In the vacation, I binge-watched all 30 episodes of the 2016 C-drama Love O2O (aka Just One Smile is Alluring, aka Wei Wei’s Beautiful Smile) over 5 days.
I am crazy. But it was worth it.
Warning: small spoilers alert! Given away by the opening title sequence anyway
I originally started the series because watching TV in the target language is an excellent method of learning a foreign language, as you immerse yourself in the culture, grammar and vocabulary. However, I got rather too immersed…
What Did I Watch?
Love O2O is a Chinese drama series that aired in 2016. It is about the life of Bei Wei Wei (Zheng Shuang), a second-year computer scientist, and her romantic relationship with Xiao Nai (Yang Yang), the school heartthrob who is perfect in every way.
Obviously, because both Bei Wei Wei and Xiao Nai are gorgeous and smart and good people, they are constantly pursued by others and that is where the tension starts. Add to that an extra dimension in the world of Chinese Ghost Story (called Dreaming of Jianghu on Wikipedia) where the characters live parallel lives, and this drama becomes a story with many layers!
That being said, I enjoyed how the love story is not too complex (because there’s nothing more exhausting than trying to figure out who likes who and who doesn’t).
Chinese dramas aren’t as famous as Korean dramas but in my opinion, they are more similar than they are different.
What Did I Like?
I really liked the different layers of the story, and how the relationships formed in the gaming world translated into real life. Don’t let the gaming put you off though – it adds an extra dimension that makes this series special.
I also liked how smart and non-cutesy Bei Wei Wei is – she is so self-motivated to become a better person. Even though it started out as a bid to prove that she is more than just her good looks, it becomes part of her character to be intelligent. This parallels the fact that in Xiao Nai’s new game that he develops, he has confidence that the substance of the game is great enough to attract gamers without having to clothe female characters inappropriately.
There’s this scene at the end of episode 16 where Wei Wei asks her mum if the lead characters in her mum’s favourite TV series have gotten together yet and her mum replies ‘How could it be that easy for them to be together? They need to go through several misunderstandings and breakups to be together. Otherwise, what will the television station get out of it?’ I appreciated the cheeky meta nod to the fact that the writers of Love O2O don’t need to resort to these tactics: Bei Wei Wei and Xiao Nai’s relationship is perfect but the writers still manage to make it interesting enough that I couldn’t stop watching.
The Characters (more on this later)
The characters are very well written. The dialogue is entertaining and suits their personalities. The scriptwriter is excellent at cheeky jabs.
Xiao Nai is so perfect that he is definitely not realistic, but his cold and distant demeanour hides a gentle and kind attitude, which in turn hides a sharp wit and cunning personality. His words are usually loaded with meaning on many levels.
I like how both Xiao Nai and Bei Wei Wei are smart enough to see the underhanded techniques of shady characters, but they don’t have to retaliate by using shady techniques; instead, they play by the rules, communicate straightforwardly and still come out on top. That is something to aspire to.
The Life Lessons
These two ‘perfect’ characters don’t make a single wrong decision but still end up in difficult situations because of jealousy, misunderstandings and unwanted attention. In a way, it makes me relieved that even such perfect people live lives of difficulty and tension.
The series also highlights the dangers of gossip, of assuming what someone else is like just from one’s limited and biased sources of information. I try not to perpetuate gossip, but sometimes FOMO gets the better of me and I want to know what everyone else knows. This series shows that you don’t have to participate in gossip to know what is important, which is something I must keep in mind.
The Chinese language used in Love O2O is relatively simple, so it was excellent Mandarin revision for me. However, it has subtitles in Spanish, Portuguese and, of course, English.
The banter between the characters is on point as well xD
What Didn’t I Like?
Chinese culture is generally a little bit backwards in terms of LGBTQ+ representation, but Love O2O does include hints of a gay relationship, which I totally shipped! However, it was never explicitly displayed, and there was a little bit of transphobia because people doubted that Wei Wei’s skill at gaming could possibly have come from a woman.
As it’s a Chinese drama series aimed at a Chinese-speaking audience, I kind of understand why the gay relationship was not fully explored (for fear of a major backlash). It would still be nice to have some more LGBTQ+ representation in Chinese media!
The gender roles are also quite stark in Chinese culture, and although Love O2O gets a start on introducing complex, strong female role models in STEM, other comments like ‘marriage is the most important matter in a woman’s life’ in episode 30 go unchallenged. Similarly, although both girls and boys play video games, in real life the girls go shopping for fun and the boys go out to eat. (Eating sounds more fun to me)
There is also a huge emphasis on beauty, especially for girls. What’s worse is that there is a definitive ranking of beautiful girls that people vote on – Wei Wei laments that it’s such a superficial way of judging people but it’s the way people are judged all throughout the series. The series perpetuates the idea that looking beautiful (and money/family connections) is the way to popularity, even though the characters say that personality is more important.
Bei Wei Wei’s purity is also quite annoying – she’s very passive when it comes to her relationship. What’s more, the relationship is absolutely perfect, which is incredibly unrealistic but for me that makes it an excellent escape from the real world.
What Did I Think of the Characters?
Xiao Nai is quite literally a perfect human being, but the situations that he finds himself in means that his perfect decisions are still interesting. He’s mysterious but also straightforward, and he says the honest and right things to the right people. He’s well aware of his effect on others, but he doesn’t take advantage of it. He doesn’t look down on others – only teases them if they’re close to him – unless the character has done something morally wrong.
Bei Wei Wei is also a perfect person to match Xiao Nai, who never puts a foot wrong. However, she’s too passive when it comes to her relationship, which I guess could be a sign of strength and trust and shows that she knows everything will happen in good time. However, I think I’m a much more ‘go get it’ sort of person, so her passivity makes me wanna scream sometimes xO
My favourite characters have to be Xiao Nai’s three roommates – they gel so well together and are hilarious! Their stinky socks could do with a bit of washing though… Bei Wei Wei’s roommates are also great supportive besties (I can totally see my friends as Bei Wei Wei’s sassy roommate Xiao Ling), but their banter doesn’t quite measure up 😉
Somehow, I’ve become very attached to the characters far quicker than I do with friends. I guess real people are not 2D and are imperfect; I can’t know every aspect of their lives as I can in a TV show. They’re scripted and don’t reflect real life, but that doesn’t stop me from becoming invested in them!
What Did I Learn?
After finishing the whole series, I was reminded why I normally don’t watch TV.
Why I Don’t Watch TV
Once I started, I literally couldn’t stop watching. Each episode ended on a cliff-hanger, as cheesy dramas do, and I just couldn’t bear the tension so I would just continue to the next episode.
Each episode lasts less than 1 hour (only 45 minutes without ads). It’s just short enough that you can justify watching just one more; then before you realise it, you’ve been watching for 6 hours. Time just disappears, I swear.
Once the drama ended, I felt pain. Longing, for more about the characters’ lives that I had become so invested in. Nostalgia, for the exciting moments, the revelations, the resolutions. Heartache, for the characters and relationships that I must say goodbye to and that no longer exist outside of the screen. Dissatisfaction, for I must return to reality and there’s no hope of returning to the refuge of their world. All good things come to an end. Why would you put yourself through these emotions?
So for now, I am going to resolve to focus on my reality, my relationships, my character. Starting another TV series is dangerous!
All in all, this series makes me want to become a better, more forgiving, less gossipy person. I want to learn something from Wei Wei and Xiao Nai – to stand taller and see further, to be more forgiving, to say less and mean more.
Love O2O certainly leaves me with something to think about – how to be a good person, how to manage certain situations, how to consider yourself in relation to other people – and it shows you can be honest, innocent, straightforward and still outsmart the opponent.
No relationship can be as perfect as that between Wei Wei and Xiao Nai because they are perfect people, but it is so heartwarming to know that the supporting characters, who are quirky in their own ways, can have successful love lives too. I’ve never really given too much thought to my love life – it was something I haven’t prioritised. I have not let this series set unrealistic expectations for my love life, but it’s certainly given me something to think about!
If you still aren’t convinced, here are 5 more reasons to watch Love O2O. Have you ever felt sad after finishing a TV series? Is starting a series worth the pain? Let me know!