This is one of those series that is so centric to being Vietnamese, that it might not be translatable into other languages. Idiomatic expressions and nuances of the language are powerful but when translated into other languages might not have the same intended impact. Does that take away anything from the series? Sure, it does. Does it make watching this series more difficult to interpret? Absolutely. Does it make it less impactful? No! I still felt its impact. I merely have to translate into my own internal language and give it meaning to me. And this series is astonishingly moving and so full of life. And that life had so many peaks and valleys that it made watching it joyful and sorrowful emotionally for me.
Overall, it is a profoundly sad love story that is manifested by hesitancy. Both protagonists are never fully committed to either themselves or each other. Or perhaps only on an intellectual basis but not an emotional one. Thien (Nguyen Ba Vinh) is a strong-willed screenwriter of BL scripts but has been rejected by so many production companies because of the content of his script as being too unorthodox. He is a single-minded individual and focused on his aspirations. His desire to be who he wants to be is paramount to him with integrity as his guiding light to achieve his direction in life. Sometimes, he is incapable of seeing anything else, however. On the other hand, you have Nghia (Tran Le Duc), an undisciplined and unfocused son of a rather well-to-do family. He sees little value in education and is for the moment rebellious. To teach him a lesson, his father agreed that he will pay the gambling debt that he has incurred because of his recklessness but he must leave so he can begin to see how difficult life is.
Thien’s father (who has since passed away) had a debt owed to Nghia and he travels to where the father resided to collect it. Thien agrees to allow him to stay, and he shall pay off his father’s debt to him. Granted a rather unorthodox arrangement but almost from the beginning, you could see a symbiotic relationship begin to develop. Both were lonely and indeed loners. Both needed a breather from life, and this seemed a great way to escape. And quite literally, both needed to find themselves and so together, they do.
Thien tries very hard not to become attracted to Nghia but keeps finding him more and more irresistible though he does not act on any impulses toward the development of a relationship. Nghia, on the other hand, is young, impressionable, and ‘straight’ but he also keeps finding Thien more and more attractive and therefore to some degree desirable.
Inevitably, Nghia makes the move on Thien but he tries to caution Nghia that being young and not gay, his attraction to him may be one of three things – confusion, curiosity, or indeed love. And the remainder of this series tries to settle what the reason is until it becomes clear what it is – only too late to solidify a relationship. Their relationship is a combination and a mixture of all three. While the dominant feeling is love, They never realized it internally as a couple until it becomes too late. It is merely feigned. And each is destined to live with the decisions both had to make with one other.
This series is full of subtitles. Again, with the lack of depth ness to the translations into English, the dialogue at times felt stilted and I was left scratching my head thinking I do not understand what they are trying to convey. Yet, the imagery told me all I needed to know.
My interpretations of those images to gain a full understanding of this story are as follows:
☆ Thien was badly wounded psychologically for falling in love with a ‘straight’ man previously and was not going to be vulnerable again. Hence, his actions were always hesitant and reserved but once made, were concrete with an inability to change. But this time, the wound is even deeper and lasts a lifetime.
☆ Nghia truly did love Thien but was too young to see the big picture and too immature to fight his family, particularly his mother, on her level. Therefore, he succumbed to her wishes to be ‘normal’ leading to an inevitable negative outcome that the father either sensed or knew would come.
☆ Their relationship was both superficial and deep. Superficial in the sense that they liked to ‘play’ a couple but when it came down to being one, both hesitated, perhaps even for legitimate reasons. Yet, it was so psychologically deep that one gave his life up for it and the other led a life of complete loneliness and longing.
Nguyen Ba Vinh’s (Thien) screen chemistry with Tran Le Duc as Nghia is strong but a bit too reserved. On the other hand, Tran Le Duc as Nghia is way more animated with some periods of strong hesitations on his face. He has a remarkably photogenic look and exudes a certain virility about his character that is rarely seen in BL series. There was something about him that made him very enticing. I believed his screen kisses and connections. However, a friend of Thien who was a tutor was asked to instruct Nghia to improve his studies. Hung (Tran Vu Duc Duy) appears initially to be very superficial and his over-the-top flamboyancy was annoying. But he proves to be the crucial key to making Thien and Nghia’s relationship work without being sanctimonious about it. He is merely an observer and a guide to seeing what is really in front of them. Perhaps initially a role for some comical relief becomes the cornerstone to having them see how strong their relationship could be and to help provide guidance and support to both individuals. Yet, for me, he always seemed to sense the futility of this relationship but never stated it matter-of-factly. We find that his outward mannerisms are not who he is. He conveyed such complexities in this role that they went almost unnoticed because of the superficialities of his character. Yet he provided the keystone of support essential for any relationship to survive. Even with all that in place, it was still destined to fail.
This series left me feeling profoundly sad as neither of them could see the depth of their love for one other. Equally disquieting was that neither one was willing to fight for it. They merely accepted their fate as inevitable. For me, as an observer, I found that hard to grasp and even harder to understand. But I am not Vietnamese. So, I accepted their fate much as they did. Emotionally, I tried to follow their paths down the road of accepting the choices that they made. Sometimes, you cannot change the fate of what will be and must learn to accept it. Both did that and paid a heavy price for it. My price for walking down that same path with them was weeping at the end, still telling myself that, despite it all, they could have had a different outcome. Of course, to no avail.
This series also bestows a sense of truth. And the nuances of the making of this series were so evident in its ubiquitousness. The simple settings. The intense personal dialogue and interactions between Thien and Nghia are laid back, cautious, and always hesitant. Thien’s emotions run extreme but are reluctant to show them and keep them well hidden. Nghia unfortunately changes and becomes a product of the pressures of family and society. All telegraphing a troublesome ending.
Worth noting, there is, I believe, a ‘first’ here. It is certainly not the ‘first’ in a BL series but in this context, I believe it is. In one of the bedroom scenes, as Nghia was getting amorous with Thien, Thien confronts him with the reality of what gay sex is, with Nghia then backing off. But not before Thien in full view shows an obvious erection in his pants with only a small effort to cover it up. We see, tastefully done, what a natural reaction is like for a gay man to be touched by another man with not having to pretend it is not there, or not be there at all. That was astonishing and such a real moment. That is why Vietnamese BLs have a special place in my heart. Their reality is my reality.
I have stated this so many times before, Vietnamese BLs tell a story. Stories of the deep human drama of intensity with significant emotional strains. Watching this made me exhausted emotionally and feeling despondent. It again jolted me back to the reality that not all relationships end up or will end up even being together.
The production of this series leaves a lot to be desired. The editing is a bit too choppy and sporadic. Timelines are confusing. And I have already stated the issues with the translations. And seriously, no one believed Thien was 40 years older looking like he did.
While I do not know for sure, I can ascertain that the production glitches are a result of a limited budget. But the sincerity behind this series is so self-evident to me, that I overlooked the flaws and simply escaped into its story. To some degree, I lived it with them as I watched. Very few productions from other countries get me to do that; Vietnam stands alone for me.
Rating 4.75 out of 5
Streaming on- 02 Production’s YouTube Channel
Edited by- Dee
2 thoughts on ““Love Bill” Series Review (Ep. 1 to 10)”
It wasn’t one of the best films from Vietnam with Nguyen Ba Vinh. He is responsive to comments and suggestions when he does a live feed. I watched Ep. 1 and waited until the series was finished to go back and start over. You nailed it with whoever is doing the subs. When Nguyen Ba Vinh played in Nation’s Brother I uploaded easy to understand English subs to replace the one’s being used. Haven’t done that since GMMTV asked me to help years ago. With complicated subs “made me exhausted emotionally and feeling despondent” and they do.
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I was surprised by how good this was- mostly due to the beautiful scenery and the acting of Tran Le Duc as Nghia- he felt so complex and natural. Ba Vinh is usually decent and here he at times goes deeper into character in interplay with Tran Le Duc.
The script (translation or no) is often a mess as is editing at times. Still episodes 2,3 and 4 are really good.
Episode 5 is terrible for me as they drag some of the worst tendencies from Thai BL and throw them into a blender:
Drugging someone to sleep with them and play it as comedy (ugh), An ex from the past suddenly appears! (yawn), one of the main characters making horrific decisions completely at odds with previous character traits (No!!!!)
Still it does recover most of the time- a promising Vietnamese BL entry.
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