“My bounty is as boundless as the sea. My love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.”
– Juliet (act 2, scene 2) from Romeo and Juliet
This BL is an astonishing and remarkable love story. Deep. Intense. And a thing of beauty to watch and treasure. It is one of the most intensely moving BL series I have ever watched. One of Vietnam’s attributes is its ability to tell stories with both heart and soul. Their stories always show a truer sense of human drama than most other countries do. The characters are relatable, real, and so genuine. When they are bad, they are bad in a relatable way. When they are good, they are good in an almost spiritual way. I wish those who love this genre of storytelling would pay more attention to the creativity that comes out of Vietnam. While it lacks production quality and editing finesse, it makes up with intensity in feeling what the characters feel. Sure, it is not polished or sleek as from other countries (no doubt because of the shoe-string budgets that they work from), but its content tells stories of profound human drama, pain, and love. And they are not afraid to show that or try to guise it with pomp, glitz, or wealth. Or with a lot of ambiguity or obtuseness. These people are real, honest, and so like us – deeply flawed but capable of almost zealous commitments.
This is a romance story told along life’s journey to living. It shows different branches to choices people make in their lives and the outcomes to those choices. Sometimes, they are life-ending, while others enhance the creation of beauty between individuals. But in either case, we can see ourselves in those choices and their outcomes. And we are made to feel along with the characters.
There are 6 major narratives to this drama:
1. Ky Phoung (Tran Minh Hao) works as a server in a coffee shop. But he is keeping a secret that is getting to be more and more difficult to cover up. He has a boyfriend, Hoang Hai (Toku Nghia) who is using and abusing him emotionally, physically, and sexually. It is getting harder and harder to cover up the bruises and the internal pain.
2. Another server, Bao Anh (Hieu Nguyen), is growing attracted to him and has a tendency to call him Little Munchkin. As they banter, it become more playful and stronger feelings spill out. Phoung tries to resist, but Boa Anh provides such a steady, comforting hand and a safe feeling when he is around. These two begin to develop a relationship.
3. Finally, Phoung leaves Hai and stays with Bao Anh. However, Phoung does not feel worthy or even good enough for Bao Anh because he has been damaged both physically and emotionally so much. None of that matters to Bao Anh. He only feels love.
4. To complicate this, there is a customer, Trong Tuan (Ba Tang Minh Hieu) who thinks Phoung is his former boyfriend that recently passed away. He has an uncanny resemblance to him. Trong Tuan becomes fixated on him to the consternation of his ‘girlfriend’, Uyen Mi (Haoi TrangTran). She becomes jealous and vengeful and solicits the help of Hoang Hai to get Phoung out of the picture. But something goes terribly wrong.
5. Unbeknownst to Bao Anh, he has a secret admirer named Minh Van (Troung Hoang Dat). But that love is unrequited. He too has his own admirer named Uyin Nghi (Miu July). She becomes devasted when Minh Van confesses to her that he loves Bao Anh. She eventually confesses her love for him.
6. Throughout all of this is a relationship that develops between the manager of the coffee shop Luu Binh, (Tran Tri Trung) and a server named An Kha (Lu Tuan Phoung).
That is a lot of dynamics going on, with each coupling facing new challenges and new paths to follow. What this series showed in great depth is how unconditional love works. What its parameters are and how much willingness there is to see to its end. It also displays that forgiveness and redemption go hand in hand with the foundation being the acknowledgement of your own wrongdoings.
In the end, Phoung was willing to sacrifice his life for his love of Bao Anh while Bao Anh was willing to wait forever for Phoung to recover fully and return to his old self. To watch his journey with such realism and a sense of an inevitable outcome was simply magical. The symbolism of love that was displayed by all of them for either their love or for forgiveness was enchanting. I am being a bit obtuse in this review because I do not want to spoil its effects. You must see it to experience its sense of piety and, to a degree, poetic justice.
The meaningful symbols are displayed so softly that you might miss them. For example, when Bao Anh confesses his love for Phoung and asks him to be his boyfriend, that becomes a true work of artistry. He gives him a bouquet of white roses, a sign of pure love. He also creates a love ballet for him. When attacked and near death, all that Phoung wants to hear is the song that Bao Anh beautifully composed for him. To see such deep love between two guys in such a life-altering event done with such care, grace, beauty, and tenderness is a wonder to behold and experience. I honestly was deeply moved to tears.
No one person stole this series and yet they all did. Each was integrative to the others as you will discover when you watch the whole series, including the Specials (which should be labeled as Episodes, since they are essential to the story). Each of these characters meshes with the others so much so that losing one of them would have meant that the whole story would have fallen apart. Certainly, it is not over-the-top or overly dramatic, but more inspirational to the flow of the story. It always feels honest, genuine, and real. Kudos to some fine acting.
This series is not without its flaws, however. While accomplishing a real story, it bit off more than it can chew. Any one of these side-stories could easily have been a series in and of itself. I yearned to know them all, but so little time was spent on each that we did not really get to know them or find out how they got to where they were in life. They were all so interesting and unique that I wanted to know what made them tick. The story jumped rather quickly with a lot in between that we did not see or more importantly, did not feel.
But in the end, there was a full circle of life. Those who had painful pasts are trying to recover from that past. But the only way to do that is to learn to forgive yourself and to stop living in the shadow of the past. Obtaining reconciliation with the unrequited love is healed by time, as trite as that sounds. Time allows you to put all things into perspective.
There is an astonishing scene in the end that is both moving and profound. I wept at its beauty. It is one of the best exchanges of love I have ever seen on screen. When the commitment ceremony is held for Luu Binh and An Kha, they hand their bouquet to Bao Anh. He gets on his knee and asks Phoung to be his boyfriend. “I will love you with all my might, mind, and strength,” he says to Phoung. Phoung replies, “Thank you for always being by my side. For cherishing me and taking good care of me (for two years while he regained his memory). My life will be meaningless without you. Yes, I want to be your boyfriend and your partner in crime.” Bao Anh replies, “Thank you for accepting to be my better half.” And they kiss gently but passionately. This was a rare and remarkable moment in a BL series to show such tenderness and a genuine display of true love. I was deeply moved. And it felt so real.
This is a magical series done with such quietness and tenderness that is overlooked because it is not a glitzy or big-budgeted series. That is a complete shame, as it is truly one of the most real, genuine, honest portrayals of love between men I have seen in a long time.
I am apoplectic and disheartened as to why Vietnamese BL series are so easily dismissed when they show such deep understanding and appreciation of love in all its forms and are not afraid to be authentic. I shall try to champion their filmmaking as one of the finest storytellers in the world. Overlook the production issues and lack of editing adroitness and ‘see’ the story. This story touches the soul. It is just not entertaining; it is a serene story of the true meaning of love.
Soft. Endearing. Omnipresent. Patient. And oh, so beautiful!
Rating: 4.8 out of 5