Relationships are complicated. Happiness in love is never guaranteed. And learning to let go is always a process.
In a co-production between Taiwan and Japan, the Taiwanese BL Plus Minus not only delves into the intricacies of broken relationships but also connects viewers to loyal friendships and a realistic look at love.
The above-written thoughts and introduction are how I started the first impression of this series. Still, it bore repeating because, as much as I enjoyed the drama and the romance as a whole, where Plus Minus really shines is in how it presents relationships.
I went into Plus Minus expecting to fall in love with the couples. Instead, I fell in love with the men’s jobs and relationships with other people. From Cheng Ze Shou (Max Lin) and Fu Li Gong’s (Shi Cheng Hao) jobs as divorce lawyers to Kato Yuki’s (Zheng Qi Lei) job as a bartender and Jian Ying Ze’s (Matt Lee) job as a laundromat owner. There are a lot of life lessons in the work we do. Lessons we often overlook. The jobs we do aren’t always jobs we are passionate about. They aren’t even always jobs we care to do at all. But there are lessons in everything, from how we interact with people to how they interact with each other.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in divorce. As sad as divorce is, as devastating as that word can be for families, and as toxic as some marriages can be, it’s also full of enriching experiences and a hard look at what love is, what love can be, and how love doesn’t always work the way we expect it to. Love and romance are only a tiny part of life as a whole. As individuals, there’s a lot about ourselves we have to learn, a lot about ourselves we need to fulfill on our own. Sometimes that means growing apart from someone else. Two people can walk a path together only to come up on a crossroads, a fork in the road where they suddenly realize they don’t want to travel in the same direction.
But two people separating can also mean someone else coming together, as in Yuki And Ying Ze’s situation.
And this is where Plus Minus finds its power. It takes a hard look at relationships and how they work, and it takes viewers into two different kinds of relationships where both men are opposite personalities.
As viewers, we escape into romantic dramas/films/books/etc. as a way to fantasize about how we wish our romantic lives would go or to get that fluttering sensation one gets when seeing two people fall in love. This diversity in viewing makes choosing and discussing dramas tricky and fun. For some, deeper dramas are richer experiences that leave a more profound impression. For others, they want something light with no strings attached. And still, others want an angsty, frustrating drama that makes them yell at the television screen because it’s fun to get so involved in a fictional character’s life. Hence why the reactions online are always mixed. I’m one of those “I’m okay with all of it” cases, but I do prefer deeper and angstier storylines over lighter ones.
Plus Minus is undoubtedly one of these deeper dramas. For those who go into it simply to see romance, you may be disappointed. But if you go into it looking for meaning, you will come away from it richer,
Although marketed as a romance, I feel like the love stories in Plus Minus played a backseat role to the lessons it imparted. It built the romances of the men inside the drama around individual divorce cases and things happening at the bar Yuki works for and the laundromat Ying Ze owns.
As satisfying as it was to see Ze Shou and Li Gong learn about love and figure themselves out through the divorce cases they deal with, I found myself particularly touched by the secondary couple, Yuki and Ying Ze. There is something magnetic about a single father refusing to let things go opening up to a man who teaches him how to maintain the nostalgia he loves while also moving forward. Yuki made Ying Ze brave while Ying Ze provided a steady comfort Yuki seems to lack in his life. Yuki and Ying Ze are two halves of a bigger whole, while Ze Shou and Li Gong are two sides of a bigger story.
Either way, what Plus Minus conveys is that love is always two-sided. Like a coin. Whether a couple completes or balances each other, a relationship is still two individuals coming together. Relationships aren’t meant to rob either person of their individuality; they are supposed to support what makes each of them unique while also strengthening that uniqueness.
For me, that’s the best kind of romance.
Although the drama’s flaws are few, there were times when the production quality could have been better and the emotions slightly less exaggerated, but the story, chemistry, and acting are largely strong.
Which leads me to the biggest con for me with this series.
The break-up that takes place between Ze Shou and Li Gong before the drama’s conclusion felt unnecessary. Although I understood where it was coming from and what it meant to imply, it lacked the power I think they hoped it would impart. Ze Shou and Li Gong have spent a lifetime as friends. They are rarely separated, and the break-up was intended to offer them both a look at themselves as individuals, especially as focused on individuality inside a relationship that Plus Minus is. As beautiful as that is, I felt there was more power in them remaining steadfast and realizing that what made/makes them stronger is each other. We don’t always have to take a closer look at ourselves while apart to understand ourselves individually, even in a relationship. It doesn’t always take stepping back to realize something, and the need to step back has become an overused dramatic approach to find oneself in dramas/films, especially romantic ones.
Despite this, there’s a lot of forgiveness, beauty, and wisdom in Plus Minus, and those who watch Taiwanese BLs will also appreciate the celebrity cameos from dramas such as Be Loved in House, HIStory 3: Make Our Days Count, and HIStory 4.
And let’s not forget the marriage it ends with. While marriage can often be a cliche ending to a romance, it holds a different kind of power in Plus Minus, especially when so many same-sex couples are fighting to gain this right in their countries. Plus Minus celebrates Ze Shou and Li Gong’s right.
And that’s power.
As a whole, Plus Minus is a great drama to lose oneself in. Check it out now on Gagaoolala and Viki.
Rating- 4 out of 5