by Greenlemon, June 19, 2020

My Dear Lady - Not Another Cinderella Story

It’s tiring and kind of boring to watch recycled stories. One thing is clothes, shoes, and accessories in one’s closet. Another one is blatant daily consumerism.

Less time to indulge in boosting retails sales equals more time to watch dramas. That’s good for a while… playing catch up to series put on the back burner, fab... and watching new ones, brill! Then the other shoe drops and hey the speed new dramas start airing doesn’t quite match the 6 hour daily drama watching allocation time, catastrophic.

It's a small, small world. Romantic rags to riches Cinderella stories are an outdated cliché no matter in how many different ways, shapes or forms scriptwriters spin it and that’s not fun anymore. A decade ago... yeah, definitely maybe. Three months ago... maybe... but now, hey, women waiting for millionaire prince charming to rescue them… it’s all so unimaginative, it's delusional… and the world has so gone past the idiocy that women need to be saved and protected! Elizabeth Bennet was not very well off to put it mildly and she did not need Mr. Darcy to save or to protect her. She was thankful though as he 'saved' foolish Lidia (as much as he could have done) and eventually fell in love with him but that's Pride and Prejudice, not My Dear Lady, although that could've been an endearment for Jane said by Mr. Bingley.

A Cinderella story is a bit like a Jane Austen novel without the literary complexity that goes along with it and the effort it takes to comprehend it with an utility level equal to zero mid to long term, forever and ever somewhere online in the amalgamation of piles of repetitive stories waiting for someone to dig them out and re-invent them all over again.  A Jane Austen story on the other hand is a classic that never goes out of fashion. Perhaps because of it screen adaptations are sparce and slightly far in between.

Considering the insurmountable amount of rubbish produced and disposed of every day is a good thing that common sense is used when thinking about consecutive adapations of the same Jane Austen novels. Environmental sustainability is after all central to any form of progress. That does raise the question as to why Cinderella stories cannot follow the same train of thought. After all there is overwhelming arcane number of dramas with the rich guy poor women premise all pilled up somewhere waiting for another reboot, which is just sick! Kind of like a vinyl record comeback. You change sides but song being played is still the same single one. Phat!

Lack of imagination is such a mega artistic expression... how many times will scriptwriters think the audience will be able to digest the same old schmick gimmicks is questionable but undoubtedly heading towards the equivalence of a K-Drama debacle down the line with many dramas forsaking compelling plots and quality over bland pre-fabricated romantic stories with no actual substance, interest or viewership. Overall audiences have become more selective and fed-up with trivial stories but there are always younger ones in-love with fluffy cotton candy stories with an eye-catching cast whom they can idolize until the next best story with the next hip cast comes along stealing their loyalties and affections. Fairy-tale stories might not get viewership rating accolades but they get a lot of buzz and are a great platform to launch the career of new actors.

My dear lady is another Cinderella story so here we go again but fortunately, this time is not set in a school and fortunately, Cinderella is not utterly young and clueless like Cher Horowitz the 1990's Emma Woodhouse. She’s just as poor as the Dashwood sisters with an inclination towards Elinor's rational resilient resolute side rather than the naive impulsive emotionally immature Marianne. She got married early and by the time she turned 29 she already had a child (who she didn’t have custody of), divorced, and no work experience under her belt. To make matters worse she also had a car - can you imagine no job, no house, no money and still have to pay petrol to feed the car on a weekly basis? - that she bashed against the rear of another car, a luxurious vehicle by the way (it had to be, otherwise the story would be a novelty), absurdly expensive one. It was not pretty, nor was it pretty how much it would actually cost to fix it with a stable income. Imagine without one. Xun Xun was sad, kind of disappointed but really optimistic - have you ever watched a Cinderella being negative about anything that happened in her life? - despite one, having to live far from her son due to her now ex-husband's affair, which sealed the end of their idyllic well-off life together, and two, sending out more than a hundred CVs and getting zero job interviews. 

Perhaps she wasn’t applying to the right jobs or perhaps she didn’t add her household management skills to her CV and employers weren’t able to see her transferable skills and how valuable she could be to their company. Perhaps even… who actually cares…it’s a drama. It's also a slice of life and one that represents well the lives of stay-at-home mothers who go back to work later in life after taking care of their husbands and children i.e. Alicia Florrick.

Xun Xun (Jiang Meng Jie) badly needed a job so that she could get the funds to cover the car damage; more than that, she needed a job to support herself financially and to save enough money to be able to get custody of her son as well as putting food on their table. As she didn't have the capital, she moved in with her bestie but she is not stupid, just in need of a bit of a transformation. She's smart, having graduated from a top school. She just lacked the professional work experience and no one cared about giving her a helping hand towards getting some - the economy is a jungle where only the strongest survive. Things weren't looking good. With the matter of the accident, they simply got worse. Why did she have to drop her insurance? Murphy’s law Xun Xun, Murphy’s law.

She dresses up in a tailored two piece pants suit with a plain white blouse, an attire that has never gone out of fashion since it became a womens' power suit in the 20th century. Pants suits have became a staple not only in haute-couture runways but also in pret-a-porter and in high-street brands and a symbol of female elegance and style in the workplace. Practical and simple in her suit Xun Xun purposely goes out to find the owner of that exorbitant automobile only to find out he was interviewing for a personal assistant position and finding no one suitable enough to fill the vacancy amongst over an array of 100 candidates to choose from (you can see a repetition of the number 100 right?). Fastidiously picky our 23-year-old male lead Cheng Li (Liu Te)… pricky, aloof and fussy to the core the second generation heir rather than working at his family's posh company takes over a sinking ship in the shape of a cosmetics business on the brink of bankruptcy that he badly wanted to salvage (because like any woman in despair who needs a man to save her, so does a company about to go under).

The company mattered to him. Only an idiot wouldn't see that (Prince Charming cares). If it didn't he would not go against his mother to pave his own way when he didn't need the money, the pressure or the headaches incurring from trying to keep the ship afloat and his employees from finding themselves in the precarious position of unemployment, looking for another job in the midst of a financial and economic recession. Cheng Li appears to have been a precocious intellectual child; now a precocious brilliant young adult with a savvy knack for business and an obtuse aptitude for love (except the one he daily nurtured for his company). People are not perfect, not even handsomely smart and caring rich guys but they can be pretty decent.

Xun Xun convinces Cheng Li to give her a chance so that she can pay him for the car after making herself a nuisance to him. She becomes his personal assistant aka his very own private babysitter parlor maid always available similar to Rose Buck living downstairs in his beautiful abode while he resided upstairs, sharing an identical living arrangement to a younger Sir Hallam Holland in BBC's recent adaptation of the 1970's drama series Upstairs Downstairs.

During Xun Xun's trial period where Cheng Li dangles her resignation over her head (as if it were a carrot being dangled in front of a horse) at the slight command refusal (if the horse stopped moving, it would not eat the carrot), Xun Xun goes as far as cosplaying as a maid for him at his party, against his expectations. Hey, he wanted her to quit but she would do no such thing. She had her son to think about while Cheng Li had Xun Xun maid image imprinted in his head to keep him occupied.

Little by little their relationship progresses building up momentum a step at a time, quicker when she moves to his basement to be able to cater to his every need 24/7 kind of like a three in one role: housekeeper, babysitter, and driver at the same time but solely one single salary. Absolutely crazy right? Hey, someone’s waste is another person’s gold.

If you ever dreamt about living in Belgravia, Beverly Hills, or the Upper East Side but rather in South East Asia, more specifically in China, here's your chance! You get the opportunity to live vicariously through Xun Xun in the comfort of your own house where you can daydream about a really fabulous existence or you can skip it and watch Pride and Prejudice, Bevery Hills 90210 or Gossip Girl. Don't skip it and watch Persuasion instead of the other three. Xun Xun did persuade Cheng Li to let her work for him so it's befitting!

The supporting characters aka Xun Xun’s BFF Zhou Quan (Viola Mi), a successful lawyer with a friend to frenemies relationship with Yi Wang aka Eric (Sky Li) a successful businessman who kind of acts like the just for the show inexistent second male lead adds depth to the story’s dynamic, especially as Cheng Li is as jealous as he can be of Eric, not knowing he has always had a crush on Zhou Quan. Here it is wondered if Cheng Li's only thought was Xun Xun's leaving him for another guy rather than the obvious attraction between Eric and Zhou Quan. A typical case of jealousy overpowering mental reasoning. 

Zhou Quan and Eric's relationship is so vexatiously irritating that a season 2 is quickly in need just so it can be centered around those two smashing characters, minus everything and everyone else. No need for another 16 episode drama. It's too small. 176 episodes would be as sensational as a decent size Latin American/European telenovela with variations of Eric's marriage proposal, Zhou Quan's slap, cries and all that kissing, stay away from her man fiesty attitudes and other shenanigans as expected from the telenovela romantic genre.

The good thing about a short drama is well that is short. The bad thing is that it becomes nightmarishly annoying to watch the main four characters refusing to see what is there in front of their noses, what is clear as water to any physical or virtual bystander: Xun Xun and Chen Li have feelings for one another and Eric and Zhou Quan have loved each other for years but their relationship bluff, deceiving appearances and misunderstandings always led them to opposite directions rather than the same one. People, get your act together!

The inclusion of flamboyant sassy, witty knows how to play the game extroverted character named Michael (Zhang Guansen) was an extra added bonus to the drama. With a moderate alter ego involving live makeup sessions contrasting with his online gaming sessions with Cheng Li in the workplace adds flair to the series so much in fact that whenever Michael is on screen he steals the show. He's hilariously comic even when he makes an Armany male model proud exhibiting a suit in an imaginary runway (the entrance to his office) without the general applause and attention. Preocupied, Michael tries a grand entrance again in pomp and circumstance but again nobody cares. Perhaps if he got buzzed during a live stream? Wait, he did that and it didn't work.

The individual and combined stories of all those characters make My Dear Lady utterly riveting to binge-watch along with contemporary issues in a  really light way but oh so original and fresh which is really cool as it’s spring going into summer so it’s befitting… plus this whole mother Cinderella who falls for a younger guy and a guy who has gone through a heavy trauma that hinders him from comfortably being in dark places and finds in her his sanctuary is sweet without the mellow, typical if the shoe fits kind of thing. 

Both leads have been scarred one way or another and both have a past and a story the other is unaware of despite their old shared relationship. Xun Xun does not remember. Cheng Li does not remember. Neither is aware of their initial connection, tugged deep in their school days. Time makes memories hazy and they were young. Details were forgotten including big ones for Cheng Li. Xun Xun on the other hand had bigger memories to create even bigger ones to dissipate and to hide from Cheng Li until the past catches up to the present and all tucked away comes to light... typical!

Eric and Zhou Quan need more screen time! Their remaining challenges, their progressions, their multiple other stories are left to the imagination when they ought not but life is not about the Cinderella happy endings, life is about life... My Dear Lady represents that well with the endings, the untied loose ends, the evolution of some characters and persistent childish behavior of others that continue to live as they have always have... the lack of perfection, the cherry somewhere left out from the cake and the cool focus on Eric and Zhou Quan and the rings... hahaha! Another story for another time maybe...

To watch My Dear Lady unfold and develop on screen is a gift for the audience as the story is so unassuming, so unpretentious but at the same time so dissimulatingly light, so well filmed, visually consistent and unusually delightful with a pace that flows consistently well and an ending that is what dreams are often made of: sweet romantic stories that brighten up rainy days and warm up hearts in the wintertime.

Have you checked it out? If you haven’t, do you plan to?

Drop your thoughts and comments below.

age gap older woman/younger man my dear lady cosmetics company mother-son relationship workplace office romance divorce indifferent character boss/employee relationship divorced female lead jiang meng jie liu te sky li