06 May, 2016

Ode to Joy: Pros and Cons, but Mostly the Cons

For those of you whole follow me on social media and on Wang Kai International, you might know I was super excited to see Wang Kai in a new drama, and one that boasted a female-centric storyline. The trailers looked promising, and for the most part, I do enjoy the drama, but there are a few things that are particularly frustrating to me. Note, I have only watched up to episode 22, so there might be things that come to light later on that might skew my opinion, but so far, this is where I stand. (And this post is actually mostly not about Wang Kai ;P)

One of the things that I find particularly grating to both my intellect and my being a woman, is the overly didactic and mansplaining male narrator. You would think that in a female-centric story, that they would at least choose a female narrator to tell the story of the five women of Ode to Joy's floor 22. Be that as it may, it would be possible to tell a female-centric story with a male narrator, if it were done in a less didactic manner. All the actresses are perfectly capable of acting out a scene, but the scene loses all impact when the narrator explains what the character is feeling. I want to tell him to shut up, that we can see perfectly well what the character is feeling without his explaining. It's like being treated like a child. It's such a contrast to Nirvana in Fire where the production team expects the audience to be smart. With Ode to Joy, it often feels like we're "just a dumb bunch of women who need someone to explain everything to us". As you can tell, this gets on my nerves. The narrator also just talks way to much. We don't need so much narration. If the narrator has to step in so much, it's a sign of poor writing that they expect the audience not to have received the information in any other way. That and they don't trust the actors and actresses' performances, which are actually just fine.

Another thing that really bothers me are many of the male-female relationships and comments that get bandied about as if we are just meant to take them with a grain of salt. These are not culture specific, as women in several cultures get told the same or similar kinds of things.
  • When Guanguan gets told that men like women like her: sweet, docile, creatures, as if women are some sort of pet for men to collect.
  • When President Wei is telling Wang Baichun that he fell for An Di's mind before he saw her, and that she is pretty is just a bonus. And that essentially before meeting An Di, he thought women weren't really intellectually capable i.e. couldn't possess rational thought (I'm paraphrasing here, but he's essentially surprised that An Di can do maths and be logical and analytical). This one really pushes my buttons because (a) I've had too many men express surprise at my analytical and logic skills and (b) I've had too many female students (and male students) who have been fairly clear that women cannot do maths and science, and should stick to things that don't require too much thinking. In this day and age, it's time we stop thinking of women as intellectually inferior creatures. 
  • An Di is supposed to be okay with a not so handsome Weiwei because he is smart and rich and he likes her for her beautiful mind (as well as body). Give me a break. Women don't have to like a man just because he likes her. 
  • Weiwei acting like An Di's mentor and "teaching" her and "instructing" her. It's the same thing with the overly didactic narrator. I am already sort of dreading When a Snail Falls in Love" because the romance is one of those "experienced man teaches inexperienced girl" types. I really don't like the power dynamic that sets up with a teacher-student romance. It's just not cool. 
That said, and I do have some other things that I find frustrating, that I will get to in a minute, there are several things going for the drama that I do appreciate.

I really like the soundtrack a lot. The drama is shot beautifully and for the most part the editing is fine. Seeing as I sort of started watching the drama for the eye candy, I don't mind it so much. The women are beautiful and so are the men. Of course, I am majorly Kaikai biased, so I love when Wang Kai is onscreen. I like his flirty, expressive face being sexy. I've seen some spoilers from later on that show that he might also later fit into the category of pretentious male, but I won't comment on that now because I haven't actually watched the episodes yet. The drama, despite all the eye candy and dating and marriage and relationship drama, often passes the Bechdel test. There are many, many times in the drama where scenes go on for a long extended period of time when female characters talk to each other without talking about men. I like that. I approve. I also think that the drama does a decent job of highlighting some concerns young people face these days. There are also some really funny scenes and the actresses are all doing a really excellent job of portraying their respective characters (whether you love or hate them). So that's what I want to talk about next, each female character in the drama.

An Di (Liu Tao)
I really love Liu Tao. She seems funny, smart, and affable offscreen, and I enjoy seeing her play highly intelligent, but dysfunctional An Di. I also really love her suits - I would love to get some of them for my own work attire! I love that An Di has so easily fallen into a big sister role to Guanguan and Yingying and that she is proving to be a solid and dependable friend to both Fan-jie and Qu Xiaoxiao. I think it's doing more for her than her relationship with Qi Dian. But more about that in a moment. I think that female friendships can be a really fulfilling and important thing for women and I really love that An Di is finally finding some of that. So far in the drama, it seems that her adoptive parents weren't exactly friendly, because she seems to have been fairly alone in the US. That could be more commentary on the complicated and sometimes controversial nature of international adoption, but that's not a mess I want to jump into. Be that as it may, An Di has some really big trust issues and seems to struggle with opening up emotionally. In many ways, I feel like An Di might actually be a person with high-functioning Asperger's. In the drama subtitles, her brother has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, but from what they have shown so far, it perhaps might also be a form of autism.

On the one hand, I appreciate it when TV includes a discussion about mental illness. I just hope that in An Di's case, it's done well. I personally think she needs to be in therapy, talking about and discussing her abandonment issues (we've been given hints at her blocking memory of her parents/prior to being in the orphanage) and also her not wanting physical touch. The physical touch aspect actually is one aspect that makes me wonder about An Di being on the autism spectrum herself, and there have been hints that perhaps she herself might have some form of mental illness and this is where two of my biggest beefs with the drama come in with An Di. One, that Tan Zongming is withholding information from An Di. This goes back to the benevolent male protector shepherding his female friend type thing. If An Di does in fact have a family history of mental illness, she needs to know about. Her not knowing is only going to make the problem worse if it comes up later. Secondly, how Qi Dian approaches her lack of desire for physical touch - he forces her to have physical touch. This is just not okay. When someone says: NO, that needs to be respected. Instead, we get the male teacher paradigm of "he knows what she needs to be socially acclimated". In actual fact, forcing her to be touched, hugged, kissed etc. can be extremely harmful to her socialization, especially if she does have some form of mental illness. The allowing physical touch etc. has to come from An Di. When she is around the other women, who have more or less allowed her her physical boundaries, she is much more relaxed. When she is around Qi Dian, her body language shows how tense she is, and how on edge she is. I much preferred it in episode 22 when she initiated the hugging situation. That's how I want their whole relationship to progress. I am looking forward to An Di experiencing some level of healing though as she builds a relationship with her brother.

Fan Shengmei (Jiang Xin)
Jiang Xin is killing it as Fan Shengmei. There are so many things that I like about this character, and issues that seem very personally applicable. While I don't identify with her materialistic side, I can understand it. Experiencing poverty, struggling to pay bills, uncertainty about finances, in reality, these things wear down on a person and a marriage. It's actually a fairly realistic, if perhaps depressing take on marriage and relationships. She's capable, smart, beautiful, and as of now, she's found the man she would like, but is torn about his not being as successful as she would have liked. The hopeful romantic in me says: just go for it! Don't hesitate! I also just want her and Wang Baichun to talk things out. I'm guessing they do, and I've seen some spoilers that suggest things perhaps don't go so well. I also know that her storyline gets more complicated, frustrating, and tragic later on. But I haven't gotten there yet, so I can't talk about what I don't know yet.

I do know that Fan Shengmei's position is one many older, single women find themselves in. What does one do when one is intelligent, well educated, beautiful, but well, the men aren't exactly on par in terms of quality, well then, what does one do? Wang Baichun really does seem like a good match so far - but her vanity and his pride are getting in the way. There is also the added social component, that in a society heavily skewed in numbers against men having enough women to marry, that one can't be average. Gender equality, gender imbalance, etc. create actual, real economic and social issues with marriage and relationships. But that is also a topic that well, I don't really want to dive into in this post. Needless to say, society often encourages women of a certain age to "stop being picky" (oh I hate that phrase) and just "settle". Fan Shengmei doesn't want to settle, and I'm okay with that. I think there was also a really great section of dialogue in the earlier episodes where Fan-jie, Guanguan and Yingying were talking about education, marriage, etc. and opportunities for women, and they talked about that it should be okay for women to be able to be seen as happy, and to be happy without a man. And I agree with that (though I am by no means opposed to marriage, and would like it myself). They also pointed out that An Di and Qi Xiaoxiao can literally afford to make that decision, to be single, because they have the wealth for it. It's also a theme one sees in literature. The one example that pops into mind right away is Austen's Emma where it would be completely socially acceptable for Emma to remain single because she is wealthy, whereas the Misses Bates' are seen as pitiable and as "old maids" because they are poor. Sadly, there is still very much this sort of mentality alive and well in this world. *grumbles*

Qu Xiaoxiao (Wang Ziwen)
I know that many people really don't like Qu Xiaoxiao. And I get it. She is in many ways a really horrid person - but then she does things that show that perhaps she's maybe not as horrid as she seems to be. I do find her desperate need for male validation a tad annoying, but she's also fairly self-assured and works at a problem until she gets what she wants. So she is persistent. Wang Ziwen is also doing a really good job at being fairly comical when the script calls for it.

Qu Xiaoxiao is a rich, entitled, hasn't had to work a day in her life sort of person, but when she's given the motivation, she actually finds she wants to work. Even though her initial motivation to take the business project away from her brother isn't motivated by a desire to actually work, it quickly turns into that. I know she relies a lot on her friends, but she is starting to learn the ropes and I do hope that she's successful with her business. She seems like she could be good at it. I also like that her and An Di are forming a friendship where perhaps An Di can help reign in some of Xiaoxiao's horrid habits.

I'm not sure why she feels the need to create chaos wherever she goes, but the end results aren't always terrible. I know some people think she's out to get someone else's man, but I'm not convinced of that. The fallout from Yingying's good-for-nothing boyfriend drama have actually been good for Yingying. He was a total jerk. Even though Xiaoxiao lured him into proving he was a jerk, she didn't actually make a move on him, which shows to me that she feels somewhat protective of her friends, but in a really dysfunctional way. I don't think the fallout of her interfering with Fan-jie has quite come out, but didn't she find out exactly what Fan-jie wanted to know? I really don't like Xiaoxiao's methods per se, but she does ferret out what people want and what they want to know - and sometimes the truth of that hurts. Fan-jie likes Wang Baichun, but she also wants him to be super rich and successful. Xiaoxiao is essentially ripping off that bandaid. I still am not sure how I feel about it.

We know that she is fiercely loyal to An Di though and manages to swing the situation when An Di gets smeared online as Weiwei's mistress. I really loved those scenes and quite liked Xiaoxiao in them. I also like her relationship with Dr. Zhao so far. She knows what she wants, she went for it, and she got what she wanted. They are sexy, funny, and flirty together and actually are very honest about what they want from the other. It's refreshing. I appreciate directness. From some spoilers I've seen, I know that it's not necessarily going to stay so peachy keen, but Wang Ziwen and Wang Kai have had some really funny scenes together that have made me laugh out loud. And I do think it's funny that the writer has been mining the Wang Fei's comments for dialogue for Qu Xiaoxiao.

Guan Juer (Qiao Xin)
It's really interesting see how well they have managed to dress Qiao Xin down to play mousy Guangaun. She's portraying the struggle of the good girl so well. I know that good girls often get a bad rap and get a lot of flack, but hey, there's nothing wrong with being good. I do think that Guanguan is trying to figure out how to blossom into her potential and become someone less mousy and more in charge of her destiny. We've seen sparks of her determination and spark and desire to be more than average, and I hope we see her blossom and mature. She seems very young so far in the drama, and is slowly awakening to sense of who she might like to become.

I think it's really interesting that Senior Lin, her classmate is someone others see as someone fitting for her, but he's also had his "I am a man, I will take charge and teach you how to deal with the neighbours" moments that left we with that same mentor-student male-female relationship dynamic that makes me so uncomfortable. If you haven't gathered, I'm all for gender equality and I'm not a huge fan of mansplaining. I know that in later episodes, Guanguan develops a crush on Dr. Zhao, I mean, who wouldn't ;P though I'm not sure if that storyline remains a one-sided love affair or not. I do think that Guanguan has the potential to be awesome and to be seen as awesome, and not just as a wallflower content to be pushed around and to settle for something. I want her to stand up for herself and find success at work and in her love life.

Qui Yingying (Yang Zi)
I go from being super annoyed at Yingying's ditziness, to adoring her fiesty spirit and her undying loyalty for her 22nd floor sisters. In the past few episodes, I've really liked her a lot. I think they probably played up her ditziness a bit much, but the writing seems to be giving her a little more creative spunk and she has some good insights into Fan-jie's relationship.

I like that we have a character who doesn't perhaps have the highest IQ or or all the street smarts to navigate life, but she's still plucky and willing to pursue her future. She doesn't give up, she's fiercely loyal, and in short, a good friend. Not everyone can be Einstein, and I like that with Yingying's character, we're being shown that not everyone has to excel in certain ways that society has deemed "successful". I really like that her online shop idea took off and that her plucky attitude got her the job in the first place. I think too often, people in society only look at certain jobs or professions as "successful" ones, and Yingying's character shows that that isn't the case - and that there is room for the non-traditional. I hope that Yingying's character continues to grow up and mature well.

Well, there you have it. I set out to write a short post and ended up writing over 3,000 words. haha. Such is life. What are your thoughts on the drama so far? And remember that I've only watched up to episode 22 so some of the things mentioned might not apply later on in the drama. And despite the more serious nature of this post, I am also enjoying the eye candy.

◀ Hello. It's Been a While. 

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