Review: Ode To Joy (欢乐颂)

Synopsis:
Ode To Joy revolves around the lives of five women from vastly different backgrounds, living on the same 22nd floor.

Review:

Ode To Joy is actually my first modern C-drama and I’m so glad I’ve chosen this beautifully-written series to introduce me into the modern C-drama world. Produced by the same team as Nirvana In Fire, you can be sure that Ode To Joy is definitely of a watchable standard.

As you can see from the synopsis the plot of this drama is rather simple and one can even argue that it’s practically non-existent. That’s because the gem and heart of this drama lies in its five beautifully-written characters as they grow and mature alongside each other. The drama is of course, character-driven rather than plot-driven, like most slice-of-life dramas and it just so happens I have a much higher preference for character-driven stories which makes Ode To Joy one of my favourite dramas. With every character, there’s always something to hate and something to love about them. I think one of the reasons why I love this drama is because of how realistic and subtle it is, both in style and writing. The characters are relatable (at least at some point or another) and I think most of us would be able to see ourselves in at least one or more of the characters.

Fan Sheng Mei (Jiang Xin)

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Look at how pretty she is!

Fan Shengmei a.k.a Fan Jie is the ‘big sister’ of apartment 2202 in which she shares with Guan Ju’er and Qiu Ying Ying. Jiang Xin’s portrayal of Shengmei is subtle yet sophisticated and really reflects Shengmei’s multi-faceted personality. She is also the second oldest among the five women living on the 22nd floor. Shengmei is first introduced as a wise and capable woman whom her younger housemates looked up to and someone who gives great advice to do with life and sometimes, work. She knows just when to let go and when to step in, as seen clearly in Qiu Ying Ying’s arc when she stubbornly gets into a relationship with Manager Bai. I was so frustrated with Ying Ying’s stubbornness and naivety and kept wondering why didn’t Shengmei step in (I definitely would have). But we later see how stepping in too early would have the opposite effect and Shengmei knows it. It was so heartwarming to see Shengmei take revenge for Ying Ying afterwards.

Yet beneath the facade of confidence and wisdom lies a deep insecurity and inferiority complex. Shengmei is the representation of a typical gold-digger who seeks a life of wealth and materialism, but through marrying a rich husband. Her insecurities and gold-digger ways are of course later developed through her poor family background which develops in her a desire for wealth. I’ve read comments that her character is rather cliche but I feel like the drama did a good job in portraying her character in a different way. Rather than hammer home her materialism and love for branded goods, we see it in her jealousy of Qu Xiao Xiao for being born in a wealth family and her envy of An Di as a successful career woman. Jiang Xin’s subtle performance in the scene when she received a Hermes scarf from Wang Bai Chuan was sophisticated yet it showed the shallowness of Shengmei’s character.

Guan Ju’er (Qiao Xin)

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Source

Guan Ju’er a.k.a Guan Guan is the youngest of the five women and lives in the same apartment as Fan Shengmei and Qiu Ying Ying. Capable, consistent and bookish, she’s an intern translator at a prestigious company. I think out of the five I relate to Guan Guan the most which makes her my favourite character. I’ve read that alot of people think she’s either too bland or underdeveloped, which I can only half agree. Her character is a bit underdeveloped but if you think a life bogged down by the stress of employment and expectations is too “bland”, please. Of course it’s just a phase and not as dramatic as the other women but it suits her character. And I really relate to her because this is exactly the stage I am in at the moment. So I could feel all of her fears and insecurities about not being good enough and not being able to achieve what we set out to achieve. Her character is also a great commentary on work life balance and the stress and expectations of university graduates in China. Thankfully I didn’t have to go through what she did when I was doing my internship but I understood all of her fears and insecurities. She’s actually really lucky to have someone like An Di by her side to mentor her and even offer her a job at her company. But then Guan Guan is pretty capable and hardworking herself.

I really admire her for her consistency and her focused attitude which is the direct opposite of Ying Ying, despite being best friends.In a way she’s sort of like the junior version of An Di, minus the insecurities and good family background. And she’s surprisingly firm in her rejection of her senior from college. I hate it when girls are wishy washy and trying to be “nice” by leading the guy on. Like please.

Qiu Ying Ying (Yang Zi)

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Qiu Ying Ying, my least favourite character but also the one with the most development. Fan Shengmei and An Di may have the most dramatic arcs but Ying Ying is the character who changed the most by the end of the drama, mostly because of how unlikable she was at the beginning. Bubbly, naive and low EQ and IQ, she’s the most naive (and stupid) out of the five women but also the most cheerful. In the beginning she was seriously getting on my nerves with her constant stubbornness and misunderstandings. She is just the type of person I cannot stand and would run far away if I ever encounter one. No matter how likable she can be (when in a good mood). Like omg. The only reason I continued watching this drama was because I knew this was done on purpose to pave a the path towards Ying Ying’s drastic character development, and I was right. Despite her stupidity with the Manager Bai incident which caused her to be slapped (like wth even she didn’t deserve that) and even lose her job, she eventually found something she liked and became much more focused on her career and her life.

I have to admit though, her character brought some life to the series whenever Xiao Xiao isn’t around and her interactions with Xiao Xiao is just hilarious LOL. Still, what’s done is done. No matter how likable of a character she became, I couldn’t bring myself to really like her because of her earlier scenes. But that’s just me being unforgiving lol.

An Di (Liu Tao)

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An Di, high profile career woman, rational, composed and kind. An Di’s character is really hard not to like. She comes across as cold and distant to many (like me LOLOL) but soon warms up to the other women and became a mentor towards Xiao Xiao and Guan Guan. I really didn’t expect her to be so giving towards Xiao Xiao though. With Guan Guan I understand since all she had to do was throw out basic workplace advice in the car but with Xiao Xiao, she actually went through documents of data and taught Xiao Xiao how to run a company and what to do. Like wow. How many high profile CFOs would be willing to do that. But that also gained Xiao Xiao’s respect, which is a rare thing when it comes to someone like Qu Xiao Xiao. An Di is your typical scholar, high IQ and low EQ.

Though unlike most cliche scholarly-type characters, her lack of EQ is understandable since she grew up an orphan and didn’t have many friends. It was kind of weird that she never once made contact with her adoptive parents, despite not being close to them. But I’d think it’s basic courtesy to at least keep in contact with the people who raised you, unless they decided to dump her at another orphanage which I doubt she was. She also has an aversion to physical contact, which was never fully explained. There’s that thing with her family background but it’s still not clearly linked. And her relationship with Wei Wei. Cringey. Very cringey.

It was so interesting to see her warm up to the other girls and I love love love her interactions with Shengmei. I feel like she’s the closest to Shengmei since they’re both closer in age and maturity. It’s so sweet seeing them together, it’s like they’re the older version of Guan Guan and Ying Ying. I wished they had more screen time together though.

Qu Xiao Xiao (Wang Zi Wen)

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And finally my favourite character, Qu Xiao Xiao. I love her mostly for her unorthodox way of doing things. One of the most interesting and original characters and a unique take on the rich, spoilt brat character. Born in a wealthy family with a slightly complicated background, she initially moved out from her parents’ home as a ploy to obtain the inheritance to the company. But as her character developed, she soon forgot about her ultimate goal and instead focused on her own small business which is a branch off from her father’s main company. I think Xiao Xiao is a character that you either love or hate. There’s not much room for an inbetween. She’s extreme in her way of doing things and not always does she do it out of good intentions lol. Her pampered family background allows her to do whatever she wants without care for the consequences which led to her carefree and bold personality.

Though vulgar, she’s incredibly smart and a great problem-solver who knows how to utilise her resources and get things done. I really like character because she sort of embodies the person we secretly want to be but don’t dare to. Not that we all want to go clubbing everyday and own our own company. But she does things without thinking twice and just boldly go forward, whether it is at work or in romance. Though I question her judgement in men, even if he comes with an irresistible smile and a voice you will never want to stop listening to. She’s also really sweet in her own way like when she tried to show Manager Bai’s true colours by tempting him with her charms. She’s also really hilarious to watch, especially when she gets frustrated and we see her coming up with all sorts of weird solutions that actually work.

The Men
Wei Wei (Zu Feng), Zhao Qi Ping (Wang Kai), Tan Zong Ming (Jin Dong), Bao Yi Fan (Yang Shuo), Wang Bai Chuan (Zhang Lu)

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The pain on his face 😦 

The men. I decided to clump them together because…who cares. lolol. Anyway I was really disappointed with the male characters in the drama. I mean the women are such well-written beautiful characters and then you have these lackluster men being paired up with them. Omg. Apart from Wang Bai Chuan, I really didn’t like any of them. Not one. Well maybe Yao Bin since he’s always so sweet to Xiao Xiao.

First let’s start with Zhao Qiping or Dr. Zhao. I don’t care if he has a voice that’s been sent from heaven or that seeing him hold a kitten just automatically melts your heart, but his character sucks. He doesn’t deserve Xiao Xiao really. Their relationship is so shallow. I know I know…love knows no reason. But but but take away the kisses in the pub and the bed and all you have of their relationship is…………….nothing. I mean he looks down on Xiao Xiao for not getting his oh-so-cultured literary jokes and his Beethoven and Mozart. No wonder he gets along so well with Wei Wei lolz. Okay to be fair, when Xiao Xiao misunderstood the Mrs. Macbeth joke and jokingly called Wei Wei a homosexual, that was pretty offensive. Still, Dr Zhao’s way of handling the breakup was so immature please. He just ignored her and stopped taking her calls etc. Like at least explain? Omg. Even the way they got back together was just immature.

And you have Wei Wei. The supposed super awesome boyfriend who is stable, loving and takes charge when needed. He’s so cringey omg. I’m not sure if this was done on purpose but whenever he’s around An Di, I could feel her discomfort. And he claims to know An Di the best but to be honest, all he’s done is just manipulating her to do whatever he wants. And the way he likes to psychoanalyse people is disgusting. Not that psychoanalyzing people is wrong…it’s just the way he says it. As if he’s some bloody expert or something lol. Gross omg.

But when compared Bao Yi Fan…I’d definitely choose Wei Wei. At least despite all his flaws, he’s genuine. Bao Yi Fan is the direct opposite of Wei Wei in that he’s flirty, flighty and basically your typical playboy. I think when Xiao Xiao tips An Di off regarding Bao Yi Fan being a playboy ( that whole analogy about An Di being Mt Everest) is her way of cautioning An Di. Which is ironic and just sums up Xiao Xiao’s personality, since she was the one who told Bao Yi Fan where An Di was, giving him the opportunity. I wonder what his reaction will be like when An Di finally tells him about her family history. Lololol. Or if she did the same thing to him she did to Wei Wei.

I know most people ship Tan Zong Ming with An Di but…I feel like Zong Ming isn’t right for her either. I don’t know. It’s either he gets more character development or they introduce someone else.

Wang Bai Chuan is just near perfection though. So far he’s the only redeemable male character in the drama, apart from Yao Bin. He’s not without his flaws but he’s so sweet to Shengmei and so sincere. Not to mention he’s not too bad as someone who owns his own company and is on his way to becoming someone important. Who knows he might end up becoming richer than Qu Lian Jie. But he didn’t get much character development so I’m wondering how he’ll react with the issues propping with his parents. Since in Chinese culture the children have an obligation to listen to their parents, especially in regards to marriage. I doubt he’d be an ass and dump Shengmei after all they’ve been through together but it’ll be interesting to see his character develop.

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All in all I really love this drama for its subtle yet realistic portrayal of life and sisterhood. I felt like I learnt so much about life from these 42 episodes. But of course since it’s fiction, I should take everything with a pinch of salt. This drama is more than a realistic portrayal of life in the big city but also a commentary and exploration of Chinese society which I will talk about in another post. I can’t wait for season 2 to air!

 

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2 thoughts on “Review: Ode To Joy (欢乐颂)

  1. Pingback: When A Snail Falls In Love (ru’guo’w如果蜗牛有爱情) – escapismworld

  2. Pingback: Review: Age Of Youth (청춘시대) – escapismworld

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