Saya: I’ve been trying to persuade my other drama-bestie missvictrix, whom you may know from her incisive and lolarious writing on Dramabeans, to join us on the podcast for AGES, but she’s feeling mic-shy, so we’re here to bring you the next best thing! As we’re trying something new, tell us how you like it and if you want us to do more like this!
missvictrix: What you’re about to read chronicles the ins, outs, ups, and downs of Find Yourself, a 41-episode Chinese drama currently on Netflix, that aired on Hunan TV and ended its run in late January. Starring Song Qian (aka Victoria Song of f(x) fame), and an unnecessarily handsome Song Wei Long, it offers a noona romance that’s as fun as it is a thoughtful character study.
Saya: We tried not to go into major spoiler territory (that’s Part 2!), but there are still a few, so beware! We also sneak Paroma in through the back door. See if you can spot her!
missvictrix: I don’t have many Chinese dramas under my belt, but when Saya pressed me to watch Find Yourself and promised a deep, yet squee-filled noona romance story, I was there. It delivered as promised!
Saya: Wait, I didn’t promise it was deep, did I? I have a distinct memory of sending you a picture of…
missvictrix: Okay, I lied just a little bit. I have a thing for beautiful hands, and Saya knows my weakness. She showed me hands… But she also told me it was a really excellent noona romance that dug into the questions in the relationship that a lot of other noona romances we know and love (or hate!) either don’t have the time or the ability to go that deep. After all, this drama needed all 41 episodes to tell its story.
Saya: It went by like barely 20! Fast, short episodes with no fat. Like our leads. I must credit Paroma here, because while I was intrigued, I was also doubtful. I’ve watched a LOT of noona romances (it’s what you do when you reach a certain point in life XD), so every time one of those flashpoints came up, I would get nervous about how it would resolve, especially when you consider that their ten-year age gap is quite significant (she’s 32, he’s 22).
missvictrix: Wait, are you calling us old?
Saya: We are complex. And conflicted. And complicated. But also, like our heroine HE FANXING, hopeless romantics at heart, even if that heart is hidden under a morass of hissing and thorns.
missvictrix: Like the castle in Sleeping Beauty?
Saya: Yes, my heart is my castle, except I’m more Scowling Grouchy.
missvictrix: Well, Oscar, you bring up a really nice point about the hopeless romantic that lurks in our hearts. It reminds me of one of my favourite sentiments from the drama which incidentally came at the end: “May you always be a young girl at heart.” The drama just gave us 41 episodes of people struggling for mature, lasting, and equal relationships—but it also (equally) prizes this thought of girlhood joy and innocence. I love that.
Saya: Yes! And it starts with the same sentiment, right from that opening scene, where Faceless Blind Date Guy, under the guise of being “direct”, bluntly calls her a leftover woman whose time is up. You wouldn’t blame any woman who bared her teeth at this point, but Fanxing doesn’t give him heat, even if those words get to her. And they do, but she doesn’t believe them. Instead, she just offers him her counter-arguments. She carries her convictions like they are her very spine. It’s an intrinsic, integral part of her, but she doesn’t need to show everyone. I love a woman who can hold her own counsel. God knows I can’t.
missvictrix: She’s the best, isn’t she? She’s a heroine you relate to in a flash. Still, it’s interesting that a lot of the drama is about us watching her question what she truly wants for herself and her future (ain’t that familiar). At one point she tells her bestie something like, “I don’t know what I want yet, but I know what I don’t want.” Sometimes that’s as good a guideline as any.
Saya: At heart, this show isn’t so much a romance with a boy man as it is about her relationship first with herself, and then how she fits into the entire constellation of her other relationships. This show did an extraordinary job in encompassing so many types of relationship, and it didn’t leave any thread hanging. I’m so impressed by the tight, authentic writing of this show.
missvictrix: Yesssss! I know we want to get into the romance ASAP, but can we talk about our twin siblings for a minute? I love stories of siblings so, so much—especially when they feel like authentic ones. Rather than our heroine’s brother, HE CANYANG (Zhang Yu Jian), being a static character in the household (like the token little brother that says cheeky things over the breakfast table to stir the pot/plot), Fanxing’s brother was a big part of the story.
These twins play a crucial part in each of their love stories, and throughout the drama we see them not only bicker and argue (as sibs/twins will), but also rely on and confide in each other. And actually, Canyang is the reason why our heroine and hero first meet… *sneaky segue into romance discussion, now!*
Saya: I was so bereft when I finished the show that I went right back to the start. On rewatching episode 2, what got me was how helpless our hero YUAN SONG was in his attraction to her—not just physical attraction though that’s obviously there, but there’s a leaping emotional connection. Like this woman has only to lift a finger and he belongs to her without even a second thought. Look at the way he looks at her when she’s drunk and sad and glowing inside, like he’s seeing the most beautiful, important thing alive.
missvictrix: I need a minute to collect myself. I’m getting the vapours remembering those early episodes.
Saya: Shall I fetch you your smelling salts?!
missvictrix: Please. I think I’m gonna need them. There’s something about the strength of their connection…you can feel it in the air.
Saya: Hold the remote while I go ask Mrs Bennet!
missvictrix: I think she’s in Brighton with Lydia right now, for that is the place to get husbands!
Also missvictrix: Hahaha we are derailing. Wrong fictional universe.
Saya: But I want to go to Brighton! Oh fine, well, we were talking about attraction.
missvictrix: Yes! It’s not just about good chemistry between the cast (which is obviously important), but it’s about how well the drama portrays the way two characters are drawn together in a way that we immediately understand—and feel.
Saya: It also sets each character up in its conflicts really meticulously. I think the thing I find most striking—and credit to the writing here—is that it confronts each point of contention full in the face. It doesn’t sweep anything under the rug, and it doesn’t let itself off the hook, at least not in the central relationship triangle of Fanxing, Yuan Song, and second-lead YE LUMING (Wang Yao Qing aka David Wang).
missvictrix: That’s true, the drama is very realistic in a lot of ways (but without being too sombre or slice-of-life), and one part of that is the fact that it’s without a villain or antagonist. These are some of my favourite stories, because the tension, the conflict, and all the juiciness, just comes from the things that everyday life serves us. Working for a living and coming home tired. Dealing with workplace gossip. Saying something in the heat of the moment that you later regret. Having your heart turned upside down when a new person at work starts turning on the charm. Supporting your friends when they deal with heartbreak. And even just the day-to-day look at family life and siblinghood—because that was really nicely portrayed in this drama, and turned into a big source of “story” (because I don’t want to say “conflict”).
Saya: That is beautifully put. It took on such a broad spectrum of relationships and filled them with so much life, and that’s a real feat of storytelling. Take, for example, Fanxing’s family—her parents and twin brother—and their interesting and unusual dynamics. I really enjoyed the inversion of the daughter being the favoured child and therefore getting approval from within her family for things that her society might not necessarily have approved.
But two things: I can’t generally agree with favouring one child over another, I think that’s a type of emotional cruelty. You can’t help your emotions, I understand that, but you can ALWAYS help your actions. And the second thing is that I was really upset by how Canyang was treated by his mother at the end, and the way she cut him off (“I have no son”), and I had a hard time understanding what he did to deserve it.
Paroma: I kind of took it as the mother trusting Fanxing’s judgment more than her son’s. Which was unfair. But there was also an element of overcompensation in how much they wanted the mother to take the women’s side in things—subverting the more common tale of a mother supporting her son’s actions but having double standards for the daughter.
Saya: Yes, you nailed it! I mean, he’s clearly a filial son, and successful at life. It’s hardly like he’s gaming 24/7 in stained pyjamas in the darkness of his parent’s basement.
missvictrix: On the contrary, he’s a super crushable art history professor (also with beautiful hands) who, like his sister, happened to fall for someone born in a different decade. The horror! I understand your reaction to their mother’s disowning him—I guess I kind of took that as a temporary emotional response rather than a lasting one. Because he’s clearly a wonderful son and brother and…talk about a double standard. For me, the mother’s reaction might have been more about the threat Canyang’s relationship posed to Fanxing’s “marriage” to Luming. We should talk about that. And then can we talk about Yuan Song again plllllease?
Saya: Yes please! But I would also like to add that apart from that little blip at the end with Canyang, I do think the twins’ parents are marvellous. Both of them are just so…they’re the elders you wish everyone were. They’re fair, they don’t subscribe to a way of thinking just because everyone else does, and while they (Ma, at least) are mindful of what the neighbours think, it doesn’t stop them from standing by their own convictions.
missvictrix: Yes! They care about their children’s happiness and integrity first. They also prize (and are a bit proud of) the twins’ independence —in all senses of the word—which I loved so much.
Saya: The way Fanxing’s choices about her life are so deeply entwined around the wellbeing of her parents, her sense of duty to them, and the sacrifices that she made on a daily basis without it being a big deal…that was something that really got me in the heart. And how her parents were always so aware of it, but again, not in a flashy, big-deal way. Just…what is life about, if not the bonds between them?
Paroma: My favourite moment was Fanxing bursting out at her mother for subconsciously guilting her about not being married. Because the drama took the time to both let Fanxing shout out her resentments and then showed us Ma’s perspective—how aware she was of the pressure Fanxing would already be feeling, how considerate she was in avoiding relations who would hurt her daughter by commenting on her singlehood.
Saya: I could do with a bit of being saved from nosy relations! I had a lot of teary moments watching this show, and I think the majority of them were actually parental moments. Some stuff is universally relatable.
missvictrix: Same here! The moments with their parents were some of the most tender in the drama. And like you, I really related to how Fanxing responded to her parents’ needs/ageing by putting pressure on herself to “get it together.” I love this section of the drama because we see Fanxing struggling with what her heart wants versus how she thinks she needs to perform to make the people around her happy.
Saya: And that’s largely why she decides she can’t be with Yuan Song. And in fairness, when they met and in Phase 1 of their dating, they weren’t quite right for each other, even if the feelings were there. (Say it with me, everyone: love is easy, relationships are hard.) But they learnt things about each other—and themselves—which led them to grow into people who were.
missvictrix: Yes, growth! I loved that the drama took the time it needed to bring our characters to the place where everything was able to fit into place. Because I totally agree with you (and the drama)—in Phase 1, it just wasn’t working. I mean, how many times did I complain to you that Fanxing was with Luming more than her gorgeous toothpick boyfriend? It’s a superficial complaint, but it also revealed that there was a strain in the dynamics of their relationship at the start.
Saya: I also love that Yuan Song is shown as being as imperfect as she is. Because too often in a noona romance, the younger hero has no faults, just overflowing love and confidence. But as I’ve written elsewhere, the heroine has to contend with a completely different set of concerns, both personal and social, compared to her younger counterparts, and while those are explored pretty well, the hero tends to get, well, a hero’s treatment.
Yuan Song, on the other hand—he definitely outstrips his peers in maturity, but he hasn’t had the life experience that Fanxing has, which at times he feels very acutely. He’s this wonderfully human mix of confidence and uncertainty, with his own insecurities despite being pretty emotionally together. It makes him faulty and complex and how do you not relate to that?
missvictrix: A human hero, yes! And to add on to what you said (outside of a giant YES), this is admittedly the first noona romance that made me really think about the ramifications of the relationship. Some of my favourite noona romance stories I’ve either just enjoyed for the fun of them, or cursed the heroine for being so impossibly blind/difficult/self-defeating. Here though, it really makes sense. The reasons their relationship has friction all ring true. I distinctly remember texting you, worried: how are they going to make it?!
Saya: In the words of Mr. Bennet: “Read on!” I’m pretty sure we have another few thousand words rattling around, desperate to answer that question.
Look out for the second part of our Find Yourself postmortem soon! We’re still writing it, haha. We can’t stop. Help.
Meanwhile, go find missvictrix on Twitter @missvictrix! Ask her about eyebrows.