My Bargain Queen (2021)

Although I like all kinds of well-written romances as much as the next person, it’s always been the case that my favourite kind of romance (as I keep saying like a record that’s broken) is the type where the leads are collaborators — a partnership that goes beyond dating and marriage while not at all implying that dating and marriage are secondary… or insignificant. It’s why I appreciated the dynamics of You Are My Hero, learnt to care about the couples in The Long Ballad and Stand By Me, didn’t mind the yin-yang pair in Sell Your Haunted House, or even Law School and now My Bargain Queen.

To be frank, it’s hard to pin My Bargain Queen down. On the surface and in the early episodes, it looks like a rom com that has melodramatic tendencies. But safe to say, it’s strictly neither. At least that’s my assessment after viewing 24 episodes. It’s the closest thing to a slice-of-life C drama that I’ve seen. Truly it’s a hard one to pigeonhole with conventional labels. To be honest I was worried about the 40 episode tag for a show of this kind early on. While I’m less worried now, I still wonder from time to time if there’s 40 episodes in this.

I started this for Lin Gengxin who was the reason I discovered last year’s criminally underrated gem To Love. When I started blogging about it, subs weren’t exactly forthcoming. I was streets ahead most viewers and was trying to promote it wherever I could. To Love is one of the best C dramas I’ve ever seen especially as it does a superb job of combining romance and crime in a way I hadn’t really seen since Hitchcock… maybe. Lin Gengxin was fantastic in that and delightful in this.

In comparison, My Bargain Queen is somewhat more commonplace. It doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking with the genres it pays homage to. What I enjoy about it is how much of the drama happens around the leads and not between them. Yes, misunderstandings and conflicts do arise but they are thankfully… promptly resolved. There’s some initial push and pull but it doesn’t define their dynamic. Here the push and pull serve purely as a transitory feature that facilitates progression in the narrative while the leads are deliberating over their feelings for each other. After some obligatory back and forth, the male lead Sheng Zhening played by Lin Gengxin knows what he wants but he’s less certain about how the leading lady, Xia Qian played by Wu Jinyan feels about doing the permanent rumba with him. He makes the mistake initially of asking his faithful PA An An for tips on courtship when his own common sense would have seen him through the bumps. She on the other hand makes the mistake of turning to her equally inexperienced employee for advice on matters related to the heart. Once she makes her big confession, it’s clear that both are wonderfully secure in this relationship. And why wouldn’t they be? They don’t keep things from each other… much. When they do, things come to light almost immediately. As Zhening tells the infatuated young lad in Qian Qian’s office, he’s thankful that there’s a man beside her to look after Qian Qian when he’s not around to do so himself. This demonstrates a confidence born out of a maturity and long-term perspective. It serves as striking contrast to his sister’s tumultuous relationship to her newly minted husband.

As with all of these types of shows Sheng Zhening is the wealthy successor to Evergreen, a hotel franchise started by his late father. At the start of the show, his sister, Ning Meng tracks down a “bargainer” or a price negotiator in the form of Xia Qian in order to hold her wedding at the family-owned hotel. Unknown to all concerned, Ning Meng wants to marry Zhijun, Xia Qian’s ex-fiance against the objections of her brother who justifiably believes she’s too young to wed. Also complicating matters is the fact that their so-called good friend Qin Hebo (Nicky Wu) is plotting behind their back with an acquisitions and mergers company, Lihe Capital to gradually take over Evergreen.

On appearance all of this seems to have the makings of high melodrama but surprisingly the show avoids the leap altogether. It tiptoes around the edges and does a series of unexpected turns making the story much less predictable than first impressions might lead one to believe. The leads’ relationship are rock solid and they’re extremely considerate of each other but they work hard in partnership to keep a myriad of external threats at bay. Theses threats include multiple attempts by Lihe Capital to interfere with the day-to-day operations of Evergreen Inc via their minions and issues arising much closer to home in the form of the mentally unstable Ning Meng.

This is also a show where most of the romance drama comes from the secondary pairings where their journey is much less straightforward than the leads. Qin Hebo who isn’t a complete scoundrel has his own loveline with Xia Qian’s bestie, Shuangshuang. For him it potentially becomes a serious spanner in a well-oiled machinery. For the naive Shuangshuang, it puts her between a rock and a hard place, torn between two loves. Ning Meng and Zhijun as newly weds do it tough as their marriage is built on the shakiest possible foundations. Consequently there’s no honeymoon period for them. It’s a path of self-inflicted misery, a fact that becomes more evident as the show progresses.

For me personally, it’s a fun, easy watch with yet another attractive, likeable pair at the helm. I last saw Wu Jinyan in the Legend of Hao Lan so this puts her in an entirely different context for me. Still she plays another competent female lead that has her head screwed on right. Both the leads are thankfully adults who might be guilty of the occasional aberration now and again but the upside is that they admit to things when they have to, apologize when they’ve made mistakes. It’s an unqualified relief after the other romance-centred show that I’ve been following.

So far I’m pleased with the production values and the writing gets a pass from me. It might not be a masterpiece in the making but it’s entertaining television that’s worth a look. Afterall it only goes from strength to strength.