As much as I can, I try to resist looking at Weibo because it’s such a terrible timesuck. There are so many funny and interesting posts EVERY MINUTE that it’s easy to spend the entire day just scrolling through all the posts and never getting anything done. But a few months ago, while reading posts about people pretending to be street fashion models, I came across rave reviews for a Chinese romcom series, Well-Intended Love (Chinese name: 奈何Boss要娶我, which roughly translates as “What to do, boss wants to marry me”), but the one review that caught my attention most was from this very respectable-looking auntie (the kind who looks like they’ve memorized all of Li Bai’s poems). It was very succinct: “Addictive, D-list series.” Well now, how can you resist this glittering praise??
However, I didn’t realize the show was on Netflix until just this past month, but when I did find it, I was completely mesmerized, bad acting, ridiculous plots, and middle-grade production and all. IT IS GREAT, and I owe Li Bai auntie for her spot-on review and recommendation.
First, let’s get this out of the way. Despite the terrible hairdo he’s saddled with in the series, Xu Kaicheng is not an insignificant reason for the series’ success in China (and now apparently overseas).
(Seriously, he has such a beautiful hairline–I’m very conscious of hairlines as I have a fucked up cowlick that makes it look like I have a drunk widow’s peak–and lots of nice, thick hair, why can’t they give him a decent haircut? TOM FORD, WE NEED YOU.)
I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve been perving on his Instagram account and in fact, I think you should thank me for sharing this image below. By the way, I am not the insane woman who is stalking him in the comments demanding why he doesn’t visit her house despite all the times she’s shared her address.
I honestly don’t know if he or any of the other actors in this series are any good because the storyline calls for scenery chewing and exaggerated expressions. But he is watchable, and he takes his clothes off A LOT. A LOT. He is the most naked person in the entire series. The director and writer basically wrote the script like this:
Coming home from work? TAKE YOUR CLOTHES OFF.
Spilled something on your shirt? TAKE YOUR CLOTHES OFF.
A dog comes and sheds on the carpet? TAKE YOUR CLOTHES OFF.
Feel happy? TAKE YOUR CLOTHES OFF.
Feel sad? TAKE YOUR CLOTHES OFF.
I’m exaggerating here but not by much. As you wipe the drool off your screen, let me quickly tell you what Well-Intended Love is about (which really doesn’t matter because the plot is Korean Secret Garden-level crazy).
A C-list actress, Xia Lin (Wang Shuang, whose veneers really threw me off at first), finds out that she’s dying of leukemia and needs a bone marrow transfusion, and the only person who matches her is billionaire CEO Ling Yizhou (Xu Kaicheng), who initially seems unimpressed by her pleas. But since his beloved grandmother isn’t doing very well health-wise and wants to see him married before she dies, he ends up in a contract marriage with Xia Lin (who gets the nickname Moomoo) to make his grandmother happy.
Of course, there’s the usual hijinks between Moomoo and Boss Ling, who try to navigate living together as fake spouses and end up falling in love. The predictable poor little rich passive-aggressive girl spurned by Boss Ling for Moomoo and a shadowy childhood enemy who ends up kidnapping Moomoo (twice!) show up to make things difficult. There’s also Boss Ling’s best friend Chu Yan (Ian Yi) who’s reputed to be his secret lover, which makes Grandma surprised that Boss Ling is actually straight because she was prepared to have a grandson-in-law.
More than Moomoo, poor jealous best friend Chu Yan ends up bearing the brunt of the drama’s craziness: his father blames him for his mother’s death in childbirth so his father lies to him and tells him he’s adopted; while trying to prove that Moomoo is a gold digger, he ends up being rescued at least once by her because he has asthma; the poor little rich girl tries to drown him when he won’t help her, and when that doesn’t work, she burns down his hospital room and kills him; and then it turns out he’s not dead after all and was secreted away to make his comeback to denounce her.
At some point, Boss Ling also develops amnesia, deals with the mother who abandoned him, saves Moomoo from her kidnapper through his ability to decode her drawing of a teddy bear and a house (seriously), loses Moomoo when it turns out SHE NEVER HAD CANCER IN THE FIRST PLACE. It was all a ploy by Boss Ling to make her agree to a contract marriage!
I was so stunned by these unbelievable developments that I kept messaging plot twists to my friends, many of whom asked me if I was drunk. And yes, I was. I was DRUNK ON DRAMA.
Yes, this is a trashy show, and while I understand that’s a matter of taste, a lot of people disparage trash without understanding that they do provide really important insights about where a society is at: what people are afraid of, what they wish for, what they think about.
Low-budget shows like this really tell us about what modern Chinese society is like, and kidnappings, fake deaths, and amnesia aside, it’s a very hopeful picture. Moomoo is independent and kind-hearted, but she’s not a pushover. She resists Boss Ling’s tendency to be overbearing and leaves him when she finds out he faked her leukemia diagnosis. Moomoo has a career, an adorable best friend who’s a writer, and interests that have nothing to do with Boss Ling. In the end, she and Boss Ling have a baby and it’s Boss Ling who cares for it at work while she goes off to film shows.
Homosexuality also isn’t a big deal in this show: as I mentioned before, everyone just kind of assumes that Chu Yan or other male characters are in love with Boss Ling because he’s just so hot and naked all the time, and it’s not a big deal. Grandma’s only concern is that she doesn’t know what to call her future grandson-in-law. This also isn’t Wu Kaicheng’s first time at the homoerotic rodeo:
This isn’t a surprise to those of you who are aware that China has thousands of years of acceptance of the fluidity of sexuality. For those of you who don’t know this, maybe you might want to consider whether it’s a coincidence that homophobia and homophobic laws happened to flourish during the time China was overrun with Westerners. <insert Mr. Peanut monocle face emoji here>.
If you’re interested about what is going on with homosexuality in China, the government is forcing people to be more tolerant, all the way down to primary school. Centralized governments, when run by meritocratic leaders who care about the nation, are really more efficient than election-based democracies, and that’s facts.
My final words:
A lot of people have the Western propaganda-fueled impression of China as this Orwellian state out of 1984, but let me remind you: that book was written by an English person and reflects the fears and desires of a WESTERN society. China is a lot more complicated than people think; with the good and bad that every country has. Obviously, there are lots of things to improve in China, like rural poverty, but if you really want to know what daily life is like in China, this is the best show to watch because it’s the clearest example that all people want to do is live their lives.
And despite its occasional lapses into corruption, the Chinese government wants to make sure that people get a chance to do it without the suffering that has marked the past hundred years of Chinese history. I think people don’t seem to understand just how miraculous and breathtaking China’s development has been. Just think about it: almost eighty out of the past hundred years of China’s history were full of starvation, suffering, deaths, illnesses, war. And yet unlike other nations that succumbed to the yoke of certain nations’ economic imperialism, China has managed to pull itself together. There are people I know who are only in their thirties who were born in mud huts without running water and they now live in smart condos that can calibrate air quality and temperature on their own [edited to add: with that said, if you have a smart residence or are planning to get one, just remember that when they gain sentience, you will be at their mercy].
WITHIN MY LIFETIME, China went from a place where people weren’t sure how they were going to feed their kids to a place where people can perv on a good looking man’s soft grunts as he does bicep curls. That is a fucking miracle.
And so if you want to understand China, watch this show.
ps. You can read my post on Well-Intended Love Season 2 here!
Thank you for this! Now can you do season 2 because I’m lost! 😊
Working on it once I pick up the pieces of my exploded brain!
I laughed so hard as you went through the plot of this show because it’s so ridiculous and I still love and rewatch it. And you are right, it’s the main Male lead that probably subconsciously keeps me coming back.
I know! I love that they went all the way with it, no shame or self-consciousness at all.
I am an 57 y/o person of color American female, I hope there is a season 3. I got addicted watching episode after episode till 2:00 in the morning. Not good. I am a frontline practitioner during COVID19. I enjoyed it. Mr. Xi Kaicheng is pretty.
Yeah, hope there’s Season 3! Thank you for your brave service, and stay safe and healthy!
Mmm, I agree that homosexuality is shown in a really tolerant way in these series, which is cool. I also enjoyed reading your comments about the series.
However, I really need to mention here that China in altogether is not as tolerant towards gays as you make it sound like. Yes, homosexuality was popular in ancient China (before Westerners) and yes, it has been legal again since 1997, but otherwise it has been mostly ignored by the state.
This is one of the only series or films that even depict homosexuality, and here there aren’t even any actual gay characters, let alone love scenes between two men. Lots and lots of gay films have been banned or censored in China, e.g. “Brokeback Mountain” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”, by the governmental “National Radio and Television Administration”. There are about no officially published series that depict homosexuality, and those that do, are not allowed to visualize it in any case.
In fact strong leadership in China only hinders the positive attitudes towards homosexuality. In a democracy-based country, people are at least allowed to speak their views out loud and get information about their sexuality. In a lot of democratic countries the LGBT+ rights are way more developed than in China.
Also I feel that if you really want to understand China, you should travel there for some time and meet the people. Or at least watch a variety of different series and films, beginning from the Cultural Revolution, and yes, maybe ending to these series.
Funny that you commented this because I’m just finishing up a post about The Untamed and censorship in China. As a matter of fact, I have lived in China (both in rural areas and Beijing) and I’ve been travelling there since the 80s, and part of my work has to do with translating and editing white papers for international legal firms about Chinese laws and policies and their implementations. And for 5 years, I was a volunteer and a staff member at an LGBTQ organization in Canada when I was a teen. It seems like I know a little bit about what I’m writing about. 😉
I’m going to state right now that it’s true China has a long way to go regarding LGBT rights. However, you’re conflating government systems/policies and societal attitudes, which I will explain to you below:
Government policy: democracy is not a cure-all for homophobia or attitudes towards LGBTQ–if you accept that the US has been a democracy since the beginning, then why did attitudes towards LGBTQ only shift in the past couple of decades? Ironic that you bring up Brokeback Mountain since that movie is about violence and homophobia towards gay men from the 60s to 80s.
Do you know why attitudes shifted? Education. In this case, the burden was left on the gay community to do the educating, while the government turned a blind eye to the discrimination. Another issue that helped is that urban Americans became less religious and more cosmopolitan over the years, particularly with the rise of the Internet.
And yet, even with all that, just like the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement needed strong government leadership in order to overcome the prejudice that many Americans continue to hold. And in their case, they found it through strong leadership in the courts–not through elections–who supported gay rights through a series of rulings. Note as well that these only happened fairly recently.
By the way, India is the world’s largest democracy, and they only decriminalized homosexual sex in 2018. /shrug This is what happens when there isn’t a strong government figure who is willing to take a risk.
With regards to the Chinese government, as you said, there is no official position on homosexuality, and the 2017 censorship policies are overly restrictive. However, you missed my point on how China has tried to cram in 100 years of development in 30 years. You sound like a young person, so you may not understand the scale of this, but imagine that in one year, you had to take a bankrupt company with illiterate and unskilled workers into a successful and thriving one. Note that it took Steve Jobs almost 10 years to return Apple to profitability.
I bring this up not because I think the Chinese government is perfect–as someone who has to study the policies, I can easily name at least 20 areas aside from censorship where they seriously need to improve–but to point out that governing and development is a process that is always changing, and it has to pass through certain stages of societal and governmental development. Not to mention, agencies often act independently of each other, and while one agency can be more conservative, another one can be more liberal in its point of view.
Another thing I should mention is that the 2017 censorship policies are directly related to the Cybersecurity Law that went into effect that year, and is considered an umbrella law that needs to be consistently refined and updated, particularly through public feedback and challenges in court (sound familiar?). I explain this more in my Untamed post, so if you’re interested in learning about Chinese policies, please check for that in the next few days.
Societal attitudes: As I mentioned in the context of the US, societal attitudes had to improve first before protective legislation could take place, which meant a lot of gay and trans people had to die from violence and disease before attitudes towards them changed. However, sadly, recent studies have shown that discrimination against LGBTQ is increasing, which shows you that to be effective, laws need to be supported by regular education.
In terms of mainland China, majority of the adult population is barely educated about sex, much less about sexuality. Let me explain something about Chinese (and in fact, most countries’) culture to you: there has long been a sense of shame attached to talking about sex and sexuality, which naturally extends to LGBTQ. So how can this be changed? In 2018, the government began to step in with national sex education programmes aimed at both children and adults which also incorporate discussions about sexuality. It seems like it’s coming late in the game, but please do remember what I said about the speed of China’s development. It’s not easy to ask people to suddenly change their feelings and opinions, and so the Chinese government typically implements pilot programmes in first-tier cities and then uses them to refine and test the programmes before slowly branching out to the rest of the country–this makes sense because educated urbanites are more open-minded. And yet, you still see some pushback from people about the sex education programmes. If there is enough data and education to change people’s attitudes towards LGBTQ, then the government will begin to make the policy changes.
If you’ve thought my post was too positive about gay tolerance in China, that’s because I’m old and I’ve seen an improvement from the 80s to now. Again, there is lots of room for improvement, but the approach should be multi-pronged:
– education of children and adults about sexuality and tolerance
– exposure for older people to normalized depictions of LGBTQ
– cases presented to the People’ Court to challenge censorship
– more government support of LBGTQ NGOs (in case you didn’t know, the government has already established a foundation with PFLAG, but clearly they need to increase financial and logistical support for other NGOs)
I hope this clears up any questions you might have about LGBTQ rights and policies in China and elsewhere.
Hi, thank you for this text. I laughed a lot, but it is also educational. For last two days I watch this drama, my husband thinks that I’m crazy, my friends too, because nobody of them watching any Chinese or Koreans dramas. I also find interesting and educative your comments about Chinese society. Thnks.
Hahaha, my mom thinks I’m crazy too.
ok girl, first of all, i don’t think i’ve ever met anyone who understands why i devour trash tv like you do. i was laughing on the floor at your descriptions about how shitty the acting and the plot twists are 😂😂😂 and i was thinking the exact same, that these shows are such a good reflection of the country that produced them! i think if you watch a kdrama and compare it to a cdrama you will see some huge societal difference!
Yes! Trash lovers unite!
I just LOVED your article! So FUNNY! and So Spot on! It is a delightfully silly and over the top show! Makes me want to watch both seasons for the third time!
Thank you! Once I’ve finished my big project right now, I’m going to finish my review of Season 2!
Great post, thank you! I’m from Egypt and literally everyone thinks I’m legit insane for watching it till the end. My brother was passing the other day and couldn’t stand watching 2 full minutes (to be completely fair it was episode 19, the part where Ling Yizhou’s heart rate was problematic in the coma and Drs were going all over the place and Moumou was crying saying “You promised you will never leave me” and he appeared from the coma telling her not to cry haha)
Anyway great educational post, great to understand this aspect of China!
Loving the Orwell reference [and the link to Xu Kaicheng instagram account] 🙂
Thanks! Your brother needs to appreciate the artistic genius behind that scene. Coma! Heart problem! Dream sequence/hallucination! GENIUS!
I’m just in the earlier episodes but I read through your entire synopsis which makes me want to finish it now. That was fun and enjoyable.
Thank you! I hope you enjoy this crazy show!
Thank you for the laugh while reading your article. I felt the same way as I was watching season 1.
Tackling season 2 next.
Male lead sure is handsome and definitely subconsciously the reason why I want to finish watching this show.
Your writing is so humorous and a delight to read! Browsed a couple of other articles you wrote and I will check them out.
Thank you! I’m preparing a review of the novel “The Golden Hairpin” in preparation for the upcoming Kris Wu x Yang Zi drama! I’m excited!
I’m learning Chinese, so I watch a ton of dramas- at least 2 hours on a given day. It has really helped me learn faster. Anyway, I’ve binged this “trashy” drama, especially the 1st season, enough times that I lost count. I love it.
There are people out there who wish this drama never existed for reasons such as, “THE BOY IS A FREAKING STALKER, A SOCIOPATH TO THE CORE.” and “shocking apologia for domestic abuse.” (found on another site.)
I laughed so many times. I LOVE how jealous he gets when he still has amnesia and Xia Lin is paying more attention to the 2 male lead. Soon, the two leads are piling the 2 ML’s and 2nd FL’s plates full of food they couldn’t possibly eat.
I also though it was crazy that he locks her out wearing only her lingerie. Who does that? LOL
The point is, take it for what it is, a drama.
Haha, your romantic (and arguing) vocabulary in Chinese must be incredible by now. Yeah, I honestly feel more outraged over Boss Ling’s bad hair.
I did all nighter watching this , very addicted.
Stayed up for 3 nights as I had to keep watching it again and again.
There should be a competition to see who’s rewatched this the most…
I loved your review, you had me laughing so hard on this and both series are great! Your views are very refreshing to read concerning what China is all about today and hope to enjoy more from you. Plus I haven’t ever made comments about articles I read but you seem to have just the perfect touch of humor so please keep it up. Hope you and yours are fairing well during the pandemic and hope we all get through it safely and soon! 💜💜
Bye from Spokane Valley, Washington USA
Thanks, Leslie! Hope you and your loved ones are doing well, and let’s hope this pandemic is over soon!
This was amazing! What a great read!!
I have been watching Korean, Japanese and Chinese series on Netflix’s only since the end of 2022. My struggle is to attempt to figure out what is really cultural norm or whether someone determined it was a Western norm. Like what? My list.
1. Hitting, slapping, physical fighting at any age
2. Ways of sharing food. There is food in so many scenes where one character uses his/her own chopsticks or spoon to share their portion of some dish.
3. The women’s clothing and at least one friend is too childlike when the character is supposedly an adult. Often the clothing doesn’t fit according to USA standards I.e. shoulders of tops/shirts/sweaters—both genders, exceed shoulders, sleeves too long.
4. Men’s wear is often fashion forward (boys before flowers, garden of Meteors,)
5. Mother’s in law commit crimes against their children, son’s daughter’s in-law without anything beyond banishment.
6. Clerks, maids, chauffeurs, office workers often abused. In one series an office supervisor hit, kicked and mentally impaired an employee for talking back—no one spoke up or tried to stop him. We weren’t shown any repercussions.
7. Hair styles: men: few styles 1.bangs-full, middle or side split bangs, side curled up to the sides 2. Hair dyed a dark auburn, an orange blond of red highlites. When short hair usually represents the bad guy.
8. Women/girls: too often seem child-like style, top knots,(same as mens’), lots of dye
9. Kissing/hugging: often either gender in their 20s have not had a first kiss. Lots of bed sharing w/o sex
10. Lots of carrying or grabbing and pulling women by their wrists/hands to compel compliance.
11. More but hope you get my dilemma.
I have loved being introduced to the fashion, the takes on big business, boards’ actions, the currency calculated in billions.
I love how handsome so many of the male leads are—they get the most fashion forward clothes.
A whole new world for me; I’m so pleased
That’s a really interesting question about Western norms, and I think that dramas are definitely products of their culture (although perhaps some things are exaggerated for dramatic impact). One of the things that people always comment on is the chasteness of relationships, and speaking as someone who’s spent most of her life in Asia, it’s definitely something that is quite common, especially in societies where there’s so much competition to get into good schools that kids have barely any time for anything other than studying until they reach university (sometimes beyond, depending on their career paths).
As a tangent, I wonder if that’s why it’s fairly common to see platonic relationships between men and women in Asia. Everyone I know has friends of the opposite sex with no sexual undercurrent whatsoever. Maybe it’s because the idea of “family” is so powerful that you can incorporate even non-blood related people as part of your family?
Anyway, I’m glad you’re enjoying the dramas! My husband and I are currently obsessed with Physical 100, I might write about it haha.