Archive for the ‘TV Show Review’ Category

I got into a book reading slump and so I did what I normally do – started watching movies. One of the movies I watched was one of my old favourites, the Chinese movie, ‘Curse of the Golden Flower‘. After watching the movie, I wanted to watch another Chinese movie, or maybe a series. Most Chinese series are set during old times with kings and queens, and princesses and princes. I wanted to watch something which was set during contemporary times. I thought if I’m able to see familiar streets and buildings and shops, it will make me feel nostalgic about my Shanghai days. So I looked around and found this series, ‘The Rational Life‘.

Middle : Qin Lan as Shen Ruoxin
Right : Dylan Wang as Qi Xiao
Left : Calvin Li as Xu Mingjie (Ruoxin’s boss)

The Rational Life‘ is a drama set in contemporary Shanghai, and it has everything that we’d expect from a drama – drama at the office, drama at home, friendship, love and everything in between. Shen Ruoxin is a 34-year old woman working in a car company. She is next in line to become the head of the legal department. She is beautiful and single and likes being that way. When she comes back home, she likes gazing at the stars through her telescope and contemplating the immensity of the universe. Sometimes she catches up with her closest friend Ziyan. But if you are single and beautiful and successful, the world won’t leave you alone, would it? Even your own family won’t leave you alone. Ruoxin’s mom constantly pesters her to get a boyfriend, to get married. She repeatedly tries matchmaking for her. At the workplace, Ruoxin’s colleague falls in love with her, Ruoxin’s boss is attracted towards her, and at some point even her assistant falls in love with her. As if this was not enough, there are people in her workplace who are constantly trying to bring her down.

Ruoxin’s best friend Ziyan’s life is very different. She is happily married, she loves her husband and he loves her back, she cooks for him everyday, she loves travelling and having adventures. But she has a different set of problems. Ziyan and her husband decided not to have children when they got married. But a few years later there is a lot of pressure from her in-laws who push her to have a child. They turn her husband to their point of view. At some point even her parents join the chorus and join hands with her in-laws. Ziyan feels isolated in her own home. Eventhough on the surface, it looks like she has a different set of problems when compared to her friend Ruoxin, when we look at things in their essential nature, they are exactly the same. Both of them want to live simple lives, enjoy it the way they like, and experience the simple joys of life. But the people around them keep putting pressure on them and want them to change. It looks like living the simple, fulfilling life is hard. It doesn’t matter whether you are single or married, whether you are working or not, the world just won’t leave you alone.

What these two women do to keep their sanity intact in the midst of all these pressures and how they try to find joy in the simple pleasures, and whether they succeed, is the rest of the story.

This is, of course, the story from one perspective. There are many subplots and many characters and most of them are wonderful. There is, for example, Ruoxin’s assistant, Qi Xiao, who is in love with her, and will do anything for her. His best friend Su Yang is from a small town and lives with him. Su Yang is an artist and cartoonist who finds it hard to get a job. His parents are after him and want him to come back home and find a government job there and settle down. Su Yang is in love with Sijie, who works in Ruoxin’s team. But Su Yang finds it difficult to express his love for Sijie, because he feels that he is unworthy, as he doesn’t even have a job. Sijie is a happy person who loves Su Yang, and who is puzzled why Su Yang doesn’t respond back, though he is clearly attracted towards her. There are more characters and stories, of course, but I’ll stop here.

One of the things I loved about the series was the way it showed Shanghai. Seeing all the familiar buildings and streets and places I used to frequent, made me nostalgic and brought back old memories. Another thing I loved about the series was that there were no dull episodes or episodes which felt like fillers. There were charming beautiful scenes in every episode, and every episode carried the story forward. All the characters were fully fleshed out and they were complex and fascinating. The way the series depicts Chinese culture is beautiful and realistic – how parents intervene in their grown-up children’s lives in every way, in education, in work, in romance, in family life; how children try to exhibit filial piety – that is try to be obedient to parents and not defy them or offend them, which is very hard when you want to live life in your own way; the internecine office politics through which people are trying to bring you down; how it is hard to come from a small town and try to find a job and a place to stay in a big city like Shanghai, and how inspite of that young people still keep doing it everyday; how it is hard for an independent successful woman in the workplace, and how people are always trying to bring her down.

Ruoxin was probably my most favourite character in the story. The way she navigates the challenges in her work, in her personal life and in her love life, are all beautiful to watch. She is also charming and playful in all the romantic scenes, which is very Chinese, and which is very beautiful to watch. One of my favourite scenes in the story is when her boss, who is almost like Darcy (or rather a better version of Darcy) nearly proposes to her. The way Ruoxin rejects his proposal is one of the most beautiful scenes in the story. It is almost as if the scriptwriters took Jane Austen’s scene and improved on it and made it better, much much better! Another of my favourite scenes is when Su Yang defies his parents and explains to them why he can’t come back. You could almost touch the tension in that scene – the sparks were flying! Another of my favourite scenes is the one in which Ruoxin and her boyfriend invite her mom for dinner (her mom is against them getting together and is doing everything to break them up), and they explain to her why they want to be together, and her mom’s heart melts and she gives them her blessing and then she delivers a monologue like Spencer Tracy does in ‘Guess Who’s Coming For Dinner‘, and our heart melts and we start crying…

One of my favourite characters in the story is Qi Xiao’s mom. She is one of the best moms that I’ve seen on screen and her beautiful relationship and friendship with her son made me think of Karen and Lucas in ‘One Tree Hill‘, and Lorelai and Rory in ‘Gilmore Girls‘, and Mahalaxmi and Kumaran in the Tamil movie, ‘Kumaran, Son of Mahalaxmi‘. She is also friends with Ruoxin’s mom, and in one scene, they have a long conversation during which Qi Xiao’s mom tries to change her friend’s mind with respect to her daughter Ruoxin and her boyfriend. It is a powerful and an incredibly beautiful scene – two strong women who are also single moms, who are worried about their children and who approach the art of parenting differently. It was a scene which made me cry.

One last scene that I want to describe, which is also one of my favourite ones, is this one. At one point, both Ruoxin’s boss and her assistant are in love with her, and Ruoxin’s assistant also doubles as her boss’ driver, and one day they are going somewhere in the car together and the conversation turns to romance (in a very indirect way, of course, there is no question of talking about your love life with your boss or with your driver, but they both know exactly whom each of them is talking about, and we can feel the tension in the air), and Ruoxin’s boss tells Ruoxin’s assistant, that if he is attracted to someone, he should first ask himself, whether he is worthy, whether he has the resources to make her happy, before doing something about it. It sounds more powerful in Chinese – he says “Nǐ shì shéi? Nǐ yǒu shénme?” (“Who are you? What do you have?”) It is like someone takes a knife and stabs you repeatedly and you can’t do anything about it. The boss knows that he is the one with the resources and this young man who loves the same woman is no match for him, and he makes it known in no uncertain terms. Of course, our heart goes out to the young man. As someone who fell in love repeatedly with people out of my league when I was young, I wanted the young man to win. But now, having grown older and wiser, I feel that the boss’ words were wise, and they required serious thought.

One final, final last scene. Towards the end of the story, a whole storm has blown through the office, and Ruoxin’s nemesis, is one of the victims. As he packs his bags and box and leaves for the final time, no one even talks to him. The company top management has changed and this guy is part of the old guard and even his loyal supporters don’t want to be tainted by him. He gets into the elevator and who does he bump into there, but our own Ruoxin. So the two have a polite conversation (which is odd, because in the workplace he always tried to crush her, once even moving her into the admin department at the bottom of the food chain, hoping that she’ll leave, but she takes it on her chin and resists and persists – it made me think of my own time at the workplace when I was exiled to the cubicle next to the toilet with no clear job description and responsibilities), and he tells her that he has quit and no one even said goodbye to him. She thanks him for mentoring her during her initial days at the company. He then tells her that he worked in the company for 20 years, and he was there when this building was constructed. Now, suddenly, it is all over. He congratulates her on her success, and he hopes she has better luck than him. I hated this guy from the beginning till the end, but this last scene made me feel sad. He was also a human being at the end of the day, who worked hard and who was loyal to the company. He could have been nice and kind to his younger colleagues, instead of encouraging sycophants. He could have been nice to Ruoxin or atleast tried being professional towards her instead of trying to crush her. But inspite of all this, that last scene still made me feel sad.

The series is filled with strong women characters, Ruoxin of course, and Ruoxin’s and Qi Xiao’s moms, Ruoxin’s friend Ziyan, Ruoxin’s friend and colleague Sijie. At one point there is a restructuring in Ruoxin’s office and a new boss walks in, and it turns out that the new boss is a woman, and on the first day she lays down the law, and it sends shivers down the spine of all the bullies – that scene still gives me goosebumps. That boss, Lisa Fang, comes only in a few scenes, but she is amazing.

I loved ‘The Rational Life‘. The writing is beautiful and the beautiful, charming, moving scenes keep coming in every episode. It has 35 episodes, and that is 35 episodes of pure pleasure. Qin Lan delivers a brilliant performance as Shen Ruoxin and I think this might be one of the finest performances of her career. Hoping to watch more series featuring her, but I doubt whether any of them can match this. But I live in hope.

Have you watched ‘The Rational Life‘? What do you think about it? (If you haven’t watched it but would like to, it is there on Netflix.)

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I watched the BBC adaptation (2016) of Leo Tolstoy’sWar and Peace‘  a few days back. If you don’t know the story of ‘War and Peace‘, here is the brief outline. The story is set during the time when Napoleon invades Russia and it follows the fortunes of three families, the Bezukhovs, the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys. Of particular interest to us are the adorable Pierre Bezukhov, everyone’s favourite Natasha Rostova and my favourite Marya Bolkonskaya.

(In the picture below, from left to right, it is Pierre Bezukhov, Natasha Rostova and Andrei Bolkonsky. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good poster of the show  with Marya Bolkonskaya.)


I loved the BBC adaptation. I haven’t seen other TV or film adaptations of Tolstoy’s novel, but being the person who always brings uninformed, subjective opinions to the table, I will say that this might be the finest ‘War and Peace‘ adaptation yet. (I haven’t seen the classic film adaptation yet. Audrey Hepburn plays Natasha Rostova in that ❤ Can’t wait to watch!) The casting is perfect –  Lily James as Natasha Rostova is brilliant (from ‘Downton Abbey‘ to ‘War and Peace‘ to her upcoming new roles, she is going from strength to strength), Jessie Buckley as my favourite character Marya Bolkonskaya is brilliant, Paul Dano as the adorable Pierre Bezukhov is perfect and James Norton as the wavering, indecisive Andrei Bolkonsky is wonderful. That ballet scene in the third episode is gorgeous, that spontaneous dance which Natasha does in the countryside home – the dance that Orlando Figes raves about in his brilliant cultural history of Russia called ‘Natasha’s Dance‘ – that dance is beautiful. The scenes in which Marya and Natasha appear together were some of my favourites – when two of our favourite characters come together as soul sisters and love each other so much – what more can one ask? The scenes in which Pierre is a prisoner of war and makes friends with a fellow prisoner who has a dog and a later scene in which Pierre talks about this fellow prisoner-friend and his philosophy – they are beautiful. Even the supposed bad characters like Dolokhov and Kuragin are charming. The relationship between Kuragin and his sister Hélène is beautifully portrayed too – they are one badass brother-sister duo! The war scenes are done well too.


I was happy that most of my favourite characters had a happy ending – my most favourite character got married to the man she loved and two of my favourite characters declared their love for each other and got married. Unfortunately, one of my favourite characters ended up having to give up her love. One of them died. One of the minor characters, whom I loved, also died.

The last scene was perfect – the main characters all happily married with beautiful children, everyone sitting outside a countryside house enveloped by the beauty of the garden, the trees and the forest and ready to have lunch, the children playing, and the birds chirping, the sunlight beautiful and warm and we can hear the lapping of the waves at the nearby lake – that beautiful ending which warms the Russian heart and soul, was perfect.

I have a couple of complaints too. I was never convinced why Napoleon turned back from Russia. I don’t know whether Tolstoy’s novel provides better justification. I also don’t know when Natasha fell in love with Pierre. Pierre was always her platonic friend. Pierre was the one who loved her. When Natasha’s heart changed is not properly revealed. It felt like the sudden happy ending of an old Bollywood / Tamil movie. Need to find out whether the novel does a better job here.

I have tried reading ‘War and Peace‘ a few times, but got distracted everytime and had to give up each time. Now that I have watched the TV adaptation, I am inspired to give it a try again. Hoping that I can ignore distractions and avoid temptations and read till the end.


Have you watched this BBC adaptation of ‘War and Peace‘? What do you think about it? Have you seen the classic film adaptation? Which do you think is better?

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