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Meet Yourself (2023) First Impressions
This show really needs to be watched by far more people than it is. On the surface it seems like nothing particularly groundbreaking — a pleasant slice-of-life “seachange” story — but as the show progresses it becomes clear that the narrative succeeds on multiple levels. It doesn’t hurt that the chemistry between the leads is brimming with so much happy wholesome goodness. But much more than a romance this is a character-driven story that’s a testament to the storyteller’s skill bringing together a diverse group of people to weave a magical tale. Cute kids, cantankerous but charming grannies, a self-deprecating male lead that's the unacknowledged superhero of his village — the first to make it big and come home to try and revitalize the place. All this is achieved with surprisingly few tropes.
Of all the things I've watched in the Dec-Jan period this one to my mind is the best. For our regulars I would describe it this way: It's a delightful combination of My LIberation Notes and HomeCha without any of the petty acrimony of HomeCha. The story takes us out of the Big Smoke and into a scenic even idyllic location where life moves a lot more slowly. Indeed slowness is the point. Slowness is truly everything here. It’s a place to reflect on the meaning of one’s life and how that plays out in present reality. The characters here have their idiosyncrasies without descending into the extreme depths of unlikeability. It’s always a fine line or an issue of balance that many other scripts struggle to get right.
The story here begins with Xu Hongdou (Crystal Liu Yifei) a busy professional in her early thirties who is consumed by her customer service job at a high end hotel. Having gone through the ranks to reach a managerial position, work is her life, leaving her very little time to enjoy much else including proper meals. As humans are not meant to lead lives of quiet desperation, something eventually gives — her health. It is during a visit to the hospital that best friend, Nannan is diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer which leads to her passing shortly after. This seismic shift in her seemingly well-ordered existence eventually sees Hongdou rethinking life. She quits her job and heads to the Yunnan province for three months with the goal of resting and relaxation.
On her first day in Yunmiao Village she has a memorable encounter with a lad of sixteen in pursuit of a runaway horse. They brush against each other unceremoniously and her phone falls out of her hand and onto the ground. This unlikely combination of people, place and animal is our introduction to the Xie clan who serve as amicable guides to the landscape of issues that preoccupy regional communities. Rural to urban migration often sees a significant loss of community and wealth as the younger generations move to seemingly greener pastures for study and to make their fortunes elsewhere. Village life apparently doesn’t offer much to ambitious youngsters and the result for these communities is “brain drain” as well as the disproportionate numbers of elderly residents that are left behind.
Xie Zhiyao (Li Xian) is the unofficial village chief. The inhabitants call him Chairman Xie because he owns most of the businesses in Yunmiao. Word is that he left a lucrative job in Beijing as a venture capitalist to return to his hometown to help revitalize the place. From what we’ve been privy to, it’s a tough gig but he’s made it his life mission to put his village on the map as a tourist and business destination. Fortunately for him he has capable and enthusiastic types (Hu Bingqing and Dong Qing) to lend him a helping hand in that endeavour.
Meet Yourself or Go Where the Wind Is (the literal Chinese title) is about the pursuit of paradise. Or perhaps more accurately, the building of paradise. Yunmiao Village is not only the focal point of the story, the point of convergence for all the show’s themes but is positioned as another character in this story. A disparate group of individuals from all kinds of backgrounds… directionless… in search of purpose… find their way to the boarding house in Yunmiao seeking refuge, temporary or permanent while they lick their wounds. Whether it’s Hongdou herself, Da Mai the aspiring web novelist, the meditating tea-drinking Mr Ma, the garrulous Hu Youyu or the cafe employee Na Na, each is looking for their place in the world. The village could be the start of the journey and/or the destination.
Building paradise on earth is no easy feat. The building blocks are there but the right people with the right vision are needed before the actual building can take place. Yunmiao Village itself is in need of a makeover. It has undeniable historical and cultural significance. It bears a legacy passed down through generations — for instance, artisans specializing in wood carving and traditional embroidery — that need to be preserved. But that fact alone it seems is insufficient for its long-term survival. Incorporating modern technological tools and business know-how has to be part of the equation.
Needless to say the relationships matter most in this. A’Yao who lives with his grandmother has an amusing and enviable double-act with her. Grandma Xie sells her hand-sewn goods and on the side she’s A’Yao’s “accomplice” to lure unsuspecting souls to his cause of re-building Yunmiao and taking it into the 21st century. Her benevolent maternal demeanour makes her the perfect candidate to make the sales pitch. The lady can tell a sob story that can melt a heart of stone. And yet she’s no pushover as seen in her dealings with her grandsons. It’s not hard to see where A’Yao gets his affable cunning from. They’re firm partners until the beautiful urbane Hongdou comes along and the partnership of two gradually becomes three. This is of particular importance when A’Yao’s younger brother goes back to Kunming to live with their parents.
Up to this point the leads are friendly and all the signs indicate that they will get to romance eventually but first things first. A’Yao needs Hongdou’s decade long expertise in customer service to tweak the edges. Hiring locals to do the jobs makes sense but there are always downsides. While familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed outright contempt, it could a hindrance when bad habits require correction. How do you tell aunties that watch you grow up that they have room for improvement in their attitudes towards work even if you’re the boss? You don’t. You get the expert outsider to do that for you.
So far I have nothing but praise for this show. It doesn’t put a single foot wrong thus far. At the rate it’s going, it could quite easily be one of the year’s best and/or one of the best C dramas ever made.