Even with a few months left in the year there’s little doubt in my mind that this will be easily one of the best dramas coming out of the mainland or anywhere in Asia. It’s one of those rare outings that’s been careful not to out stay its welcome. Romance dramas to their own detriment almost always don’t know when to bring the push-pull to an end. The temptation to indulge in luck pushing is often why the final act in C dramas often feels unsatisfying. There are exceptions of course and this happens to be one of them. It’s been my contention for years that no romantic comedy should ever exceed 16 episodes and this one understands why that should be. 32 episodes, each about half an hour was about right for what they were trying to achieve. The cunning too of this production is also in its use of time jumps to chart the progress of the leads’ life together which leads me to wonder how differently things would have been for them if a child or children were also along for the ride.
It’s rather refreshing to my mind that the drama doesn’t end with the couple finally coming together after wading through a myriad of melodramatic obstacles and/or the wedding. As a self-professed storyteller who often wonders about the sting in the fairytale, I am far more interested about the details of the happily-ever-after. Fortunately the drama is focused on how their dynamic plays out in the context of the couple’s individual successful career paths and how they navigate that. There’s a lecture in that. The claim that’s made here is that in real life, the barriers to happiness more often come from within that without. Villains are unnecessary because life itself with all its complexities presents enough challenges that can shipwreck even the best of intentions. That said You Are My Glory is still a fairytale… of sorts… in that the two primary adults here are able to pursue lifelong dreams, meet, marry experience little opposition and negotiate their way to a successful union. It makes an interesting case for two people who happen to be on very different paths, finding a point of intersection and then finding that their differences come with similarities. Two busy people at the peak of their respective careers do the juggling act triumphantly because of their wholehearted commitment to each other in the way they give attention to the details. Plus there’s mutual respect for the other — their jobs and what it takes to be at the top of their respective fields.
It is ironic that the person who seemed to be the least likely candidate for a life partner turned out possibly to be the best. For Yu Tu at least. Jingjing not only understands his impulses but encourages them because she is very much in a position to do so. This is an obvious contrast to the former girlfriend who admired the man’s intelligence and appearance but couldn’t live with the relative insecurity that his profession brought along. Her pragmatism and good sense of how the world really works overruled any girlish romantic notions that sentiments are enough. Yu Tu understood that and never held it against her. Romance is well and good but when the bills come pouring in, a woman can’t live on romance alone. The problem with Xia Qing is that she’s resentful that she couldn’t hold on to such a good catch because of her sense of pragmatism. Moreover, in the most egregious display of unfairness, the “airhead” who only went to a mid-level university and became a celebrity breaks all the rules that in life’s bigger playbook of hard work and academic credentials.
Complementarity seems to be the name of the game here. In all likelihood Jingjing has got the wealth and the lifestyle to support them both for the rest of their live. It allows them the luxury of greater choice in the marketplace of love. This is their fairytale. But that’s not the end of their story. Clearly Jingjing adores the entire package so much so that even from high school she was making inquiries about the finer aspects of astronomy. And when she finally gets the call to see a rocket launch, she’s squealing like a gleeful schoolgirl.
There’s also little doubt in my mind that the drama is a morality tale in accommodation. My sense is that there are genuine social issues that underlie the storytelling here. Once Yu Tu overcomes his own misgivings, he gives himself over to their relationship completely. The fact that neither of them try to change each other is one of the keys to their happily-ever-after. Despite all the fluff we are privy to, they’re actually very practical and hard-headed individuals who work and play really well. When they work, they work intensely for long periods. When they play, they do it 100%. It’s impressive and especially so because they keep their promises to each other.
It feels to me that the mainland Chinese are dealing with the same sorts of issues that people in fairly prosperous industrialised countries have to contend with in regards to maintaining work-life balance. The fact that there’s some acknowledgement of it here and it got past the censors tell me that there’s enough concern about what it does to the social fabric of the populace. A long term relationship is very difficult even with the right conditions but the modern lifestyle in all its manifestations is not really designed to promote its flourishing. However, it’s not as if individuals can’t make the hard choices needed and take ownership of them to make things work in an environment that’s in a constant state of flux.
Of course it’s a not one-size-fits-all solution. The principle is helpful but at some point sacrifices do have to be made because circumstances force us into those sorts of decisions. Take Yu Tu’s colleague Guan Zai as an example. His decision to leave the Search for God project is largely due to the fact that he is in a different place at a different time in his life. He is a husband and a father with health issues so his priorities play out differently. He’s been in the spotlight, lived his dream at some cost borne by his family and it has taken a toll on his health. Knowing that there are younger and equally capable colleagues who can take his place helps him come to different conclusions about what’s best for him and his family.
For myself, a realist through and through, I’m still eager to embrace an optimistic final act. It’s a drama dishing out good advice after all. With a bit of dexterous juggling, accomodation and loving commitment the leads can have it all. One can always make the case that without kids it’s much easier to achieve this so yes, it would have been interesting if they ended on that note instead — what’s life like for the Yu family with a child in tow. I note that Jingjing is struggling to get more mature roles and while this is probably a sad indictment of the industry’s view of where older women fit into the scheme of things, there’s also the issue of perception of her image which may or may not see adjustment when she attains motherhood.
Overall it’s a triumph in storytelling. It could have easily been one of a litany of trashy rom coms that are trotted out and soon forgotten. I don’t have anything against trashy rom coms per se (I watch them from time to time myself) but luckily for us, once in a while something of substance in the romance genre comes our way. You are My Glory grounded in the mundane but brutal realities of life in 21st century China seems to be one of those. Of course it never hurts one whit that the leads are rather easy on the eyes.