Before We Get Married (我們不能是朋友) is easily my favorite drama that I’ve watched this year. To be fair, I’ve watched all of three dramas this year, but it’s also probably my favorite drama that I’ve watched since Goblin.
Based on the trailers, opening sequence, and description, it sounded like Before We Get Married would be one of those guilty pleasure affair dramas that would ultimately end up romanticizing cheating in some way. I was really worried that the show would end up being about that, and was very skeptical at the start, because I have some strong opinions about how media really should not be normalizing and romanticizing cheating.
Fortunately, Before We Get Married ended up being an extremely nuanced look into the relationships of two couples and how their lives become intertwined–sometimes by coincidence, sometimes by human intervention. It’s not as much about temptation and hush-hush sneaking around as it is about two people who are forced to reflect on themselves and their relationships after meeting each other. I also think the direct translation of the Chinese title, We Can’t Be Friends, is a much more apt descriptor of the drama than the official English title.
Pretty much just a stream of consciousness of random assorted thoughts below:
Chu Ke Huan (Jasper Liu) and Zhou Wei Wei (Puff Kuo) meet by chance when she tries to chase down a NT$105 receipt (~$3-4 USD) right into his hands, and then accidentally leaves behind her journal in the taxi that he takes. He is immediately intrigued by this woman who has such a rigid life plan and who is so penny-pinching that she would chase down such a small receipt and subsist on NT$150 (~$4-5 USD) a day for meals. He’s also too willing to poke holes in her plan to her face and question whether the plan is hers or her boyfriend’s, and overall seems to enjoy hitting on her just to see her reaction.
At first, Ke Huan actively seeks out Wei Wei and purposely puts her in uncomfortable situations with him. But although it may have all started out as him just wanting to mess around, he starts to develop real feelings for her, while she firmly tries to hold him at an arm’s length. She constantly reminds him that she has a boyfriend, Li Hao Yi (Steven Sun), whom she plans on marrying. Things get more complicated, though, when she realizes that his girlfriend of 10 years is her old college classmate, Gao Zi Yuan (Nita Xia), and that he isn’t afraid to continue his persistence even after realizing this fact.
When the relationships get ruined, though, it’s not because of the feelings between Ke Huan and Wei Wei. Instead, they’re just very normal, very real failures in the relationships themselves. A lack of communication, a lack of consideration for a significant other, unreal expectations, complacency. Sure, the attraction to other people plays into it a bit, but mostly in the sense that Ke Huan and Wei Wei open each other’s eyes and force each other to confront how unhappy they each are. It wasn’t like, “I found this guy and he’s richer and hotter so bye boyfriend.”
Once Wei Wei breaks up with Hao Yi, she doesn’t just jump into Ke Huan’s arms. And that feels so right. She breaks up with Hao Yi because he wasn’t giving her any independence and forced her to be completely dependent on his whims. She wants to become her own person before dating again. And I loved that. Ke Huan also gives her the space she needs while still being there as a steady presence. Swoon.
The show gets stronger as it progresses and the character and relationship dynamics are more clearly established. I wasn’t actually all that about the initial set up of Ke Huan and Wei Wei’s “fatal attraction”. The drama got so much stronger once it became clear that it wasn’t necessarily the attraction that was fatal.
I really wanted to dislike Ke Huan in the beginning (though with Jasper Liu’s face, that’s really hard to do…) He was a super conflicting character. His actions were objectively shady and bordering on sexual harassment, yet because he’s charming, that arrogance and refusal to take no for an answer also had an attractive quality. The show was also really slow to expose his side of the story–we’re led to believe he’s in a long-term 10 year relationship with a devoted girlfriend whom he constantly ignores and treats coldly for apparently no reason, and that he just enjoys trying to wreck Wei Wei’s committed relationship for fun. He seems like a bad guy. But eventually, we learn that his relationship with Zi Yuan is actually quite complicated, and eventually his attraction to Wei Wei leads him to be truthful with himself and honestly, become a more thoughtful person. Other than his first few meetings with Wei Wei, where he’s just messing with her, every other interaction he has with her is just so thoughtful.
I wish we got to learn more of Ke Huan and Zi Yuan’s relationship. I don’t doubt the lack of communication around her abortion destroyed their relationship, but he seems to equate destroying their potential baby to destroying their relationship, which seems like… a lot. We never get her side of the story, though I wish we did, and she ends up being reduced to seeming petty, vindictive, and one note. I wish we got to see more of her complexity. There is a scene where she talks to Zi Ting, her sister, and Zi Ting says that she’ll stay by Zi Yuan’s side and keep her company in Ke Huan’s place, and Zi Yuan cries while forcing a smile and says that Zi Ting will never be able to understand her pain. There seemed to be so much more to her there that we never got to see.
On the other hand, I loved Wei Wei as a character so much. I could relate to how she liked the stability and security of her relationship with Hao Yi and didn’t want to just throw it away for some random guy she found attractive. She tried so hard to stay faithful and fight for her relationship with Hao Yi, but ultimately she ended up giving too much and not receiving enough. But the break up also teaches her how to have a spine and stand up for herself, in work, life, and love. She is a capable professional and clearly more capable of keeping her personal and work life separate than any of the men were. I love that the show really emphasizes and applauds her transformation into a modern, professional woman who puts her own independence first.
Before We Get Married really explores the idea of change and resistance to change. Both Ke Huan and Wei Wei felt trapped in their respective relationships, yet also felt like they couldn’t do anything to change their lives. As Zi Yuan keeps saying, 10 years is a long time. Wei Wei and Hao Yi were also so rooted to their life plan and established path. It’s really hard to break away from the security that comes from long years of commitment or a solid goal and plan. But that security became oppressive and were more like chains pulling them down rather than a stable grounding force. While they both want change, their partners are unwilling to accept change (despite saying that they’re “willing to change”).
At first, I saw some concerning similarities between this drama and My Sunshine, primarily around the manipulative relationships between the male and female leads. My Sunshine had really strong misogynistic tones in the beginning, with signs of an emotionally manipulative and physically abusive relationship that really put me on edge. It eventually recovered, but I never really got over it even if the main characters seemed to. Thankfully, we did not have My Sunshine 2.0 in the dynamic between Ke Huan and Wei Wei here. While he starts off verging on sexual harassment, he quickly switches to being a thoughtful prospective romantic partner who always puts Wei Wei first.
My last point will just be about how tonally on-point Before We Get Married is. I’m pretty sensitive to the combination of music/soundtrack and how shots are composed, and the scenes were just so beautifully put together to draw out the right emotions at the right times. But they also never felt unnecessarily drawn out… except for some of those long, lingering interactions between Wei Wei and Ke Huan that I didn’t mind because the looooonging and romantic tension just felt so strong. Also there was such a great dose of humor. In fact, most of the show was light and humorous. And made me feel all the feels and all the love. I didn’t devote any space to talking about Wei Wei’s friendship with her best friend Han Ke Fei, but their friendship is part of what makes the show so great. I wish all dramas featured such strong female friendships. And Ke Fei’s sexual escapades and romantic entanglements are just hilarious and refreshing.
Ahh, watching this drama just made me feel so happy. 🙂