[Drama Thoughts] Back In Time 匆匆那年: First-Ever ‘Second Lead Syndrome’ + Interpretation of Main Loveline

Back In Time 1 Full Crew

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!

Back In Time_Qiao Ran and Fang Hui 2

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 2 Full Crew

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.

Back In Time_Qiao Ran and Fang Hui and Chen Xun.jpg

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.]

Back In Time 2 Chen Xun Qiao Ran Zhao Ye.jpg

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.

Back In Time 4 Full Crew.jpg

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.

Back In Time_Qiao Ran and Fang Hui and Chen Xun 2.jpg

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.

Back In Time_Qiao Ran and Fang Hui 3.jpg

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.

Back In Time_Qiao Ran and Fang Hui 4.jpg

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.

Back In Time_Qiao Ran and Fang Hui.jpg

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.

Back In Time 2 Qiao Ran.jpg

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.

Back In Time 1 Fang Hui Chen Xun.jpg

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.

Back In Time 3 Full Crew

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).



14 thoughts on “[Drama Thoughts] Back In Time 匆匆那年: First-Ever ‘Second Lead Syndrome’ + Interpretation of Main Loveline

  1. dramarian

    thank you for this! makes me really want to check out the drama version which has been rotting in my PTW list! The movie was beyond forgettable and until now I couldn’t fathom why Eddie Peng and Ni Ni managed to create something that I didn’t like at all. I find it very interesting too that it was the first drama that made you fully root for the 2nd male lead. I for one have yet to find a drama which could make me feel that way. I’m a Yang Le fan because of “My Sunshine” so it would be interesting for me to see if I’ll still be rooting for him or not haha!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. xia0xiao1mei

    Ooh it’s the actor from whirlwind girl, guess hes playing the gentle one here too? He seems to be going for a lot of youth film/drama roles, I don’t know how old he is but definitely does suit it, he just has that image of an awkward teen XD He’s also in the upcoming 谁的青春不迷茫 which also seems like a novel adaption

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kate - skimmedmilkdrama Post author

      I actually wanted to watch whirlwind girl for him! Until I realised he is probably a minor character and I decided I wouldn’t want to hurt my heart further so I didn’t haha. Cool! Maybe I should start reading that novel now to prepare haha.


      1. xia0xiao1mei

        Tbf you didn’t miss out on much, the drama was quite a mess, other than the guys looking awesome in their taekwondo uniforms, there’s nothing much worth watching.

        If you’re a fan of him, you could check out the Chinese ver. of crime scene, he’s guesting in the first ep. This time, he took it upon himself to choose the role of a teacher too XD I’m so excited to watch it~~


  3. Yui

    is this another ‘back in time’ drama? cuz i think i watched another back in time drama before… how many series of ‘back in time’? im confused hehe.


        1. Kate - skimmedmilkdrama Post author

          Back In Time — Long Time No See is the supposed sequel to Back In Time but it makes sense to watch it as a standalone too, since the cast is completely different. I feel that the sequel only made use of the general storyline to spin off another story and is quite different from the first season and the novel itself. I’m watching it currently and the fact that Qiao Ran and Fang Hui actually got together (I don’t know if they will last since I haven’t reached the end) is very unfaithful to the entire concept the author was trying to bring about.


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  6. Ayu

    I actually watched the drama in two batches: the first 6 or so episodes I wasn’t really feeling it or was not in the “right mood”, and then after a loooong time I’ve decided to watch to the end.

    I agree that Qiao Ran was swoonworthy, and perharps a better match with Fang Hui.

    But I don’t know if it is because I’ve forgotten about Chen Xun rudeness at the beggining, but I don’t find him exactly disgusting. I think that because he was young, naive and his overall impulsive personality that he thought they were going to be together forever, that things wouldn’t change. I actually think when he felt his heart was changing he seemed to have some moments of distress over it. Not that his attitude was commendable, but for me it was somehow relatable how feelings can change, even if we don’t want to.

    I also think Fang Hui was too naive to actually believe his promisses (maybe I am cynical about pretty much anything), but what disturbed me the most about her was the way she was unhealthly clinging to him by the end, and made me wonder if she didn’t have some self respect. But then there is her personality, her backstory, and her need for stability.

    Now that I think back on it they reflect some aspects of youth, and I could see a lot of my young self in them, like Fang Hui’s shyness, low self steem and insecurity, Chen Xun and his fearlessness, challenging adults and thinking you will lead an exciting life different from the adults you know, Qiao Ran and his way of placing his friends interests before his own…

    All that to say I really liked the drama! Hahaha. Now that I wrote this whole thing I realized it went a little off topic (about the second lead thing) XD! And I feel like there are so many other things I wanted to point out about the drama but I couldn’t put them into words…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kate - skimmedmilkdrama Post author

      Thanks for leaving a comment, I enjoyed reading it (off topic or not)! There are so many gems scattered in this drama, I would love to have someone to discuss with it.

      I do agree that Chen Xun is a very relatable character, perhaps that was why I disliked him even more. Because, when I see him, I don’t just watch a drama, I see people who break hearts in real life. It’s been 18 months since I wrote this post, and I feel like perhaps, I, too, matured. When I first watched the drama, I identified myself with Fang Hui. Hence, I was upset with Chen Xun. But as time past, I guess I really do see how life do turn out differently from what we thought we wanted against our choice. So, yes, I do understand where you are coming from, regarding Chen Xun.

      Regarding Fang Hui, I must agree. She is a dumb one, and stubborn to add on. But, I feel like she is a representation of so many girls out there. I, too, am cynical. I am skeptical about flowery words and promises. I always doubt first. I am not as gullible as Fang Hui. But beyond that, if I chose to believe someone and they betrayed me like Chen Xun did, I cannot be certain that I won’t behave like Fang Hui. Precisely because I am not “gullible”, so the hurt will be even harsher. So, even when I’m not Fang Hui, I do understand (but not agree) with her actions. In fact, I’m afraid I might fall prey to those actions.

      Now that you mention it, the characters are portrayed really well. I see younger self in them too. This drama should really be more popular than it is! It’s a drama that I only found passable when I first watched it. But as time passed and the more I think about it, the more I appreciate it. Once again, thanks for leaving a comment! Would love to hear more of your thoughts if you drop by again 🙂


  7. Ayu

    Thanks for replying! I wasn’t expecting a reply since I saw this was posted a while ago! ^^

    Actually I had just finished watching the drama and was looking around the internet for reviews and ended up here, and my fingers were itching to type what I felt about it, like when you have to pour all your thoughts and feelings out to someone about a book/movie/drama that made an impressions on you.

    About Fang Hui, I agree with you about the fear of ending up in a situation like her, and I didn’t hate her, but watching her going on that downward spiral was frustrating. I was thinking, “girl, you could do better, so just graciously let go”, but that’s what I think I woud probably do. I am not her, and after thinking again, how can I say for sure that I would never do crazy things because I’m heartbroken or sad? And I can’t blame her only, because the way Chen Xun handled it was really messy.

    Maybe it’s because I have more of a wallflower kind of personality like her that I felt more frustrated about it, LOL. But I remember being a bit more confident about myself than her, even if it was more of a defense mechanism. I guess it’s because I was rooting for her that I was wishing for her to let go and move on, sad as it was. But she went and brought more tragedy to herself, like she was twisting the knife in her own wounds not letting it heal at all. I guess I could understand her clinginess and insisting on the relationship, but that act of self-harm was so sad, and somehow for me it seemed like she did that to put pressure and guilt-trip Chen Xun.

    About Chen Xun’s promisses to Fang Hui and how they were broken, it made me think of those vows/convictions/morals you are so sure will never change or maybe you don’t consider the possibility of other factors changing or affecting your beliefs. Like thinking, for example, that cheating is bad and you will NEVER EVER do it, and then it seems like life says “challenge accepted” and throw a situation at you that makes you break your promisse. It’s like receiving a slap in the face from life… and maybe that’s how I saw his situation? The way things happened and how he handled the situation was pretty bad, though.

    Their relationship had some sweet moments and Chen Xun did try to integrate her into the class and his group of friends, and brought her a little out of her shell. But they had their share of problems, and for me one issue that caught my attention was how he was deciding almost everything in the relationship and even their future, since I’ve felt like he kind of put pressure on Fang Hui to go to the same university as him. And it particularly bothered me when he didn’t answer a question on the entrance exam because he felt like she wouldn’t make it and they wouldn’t be able to study at the same university. Fang Hui’s reaction when he told her later seemed to show that she was moved (I could be wrong), but I would be SO mad if someone did that for me, I would feel like the other person is looking down on me and feel upset that he doesn’t have the confidence that the relationship could whistand distance (maybe, just maaaaybe, it’s because it’s the older version of me watching it, or it’s just my personality to feel like that).

    I also found it interesting that in high school the opposition they had in their relationship, specially from the teacher actually made the relationship stronger at that point, and i seemed to make Chen Xun even more determined to hang on to that relationship, with him challenging the school rules. But when they got to the same university, and they didn’t have any opposition or outside obstacle anymore, the relationship started to die.

    I realized that I didn’t write much about Qiao Ran, and maybe because he was such a “perfect” friend/lover material I didn’t have much to say about him, LOL. I mean, he was lovely and an overall kind, undestanding and sensible person, a great friend to the group and he had similar tastes with Fang Hui, and maybe he would have been a better match for her . But I guess that for me, the polar oposite personality of the leads, their past, their interactions, their relationship and the issues that arouse made more interesting points of discussion.

    Sorry about the essay, but I guess lately I am in the mood to reminisce about my younger self and the drama did bring out those memories: all that akwardness, the embarassments, the rashness, the mistakes, the intensity of the worries (a lot of situations I find silly and trivial now, but it was a matter of life and death at that time, LOL)… Not that I’ve changed much from those years, but looking at the things from the past now makes me see things in a different perspective. And even if at the time I didn’t feel particularly thrilled to be young, and saw those days as kind of dull, looking back at those days now I see that they were actually quite dazzling.



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