The Arc of Life (她們創業的那些鳥事) is a currently-airing Taiwanese drama that wasn’t really on my radar, but when I saw the cast I knew I had to give a try. Ivy Chen and Ruby Lin back on the small screen? It’s been years! This slice-of-life business rom-com about women trying to stake out their space in the corporate world already has all the right ingredients to keep me hooked.
Are you happy with your job? That’s the question The Arc of Life opens up with.
Xia Zhi (Ivy Chen) is an interior designer who has a reputation for being aloof (her coworkers call her Xia Qing Gao, or literally “aloof”). She gets yelled at by client, then scrambles outside to try and receive a delivery of a massive inflated cartoon orange. The truck doing the delivery manages to get into an accident at an intersection, causing a chaotic multi-car pile-up that sends Gongye Xiao Niao (Ruby Lin) flying off her bike and onto the hood of her boss, Chen Huo Mu’s car.
Lin Mei Ji (Jian Man Shu), a receptionist who has been seeing Chen, hops out to ask if she’s okay. Mei Ji immediately recognizes her as Chen’s executive assistant, and also recognizes Xia Zhi — she recognizes everyone at their company, S.U.N. Group. They’re both impressed when Xia Zhi rallies a nearby baseball team to help her move the giant inflated orange out of the street and onto the sidewalk.
Later, Xia Zhi is running toward the office when a friend, Zheng Yi Nan (Roy Chiu), surprises her along the way. He’s a banker who happens to have a business meeting at Xia Zhi’s company and intentionally waited around so he could see her.
Mei Ji’s relationship with Chen Huo Mu doesn’t last very long. She doesn’t date married men and soon finds out that Huo Mu lied to her — his wife is very much alive. During some downtime at work, she tells her coworker that she just wants to find a man who loves her. She has a feeling someone who will change her life will walk in through the front doors in five seconds and counts down. When she opens her eyes, she sees Zheng Yi Nan (Roy Chiu) walking in with Xia Zhi and is immediately interested.
Mei Ji makes Yi Nan sign in as a guest and when she sees that he works at a bank, she slyly asks to exchange business cards on the pretense that she may be interested in financial advice.
Xia Zhi’s coworker invites her to join the rest of the team for lunch, but she declines saying she has some work to finish.
Mei Ji greets Yi Nan and his coworker, James, by name as they pass by on their lunch break. Yi Nan tells James that he already has lunch plans. James thinks those plans are with Mei Ji and warns him that Mei Ji is notorious for going through men. Yi Nan is quick to clarify that he’s meeting up with a university classmate.
But when he calls Xia Zhi to invite her out for lunch, she hurriedly says she’s busy and tells him to find somewhere to eat by himself, then hangs up. Mei Ji appears next to Yi Nan and tells him that she knows all the good lunch spots. He smiles at her, then leaves without saying anything. Mei Ji isn’t dissuaded and instead smiles at how shy he seems.
A custodian, whom Xia Zhi calls Feng-jie, brings Xia Zhi some oatmeal, knowing she usually works through lunch. Xia Zhi tells her to hurry home for her lunch break and not bother with tidying up around Xia Zhi’s desk, knowing that the woman won’t make it back in time if she doesn’t leave now.
Xia Zhi’s boss, Liao Bei Chuan, is told that Xia Zhi is being transferred to the front desk. He’s unhappy about it — he knows how hard Xia Zhi works and thinks it’s an insult to her after she worked her way up from assistant to designer in six years at the company; he also knows that she’s being managed out by the higher-ups — but he’s powerless to stop it. Xiao Niao overhears.
Xia Zhi’s boss continues to look guilty as he watches her pack up her desk. He urges her not to give up, saying, “There’s light on the other side of the darkness,” but Xia Zhi doesn’t seem moved and dutifully hands off her work.
Xiao Niao walks by and looks curiously into Xia Zhi’s office. Later, she fills Chen Huo Mu in on his schedule for the next day, seeming to have capably made all his meeting arrangements for him — all he has to do is show up.
At night, Xia Zhi drinks by herself and eats her way through several bowls of noodles at her father’s restaurant. Her father is concerned about her, but she doesn’t say a word. Her mother suddenly shows up and reveals that Xia Zhi is being transferred to the front desk. She laments over Xia Zhi, then starts bickering with her ex-husband. Xia Zhi ignores them both and abruptly stands up to leave.
Zheng Yi Nan shows up, having been called there by Xia Zhi’s father, to give Xia Zhi a ride home. Xia Zhi’s mother mistakes him for Wu Shu, Xia Zhi’s ex-boyfriend, which sets off another round of bickering with her ex-husband. Wu Shu went overseas six years ago and Xia Zhi hasn’t heard from him since.
Xia Zhi cries and shouts into the night, “Jiang Wu Shu, I miss you!” as she sits behind Yi Nan on his motorbike. He shouts back, “I know!”
Yi Nan remembers the first day he met Xia Zhi, during a student activities fair in his year of university. Even back then, she had seemed to revolve around Jiang Wu Shu — after convincing Yi Nan to sign up, she’d cheerfully scurried off to tell Wu Shu that she recruited another one.
Xia Zhi has fallen asleep by the time they get to her place. Yi Nan gets a phone call from Mei Ji (he has a novel way of holding his phone using his helmet and head), but doesn’t remember who she is. She says she has some questions for him and offers to meet in person, but Yi Nan notices Xia Zhi stirring and hurriedly says goodbye.
Yi Nan offers to go out for a drink and chat with Xia Zhi, but she declines, saying she’ll let him know when she does want to talk. She thanks him for taking her home, calling him the most reliable friend in the world.
Xia Zhi’s computer wallpaper is still a photo of her and Wu Shu. She remembers the day that was taken. They had gone on a hike together shortly before he left to go overseas. She stayed behind because she got hired at S.U.N. He asked her to wait until he came back, and she promised she would.
“I can do it,” she tells herself.
But Xia Zhi struggles at her new front desk position the next day as Mei Ji’s new colleague. Her feet get sore standing for hours and her old boss, Ken, shows up and intentionally tries to humiliate her. Mei Ji covers for Xia Zhi, guessing that she did something to offend Ken and that’s why she got transferred to the front desk, and offers to to bring the beverages to Ken’s meeting room. But Xia Zhi decides to go herself, knowing she has to face Ken eventually and wanting to do her job well, no matter what it is.
Ken drops a pen and tells Xia Zhi to pick it up. Xia Zhi resists, but eventually drops to a crouch. Xiao Niao walks by, sees what’s happening, and approaches. Ken immediately jumps to his feet and stammers a greeting. Xiao Niao comments on the scent of alcohol swirling around him and he smiles awkwardly. When she leaves, Xia Zhi takes advantage of Ken’s distraction and scurries away.
When Xia Zhi returns to the front desk, she overhears the other front desk receptionist gossiping with another coworker about Mei Ji’s relationship with Chen Huo Mu after the man has a roast duck sent to the desk as a gift for Mei Ji. Xia Zhi demands to know why Mei Ji’s private life is any of their business. The receptionist is defensive, but then Mei Ji shows up and the topic of conversation quickly changes.
Xia Zhi excuses herself to the bathroom, where she takes deep breaths and tries to calm herself down. She suddenly hears someone crying and finds Feng-jie sobbing in a closet.
Xia Zhi angrily storms to the HR manager’s desk, demanding to know why Feng-jie was fired. She doesn’t accept the man’s excuses. He tells her to worry about her own job. Feng-jie asks Xia Zhi to leave it alone. Liao Bei Chuan shows up and tells her that she’s back on the Earth team — she’s been assigned to work on the company’s 30th anniversary celebration, and will be reporting directly to Ken. The HR manager leaps to his feet, surprised. Who ordered the transfer? Xia Zhi’s manager shrugs.
Xia Zhi goes up to the rooftop and recalls the years of abuse she experienced with Ken as her boss. He’d given her a chance, but made her go out drinking with older male business partners all the time, and then berated her frequently for subpar work. He blamed her for his own lack of movement up the corporate ladder. One day, Liao stepped in and offered to take Xia Zhi onto his own team.
Xiao Niao walks up next to Xia Zhi and asks if she wants to make those who looked down her and belittled her regret that they did. She asks if Xia Zhi isn’t accepting the 30th anniversary project because she’s afraid of Ken. Xia Zhi claims that she’s not afraid, she just doesn’t like him. Xiao Niao responds that she can’t run away forever. What’s important is that Xia Zhi believes she’s capable of doing the project well.
Xia Zhi confidently asserts that she can do it. She guesses that Xiao Niao is the one who had her assigned to this project. If she has that much power, then can she also help Feng-jie get her job back?
Xiao Niao tells Xia Zhi to worry about herself first. Only after she’s on stable ground herself will she be able to help other people.
Later, Mei Ji shares with Xia Zhi all she knows about Xiao Niao. Prior to being Chen’s executive assistant, she’d been executive assistant to the previous CEO. She knows multiple foreign languages and spent time abroad in Europe. Rumor has it that multiple companies are trying to poach her, but she won’t leave. But many of the managers are hoping that Xiao Niao will go somewhere else, because she has a reputation for having high standards and multiple department heads have been transferred because they didn’t meet her expectations. Mei Ji tells Xiao Niao that she’s not unreasonable, though. As long as Xiao Niao puts in the effort and does good work, Xiao Niao will treat her well. Mei Ji gives Xia Zhi an earnest congratulations for being transferred back into the design department.
Xia Zhi brings Feng-jie to her father’s restaurant and tries to convince him to hire her on as help. Papa Xia changes the subject and tells Xia Zhi that her goal right now should be to find a reliable man to settle down with. He approves of Yi Nan.
Mei Ji sets up a nice ring light and video calls Yi Nan, but he keeps ignoring her multiple calls. He’s out with James and some other coworkers at karaoke and is forced to drink and entertain them, because business.
Xia Zhi leaves Feng-jie with her father and heads out to put in some overtime work. Feng-jie is afraid of imposing on Papa Xia, but to her surprise, he gruffly tells her when to show up for work in the morning. He informs her of his hours, then tells her she can bring restaurant food back to her husband on her lunch break and that she should feel free to bring her kid into the restaurant after school. He even offers free tutoring, mentioning that he’s published three books. Feng-jie is moved to tears.
The designers go outside to make plans for the upcoming anniversary event, though it’s mostly Xia Zhi doing the work while Ken and another higher-up stand around and gossip about how as a woman, it’s easy for Xia Zhi to climb the corporate ladder — all she has to do is use her body.
Xia Zhi works on design plans for the anniversary event, trying to go for something elegant, but Ken wants to go big and bold and forces her to make multiple revisions until it fits his vision. At a design review meeting, Xiao Niao criticizes the design for being too ostentatious. The other managers at the meeting immediately echo her. Xia Zhi starts to mention how she originally wanted to do something different, but Ken talks over her and claims her idea as his own, blaming her for the gaudier version.
Xiao Niao asks the others what they think of the simpler version. They stammer until she gives her opinion that it’s too plain, then they immediately agree with her again. She calls them out for their sycophancy, then calls Ken out for trying to take credit for Xia Zhi’s work. She praises Xia Zhi for her design — she likes it and they’ll use it.
Mei Ji orchestrates a “coincidental” meeting with Yi Nan outside his office building and essentially traps him into going out to dinner with her. But Yi Nan tries to make a hasty escape after showing her to a takeout place, pausing only to ask Mei Ji whether Xia Zhi has been adapting to the front desk life. Mei Ji tells him that she and Xia Zhi were only coworkers for 8 hours before she got drafted back onto the design team, but that they’re now good friends. She invites Yi Nan to join one of her singles’ parties, but he claims to be busy with work and runs away.
Xia Zhi pitches a vendor for the anniversary event to Ken, but he rejects it and hands over plans to use a vendor that he has a relationship with. She rushes after him, trying to convince him otherwise. The vendor he chose is more expensive and less specific with their quote, but Ken resents his authority being questioned. Xiao Niao overhears their argument.
Yi Nan drops by a senior home that he’s helped out with funding in the past. The director is grateful for his assistance, since few banks want to deal with them nowadays. He gets a call from Mei Ji, who is still stubbornly trying to invite him along to one of her group dates. Yi Nan claims to be busy with work, but Xia Zhi overhears Mei Ji trying to negotiate with him on the phone and steps in, telling Yi Nan to listen to Mei Ji. After Xia Zhi leaves, Mei Ji tells Yi Nan that Xia Zhi will be there, too and hangs up before he has a chance to make more excuses.
Later, Ken follows Xia Zhi into the women’s bathroom, drunk and upset. He wants to know how she managed to gain Xiao Niao’s favor when she acts so dumb. He accuses her of sleeping with Xiao Niao, asking what it’s like to sleep with women. He tries to assault her, saying that he’ll show her what it’s like to sleep with men. Xia Zhi struggles against him, then manages to escape after spraying him with a nearby bottle of cleaning fluid, kicking him, and throwing a trash can on him for good measure.
Xia Zhi power-walks away from the office, so shocked that she almost walks straight into Xiao Niao. She promises Xiao Niao that she’ll do her best with the anniversary project and won’t let down, then continues on her way, sniffling. Xiao Niao stares after her.
Late Friday afternoon, Xia Zhi scrambles to find a vendor who will be available for the event and confronts Ken about not being available to approve the plans that he asked for the night before. Ken is uncooperative, redirecting the blame back on her. When Xia Zhi returns to her office, stressed, she finds that Liao Bei Chuan has rallied some of her coworkers to help make calls and find a replacement vendor. She tells them that they don’t need to work overtime because of her, but he responds that she doesn’t have to do everything herself — it’s their job as coworkers to help her share the burden.
Mei Ji shows up to remind Xia Zhi that they’re supposed to go out for dinner. When Xia Zhi’s boss mentions that they’re looking for a contractor, Mei Ji pulls out a pocketbook full of business cards and finds someone to take on the project on her first try. Liao tells Xia Zhi that she should learn from Mei Ji how to talk to men, but it all goes over Xia Zhi’s head.
Xia Zhi is working outside on the set-up for the anniversary event when Xiao Niao suddenly asks if she wants to resign and start a company with her. Xiao Niao values Xia Zhi’s skills, but more importantly, her loyalty. Xia Zhi is surprised to hear that — in the past, people had always seemed frustrated by her relentless dedication to her work and her people.
It’s exactly that dedication that makes Xia Zhi think she can’t resign now. Xiao Niao asks if she’s really satisfied doing so much work for so little money while Ken takes all the credit. Has she thought about her future?
Xia Zhi’s father is opposed to the possibility of her resigning, preferring she have the stability of working at a large company. Her mother says she’ll support her if she resigns — better to chase her dreams and be in control of her life than sell her soul to her boss. That sets off another round of arguing between the two parents. Xia Zhi studiously eats and drinks and ignores them.
Yi Nan drops by with a box full of vegetables and asks Xia Zhi what her plan is after she quits. Xia Zhi finally responds — she hasn’t decided yet.
Yi Nan takes Xia Zhi home again, but they detour to a climbing wall in a park. Xia Zhi has decided that she can’t keep letting Wu Shu be her excuse for staying at Earth. She wants to be her best self, regardless of where he is. She stares up at the moon and sighs — no matter where he is, at least they can see the same moon. It’s almost her birthday, which is her once-a-year chance to hear from Wu Shu.
But is it really Wu Shu who is contacting her? Six years ago, Wu Shu left his phone with Yi Nan, saying he wouldn’t need it anymore. He didn’t want to be distracted by Xia Zhi on his adventures, and he didn’t want to distract Xia Zhi from her work. His parting words to Yi Nan were for him to look after Xia Zhi.
Now, Yi Nan drinks while staring up at Xia Zhi who sits at the top of the climbing wall, imagining that Wu Shu is still there, next to her.
Xiao Niao waits for Xia Zhi outside the office the next day, wanting to know if she’s made a decision. Xia Zhi responds that it’s a bit cold-hearted of Xiao Niao to leave the company and poach an employee after it invested so much in her. What if Xia Zhi does that to her later on? Xiao Niao doesn’t answer the question and instead says that this is what she likes about Xia Zhi: she’s straightforward and loyal.
She tells Xia Zhi that her contract — the only thing keeping her here — is up at the end of the month. Under Chen Huo Mu’s leadership, S.U.N. Group is no longer a company she’s proud of.
Yi Nan returns to his office at the bank to find James packing his desk. He’s being transferred.
Yi Nan is called into his boss’s office and finds out that James’s transfer is essentially a demotion. His boss warns him to stay away from people like James, who has a penchant for treating clients too well and losing the bank’s money in the process. His boss wants a promotion and is relying entirely on Yi Nan and his working relationship with S.U.N. Group to make that happen.
Later, Yi Nan finds himself standing on an empty plot of land and thinking back about James’s last words to him. He’d said that a smart young talent like Yi Nan would definitely be able to do a better job than him. Yi Nan gets a text from Xia Zhi, who has decided to leave S.U.N. and start a company with Xiao Niao.
Yi Nan goes out for coffee with a friend and asks him about S.U.N. Group, Chen Huo Mu, and Xiao Niao. Then he finds Xia Zhi setting up for the anniversary event and shows her some articles on Xiao Niao: she’s the only daughter of the chairman of Zi Yuan Group and worth billions. But Zi Yuan Group has a bit of a sketchy reputation. Yi Nan thinks that it’s better for Xia Zhi to work at a large corporation and offers to help her get a referral from a friend, but Xia Zhi isn’t listening, lost in thought over this new discovery about Xiao Niao.
Xia Zhi confronts Xiao Niao about not being honest with her about her background. Mostly, she’s just concerned that for Xiao Niao, the start-up is just a flight of fancy. If it fails, she can always fall back on working for her family business, but Xia Zhi can’t take the same risk. Xiao Niao points out that she didn’t lie to Xia Zhi — she just didn’t tell her about her family, and why should she? Her family background has nothing to do with her own career, just as Xia Zhi’s doesn’t have anything to do with hers.
Xiao Niao’s goal is to take down Zi Yuan Group. She doesn’t agree with her father’s business philosophy and views Zi Yuan Group as a warning of what she never wants to be.
Yi Nan does some digging into S.U.N. Group’s financials and is concerned that the company is borrowing too aggressively to fund risky projects that might not provide a good return on investment. The problem is his boss is feeling very optimistic about S.U.N. Group. He shares his fears with his coworker May, who suggests that he should ask S.U.N. for more financial documents.
After work, Mei Ji finds Yi Nan outside S.U.N. trying to get in contact with the CFO. She tries to get him to go out to dinner with her, saying she can help him, but he manages to dodge around her invitation.
Chen Huo Mu rolls up after Yi Nan leaves and tries to convince Mei Ji to take him back, using another gift of roast duck as a lure. He even offers to bump up her salary and give her a promotion to be his secretary, but that’s exactly the kind of behavior she hates from a boss. She spots Yi Nan, who hasn’t left the area yet, then takes the roast duck from Chen, tells him she has a boyfriend, and runs off toward Yi Nan.
Mei Ji eats duck while Yi Nan asks her about the CFO, who is the CEO’s sister-in-law. Mei Ji is all too happy to share what she knows and complain about how stingy the CFO is — not giving raises in over a year, making employees bring their own toilet paper — while clearly making enough money herself to get three new luxury bags. Yi Nan lets her talk while feeling guilty about taking advantage of her feelings for him in order to do more investigation into S.U.N.
S.U.N. Group’s CFO tries to dodge Yi Nan’s calls, but he shows up at the restaurant where she’s eating alone. The CFO isn’t happy to see him, claiming that she was avoiding him because she wanted to help him save face. But now that he’s here, she doesn’t try to play nice. She demands to know who he thinks he is — how dare he try to act like he’s representing his bank?
I love so many things about this show already! As someone who works in a male-dominated industry, I love seeing women advocating for and uplifting other women in a corporate environment. I love Papa Xia and his gruff but kind demeanor. I love that Xia Zhi rescued herself, but am also really upset that she even had to in the first place.
I’m getting some Ode to Joy vibes here, mostly because Xiao Niao reminds me of Andi and I’m getting major Wang Zi Wen vibes from Jian Man Shu (Mei Ji). I really adore Mei Ji so far. At first, I was worried she would be too cutesy and annoying, but I love how pure and earnest she is while also being incredibly socially savvy. She’s not afraid to go for what she wants, knows how to work situations to her advantage — especially with men — but there’s not a bad bone in her body. She has her principles, and it’s clear from her interactions with Xia Zhi that she’s just nice.
I find Xia Zhi’s character interesting so far because she’s different from a stereotypical “cold” character. She can still be warm and bubbly and earnest, but she’s also just distant, which is very different from the more arrogant and cold type women we’re used to seeing in drama land (like Chen Zi Tong from Falling Into You). Xiao Niao fits that mold a little more, though her coldness is just the smooth veneer of professionality.
The one thing that throws me off a bit is the random time or scene jumps. I expected much more to come out of Mei Ji’s group date invitation, but we saw nothing of it. I suppose that’s the slice-of-life part of this show.
But there are so many little moments in the interactions between characters and in the quirks that they each have that make me laugh and bring little bits of joy. It’s hard to capture in a recap, because it’s the kind of comedy that only works when you see it in context.