I chanced upon Fleet of Time, the movie version of Back In Time. After watching for 20 minutes, I condemned it and decided the drama version was much better. This brought me to rewatch Back In Time and the feels overwhelmed me. While this drama might not have made it onto the list of my favourite dramas in terms of plot because the storyline is pretty overused and naggy (especially towards the back), I must admit that this is a beautiful drama with many hidden gems. This drama has a lot of noteworthy quotes. I still have them saved on a note in my laptop even though it’s been a year since I watched it – I will share them next time round!
More importantly, Back In Time was the first (and practically only) drama where I had a real problem of second-lead syndrome. Throughout the entire drama, I felt that the male lead was undeserving of the female lead. I have met my fair share of ‘perfect second leads’ but Qiao Ran from Back In Time was the only one that kept me firmly on his ship the entire drama without ever rooting for the male lead. The most amazing thing about this drama is that despite the fact that I *almost* despise the male lead, I can easily understand why the female lead chose him and would continuously disappoint my poor Qiao Ran.
Back In Time is a story about 5 youths. It follows them from high school to university and then jump to the present where they are adults. A brief introduction: the male lead is Chen Xun (portrayed by Yang Le) and the female lead is Fang Hui (portrayed by He Hong Shan). The second male lead is Qiao Ran (portrayed by Bai Jingting) while Zhao Ye (Du Wei Han) and Lin Jia Mo (Cai Wenjing) are the secondary couple and makes up the five. While there are 2 distinct love lines in the clique, my favourite thing about this drama is that they are friends beyond their love interest. For instance, Jia Mo and Qiao Ran, the seemingly most unrelated pair in the clique, are actually pretty close because they bond over the feeling of having an unrequited crush. Read more about the storyline on DramaForReal’s first impression post and series review.
For this post, I’ll be focusing on the main loveline between Chen Xun, Fang Hui and Qiao Ran. Chen Xun holds the record for being first male lead whom I view with disgust. Even though I probably would have chosen Chen Xun and be part of the ‘it’ couple too if I was Fang Hui, I was rooting for Qiao Ran the entire drama. (I guess it helps that Bai Jingting is so cute!!)
[SPOILERS ahead as I share my interpretation of the motives behind the actions of characters.]
Background: Chen Xun, Qiao Ran and Zhao Ye are best buddies. Fang Hui is a transfer student and is extremely quiet. Zhao Ye, the chatterbox in the class, claims that she is the only person in class that haven’t talk to him in the 2 months of school. Qiao Ran later bonded with Fang Hui over a love for books while the other two, together with the rest of the class, bullied her (via the silent treatment) due to some misunderstandings that she betrayed them.
My interpretation is that Qiao Ran fell for our female lead first. However, he was passive and didn’t actively woo her. They enjoyed a good relationship and if things continued as it were, they are likely to eventually end up together. More than love towards Fang Hui, I feel that Chen Xun, class monitor and the most popular boy, was just jealous that there was this girl who ignores his existence and yet is so close to his best friend. He is used to being the centre of the attention and didn’t want his limelight to be stolen by his friend. Hence he started attracting Fang Hui’s attention, and even went as far to play a prank by writing ‘Fang Hui likes Chen Xun’ on the class blackboard.
This was the turning point of their relationship. This move made Fang Hui realise for the first time that she *could* like Chen Xun and get together with him. It also gave Chen Xun a chance to confess his ‘love’ to Fang Hui and pester her. At this point of time, I feel that Chen Xun was just a jealous, rash and curious teen who would eventually break Fang Hui’s heart when she really devotes herself into this relationship. But, we can’t fault him because there are many ‘Chen Xun’s in real life too. To give Chen Xun credit, there is a possibility that he truly loved Fang Hui in the end, but what cannot be changed is that he only went after her out of curiosity and because he didn’t want to ‘lose’ to his friend.
Fang Hui eventually decided to get together with Chen Xun. While I’m crying for Qiao Ran, I can completely understand her move. Chen Xun is probably the dream guy for many girls in their school and she must be flattered he showed interest in her. Even though she would make a better match with Qiao Ran, he never made her feel like he could be interested in her. Hence, he’s not part of the consideration at all. It’s easy for her to fall for Chen Xun’s words and actions.
And that’s what sealed the fate for Qiao Ran. The moment Qiao Ran did not fight for Fang Hui despite knowing Chen Xun liked her as well was the moment he lost forever. After Fang Hui got together with Chen Xun. Any possibilities of her falling in love with Qiao Ran that might have existed vanished. She might have just simply enjoyed the attention given by Chen Xun at the start but she eventually fell for him, hard. Fang Hui is an ‘all or nothing’ girl. If she chooses someone, she gives him all of her love. She convinced herself to love Chen Xun wholeheartedly and has no more space to love anyone else, even if Chen Xun might have been the one who dumped and betrayed her. It might sound stupid, but it is actually very realistic and relatable.
Maybe never being able to get the girl made Qiao Ran more endearing and lovable because he is just so pitiful. His attitude of not fighting for the woman he love can be infuriating at times but it is more swoonworthy than anything. One of my many favourite quote from him is, “你就是希望这个人幸福， 哪怕这个幸福里。。。没有自己的位置” which translate to “(Loving someone is) to wish that the person is happy, even if that happiness… doesn’t include oneself.” He is very gracious and accepting and loving. He never laments about his fate and is there for Fang Hui every single time she needs it. He doesn’t stop being nice to Fang Hui and yet he also doesn’t harbour any thought of coming in between his best friend and her. He is not even being a spare tyre. He’s just a supportive friend that try his best to ensure her happiness without hoping for anything in return. In other words, he is that noble idiot that I would love to hate but can’t stop loving.
In some other drama, I probably wouldn’t care much for a second lead that is so perfect. But Chen Xun is such a disappointment and I just can’t help but think about the happy ending Fang Hui could have gotten with Qiao Ran.
The most tortuous thing is that even after Fang Hui ended it with Chen Xun due to his betrayal, she still did not accept Qiao Ran. It aligns with her personality but it is so depressing for Qiao Ran. My poor, poor boy. He fell in love with the right girl at the right time but his lack of actions condemned him for life. He will never get the girl anymore. The ending is terribly sad, but maybe it is what makes this drama more poignant than anything. Yes, they could have a happy ending but that would mean messing up the personalities of the characters and betraying the story. I guess respect has to be given to the story writer for staying true to the characters even though it might be painful.
Verdict: Skip the movie and watch the drama for the full flavour. The movie is just another of those cliche romance story but the drama is a real coming-of-age story and touches close to the heart (even though it might be slightly draggy).