A Comparative Commentary on Love O2O 微微一笑很倾城: the Canon, Drama, and Movie

(This article was first posted on shoujoinvestigation’s Tumblr. Some minor edits to spelling mistakes and stylisation are made in this updated version. I’m crying because I can’t find some of the typos I noticed before now.)

I may not be your biggest fan of the franchise, but I’ve been wanting to finish off this overdue commentary which have been sitting in the drafts for months… This is a comparative commentary of the two live action adaptations, with knowledge of the novel as a basis. (I have read the book first, watched the drama, then the movie.)

Disclaimer: This commentary is fundamentally still coming from my own perspective and opinions. Differing opinions are welcomed but be nice!

TL;DR:

The drama and movie have different focuses, each with their own strengths and flaws.

The drama worked better as a live action/lighthearted romcom, while the movie better as an adaptation.

[spoilers and long post ahead]


Legend:

  • The story’s title will be referred to as Love O2O
  • Xiao Nai: XN / Wei Wei: WW
  • Yang Yang: YY / Zheng Shuang: ZS / Jing Bo Ran: JBR / Angelababy: AB

CONTEXT

Like a huge bulk of netizens, I saw the movie as gravely unpromising before its release. Most people have grimaced at this move to join the popular web novel’s franchise money-milking party which the drama was already in way before. Such adaptations also expectedly end up to be huge disappointments. The general sentiments were: AB’s acting is terrible, and JBR is not suitable as XN, especially when we were already promised YY’s XN.


LENGTH of the Story

The canon (novel) is already really short to start with. We got a lot of unnecessary fillers in the drama because it was the scriptwriters’ attempt to lengthen it into a 30-episode drama. While some addition of original content is good, we still got lots of toxic and draggy side-plots of silly people, gossip-mongers, bitches. The length and pacing for the movie is a blessing for any impatient ass (like me) or people who have already read the book (like me).

However, in my opinion, movies will more often than not, lose to dramas when it comes to romantic development. Indeed, the movie was unable to achieve the kind of attachment and engagement with the viewers the drama was able to build with the screen time and content of 30-odd episodes.

There were definitely much more details in narrative, such as WW + XN’s friendships with their roommates. (Personally, those were what made the drama to me.)


XIAO NAI: YY vs JBR

JBR’s portrayal and rendition of XN unexpectedly appealed to me. Indeed, not far from my expectations, JBR possesses too much of a “暖男 warm guy” image to be the ideal XN.

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YY XN was closer to the canon in terms of charisma but also sort of intensified, extrapolated, and focused on his godliness, cunningness, and shrewdness. He is like the “god”, high up on the pedestal, but JBR’s was different.

JBR XN was less distant a XN. He was also not as crazy godly and overseeing like YY XN to have deflected all the evil business partners. But as a result, it humanised JBR XN. Though it didn’t mean that he is a pushover – that scene of him tearing up the contract was rather amazing. I felt like for once, I could feel for and relate to XN as a character.

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YY XN may have ran into challenges in his start-up, but JBR XN had gone through an actual low in his life, and had to learn to pick himself up again. I have seen people complained that it is “uncharacteristic” for XN to suffer from problems… may I say, shove it up your whiny ass? Why can’t geniuses run into problems in life? If we want interesting characters, we need flaws and problems. But of course, if you want a character just purely to look up to, then you’re looking at YY XN.

Despite the substantial difference in characterisation, JBR XN retained the essence – the qualities I liked about XN as a character – his poise, his oratory, his unwavering trust in WW.

As much as I would also laugh and be amused by YY XN’s “inhumanity”, and there were limited moments to show us that he fundamentally cared about his friends (car accident + secretly paying for dinner were great) – I had a harder time being convinced that he truly cared about his friends. YY XN unhealthily focuses his life much more on WW.

I think it’s interesting to see aspects of XN being portrayed in two different versions. You will find something entertaining and captivating about the shrewd, deific XN, and you will also adore the more humanised, pleasant XN, a charismatic genius who can also suffer from downfall like any of us.

However, what made me really decided that I preferred the movie’s characterisation and take of XN:

The movie managed to minimise the problematics of XN’s character which the drama had sadly extrapolated on instead. It’s hard for me to deny that XN’s character is problematic to a larger extent than a lot of romcom male leads.

An adaptation could and should take the chance to write an essay and/or improve on the canon.

But the drama did not.

Rather, it condoned and took it further. Not only did they totally swerved away from the only opportunity for XN to talk about his knowledge of WW before the game, XN intentionally checking up WW’s class schedule to take the same class as her, hacking her computer, actively stalking her in the library creepily watching her from afar – all before they dated (these details weren’t in the book). There was this creepy atmosphere surrounding how he intentionally planned to get close to WW. And worse, never explaining how he knew about WW. He one-sidedly assumed and transferred his relationship with WW online to reality.

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every breath you take~ every move you make~ every bond you break~ every step you take~ I’LL BE WATCHING YOU

The last straw for me, was when he devalued WW’s friendship with Er Xi, and told her that “he should be her everything”. The possessiveness in a romantic relationship, the depreciation of friendship relative to romantic relationships were really what I loathed, and offset merits YY XN had as a boyfriend.

The safety net to that downward spiral was surely how WW isn’t a doormat. But of course, there are people who saw XN differently – and that’s their freedom. (“It’s just a story!”, you may protest, but I strongly believe the power of narrative and its position in the real world.) Just that as someone who can’t completely look away from reality in romcoms, it was my main gripe for the drama’s XN.

In fact, it never occurred to me that XN is this problematic until the drama highlighted it for me. This was one of the biggest problem of the Love O2O narrative, and if the drama had treated it like the movie did, I would have definitely brushed aside a good bulk of its pesky side plots, and liked it a whole lot better.

In contrast, the movie thankfully, did not head in that direction. As it was after watching the drama that I caught the movie, I didn’t expect we would actually be blessed with XN initiating to confess and explain how he knew about WW before they got married in the game. I’m not even exaggerating when I said that this scene probably salvaged the entire Love O2O narrative.

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It did exactly what I wished for a Love O2O adaptation to have done at the very least. *slow claps for the scriptwriters though I’m unsure how this discrepancy happened when Gu Man participated in both of the script-writing works*

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And not forgetting to mention that JBR’s expressions were so great in this scene. 🙂

Though of course, it’s perfectly understandable to be smitten by YY XN – I did too! Just look at that damnnnn fine man. He looks flawless. There is no doubt he is the perfect XN in terms of looks and charisma.

I’m not going to be biased to JBR here even though I’ve long been a fan of him and his appearance. Yeah, I got to agree that the looks of JBR’s Yi Xiao Nai He clearly paled in comparison to YY’s. But I will have to say from personal experience, that it takes time to appreciate JBR’s looks. And we could always give his XN a chance for the sake of his characterisation. Though it all depends on what kind of male lead you’re looking for.

I enjoyed aspects of the both of them, but to varying degree and different reasons. It’s just harder for me to buy YY XN as a good character.

(Either way, I loved seeing them fight as Yi Xiao Nai He. Though I have to firmly stand by YY XN here because his long range attacks were much more fitting for XN unlike JBR XN who attacked with a sword half of the time.)

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damn. still a treat for the eyes.

Wei Wei: ZS vs AB

We put *coughs* acting skills *coughs* aside for the moment, and just talk about their characterisations:

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AB WW is in fact the one closer to canon WW. She didn’t dress with much thought most of the time, and is more unrestrained and bold, which is a contrast to ZS WW who was made to dress rather fashionably, and her personality slants towards being simply confident and snarky.

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Wei Wei: “KO is so handsome.” Yes, I know, Wei Wei, I know. 10/10 can relate. Ignore the fact that Xiao Nai is shooting daggers in the background. 

Either way, both characters managed to largely retain the integrity of WW’s character – which is her independence, ability to stand up for herself, and her working capability – the things I adore about her. The character itself is pretty likable so it’s impossible to hate them unless you screw it up really badly.

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This was a pretty kickass scene.

ZS WW also had her own kickass moment when she went alone to slay the people of Xiao Yu clan. (Thank you XN for not poking your nose in her business.)

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BAMF
 Just some other minor points:
  1. At least the movie didn’t unnecessarily focused on/sensationalised WW’s looks and figure, which the drama was doing too much… to the point it was kind of awkward.
  2. Awkward kissing scenes in the drama.

I don’t have as much to say about WW since both versions have their own merits and flaws.


Xiao Nai and Wei Wei’s relationship

I must put a disclaimer on this that I don’t ship the pairing. So I’m writing on it pretty objectively, I believe.

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Wei Wei calling Xiao Nai by his name like a proper human being in the movie.

AB WW almost never called XN “大神 da shen” (which literally means ‘great god’ – and apparently subbed as “Master”), at least after they started dating. This is unlike ZS WW who never stopped doing it (even after they got married). This already shows a key difference in the respective XN’s characterisations, and the nature of their relationship. If you ask me, I don’t fancy the whole immortalising your partner thing?

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Taken from the final scene of the drama

I think my analysis of YY XN in the previous section have already touched on the main reason why I didn’t feel for the pairing very much.

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Actual sweetness as basis for romantic development in the movie

The Side Characters

As I’ve mentioned, it might be unfair to the movie to compare these two, as the drama have had much more narrative time to develop its side characters. So I’ll talk about it less as a drama-movie comparison, and more focused on the drama.

XN’s Roomies + KO

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The squad which suffers from sleep deprivation together sticks together.

From a subjective point of view, XN’s roomies and their moments at work are what truly made the drama experience for me. Yu Gong, Mei Ren, Hou Zi are absolutely amusing and adorable characters – loyal friends with great sense of humour. When the rest of the school was going gaga over only XN when the Qing Da F4 strutted into the canteen, I was like: how are you guys sleepin’ on them?? how are they still single??

While I enjoyed them in the book too, but with the drama’s allowance for narrative expansion and detailing + its wonderful actors, the characters are more alive as a result. They’re the only reason I thought the drama truly lived up to its role as an adaptation.

We saw the scene detailing Yu Gong’s emotions when he swore off to be loyal to XN after their car accident – and I thought it was beautiful. And even more for Hao Mei, he had his own relationship development with KO. I didn’t see Mei Ren more than a comedic sidekick in the book, but in live action, Hao Mei’s character really stood on his own. It was regrettable that Hou Zi was the only one of the three who wasn’t given a more independent focus on though.

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Adorable cinnamon roll~

I particularly adored WW’s friendship with them as well. It revealed how WW is as a character; gregarious and easy-going. And most importantly, how the boys are so sweet and fully backed up her up like a real friend. They built a true friendship among themselves despite WW only gotten to know them through XN.

And also halfway through the narrative, in comes our enigmatic but very charming KO aka my favourite character of the drama. Similar to Hao Mei’s character, I didn’t mind him much in the book – like he was certainly a cool character but it was only in live action which brought his charm out. I actually have loads of feelings for KO’s character and saw a lot of potential in depth for him – the full and proper character analysis is for another story~ (I actually detailed a lot more but was told to maintain and cut it down… :’))

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KO smiling has a 10k damage on me.

As for their movie counterparts, they seemed relatively likable but there wasn’t that much room for them to be development so their engagement level is about that of the book’s.

WW’s Roomies

They’re pretty typical girl friends with relatively likable interactions and camaraderie. In the drama, Er Xi’s relationship with WW was also further extended beyond its canon. While Er Xi’s character wasn’t the most likable, she had her merits. And especially after they made up from their relationship crisis with each other – I really liked that they just sat down and hang out with each other. The whole sequence was really heartwarming in my opinion – so despite XN’s words to WW prior to the resolution, I had to close one eye on behalf of the drama portraying a development in their friendship which didn’t end up ugly. It was just silly that a worthless fry like Cao Guang was even worth that much to create a rift between them.

The drama’s cast is nice, but the movie’s girl friends cast won for me because of the combination which included Tan Song Yun.

The other annoying and useless side characters

The drama plunked in a whole load of unnecessary side character screen-time including: The Adventures of Cao Guang and his stupid self-righteousness, Zhen Shui Wu Xiang being a self-absorbed fool, Xiao Yu clan being bitchy gossipmongers. Why did we need all that? Oh right, fillers. I swear to god I skipped past every scene with- what’s-her-name?, oh- Meng Yi Ran the “school belle”, without batting an eyelid. My disdain for her is even greater than towards silly Cao Guang, because she had absolutely zero significance to the narrative. At least the Xiao Yu clan’s bitchiness served to allow WW to shine as a kickass master.

Yes, they’re fillers which was necessarily to make the drama hit a 30-episode airtime. But have we thought about more XN roomies moments?? Yes, we could have it all.


Conclusion

The drama supposedly has an advantage over the movie for having more screentime to allow expansion of narrative. But turns out that it did not fully help the drama essentially, given the already pretty short length of Love O2O’s canon and the drama’s writing. In that case, the movie emerged to be at an advantage. Though both versions still each have their own forms of attraction and merits – which is why my ratings for both versions are a tie too.

– Admin JL (Rin)

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4 thoughts on “A Comparative Commentary on Love O2O 微微一笑很倾城: the Canon, Drama, and Movie

  1. I watched the drama then found the film. Lastly read the English translations for novel. I really disliked the first watching of the film and most of that was because the pace seemed sooo fast and that felt like a real hindrance to the romance having depth. But when I rewatched the film the pacing has bothered me less and I was able to see the merits more.
    I love the novel translation probably best then the drama and least liked the film. But I appreciated AB’s more sassy version of WW better than the drama version. And you are 100% correct the blatant references to XS’s beauty in the drama were completely overdone. Speaking of overdone my god the amount of Rio bottles in this drama was freaking stupid.
    In terms of ZN, I liked aspects from both actors but I love YY most. ZN was portrayed as so perfect in the novel that I thought the drama really had the closest characterization. The movie version of ZN was far more of a “real” person who has set-backs and different emotions. The drama version was sexy but nearly a 2D model version of ZN that you could find in a magazine.
    But interestingly I think the two different ZN/WW relationships really seemed to complement each other. The calm and youthful WW in the drama had some great scenes where she seemed like the perfect companion to ZN. The scenes where they both were working on their laptops while sitting around ZN’s house really seemed to show how their non-clingy and quiet demeanors would work well in the future when they live together.
    The movie version of WW/ZN complemented each other by being more feisty and fun in the way they teased each other. I think that really created the spark that those characters had and helped to further their feelings for each other.
    I don’t think AB’s WW would have worked very well against YY’s XN. I think he wants to be the one to tease and poke WW and not to have someone feisty who would fight back more. It reminds me of the Boss in Boss & Me, he wanted a partner that he could “eat easily” and always have the upper hand and that worked for those characters. Shan Shan has some similar vibes to WW for sure, not surprising since they are both written by Gu Man.

    Like

    • Hello! Thanks for reading and your sharing your thoughts – I love long comments! 🙂

      About Rio bottles, I’ve grown numb to the blatant amount of product placement in cdramas which could possibly put kdramas’ favourite Subway to shame… oh at least cdrama still has a variety so it sometimes amuses me. For example, the sanitary pads of Master Devil, and viagra of Go Princess Go… :’) But I think I’ve seen the most intrusive and ridiculous Rio product placement in Les Interpretes when they replaced the carboot of roses with Rio bottles in a romantic confession scene…. :’)))

      It’s interesting to hear about your experience being quite the opposite of mine. Though I still agree with you that my favourite’s probably the book! I actually enjoyed the book the most, but I still have a soft spot for the drama for the sake of my favourite KO and Hao Mei portrayals.

      Personally, I’m not so fond of overly perfect characters/male leads who are being treated like they’re put on a pedestal – which was something I was still kinda okay with portrayed in the book, but it feels odd to me when a living real person behaves like that. You’re right that the drama’s Xiao Nai is definitely closer to the book. It’s just that I thought he could afford to feel more human as character when adapted to real life scenario. Drama’s Xiao Nai continued to feel distant as a character to me (and of course, my reasons for not liking him much is far more than that, which is – mainly due to the problematic behaviours he has which I have mentioned in my article). But of course, it’s understandable that you prefer the drama’s too, since like I’ve said, he has his own charms which the movie’s version differ from.

      But I do personally enjoy Wei Wei’s characters, both versions – though I lean towards the drama’s.

      That’s an interesting observation about their relationship – I agree it probably won’t work if it were drama’s XN and movie’s WW. Though how I wished it were drama’s WW and movie’s XN tbh!! – since I am a fan of Jing Bo Ran and Zheng Shuang’s chemistry because of their pairing in Love Through A Millennium. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mmh yes I enjoyed Love through a Millennium with that pairing as well. 🙂 The Cdrama world is so incestuous that if you have a favorite actors and actresses you can most likely find them to have starred together at some point. At least that is my view as a newbie Cdrama watcher, which is amazing because China is so large. You would think they would have an endless supply of actors/actresses.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Both yes and no, actually!

      For bigger productions or TV dramas, you do see a mix and match of your more familiar, relatively big name actors and actresses – 1) big productions have to rely on big names to ensure a certain level of public reception 2) usually a drama production team would cast mostly the actors from their own company or their favoured actors to work with, so it’s likely to see a mix and match of the same few.

      But you’ll also really get to see how many more actors/actresses they have beyond the bunch of familiar faces, especially you get to smaller productions or webdramas. I enjoy diversity and fresh faces, as much as seeing familiar faces who work well together. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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