I’ve reached that point in my drama career where I’m starting to venture into unknown territory. Meaning I’ve started to look for dramas that don’t have a lot of English information on them, but nevertheless exist. One interesting thing I’ve found is that a lot of dramas popular in the English-speaking world outside of China aren’t actually received all that well in China. At least, if you go by Douban or Baidu or other online rankings. So I decided to go for a drama that’s actually well-rated in China: Stand by Me (一起同过窗) and I have no regrets.
Stand by Me is one of those slice-of-life, coming-of-age college dramas, similar to In a Good Way or Answer Me 1997. It follows three best friends–Lu Qiao Chuan, Zhong Bai, and Ren Yi Fan–who all go to the same arts college. Lu Qiao Chuan and Zhong Bai are in the same major and class, while Ren Yi Fan is in a different major. The three make some new friends in college and struggle with some of the usual college struggles as well as how their friendships change now that they’re in a new environment.
Stand by Me has a little bit of everything: some romance, some personal drama, and some struggles with leadership and schoolwork and social situations, but doesn’t get too melodramatic. The show does a good job of letting you into each of the character’s lives and makes you care about all of them. There are no villains, just complex, real friends and friendships. There are people with flaws who make mistakes and struggle to fix them, but nonetheless are real people. Some of the humor and comedy can be a bit exaggerated, but if you think about, it’s also not so different from friends joking around with each other and acting a bit weird and crazy.
There is no real plot: we just follow the friends over the course of a school year. But there are plot arcs that span a few episodes, such as struggling through military training, attempting to put on a class show, planning a class retreat, and dealing with family. The romance is fun and complicated, but light. Zhong Bai has had a crush on Qiao Chuan for forever, but he immediately takes a liking to their new classmate (and Zhong Bai’s roommate) Lin Luo Xue. Meanwhile Qiao Chuan’s roommate Xiao Hai Yang immediately falls for Zhong Bai, and there are also some other crushes that develop as the show goes on.
A couple of the episodes drag, but for the most part, the show is fun and refreshing to watch. My favorite plot arc was definitely the story that spanned episodes 30 to 32. These episodes deal with the development and decline of a romantic relationship in a very raw and real way that explains so much of the past of one of the characters, and resonated with me the most.
Although the show seems to make Lu Qiao Chuan the main protagonist (we hear his inner thoughts the most, and most of the stories revolve around him), my favorite character was definitely Xiao Hai Yang, Qiao Chuan’s roommate who has been held back two years and is now in love with Zhong Bai. Qiao Chuan was a bit too flawed for me — I understood him and his struggles, but the way he treated the people around him, especially Zhong Bai, just rubbed the wrong way. Hai Yang, on the other hand, is the sweetest bae from day one.
One of my main qualms with the show is how Zhong Bai seems neglected by the writing. Although she is the third of the best friends, we don’t really hear much of her inner thoughts or get much of her backstory. And even though she is set up to be this strong female who holds her own with the boys, she seems to have no backbone when it comes to Qiao Chuan and often behaves in a way that seems to betray her character. The three other main female characters in the show seem to be much more true to their characters and are treated much better by the show than Zhong Bai. I really appreciate how Lin Luo Xue’s character is made complex and difficult to dislike. Normally her kind of character is immediately painted as the villain: she’s pretty, all the boys love her, and she’s rival to Zhong Bai for Qiao Chuan’s affections. But here Luo Xue’s motivations are complex, and she is unwaveringly loyal. Romance and crushes and relationships create conflict, but not the pettiness we’d expect of typical melodramas.
Stand by Me is a great drama to watch if you really like these kinds of slice-of-life dramas that are a bit slow, but really get into the characters and human relationships that are a part of real life. I eagerly await season 2, which is set to come out his year!