If you’re looking for a full summary of the plot and characters, check out the Spoiler Zone: Suddenly This Summer!
Suddenly This Summer (忽而今夏) has the honor of the being my first fully-recapped drama, and for good reason! A youth/coming-of-age drama similar to other favorites of mine like With You, Stand by Me, and In a Good Way, Suddenly This Summer distinguishes itself with its deeply relatable and realistic primary characters and relationship and its complete lack of convoluted dramatic nonsense.
(Note that this review may contain some mild spoilers — such as references to break-ups or getting together but not the specifics — but if you’re a seasoned romance drama watcher, you should know that in every drama the main characters are bound to get together and break up at least once, so it shouldn’t be that much of a spoiler. ;))
Suddenly This Summer is based on a book (that I’ve never read) but the plot is very different from the popular English version that’s floating around the web. The show follows He Luo (Bu Guan Jin), Zhang Yuan (Bai Yu), and their good friends, beginning in high school and continuing into their adult years. It starts out as a classic “dumb” girl falling for an effortlessly brilliant boy, but for the most part, the show focuses on how He Luo and Zhang Yuan’s relationship develops and changes as they grow older and face circumstantial obstacles that threaten to tear them apart.
What I really loved about Suddenly This Summer is also something I could see other viewers disliking about the show: the story and romance is realistic, almost to the point of being boring. There aren’t any archetypal drama villains or classic plot twists. Instead, the threats to the primary romance are factors like long distance, lack of communication, and not being on the same page.
As someone who has had a long-distance relationship for several years, a lot of the scenes and issues really resonated with me. Having to schedule in time for Skype calls while being stressed with schoolwork, or feeling a bit jealous when a call gets missed or is late because one person is out trying to have an on-campus social life with college friends are such real long-distance issues that the drama does a great job of bringing to the screen.
The acting in Suddenly This Summer is very strong and one of the show’s strengths. Both Bu Guan Jin and Bai Yu do a great job of giving their characters depth and making them feel real. They both emote so well and the little things that they bring to each scene really draw out the emotions of the scene. A lot of dramas like to zero in on body language like a clenched fist or closed eyes, but sometimes it’s more meaningful when the camera doesn’t move, but still picks up a small tic that the actor throws in, like Zhang Yuan’s shaking leg when he’s talking to He Luo on the phone, about to break up with her, or the slight clenching and unclenching of a hand that betrays an otherwise calm demeanor when talking about an ex.
All the characters grow so much throughout the show — especially He Luo and Zhang Yuan. What I really liked was how He Luo goes from being a somewhat starstruck girl who revolves around her brilliant boyfriend to being a strong, capable woman with her own identity who can have her own successful career (and maybe get the man too). One of her self-acknowledged struggles is with proving to herself and everyone else that she’s not defined by her boyfriend. And it takes pretty much the whole show, but eventually she gets there.
But while Suddenly This Summer is probably one of the top dramas for me in terms of realistic, relatable romance, the show as a whole isn’t perfect. A lot of the things that detract from the show weren’t huge issues for me, just because I liked the main characters and relationship progression SO much, but I could see how they would turn off other people.
For one, I thought the random anime scenes featuring Kino and Xia Er were completely unnecessary. It is never clear whether they were figments of He Luo’s imagination (as a popular English synopsis of the show suggests) or simply part of the Summer Records manga she was reading that happened to parallel her life. They also did not contribute anything to the plot or story at all, and were given no context. I was so glad when they disappeared for episodes at a time and so disappointed when I was reminded of their existence.
The passage of time as a whole in the drama was very confusing. The show was well-paced: about a third of the show each was spent exploring high school, college, and then post-undergrad years. But time within each episode was often unclear. Scenes would cut from one to the next and it would be unclear whether it was the same day, the same month, or even the same year. These montages made the show seem more “slice-of-life” because we were literally seeing random slices of their lives. But it also made for really confusing viewing when I thought that only a week had passed but it turned out it had been a whole year. Still, I have to credit the editing and direction for creating such developed characters and relationships and making me believe in years-long developments and emotions that span only a few minutes on screen.
I was a little disappointed with how there wasn’t a little more focus on some of the side characters, but I can also understand that directorial decision for a show of this length. I wish we saw more of He Luo’s best friends, Yun Wei and Tian Xin, as people on their own, but I get why the show would choose to focus on He Luo and Zhang Yuan. (They did a really good job with it.)
Overall, Suddenly This Summer is a show I would highly recommend if you like youth/coming-of-age/slice-of-life dramas. It doesn’t have the same addictive hook as a drama like With You, but it’s a great watch if you enjoy seeing healthy, wholesome romances that actually reflect real life.