PRECIOUS YOUTH (2016) Review – Achieve your dreams without losing yourself

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Titles: 那年青春我们正好 (Na Nian Qing Chun Wo Men Zheng Hao) / Precious Youth, Youth Is Just Right, That Youth We Just Right

Cast:

  • Zheng Kai as Xiao Xiao Jun
  • Liu Shi Shi as Liu Ting
  • Zhong Dan Ni as Han Lu
  • Li Hao Xuan as Guo Hai Bing
  • Liu Dong Qin as Gao Qi
  • Liu Jun as Li Feng
  • Cao Wei Yu as Zhao San
  • Liu Jie as He Jing
  • Zhang Ling Feng as Liu Gang
  • Yu Ying as Wang Shu
  • Chen Ping Zi as Guan Jie
  • Wang Chao as Liu Jian Guo
  • He Qiang as Guo Zhi Gang
  • Lu Ling as Chen Shu Fen

Directed by: Zhang Si Lin

Written by: Wang Chang


Plot (from Wiki):

Starring Liu Shi Shi in her first modern romance drama, Precious Youth tells of the love and friendship between academically motivated student Liu Ting and the problematic yet passionate Xiao Xiaojun from their college days in 1997 to current times.

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Review:

I saw Precious Youth (PY) just out of curiosity, with no expectations. I am a self-proclaimed Liu Shi Shi’s fan, but the promotional pictures of her character weren’t appealing. Thus my attention got focused in Zheng Kai, an unknown actor to me in that moment.

(SPOILERS!) The first episodes were quite awkward. If you are asking why, just look at the picture below. Zheng Kai is 30 years old, whereas Liu Shi Shi is 29. Although neither of them seem “irreversibly” mature,  the producers tried too much to force a “youthful” appearance. Zheng Kai’s smarmed down style and his hairband felt unacceptable to me at first. You later got used to it, but I still think it’s too forced. Besides, Liu Ting (Liu Shi Shi’s character), maybe due to its own personality, appears to be horribly naive and simple-minded. Liu Ting’s style doesn’t really change throughout the whole series, she looks more and more fragile but, excluding her hairstyle, there are no significant changes between the teenage Liu Ting and the adult Liu Ting (*whispers* where’s the character development).

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What’s with that hairband…

Liu Ting‘s character was my first “letdown”. She is our female protagonist but all I could feel towards her is sympathy and pity. Since her “youthful version”, she has always appeared as an extremely fragile girl unable to leave any mark. I hate deplorable villains but a weak and trivial protagonist is almost as terrible. It’s even worst if I consider my admiration to Liu Shi Shi, her acting skills deserved a better role.

I think it’s fair to say that Liu Ting doesn’t have any character development in the series. No matter if it’s Xiao Xiao Jun, He Jing (her mother) or Guo Hai Bing, she just seems to go along. She has some ideas, of course: she wants to become a great designer, study arts and have an experience abroad. However, each time she faces any obstacle, she just let obstacles “crush her”. It’s like she doesn’t have any power over her destiny. In addition, she’s too simple-minded to think beyond her sight. There were many things which could have been obviously foreseen (the clearest example is Guo Hai Bing’s aggressiveness, which evolved in the subsequent domestic violence she suffered). While watching her turning into a victim of her own decisions, the viewer can uniquely feel compassion and resignation.

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From my point of view, all the things Liu Ting’s character achieved to transmit were delicacy and impotence

Be aware, I’m not saying domestic violence’s victims are weak or simple-minded, nothing further from the truth. In that sense, Liu Shi Shi really did an amazing job portraying the dilemma of this kind of victims: craving to escape but unable to leave, always keeping hope alive towards her abuser (Liu Ting hoped Guo Hai Bing would change, wished to believe in his words, desired to have a future with her baby’s father). She tried until she couldn’t bear it anymore. You can’t blame anyone for loving the wrong one, but what I mean is that, in fact, Liu Ting never loved Guo Hai Bing. Their relationship started like a trial after she got tired of waiting for Xiao Xiao Jun.

She truly threw herself into this relationship ‘though, and just like she mentioned, she would always be loyal to Guo Hai Bing as long as their bond last (from the beginning, Guo Hai Bing’s jealousy was unfounded, because Liu Ting wouldn’t betray him). The main problem is that Liu Ting’s loyalty is supported on their relantionship as a promise that can’t be broken, it’s not based on feelings of love and devotion. In other words, she “loves” Guo Hai Bing because he is her boyfriend, and Guo Hai Bing isn’t her boyfriend because she loves him.

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She really tried, but her relationship with Guo Hai Bing started mistakenly: it was over before it really could begin

I don’t have any ships in Precious Youth. I wasn’t moved by any of Liu Ting and Xiao Xiao Jun’s scenes. Some performances had the right elements to be a good scene (for example, that scene when Xiao Xiao Jun tells Liu Ting he didn’t love her anymore), but I couldn’t feel it (I couldn’t fangirl over them). Xiao Xiao Jun felt in love with Liu Ting only because she looked beautiful and pure, and he dumped her so easily (no matter how hard the writers tried, his reasons were kinda nonsense to me) that it made me abandon any idea of shipping them.

Also, as he said, Xiao Xiao Jun always believed Liu Ting was still “his” until she got married, moment in which he realized he had definitely lost her. Throughout the years, Liu Ting gave him many chances to pick up their relationship and he coldly rejected them all. Nevertheless, all that determination suddenly (and absurdly) disappears after she got married with Guo Hai Bing. Basically, Xiao Xiao Jun arbitrarily decided he loved Liu Ting again just when she’d stopped trying to get close to him. How could I ship something like that…? (╯◕_◕)╯Everything is arbitrary and ridiculous.

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Let’s braid our hair together

Precious Youth was my first drama starring Zheng Kai, but his acting skills didn’t impress me. It was just accurate, nothing wonderful or stunning. I think it’s mostly because Xiao Xiao Jun‘s character itself and its “mediocrity”, so I won’t dismiss trying to watch Zheng Kai in other dramas.

I respect and admire young people with dreams and high aspirations, but Xiao Xiao Jun did a bunch of things using this as a mere excuse. In several chapters, all the things he said were: “there’s no other way of doing this”, “I don’t have any choice”, “it’s even more difficult to me”, “no one understands my sacrifices”, blablablabla… Nothing could justify, for example, how he selfishly abandoned Gao Qi; and all the stuff he said after that were absolute bullshit (“I must save myself because if I got caught I couldn’t establish this company, our company, which I created without even asking you” ◔_◔). I lost all my respect to him after that event.

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I didn’t dislike Zheng Kai’s acting (neither loved it) but Xiao Xiao Jun’s character isn’t any wonder

I tried to like him when he helped Guo Hai Bing and Liu Gang, but his attitude towards Han Lu made me sick. It was so obvious Han Lu never got a chance that I couldn’t stop hating him for giving her hope. It was horrible. I will explain more about this later when talking about Han Lu, but after dumping her in their wedding ceremony I knew I could never forgive him.

Besides, the young Xiao Xiao Jun wasn’t simply a rebel teenager. He was esentially a liar and a hypocrite. He didn’t even think about it when answering he would chose friends before girls, but he betrayed his own promise and successively lied to his “good bro”, Guo Hai Bing. Although Guo Hai Bing got his hopes up all on his own (it was pretty obvious that Liu Ting didn’t like him), Xiao Xiao Jun should not have lied to him. He always pretends he’s a loyal guy who would do anything for friends or lover, but in fact he is just too selfish and scared to really honour these relations.

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The end doesn’t justify the means

Our other male lead is Li Hao Xuan’s character: Guo Hai Bing. He loved Liu Ting at first sight (again because she was beautiful and pure, nothing else), and this love turned into a terrible obsession, which brought out the best of himself but also the worst. His “young” version was really weird, possibly the worst one. He seemed like an old man with dyed hair. PY’s producers believe that an actor can return to youth by changing their hairstyle, but that’s not true.

Guo Hai Bing has a soft side, he collects Doraemon’s figures and thinks this is the best present to surprise a girl. Although he wasn’t “that” bad at first, and unlike Xiao Xiao Jun, seemed to really care about friendship and bounds, the resentment in his eyes and the violence in his behaviour were signs that could permit anyone forecast series’ future.

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An angry young old man

Guo Hai Bing’s crush with Liu Ting was really annoying ◔_◔ I was constantly asking why he thought Liu Ting likes him… Acting like she was his girlfriend, feeling betrayed when she is with other guys. It was so obvious that Liu Ting didn’t like him that everything he did felt ridiculous and embarrassing. Still, I felt sorry when Liu Ting rejected him after all the efforts he did to study hard and improve, just because she told him to study and enter an university. Likewise, I took pity on him every time he was bullied by He Jing, Liu Ting’s mother. He worked incredibly hard in order to be accepted by Liu Ting and her parents. That was praiseworthy and even made me question if Guo Hai Bing’s obsession could lead into a healthy relationship.

Moreover, Liu Ting should have figured out that Guo Hai Bing would turned into an abusive husband when he hit Zhao San without any reason, and then reprehended her for being “that kind of girl”, who exchanges her beauty to achieve money and luxure. But since this is a drama, drama must happen (even when it has no sense), and that doesn’t occur.

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Liu Ting really tried, it was his insecurity and jealousy what boycotted his own happy ending

The creepiest character award goes for Li Hao Xuan. Guo Hai Bing is all humble and understanding before marrying Liu Ting, but after that he begins to be abusive and reveal his real self. Face to face, he acts like if he respects Liu Ting and her decisions; but behind her back, he’s sickly jealous and can’t stand the mere idea of Liu Ting having her own life, beyond his control. Each time they argued, Guo Hai Bing tried to win back Liu Ting by saying sorry and pretending to respect and support her opinion. He made promises and put emotional pressure on Liu Ting in order to retain her. Li Hao Xuan did a really good job portraying his role (possibly one of the best performances of PY), his interactions with Liu Shi Shi’s character in the drama were well-made and correctly performed.

Things got unbearable when Liu Ting got pregnant but Guo Hai Bing still couldn’t get over his insecurity. He obsessively belived that Liu Ting’s child was Xiao Xiao Jun’s and not his. Finally these sickly ideations led into an argument in which he ended beating Liu Ting and making her lose their child. In that moment, Liu Ting realizes that everything is over, she is terrified and disappointed of Guo Hai Bing. There was no way back.

Note: After Liu Ting travelled to France, everyone went on vacation (everyone including Guo Hai Bing). Suddenly, they were all happy and best friends again. That scene was so weird and not fitting…

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They look like wedding cake’s figures

Another main character is Liu Ting’s childhood bestie, Han Lu. Unlike the mentioned characters, I think Zhong Dan Ni’s youthful version of Han Lu was pretty convincing. I felt she was quite annoying when first introduced, falling in love with Xiao Xiao Jun and tearing her relation with Liu Ting because of that. But later, I can’t say when, I started to be attached to her. Her sacrificed (but unfounded) love towards Xiao Xiao Jun ended touching me.

When talking about this, there are no words to describe how awful was everything Xiao Xiao Jun did (and didn’t do). Despite I don’t ship them (how could I ship anyone in this drama…), there were many times when I craved that Xiao Xiao Jun could simply love her back. Still, Han Lu deserves someone so much better than Xiao Xiao Jun… She’s a girl ready to die, literally, for the person she has decided to love. She didn’t care when Xiao Xiao Jun introduced her to Guan Jie, she betrayed her precious friendship with Li Feng for him, she preferred to be a single mother rather than putting pressure on Xiao Xiao Jun, and even forgave him when Xiao Xiao Jun left in their wedding… I could make an endless list of all the things Han Lu did for Xiao Xiao Jun. It’s even worst if you think how useless everything was, if only Xiao Xiao Jun and Liu Ting’s love story was something worth it… (but it wasn’t).

 

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If you are watching PY, be ready to feel sorry for Han Lu

I really began to like her when she entered university, because she was shown as a character unafraid of her “ugly” parts. I was thankful of all her faults, they didn’t try to make her perfect and pure (like Liu Ting), and this highlighted her humanity (and so, her character’s credibility). She is sassy and  straightforward, and you can understand why Li Feng likes to hang out with her. Han Lu would have achieved everything she wanted if she hadn’t fallen in love with Xiao Xiao Jun. That’s the problem, yes, all her world revolves around Xiao Xiao Jun. She doesn’t have any dream or aspiration excluding her love, and I was very pleased at the end when she found out her own way (openning an art gallery).

I loved Han Lu’s brotherhood with Li Feng, their meetings were some of the most warming parts of the series. Moreover, Li Feng is a great man, I admire his good judgement and how he took care of Han Lu like a little sis. That’s why I was surprised and disappointed when he lied to her girlfriend (that felt strange and out of place). Also, when his girlfriend is revealed to be pregnant I thought they would dedicate some scenes to show how they were parenting, but for some reason they just skipped everything (from one scene to another, Li Feng’s girlfriend was pregnant and then had already gave birth). Maybe Li Feng’s character wasn’t relevant enough to give him a few more scenes… Overall, I think Li Feng was PY’s most balanced character.

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Liu Ting’s character felt too “far away”, distant from the public (like a goddess suffering human torment); but Han Lu was so human that it touched my heart

In addition to Han Lu (and Guo Hai Bing), there are other childhood friends: Gao Qi and her girlfriend (whose name I don’t remember right now). They were also an example of characters who didn’t get a chance to develop themselves. They first broke up because Gao Qi wasn’t a responsible adult and after that, their scenes together were limited and sudden. The writers made drama for drama revealing in a scene of 2 minutes that the girlfriend’s parents didn’t accept Gao Qi and preferred a talented lawyer. The next time this problem is mentioned, in the end of the drama, the girlfriend explains laconically that she told her parents to allow her choose and not interfere in her love life. Everything is so sudden and disconnected that it doesn’t make sense.

Guan Jie is a guy who appears since the beginning of the series. He’s a man with a gang that faces Xiao Xiao Jun and Guo Hai Bing’s gangs, and later do business with both of them. What I have to say about Guan Jie is how old he is supposed to be? He seems very out of place. Also, while they tried to make everyone look younger and older throughtout the series, they did nothing for Guan Jie. Maybe the budget wasn’t enough to change his hairstyle…

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Toupée-Gao Qi and Xiao Xiao Jun

These characters are the “center” of PY, but the interaction they have with their parents makes the show’s pillar. I love how relatable are some of the things that are shown in this sense. The best example is, surely, Liu Ting’s mother and her prejudices. He Jing (protrayed by Liu Jie) was, in my opinion, the best performance of PY. She did an awesome job characterizing a woman who uniquely cares about money and power, willing to marry her daughter to an old man she didn’t like (Zhao San) just because he is rich. She acted like a pendulum with Xiao Xiao Jun and Guo Hai Bing, bullying them when they are poor and flattering them when they obtain power and money. Her annoying voice and presence were part of this amazing performance. He Jing is hypocrite and selfish, she is always claiming that she’s a teacher with flawless morals, better than anyone; but in fact she just treats people like objects or means to accomplish what she desires.

The point is that He Jing perfectly characterizes some of the prejudices that are still extended in our society. People shouldn’t be judged by their possessions, and money isn’t everything. Unfortunately, He Jing learnt that lesson too late.

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Independently of all that have been mentioned, PY has some important messages that make us conscious of nowadays society’s problems

Conclusion:

To sum up, Precious Youth is an average show with some good points but too much nonsense and disconnected events. Many times I felt writers were just adding drama for drama, when things could have been so much easier or logical.

Regarding the best performances: Liu Jie highlighted as He Jing; Li Hao Xuan made a good job depicting Guo Hai Bing’s angst, insecurity and resentment; Liu Shi Shi portrayed bitterly the dilemma of victims of domestic violence (‘though I think Liu Ting’s character was too “superficial”); and Zhong Dan Ni achieved to touch my heart with her joy and pain. On the other hand, Zheng Kai’s performance was accurate, but Xiao Xiao Jun’s character itself wasn’t appealing to me. Still, I’m willing to watch his future projects and give him more chances.

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Despite everything, recalling Precious Youth comes along with a heartwarming emotion. When I think about its characters, what I remember are mostly positive memories: Xiao Xiao Jun as a dreamy teenager, Liu Ting smiling sweetly, Guo Hai Bing offering Doraemon figures to the girl he likes, Han Lu’s sacrificed love and boundless devotion…

In conclusion, I didn’t regret using my time to watch PY, but I really wished writers could have been more level-headed with its plot, because the issues addressed  were very interesting and relevant.

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  • Plot: 10/20
  • Cast: 16/20
  • OST: 8/10
  • Scenography: 8/10
  • Costume: 5/10
  • Overall: 6.7/10
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