I know I’ve been gone forever, and I can’t promise I’m back for long, but I couldn’t resist commenting on TW drama Pursuit of Happiness (愛的生存之道), which ended just last week. How could I not, considering that this came from the same production team who did one of my most beloved TW dramas ever, In Time With You?
Quick drama description: 30-something old woman, Ji An Lei (Sonia Sui), is a successful career woman, scared of being single forever and dying alone, and carries a flame for her ex-boyfriend, who is back with a new girlfriend. And she gets a new roommate (Tony Yang), who happens to like that said new girlfriend. Sparks fly.
Obviously this drama copies a lot from ITWY, which had a winning formula, so why change it? They’ve got the successful career woman who is worried about not getting married off / being alone forever. They’ve got the nice understanding guy who has great chemistry with the career woman. They’ve got the ex-boyfriend who’s back. They also have the same wonderful visuals and contemplative tone and narrative format. And, !! SPOILER ALERT !! she ends up with Tony’s character, Huang Yi Kang, AKA nice understanding guy who’s been there all along.
With these elements in place, Pursuit of Happiness started off strong. I was delighted by the same tone, and somewhat more casual storytelling and pacing, as well as the realistic, fresh tone of the drama. Unfortunately, that got old pretty fast, when, after several episodes, the drama continued to plod along at a snail’s pace with little new conflict, plot development or movement.
Fundamentally, they were missing a lot of elements that made ITWY so winning. For one, they seem to have only taken a page from the frustrating half of ITWY, when it kept dragging and dragging for no reason and little conflict.
Also, they seemed to spend way too much time with Ji An Lei scheming to get her ex-boyfriend back. She would try, it would fail, and then she’d decide she was fine with that, and then her friends would tell her to win him back, and she’d try again. It was a vicious cycle that didn’t end for episodes and episodes, and I was annoyed that she was so indecisive. We the viewers don’t need to see her make that decision twice. And then her reason for pushing Huang Yi Kang away also didn’t make sense. I couldn’t fundamentally grasp why she was rejecting him, and then why she suddenly accepted him.
Unfortunately, the drama also lost points for realism, especially at the end. Granted ITWY wasn’t 100% realistic all the time (i.e. plane crash) and they did have some cop out narrative decisions, but it became a glaring problem in Pursuit of Happiness. Everything became so easy for the couple at the end, and all the problems they were facing for 12 episodes suddenly just got resolved. Which only makes those problems seem even more inconsequential. And then what about all the lovers that suddenly came out of the woodwork at the end? Like Peter? And An Lei’s coworker? Did they suddenly not matter? Too many loose ends. Oh, and what was it with He Wei Ting suddenly learning how to cook and opening a restaurant? I think that takes years and years, not just a few months.
The side characters, like in ITWY, were also unnecessary and annoying. I was thrilled they didn’t make Helen your standard mean second lead who stole her boyfriend away, but another human girl who had every right to fall in love with and date An Lei’s ex-boyfriend. What I didn’t like was the way they made He Wei Ting a whiny crybaby, and found the entire father disapproval thing to be way too drawn out, contrived, and frankly boring.
Furthermore, the lack of Director Winnie showed here. I felt like a lot of the flashbacks were repetitive and unnecessary, rather than adding to the scene as in ITWY. Plus so many scenes were filmed so slowly, with the camera zooming in slowly on some consequential scenes. Just too much filler. Pretty filler, yes. But filler nonetheless.
Where this drama did shine, like in ITWY, was in its portrayal of friendship. I loved the way they portrayed the three girls’ friendship, being there for their friend when she needed it, and yet all still having their own lives. I did find it a bit disappointing, though not wholly unexpected, that in the end, the message seemed to be that deep down all women are craving that settled, married relationship. When An Lei’s happily single friend started having all that drama, I not only felt it was contrived, but I was upset that the right route seemed to be the same for everyone. I mean, just because I crave what An Lei craves, doesn’t mean everyone does, does it?
Also, the steamy car scene with Tony and Sonia was really great. Finally, a semblance of adult relationships in dramas. Yes, adults have sex. I thought the drama did it very tastefully as well, and their chemistry was smoking. Kudos to Tony and Sonia for their hard work – I know Sonia looked super nervous in the BTS and have to give her mad props.
I also want to give Sonia credit where it’s due, and it’s definitely due here. She’s improved by leaps and bounds since I last saw her in PS Man, where I hated her and her character. Here, her expressions are realistic and I found myself rooting for her character. Her acting was nuanced (despite the poor writing decisions).
The OST was great here too, but not to the same meaningful level as in ITWY (BOLIN!!). But it was tasteful and lovely, and paired well with the mood of the drama. I’ve embedded some of them below. I definitely think music is one of the strongest points in this production team. Take a listen!
Ultimately, however, I was disappointed by the drama. It has so much potential, but was lost in the poor writing and editing choices. Too little plot dragged for too long with poor groundings. Just check out the steamy car scene and then I think you’re good.
我在哪裡 (I’m There) – 吳汶芳
反正我是愛了 (Anyway, I’m in Love) – Aggie Hsieh
空蕩 (Empty) – Tony Yang
死心眼 (Obstinate) – Aggie Hsieh (also the ending theme song)