Fake It Till You Make It (2023) A Recommendation
Can anything good come out of MangoTV? Occasionally perhaps and this gem seems to be one of them. I don’t think it is hyperbolic to say that this is perhaps the best rom com I've seen in a long time... in the vein of When Harry Met Sally but more grounded in real world issues. Both leads are upwardly mobile hardworking outstanding professionals in their respective workplaces but circumstances are such that they are stretched to their limits. They live precariously on the precipice as they maneuver the snake pits of corporate culture as "slaves" to their masters' bidding due to the necessity of holding on to their jobs where nothing is ever a guarantee. It's highly realistic in the way it depicts the dog-eat-dog work environment that's all too familiar to struggling wage earners in the East Asian context. In reaction to this global phenomenon there’s been plenty of talk about the Great Resignation or quiet quitting in the past few years. Gone are the days where a person remains in the same job, profession, industry for their entire working life. This drama reflects that harsh reality of a competitive labour market in the everchanging contemporary economic landscape and the need for adaptability. While it satirizes the milieu that it explores, it is at its core a sympathetic exploration of the men and women who live in the coalface of workplace grind.
Elvis Han and Elvira Cai headline this office drama where romance is assumed to play an integral part of the work-life realities that afflict many overworked employees today. So how do people find time for courting and wooing in this day and age where men and women work long hours, barely have time for meals, are exploited by the employers competing with other employers for contracts and clients? It's a battleground out there and many are not past dirty tricks to gain the upperhand. A fact that inevitably spills into relationships with significant others.
Elvis Han's Xu Ziquan is an investment banker and for him, a rising star in the industry, it's the neverending chase for that next big deal that's giving him sleepless nights. He looks genuinely exhausted. (I suspect Elvis Han was nursing a cold for most of the shoot) If he can't clinch it, it's reallocations and retrenchments for his team. He meets Tang Ying (Elvira Cai) onboard a plane for the first time and the sparks are ignited. She's a corporate lawyer at the bottom of the food chain barely keeping her head above the water with a demanding supervisor on her back 24/7. She piques his curiosity during their brief exchange and apparently the feeling is mutual but neither expects to see the other again. Of course they do first through her sister then later they work together on a crucial M & A project. The two first decide that they are best suited to be friends and drinking partners in part because she has heard of his (overblown) reputation with women and in part because he is a bit of a commitment phobe. As they start to spend more time together, they begin to rethink their "friendship". Indeed can their "friendship" transition into a "dating relationship"? Not without a few bumps and wake-up calls along the way.
The push and pull is rather well done here and never goes overboard to the point of frustration. Work does get in the way. The leads are busy people putting out fires on the one hand while rubbing shoulders with a whole host of potential obstacles to true love — acquaintances, colleagues, and clients. There are plenty of opportunities for them to look elsewhere and keep their options open till kingdom come but in the end they keep finding their way to each other regardless of admirers and ridiculous schedules. There are troublemakers strewn along the path of true love but once the main pairing make their minds up, they are a team in the making. Nonetheless what the series does even better is the way it deals with accommodation. A pet peeve of mine is current western media messaging about men and women not needing each other or that any kind of lifelong committed relationship is an optional extra. Or somehow being solitary is in and of itself is a virtue. Or that a woman is assumed to become a lesser human being because she’s an intimate relationship with a man. Independence though every parent’s dream for their children has turned into an idol to be worshipped by working women. With all the different kinds of relationships on display the narrative acknowledges that seeking companionship and making families is not only a human impulse but clearly constant negotiation is necessary to solidifying long-term relationships. The leads may tease and make jibes at each but their conversation also have depth and thoughtfulness that show their commitment to each other.
There’s an important side story with Tang Ying’s sister Xinzi who is in search of the perfect mate that will check all the right boxes. It’s a long hard road for the spoilt princess type but through her experiences with a few men she comes to conclude a few home truths on her own.
The best thing about this is the script although it’s undeniable that the chemistry between the leads is fabulous and the direction is classy. The tension, the UST, the build-up is great. The dialogue more than anything else just sparkles especially during the banter between the leads. I find myself grinning from ear to ear as I watch their antics. Of course it’s even better in the Chinese. In a romantic comedy the repartee is almost everything. More than that however is the way the leads and their arcs are written. Tang Ying and Xu Ziquan are relatable people dealing with all the same kinds of issues that the rest of us know only too well. He’s no prince and she’s no Cinderella. They just want in on their piece of the pie. To make their mark in a complex world where they’ve been fed lies about their real priorities. They have their strengths and their flaws. Because they are decent people they try their best to get on with everyone even their bitterest rivals and sometimes it means they can’t say no. Sometimes it means that people who can’t take no for an answer take advantage of their good will.
All in all, it’s a wonderful 14-episode drama that isn’t driven (or hampered) by the usual incoherent adherence to romance tropes that plague a lot of rom coms in recent times. Moreover the length of the drama speaks volumes as to why this one is a cut above the rest.
And the OST... is outstanding. Just like When Harry Met Sally.
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