This is a surprisingly entertaining series and not what I was expecting. Literally, it captured me with its portrayal.
However, the English translations for this series were a tad difficult. The story itself is a bit confusing to follow, but that undoubtedly might be due to the way the series was edited and translated. But no matter, I liked it a lot! One of Vietnam’s distinctive qualities is its heart. Technically, these series may not be as polished or have the finesse that they could have, but oh do they have heart. There is a sincerity about them, a realness, and a quality that feels like life itself, or a good representation of life. And they give it their all. This series is no exception. So, I tend to be sympathetic to the message and the actors and can forgive quality issues a little more.
Cat Tien, played by Ngoc Anh, is a transfer student and an individual who is pretty much a non-conformist, secure in who she is, and definitely dislikes bullying. When she sees it happening, she gets involved. This story is as much about bullying as it is about romantic relationships. Cat becomes infatuated with an introverted, withdrawn individual by the name of Mai Ly (Tu May). There is something odd about her besides her being so withdrawn. But for some reason, Cat is drawn to her. Cat is also drawn to Jolie, also played by Tu May, who has a remarkable resemblance to Mai Ly. While Mai Ly is an introvert, Jolie is outgoing, very pretty and quite sociable. Initially, it is a bit confusing as to why Jolie is created. However, she represents the antithesis of Mai Ly. It turns out that Mai Ly is writing a script but needed someone as a hero or in this case, a heroine. So, she and her best friend create one out of Mai Ly and call her Jolie. So, Mai Ly can blend into the background and remain incognito while writing her script through the eyes of Jolie. It does not take long for Cat to surmise the ruse of Mai Ly physically changing into Jolie. It is apparent that the mannerisms in each are the same.
Cat is an astonishingly and stunningly beautiful but that never consumes her. She tries to teach Jolie and Mai Ly to dance, as Cat is a very good dancer. This is a rather gentle love development that is not full of drama or silliness. It simply displays a rather natural attraction between two females, more than platonic but not yet romantic. It is a cute GL story for sure. Most of the series is devoted to this relationship development with its ulterior motive, focusing on fighting bullying. Occasionally, the bullying was a bit contrived and tried to be humorous, but it was always resolved with serious intent. While it was addressing the whole issue of bullying in schools, it did so in a very entertaining manner, focusing on trying to rectify its impact. All it takes is a few to stand up to them and call their bluff. Sometimes with the right set of circumstances, the bully finds out what it is liked to be bullied and begins to understand its destructing effects on the victims.
Yet, there is still a rather intriguing and interesting side-story that does not become overt until the end. Jolie (Mai Ly)’s best friend, Dang Khoa, is a budding designer specifically for clothing. He helps to create the ruse for Mai Ly. Most importantly; she knows and accepts his orientation in life, initially unspoken but intuitive. They are indeed close. Dang gives her a blue pendant and calls it ‘hope’ and whoever wears it will be strong-willed and confident. This gives Jolie the symbolic covet she needs to be May Ly’s alter-ego. The school photographer, named Hoang Phong, played by Le Thanh, is enamored with Jolie. He pursues her, but she always seems to be unavailable. Secretly, however, Dang has a crush on Hoang and is dejected because he knows he does not have a chance of being with him. When Jolie finally meets up with Dang, he presents her with flowers and asks her to be his girlfriend.
Unceremoniously, she rejects him and says she was not the right person for him. (She ‘knows’ that Dang is in love with him). “Love comes from the heart, not from appearance,” she says to him. “There is someone better than me and is closer to you than you realize,” she states matter-of-factly, as she leaves him despondent. Dejected, he asks Dang to meet him to talk. They get drunk. When Dang takes Hoang home, he kept calling Dang, Jolie and saying how much he loves her, knowing full well he is not her, and begins to kiss him. As Dang tries to leave, Hoang asks him to stay, and they spend the night together making love. When Hoang wakes up in the early morning hours, he reflects on what happened, looks at Dang with a sense of contentment and remains in bed with him, holding his hand and falls back to sleep. I thought this simple unspoken scene was so romantic and dramatic. In a few short moments of deep reflection, he realized what Jolie said was veracious. It is a memorable scene with no second guessing, remorse, or guilt as to what they did. Their relationship has commenced.
The bully in this series is called Oanh the Bear, played by Koy Tom. Dressing as a boy, she terrorizes her fellow students. While tongue-in-cheek and spoofy at times, she is formidable until put in place by both Jolie and Cat. Mai Ly tries to excuse her behavior as she is just trying to pay for her tuitions because her family is poor. Koy Tom plays this part convincingly as someone strong, but knowing underneath all of it is a façade. She does display vulnerability and there is still an element in her that senses what she is doing is wrong. She epitomizes the degree some people need to, so they survive in this world. Jolie later rescues Oanh’s sister from bullying and Onah begins to see that maybe what she is doing is not good and is hurtful. I loved the symbolism of this character and what she represented. This could have been a caricature, but instead Koy Tom plays it representatively and convincingly with a hint of vulnerability.
What I love about Vietnamese series is that they tell a whole story, sometimes in shorten episodes as this one does. They manage to depict issues yet come up with a way of solving and showing ways to correct the issue. In this case, bullying. They are not afraid to show affection for someone of the same sex without a lot of excuses, hesitations, or alterations. It is like they are saying love is what it is and needs to be seen for what it is, not what it ought to be. It is never idealized; it is only made to feel real.
From a production standpoint, this series would have been made clearer if part of the last episode was shown first. We the audience, would have gotten a clearer picture of who Mai Ly was. Jolie was her alter ego – her superhero persona and the heroine that Mai Ly could write about. That would have made the story a bit smoother to understand.
This series incorporates both GL and BL, rather effectively. The story was left as if there should be further seasons. I know the pandemic and lack of money takes a toll on these web series and on what they are trying to accomplish. This is a deserving story and should be supported. I do hope there are further seasons to this story. Vietnam has a unique and distinctive way of showing the world both GL and BL. They do so with such openness and unemotional honesty, yet make it feel real and so, so relatable.
Rating: 4.25 out of 5