When I was in college, my department had a t-shirt as a part of its merchandise that said “Choice is an Illusion”.
When you take it to mean that you think you have agency in the decisions you make, but they are always made for you by some external forces; I think it aptly describes my feelings towards Kuea and Lian’s relationship for most of the show, but I’ll come back to this later.
The show had a tropey premise, arranged marriage isn’t exactly new in the romance genre, but the reason why tropes are tropes is because they continue to be popular no matter how many times they are done. On top of that, they had a sizeable budget, if the numerous mansions as sets and expensive cars and bikes are any indication. They had all the makings of being one of the cutest shows of the year, but the writing and characters were a let-down.
If you think about the development of a relationship as going from point A to point B, the relationship here stays at point A throughout, vacillating slightly from left to right depending on when the plot calls for conflict or reconciliation. They swing like a pendulum, going back and forth, without making any real progress until much later in the series. Up until the third-to-last episode, they had the same conflicts they had had in the very first episode. Kuea was trying to hide his double life as the badass performer Kirin, while Lian too had his own secrets about taking control of Kuea’s properties without his knowledge.
I’m not one to be opposed to conflict and angst in a relationship, if done well, it can provide for some really entertaining material. The conflict in Cutie Pie, however, was barely a conflict at all. It was miscommunication taken to the extreme. If a simple conversation can easily resolve a conflict, it is badly written in my opinion. If they had only had proper communication at any point in the show before the absolute end, it would’ve cut off a lot of the unnecessary drama, but I guess that is why they didn’t in the first place. Were it not for the 12-episode series, if they had chosen to create a 4 or 5 episode show with the same premise, they could have had much better pacing without the stunted dialogues.
The dialogues (and writing in general) were really my only gripe with the show, but it was a major problem when I felt like they were rehashing the same conflict again and again only to pad the runtime. The dialogues in the earlier episodes (most episodes before 10, if I am honest) did not follow the “show, don’t tell” rule at all; we were faced with two characters who were supposedly in love because they repeatedly said it to themselves and each other. If the characters have to say “I love you” to let the viewer know they are in love, it’s not good writing. They spoke about their feelings without showing it to each other, and despite all the dialogues, they still couldn’t communicate.
The lack of communication and conflict generated because of it was not my only issue with Kuea and Lian’s relationship. The power dynamics were skewed right up until the last few episodes. Much of the show was Lian affectionately dictating what Kuea could and couldn’t do, steamrolling over his opinions because he supposedly knew what was better for him. Kuea, with all of his badass nature, didn’t do much to complain beyond murmuring behind Lian’s back and continuing to abide by his wishes. I like characters who have agency, no matter how that agency gets shown on screen, and Kuea barely showed any despite riding bikes and wearing leather jackets. I meant it when I wrote that the choices he made were really ones that had been made for him (except for the spy vs spy antics in the last episode with both Kuea and Lian trying to propose to one another, that was cute).
The show wasn’t all bad, however, it had many ups. Syn and Nuer’s relationship was my favourite out of the three, you could see they progressed well through the show, and I got excited every time they came on screen, despite the limited screentime. I would love to see them together in a show again!
Kuea and Lian’s physical chemistry too was one of the plus points; NuNew and Zee seemed to be comfortable with each other and brought their all to the more intimate scenes. The scenes in the bedroom were well directed, it’s just their relationship outside of the bedroom that needed a lot more work in the initial episodes.
The show got a lot better in terms of writing towards the end, and the last scene in particular made me really happy, with Kuea and Lian kissing in front of a board that proclaimed their support for marriage equality. They had brought it up a few times earlier too, and it is this intermingling of fictive BL series with real-world politics that has made BL series all the more important in today’s context.
Overall, it is not a show that I think I will rewatch, the story was simply not for me. If you are one for a fairy-tale romance, and don’t mind cutting through some redundant episodes to get to the good part, this show is for you!
Rating: 3 out of 5