Lost Romance (浪漫輸給你) is an imperfect but lovable 2020 Taiwanese rom-com. During a summer of isolation (thanks COVID-19), it was exactly the kind of weekly escapism I needed to get by. I started watching because of the premise and Marcus Chang, but it was really Vivian Sung as Zheng Xiao En who stole my heart. Plots involving crossing from the “real” world into a story world — either a book, game, or TV/movie plot — have been done before, but Lost Romance was my first time watching a drama with this premise so it felt fresh.
Vivian Sung stars as Zheng Xiao En, a romance novel editor who daydreams and secretly spies on young, successful CEO He Tian Xing (Marcus Chang), with her best friend Chun Tian (Pii). Xiao En accidentally witnesses a crime, then gets mysteriously pulled into the world of a novel she’s editing and literally runs into the main male character, Si Tu Ao Ran, who looks exactly like Tian Xing. At first, Xiao En thinks she’s the protagonist in this novel, but soon she realizes that she’s actually just an antagonistic side character and the actual heroine of the novel is Chu Chu (Snowbaby), who is every bit the stereotypical rom-com lead you’d expect her to be.
From the start, Lost Romance establishes some expectations of what kind of show it’s going to be. The first episode is full of death-defying falls and overdramatic corporate family in-fighting. In addition to Xiao En’s escapades in the story world, there’s a parallel “real world” corporate drama storyline involving He Tian Xing and his two half-siblings, He Ming Li (Kelly Liao) and He Tian Jian (Jason Hsu).
Marcus Chang is always ever so attractive and his acting has definitely improved since when I first saw him in Back to 1989 (though most of this show doesn’t demand much from him other than “handsome”), but it’s really Vivian Sung as Zheng Xiao En who steals the show. She manages to be cute and charming without being annoying with a happy-go-lucky way of existing and very normal reactions to dramatic twists. She is, essentially, every rom-com drama/book-loving fangirl and thus so relatable.
In some ways, Lost Romance feels like multiple shows mashed into one. The corporate, real world drama feels tangential for about 75% of the show. Toward the end, it takes center stage a bit more, but never feels any more relevant. I simultaneously feel like it either needed a lot more time devoted to it, to really flesh out the real world characters more, or a lot less, because some of the characters felt half-baked. (I will never understand Tian Jian’s sudden personality change, despite some of his own attempts to explain his decision-making, and also his meeting with Chu Chu that seemed so mysterious but ended up going nowhere?)
Similarly, the storybook world and story feel worlds away from what happens in the real world. It makes sense, given that the story world leans into the fact that it is a storybook plot. I liked how meta it is, with every cliche and all the flat personalities imaginable, and I liked how Xiao En being unapologetically and charismatically herself wreaks havoc on the cliche book plot and its characters.
Warning: There may be some spoilers below!
The story world is a source of a lot of entertainment, but also some frustration. Xiao En seems to instantly fall in love with Ao Ran before she even knows him. Qing Feng (Simon Lian), who becomes Xiao En’s confidante, and is a second lead in so many ways, gets the short end of the stick because he ends up being a second lead in the book and in Xiao En’s life. He is the ultimate support character — extremely supportive and always treated as just a support. So much of his story and the story world’s link to the real world as a whole get hand waved off as something inexplicable that is half-heartedly, but never actually explained. I never fell as deeply in “Second Lead Syndrome” with Qing Feng as other viewers seem to have, but it was still sad when he literally got written out of the story.
The flatness of Ao Ran and the story world is what made the last few episodes, which focus on the real world, so strong by contrast. Tian Xing’s genuine interest in Xiao En as a person and their organic connection makes up for Xiao En’s insta-love, just a little bit.
While I still don’t understand how or why Xiao En fell so deeply in love with Ao Ran when he seemed like nothing more than a concept to her, I can appreciate how their relationship gave her the confidence to be herself. He showed her that she was lovable and deserved love without having to change who she was, and she showed him the same thing, that even the parts of himself that he disliked deserve love. And I suppose a lot of relationships start off as a little bit of infatuation that can eventually turn into something deeper with mutual understanding.
Don’t be fooled by all my gripes, though. What the show lacked in logic, it made up for with heart. It’s difficult to describe all the ways in which the show also gave me warm, fuzzy feelings. Ao Ran has no shortage of cheesy one-liners that he manages to seem sincere about. There are plenty of adorable couple moments and proclamations of love. The way I feel about Lost Romance is the same way I feel about other cheesy romances with couples that capture my heart, like Just You and Moon River. Maybe even the way that Xiao En feels about Ao Ran. It might not make sense, but the love is real.