Perfect dramas are a bit like unicorns: everyone’s heard about them, but no one knows if they even exist or where to find them. I’ve watched American sitcoms, Taiwanese melodramas, Korean romcoms, and Thai lakorns looking to fall in love with an amazing story – and every time I’ve tumbled head over heels, I’ve gotten the feeling that something was a tad bit off: the plot was messy, the acting was rigid, the directing couldn’t find a focus, or the pace lulled me to sleep. My favorite dramas aren’t flawless, and I love them anyway, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve been searching for a mythical unicorn while being mollified by pretty horses.
Normally, I’m quite content with my imperfect dramas. It’s fine to have a blemish or two, as long as those faults are balanced out by the right amount of heart. What drives me batty is when a drama’s imperfections can easily be fixed with a few snips to the plot and a healthy dose of character growth. I’ll swoon over the characters one moment, then want to throw away their dialogue in the next scene. If I had my way, this character would have had their big epiphany three episodes earlier, and that character would have skipped studying abroad altogether.
I’m no expert, but I can’t resist the temptation to diagnose a drama’s ailment and prescribe a hypothetical solution. I can’t go back and re-film the story as per my recommendation, but I can at least acknowledge structural flaws and propose ways that they could have been fixed. I’m suiting up in costume and playing drama doctor.
I was surprised to find myself in love with Fated to Love You. I wasn’t initially enamored with the premise (one night stand leads to unplanned pregnancy and hijinks ensue), and I’m not typically a fan of the extreme plot machinations of Taiwanese dramas, but as I eagerly reached for episode after episode, I realized that somewhere along the way I’d fallen for FTLY’s charm and undeniable heart. I bawled my way through episode twelve and giggled through the night club scene – ignoring homework and missing sleep in an effort to marathon the drama as quickly as possible. It felt a bit like eating an entire bag of candy – it was sweet and addictive, and I should have paced myself, but I only felt guilty after I realized I’d reached the end.
After the sugar high had run its course, I was able to look at the drama with a more critical eye, and I wasn’t exactly pleased with what I found. The fluffiness that I’d eaten up with a spoon was actually needless plot filler, and the characters I’d grown to love hadn’t really undergone enough change to merit the twenty-four episode run. The secondary characters were winning and Joe Chen and Ethan Ruan’s chemistry was red-hot, but their romance looped around in the same plot circles.
I’ve got to call this one an issue with writing. The directing was a bit weak, lingering too long on duller secondary plots, and at its silliest, the acting was over the top and insincere, but my biggest complaint is the script: too much repeated fluff, not enough substance.
If I was given a writer’s cap and told to fix the drama, I’d do three things: highlight the fate motif, tighten the plot, and keep my character growth consistent.
First of all, drama, fate’s written into your title. There should have been character reflections on the nature of fate and coincidence – instead, fate only came into play to make the zany, unrealistic situations seem plausible. I know that FTLY is a romantic comedy, and it’s not touted as terribly contemplative, but despite its fluffiness, there were moments of real, organic depth in the way family relationships were presented – and I was dying to see that same thoughtfulness in how the characters reacted to fate. There was so much potential for quieter beats of introspection to offset the slapstick comedy, and it kills me that it was never realized.
The biggest missed opportunity in the drama was the infertility scare that ended up a scam – which shortchanged the characters and the audience. That conflict would have been much more compelling if the con artist bit had been excluded because the irony of rendering Xin Yi unable to bear children is the perfect way to tie back to the the premise’s fate motif. Xin Yi and Cun Xi slept together on accident, shared a birthday by coincidence, but fate reunited them in Shanghai so they could be given a second chance to have a family – only to take that opportunity taken away from them. It’s cosmic irony that was never realized because Xin Yi’s infertility was fake, and because the characters weren’t in the habit of contemplating fate’s effect upon their lives.
Secondly, drama, I pity you for your extension, but that’s no excuse for pointless plot circles. The first half of the drama before the two year split was decently paced, and I felt that even the slower scenes were necessary for the growth of Xin Yi and Cun Xi’s relationship. I was completely on board with the development of the plot until I started noticing patterns in character interactions. The revelation-rejection that Xin Yi and Cun Xi’s relationship consisted of in the latter half of the drama was fine at first. Xin Yi was spunky and Cun Xi was adorable but their romance stagnated until it was frustrating to watch them repeat themselves over and over. It was frothy and cute, but unnecessary.
So let’s toss out the rejection in the apartment, the rejection in front of Dylan, the rejection in art class, and the rejection in front of the elevator – let’s keep it simple with an extended, less comedic rejection scene in the hospital directly after their reunion. And while we’re at it, let’s toss in the revelation that he’s engaged to really make that stick. In a perfect world, FTLY would be a sixteen episode drama max, but if I had to take the pesky extension into account, I’d replace the plot circles with more of the work environment dynamic. That was really a great set-up: forced proximity with public boundaries and a common goal that showcased their new personas. Xin Yi got to be confident and artistic and Cun Xi could be competent and businesslike. They’d begin awkwardly only to warm up to each other as friends, and there would be repressed chemistry, and it’d be so good. You get a much more mature and interesting dynamic when the main pairing can finally approach their romance as equals.
Last thing, drama: if a character undergoes a revelation keep their actions consistent with their growth. I had the most issues with this in the latter half of the drama – which, admittedly was when the extension kicked in, but regardless, character changes have got to stick. The writers demonstrated that they could keep characters consistent throughout the drama with Xin Yi’s transformation. She began as a sticky note, hardened into a confident artist, only to melt into something in between with Cun Xi’s reappearance. Her growth was logical and well plotted, and her character’s inner turmoil felt completely real, so snaps to the writers – however, I’m not happy with Cun Xi’s characterization.
Cun Xi began his marriage as an ass, softened a bit, then then pulled selfish move after selfish move despite Xin Yi’s sincerity. In first half of the drama he’s meant to be characterized by his immaturity and unpreparedness as a father, so I waited patiently to see his growth through their two year separation. I was impressed by his sincerity at their reunion and his mature, professional persona after being rejected; I was on board with is adorable persistence and rejoiced when he swiftly kicked Anna to the curb – but I could not fathom his unwillingness to explain himself after he was caught hugging his ex post-breakup. He’d already learned that miscommunication causes ridiculous amounts of angst, so he should have tracked Xin Yi down immediately, ex-girlfriend be damned, to keep his growth consistent. And it makes no sense that Cun Xi, after ending up in the hospital for deceiving Xin Yi, would immediately lie to her again. Spare me the dramatics, have Cun Xi learn his lesson once, experience growth, and move on – it’d make for a tighter plot and a better character.
All criticism aside, I truly did love this drama to pieces. It was hilariously funny, heartbreakingly sad, and adorably earnest, but it certainly could have used a dose of editing to have been truly great. Take the doctor’s orders to heart, but pat yourself on the back. You did some fine work, drama. I’m just hypothetically polishing it up.