’s pretty clear, Li Da Ren is a doormat. And some aspects of his character is rather creepy if you think about it.
At first I didn’t think Da Ren was ‘in love’ with You Qing when they were at school. But then I realized he wrote that song in high school, even before they were friends. Just look at the lyrics, he was so in love with her 15 years ago that he could not dig out of that hole already. Plus, he pretty much disregarded his own future so he could go to the same university as her. If Li Da Ren didn’t look like Bolin Chen, I think this could be the plot of a stalker / horror movie.
Also, don’t forget how he treated Maggie. Da Ren was definitely the worst boyfriend ever in the eyes of Maggie (and probably all of his previous girlfriends). I read this interview with Bolin Chen where he described how hard it was to play someone who seemed good on the outside, but was actually a ‘bad’ person. Before I started writing this post I didn’t think Da Ren creeped me out that much, but when you watch ITwY, you tend to forget about these things.
This is because if we ‘romanticize’ this element (being in love with someone for 15 years) – Li Da Ren is still an extremely likeable character. He is You Qing’s punching bag, and knows her inside out. Even after 15 years, they never run out of conversation. He has seen You Qing at her worst, and yet he still loves her, despite all her flaws. What girl would not fall for that? Who doesn’t want someone who will accept them ‘just as she is’? (quoting Bridget Jones’ Diary here –it just works on every level, in every culture.)
Does this mean we’re willing to overlook Da Ren’s ‘doormat / spineless’ nature? This would depend on your own personal beliefs. For me, from about episode 9-12 I was getting extremely annoyed with him. Every time he appeared on the screen he was all sad puppy eyes and mopey. Like many others I was ready to reach into my computer and strangle some sense into him. For a fleeting moment I enjoyed more of his lighter interactions with Ping An in Singapore than the main storyline of him being all depressed as You Qing is preparing for her wedding. It was tough to endure mopey Da Ren but Bolin played it to perfection. When Li Wei proposed at the airport I was pretty much saying – oh Li Da Ren you totally did this to yourself but was I crying with you? YES I CERTAINLY WAS.
Also, I think a large part of Da Ren’s personality was shaped by his relationship with his mother and sister. At home he had to be the mediator between two ‘princesses’. Poor Da Ren, maybe Cheng Ma was right, in the past life You Qing rescued him so he owes her a debt to be repaid in this life. Now he has three princesses to serve. So whilst a lot of times I wanted Da Ren to ‘man up’, I can also understand why he is who he is.
I mentioned about that You Qing was rather patronizing to Maggie. But Maggie is not a one-dimensional ‘victim’ here. Yes, I completely agree that Da Ren is the bad guy here – going into a relationship when he clearly was in love with someone else. He did use Maggie to validate his own feelings for You Qing. But at the same time, Maggie is not blameless. She had a ‘list’ of criteria for a boyfriend and just wanted to get married ASAP, without fully understanding the other person. If she took the time to get to know Da Ren, then their relationship would probably not have gone as far as it did. She would’ve realized (like everyone else in the drama) that Da Ren is in love with You Qing. Except for Da Ren matching all of her requirements, I’m not even sure why she liked him in the first place. So whilst I felt bad for the way Da Ren treated her, Maggie has to take some responsibility as well.
Out of the four ‘main’ leads, I felt the least interested in Ding Li Wei. His ‘bad boy’ aura does not appeal to me (even without the tattoos) so all I’m seeing is how controlling and self centred he is. In his ‘defence’, I didn’t feel the cheating part was necessary. He has proven himself to be a jerk as it is. I’m not sure why he loved You Qing and wanted to be with her so much.
2. Chemistry between You Qing and Da Ren
Even in the first episode we see them as more than just friends. They can talk to each other about everything and even if they fight, they would reconcile quickly because of their mutual respect and need for each other. Since Da Ren is in love with You Qing all this time, it can be argued that this ‘friendship’ is pretty lopsided but in Da Ren’s mind, You Qing treats him very well too. (The audience aka me only remembers the parts when she forgot his birthday, or when she was in Ding Li Wei’s car and lied to Da Ren that she was working…) But a friendship doesn’t mean everything is equal, You Qing also rushed to see Da Ren when he had the flu. She is the person who knows Da Ren best because during these 15 years, she took the time to get to know him. One scene I particularly enjoyed was in episode 2 when they spent a pretty uneventful day together. As he ate she picked out all the vegetables he didn’t like. As she sat in the toilet he continued to be outside listening and chatting to her. These interactions just showed they’re closer than a lot of couples already – I loved their easy conversations and it’s very believable that they will remain like this for the next 15 years, by each other’s side.
Although I loved You Qing and Da Ren as a couple, outside of the series I never really thought of Ariel Lin & Bolin Chen as OTP. They both just seem to be professional actors and very good at their jobs. Not sure why… even when I watched them on their Variety Shows promotion tour they seem to respect each other a lot, but without any romantic chemistry. Weird, just thought I’d mention this. This of course doesn’t take away my enjoyment of the series but again, I’m thinking about Ring Ring Bell just trying to pinpoint why I ship Peter Ho and Janine Chang like crazy but here, I simply ship Cheng You Qing and Li Da Ren. 🙂
3. The writing, the locations and everything else
ITwY is so successful because it’s relatable and it feels real. (How many signs of aging do I have already? How many charms of a mature woman do I aspire to?) The dialogue makes you think, about friendships and relationships. Furthermore, the series is full of gems like, “If I see what you would seen, walk where you have walked, does that mean I can be closer to you?” (I didn’t mention this above, but seriously, I want to swoon everytime I hear this from Li Da Ren.) I don’t want to go too much into the writing because I’m planning some posts on my favourite scenes from ITwY which will touch on this…
Having watched mostly HK (TVB dramas) it is really obvious when the makers take the time to scout locations rather than film indoors. I have made a list already of all the places I want to go because of this series. Who had questions on why You Qing had a glass floor in her bedroom? Who can forget the little Japanese BBQ place where You Qing and Da Ren spent many nights drinking beer together? What about that mountain top where you can see a beautiful panorama of Taipei? How about that trip You Qing, Da Ren and Maggie went on with the Hot Springs? Even Ding Li Wei’s open kitchen was memorable – the view was spectacular!
The other aspect of ITwY I just have to mention is its OST. Da Ren’s song “I will not love you” is heartbreaking. The first two times I heard it I had tears in my eyes. Bolin is not a strong singer but I was completely immersed in Da Ren’s thoughts as it was played during the series. It didn’t feel like ‘Bolin’ singing, it was Da Ren conveying his feelings to You Qing. It felt raw and definitely touched my heart.
My other favourites from the soundtrack were Ariel’s “Wings” and Hung Pei Yu’s “Tip toe love”. “Wings” brought a lot of hope (pretty appropriate for an ending song) while I especially loved “Tip toe love” when it was used during the scene where Henry’s girlfriend, ex girlfriend and ex ex girlfriend got together for a bonding session. (more on this in my ‘favourite scenes’ post)
Besides the OST songs, I just have to mention the KTV scene in episode 10. The choice of song (Mavis Fan’s Oxygen) in that scene is a masterstroke. Maggie and You Qing were both singing to Li Da Ren but they both had their own meaning. The more I rewatch that scene the more I love, it’s going in that ‘Favourite scenes’ post!
I think I just spent 2000 words talking about why I love this series. But as I said right in the beginning, it’s not perfect. I’m willing to accept the flaws in each character but the main issue (that is bordering on disappointment) was the pacing of the last episode. I felt there was a disconnect between You Qing breaking up with Li Wei, and how her and Da Ren eventually got together. The little scene in IKEA was cute, but I felt there should’ve been something else happening beforehand to warrant this ‘confession’. (Actually, there was no big ‘confession’, but really, I thought it was important for Da Ren to retract that “I can never fall in love with you” statement. Even without the melodrama, he really should do it formally.)
Also, the audience had to endure extended periods of mopey Da Ren. Let’s face it, Bolin Chen is ridiculously handsome when he smiles (dimples!) but we hardly see any of it in this series which was rather unfortunate. OK apart from this superficial reason, I would’ve liked to see more on how exactly You Qing and Da Ren became friends. During school and when she first started university, You Qing definitely disliked Da Ren. The only scene that showed the softening of her attitude was at that BBQ places where he paid for her since she forgot her wallet. There is this huge gap between Da Ren ‘rescuing her’ and how they become such close friends. There was some talk of a movie prequel (don’t think it will happen, but we can hope) and if that ever happens, that’s what I would like to see. Plus You Qing and Ding Li Wei together the first time. The series placed a lot of emphasis on how traumatised You Qing was 5 years ago, it will be interesting to see why, and also how Li Da Ren had reacted to it.
If anyone actually reads this post right to the end, THANK YOU – you deserve an award. I have so many feels about ITwY I don’t think I have expressed them properly in this post. So there will be more posts coming…!!!