BEWARE: SPOILERS on main characters and some scenes.
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"I had planned a hundred different ways to say hello to you, but I turned around and left..."
During Chinese Valentine's Day 520 (wu er ling 五二零), which fell on May 20, 2021, Chinese drama platforms released many romantic dramas. Most of these dramas cast popular actors whom the entertainment media have hailed as traffic stars (liu liang ming xing 流量明星). However, none of their dramas caught my attention while they were airing. The fact is that the storylines are filled with fluffy scenes and love tropes that I have seen hundreds of times in the past (for example, cohabitation/arranged relationship or school/office bickering). That's why I started to look for dramas with unique and interesting plots and stumbled upon this little hidden gem.
To clarify the title of this article, 'mature audience' doesn't mean you have to be an adult to watch this drama, and neither does the drama's content rating suggest so. I will explain further below in detail what I mean by 'mature audience.'
Adapted from 2019 novel "Ban Yin" (半吟) by Ni Shui Qian Liu (弱水千流).
Genres: Suspense, Romance, Drama
Aired: Apr 15, 2021 - May 6, 2021
Episodes: 16 | Duration: 35 min.
Where to watch:
- English subbed trailer
- English subbed drama
Different from my usual drama recaps, before going into the details of the drama, I will first talk about the subtitles of this drama, which actually play an important role in the watching experience.
Mysterious Love was released by Sohu TV, a platform that does not usually provide non-Mandarin subtitles for its shows. This is a reason why this drama was not so well known, as its promotion was not intended for international viewers. Luckily, this drama was picked up by a reputable Chinese-English fansubber who always finishes their subbing projects and provides high quality of subbing.
As a mature viewer, I strongly suggest that you watch this drama, and any subbed drama for that matter, from the original subbers (official subbers or fansubbers) to acknowledge their hard work. The fansubber of this drama, as far as I know, consists of a team of only two people; they remarkably explain the Chinese customs and language expressions for the international audience. And a perk is the extra information that is only provided on their website! So, if you watch the drama from an illegal streaming site that has stolen their subtitles, you won't see the explanations. See an example below of the fansubber's clarification on the use of the 'sister-in-law' expression that is common in C-dramas (source).
Maturity is Patience
Another way to be a mature viewer is to not be so demanding of the release of the next subbed episode. The subtitling process is more complicated than just translating written words; the technical aspect consumes so much more time. Continuous nagging from impatient viewers is tiresome and makes subbers eventually quit subbing, which is to our disadvantage. Fansubbers, specifically, are volunteers and still need to tend at their day jobs to support their willingness to spread the love of Asian dramas to us.
Quirky and adorable theater actress Ruan Nian Chu meets Li Teng, the cold, intelligent founder of a bodyguard hire company. However, he was the man who had seemingly died saving her five years ago when she accidentally stumbled upon the illegal activities of a gang and now lives under a different name. Ruan Nian Chu still loves him and thus embarks on the dangerous journey to discover his secrets and face the gang who separated them five years ago. (source: Productive Procrastination)
A male lead who now lives under a different name? Hmm. Regarding the theories on why someone looks like a person you knew from the past but now has a different name (and doesn't recognize you), this drama pokes fun at typical drama tropes as seen in this dialogue below.
Regarding the synopsis, a mature viewer will not rely on reading only one synopsis to make a decision on whether to watch a drama. Sometimes, a synopsis is translated incorrectly or incompletely or overshares some details. For example, the synopsis of Mysterious Love on MDL is somewhat misleading. If you read the synopsis, the female lead is described as "quirky and adorable" and the male lead as "cold and arrogant." Their descriptions fall into the Cold Man-Warm Woman trope that has been used too many times for OTP character setups that nowadays romantic drama watchers shy away from. Or probably it's still popular in China? However, in reality, the character descriptions only apply to them in episode 1, as overall, the female lead is not quirky, and the male lead is not arrogant. I purposely used the synopsis from the fansubber instead of the one on MDL and put up the GIF at the beginning of the article to reflect the mysterious vibe of the male lead. Indeed, the male lead and the second male lead are secretive. This brings us to the next part: the characterization of the leads.
Liu Teng (30) is the boss/founder of the Yun Tai executive protection agency that provides bodyguard service to celebrities. He is cold and intelligent, maintains strict professionalism especially towards flirty female clients, and keeps a strong brotherhood with his colleagues. He was formerly Lee, who was on a secret mission when he met Ruan Nian Chu.
Tsao Yu Ning is a Taiwanese actor, and although I saw him in the Taiwanese drama Triad Princess (as a supporting character, the FL's fiancee) and as the ML in the Taiwanese movie Do You Love Me as I Love You, he somehow didn't leave any impression on me other than with his role as Li Teng. I think he plays tough, uncompromising, or intimidating roles better, as in this drama. And... you've got to check out his abs!
Ruan Nian Chu
Ruan Nian Chu (25) is a stage actress with the Xi Wei performing group. She is calm, smart, and works hard for her acting career. I have no clue how she is described as quirky as in the synopsis unless she was traumatized from her experience five years ago when she accidentally fell into the heart of a gang activity. That's when she met Li Teng. He taught her shooting and other self-defense skills, so although she appears delicate, Ruan Nian Chu is not a damsel-in-distress type of FL.
I have no recollection of Yilia Yu, although I watched My Dear Lady, where she played a supporting role as one of the ML's employees, but I guess the OTP outshines everyone in that drama.
From the start of the drama, the love between Liu Teng and Nian Chu pretty much exists. Viewers get to see through flashbacks how they met five years ago and fell for each other. The big question is the secret carried by Liu Teng that is revealed little by little as Nian Chu tries to uncover it throughout the drama. If you have watched the C-drama Where the Lost Ones Go, both dramas have similar setups.
Jiang Hao is Li Teng's assistant and best friend ever since the company was founded. Jiang Hao is naive, gentle, and kindhearted. He cares a lot about his family as well his comrades, especially Li Teng, and always keeps Li Teng reflecting on his relationship with Nian Chu. However, interestingly, Jiang Hao seems uninterested to make time for his own love life.
I have never seen Wu Hao Ze in any drama or movie before, though I observed a resemblance between him and Chinese actor Hu Yi Tian.
Qiao Yu Fei
Qiao Yu Fei is Nian Chu's best friend and has stayed by her side during Nian Chu's hard times. Yu Fei is romantic and confident. Her ambition to find the right guy makes Nian Chu gladly send any guy interested in her to Yu Fei. That is until she meets Jiang Hao.
Leslie Ma is the only actress on the cast list whom I recognized initially. She did such a good job in The Best of You in My Mind as the FL's best friend that I remember her. She also had great chemistry with her co-actor as they formed the second couple in that drama.
Yu Fei meets Jiang Hao coincidentally during a parking issue, and she falls in love with him at first sight (she dubbed him her parking hero). Since then, the bold Yu Fei pursues Jiang Hao shamelessly, which causes some hilarious and embarrassing moments for the shy Jiang Hao. Jiang Hao tries to avoid Yu Fei at all costs since he keeps a secret of his own.
Besides the romance of the two couples, the bromance and sismance are equally strong. Li Teng and Jiang Hao are supportive of each other's personal and work issues. The sismance between Nian Chu and Yu Fei, who are long time besties, is also entertaining. There is no love triangle or jealousy amongst the couples and no prolonged misunderstandings.
Between the main characters and other supporting characters, there is also a strong bond between the male characters and other Yun Tai bodyguard colleagues, a work-related friendship between Nian Chu and her colleague in the Xi Wei performing group, as well as the main characters' attachments to their family members. Every ancillary relationship is formed without overwhelming the main plot.
As for the antagonistic relationships, each villainous characters fits their role either as a direct opponent, mole, or intrigant. These relationships carry the storyline towards the climax without taking over the romance.
One of the OST's songs that left a lasting impression on me is the closing theme song "Profile" or "Side Face" (Ce Lian 側臉) sang by Wei Yu Nuo (魏语诺), a melancholic melody that starts out slow, accompanied solely by piano, and gradually builds up with rock music intensity and ends back into a slow piano tune. The link provided has Chinese/Pinyin/English lyrics.
The singer also sang two other OST songs, "Can't Avoid" (Duo Bu Kai 躲不開) and "Please Go Away" (Ni Zou Ba 你走吧).
Full album playlist available on Youtube.
Despite the low budget, this drama does remarkably well in telling a long-awaited reunion between two lovers amidst the danger they are pulled into. Suspense-wise, viewers who love mystery may feel a bit confused with the logic of Li Teng's past work and the gang operation due to the fact that in the novel, he is a special force military officer on a secret mission. However, if the drama used the novel's military setting, it would have never passed NRTA censorship due to Chinese government sensitivity. Therefore, the screenwriter did a fine job changing the storyline to a private business setting in spite of some minor plot holes.
Since the drama is short, with only 9+ hours in total of binge-watching, it does not drag with unnecessary fillers of side characters or side stories. Although not traffic stars, the main actors acted well and have amazing chemistry with their love interests. Both romance lines are equally interesting to follow. The main characters acted their age with mature love stories. A lot of skinship. And real kisses. The example below is just one of many.
Didn't I tell you it's for mature audience only? (◔◡ <)✿
THANK YOU FOR READING!
Thank you to the editors who edited this article! I do not own any of the images used. Credits go to the respective owners. Images are from the official stills and posters, drama screenshots, and Google search. GIFs are self-made, taken from the drama scenes.
Edited by: Mina (1st editor), devitto (2nd editor)