Thursday, January 17, 2013

Drama Review: In Time with You (2011)

Grade: A+

Taiwanese romance

What it’s about
As they enter their thirties, mismatched best friends—he’s an easygoing charmer, she’s an uptight perfectionist—deal with their mutual attraction and struggle with life and love.

First impression
Whimsical and wonderful, this grown-up Taiwanese rom-com seems likely to be a hit with me. I’m even willing to forgive the female lead for being involved in fashion design, because she enjoys raining on people’s parades and demanding that shoes for teenagers be practical. Huzzah!

Final verdict
Although its plot is low-key to the point of being almost nonexistent and it suffers from last-quarter pacing problems, this stylish, sophisticated drama is second in my heart only to Coffee Prince. Everything about it is enchanting, from how it looks to how it sounds to how it feels.

Located in a urban world full of the leitmotifs of airplanes and clocks, In Time With You’s settings and scenery are both gorgeous and cozily lived-in. Its cinematic visual style feels playful and polished. Its sleepy indie-rock soundtrack is distinctive and wonderful. Its characters are simultaneously flawed and perfect, and their relationships feel as genuine and loving as any I’ve seen on television.

In a show full of marvels, perhaps the most marvelous thing about In Time with You is its writing. Maybe it’s because so much is lost in translation, but I rarely come away from an Asian drama remembering any one line; the shows are more compelling to me on a big-picture, emotional level than as a collection of words. But this drama is totally different. Whether the credit goes to the script itself or the person who did Drama Fever’s subbing, its dialogue is sharp and funny, sweet and insightful. I could watch a hundred years’ worth of programs written in my own language and not find as many beautiful turns of phrase and perfectly expressed truths: The female lead is described as a book that’s worth reading over and over again. She herself says that a sign of aging is “having doubt about perfection but believing deeply in imperfection.” (See below the cut for more bon mots.)

Like Coffee Prince, this show’s sensibility is warm and intimate. Its characters are just as likely to be shown sprawling in their pajamas at home as they are to be dressed up and out in the world. Even more wonderfully, ITwY’s characters are drawn with true human depth and complexity. Chen You Qing—its type-A, no-nonsense female lead—might have been a one-note bitch in a lesser show, but here she’s shown as both exacting and big-hearted and supportive. She asks a lot of people, but she’s willing to give them a lot in return; if a friend is in crisis, she’ll drop everything to help. And even the lesser characters benefit from a similarly nuanced, compassionate treatment. Chen You Qing’s mother could have been a clown used exclusively for cheap laughs and broad comedy (as the actress who plays her often is), but instead she’s shown as real person, someone equally capable of the ridiculous and the sublime. And put these two characters together, and you have a tender, affectionate mother-daughter bond unparallelled outside of Coffee Prince.

In other dramas, I tend to get annoyed when the lead couple spends too much time apart. This isn’t just an artifact of me being a chick-flick-loving romance junkie—it’s often caused by a show that focuses so much on its leads as a unit that it forgets they need to be individuals, too. Their lives outside their relationship are so hastily sketched that they feel like a waste of time. But even when they’re apart, Cheng You Qing and Li Da Ran are never less than compelling as both people living their own lives and as component pieces in a romantic puzzle. And what a romance it is—after fourteen years as friends, they know each other inside out and love being together.

I do wish ITwY had followed Coffee Prince’s lead in another way. Its first half is a realistic exploration of friendship that verges on love. But instead of moving the relationship forward and finding other sources of narrative tension in the show’s second half, ITwY draws out the coupling of its leads seemingly forever, relying on a never-ending cycle of will-they-or-won’t-they trickery to give the show structure.

There are still good things in the latter episodes: I like that both self-doubt and the temptations of other loves are factors in keeping the leads apart. Even Cheng You Qing’s misguided attempts to salvage her unsound relationship with an ex-boyfriend work for me—she sees their breakup as a failure, and her natural response to failure as straight-A idealist is to work all the harder for success. 

It’s usually possible to tell how much I like a show by how much chatter it inspires in my Random Thoughts sidebar. If it’s good and engaging (or, in fact, horrible and engaging), I’ll have multiple things to say about every episode. That wasn’t true of In Time with You, because while I was watching it there was no Random Thoughts sidebar; there was only me and a beautiful story powerfully told.

Random thoughts
Episode 2. There’s something gentle and joyful about this drama, giving it an almost Coffee Prince-ish feel of loveliness. Along with its cinematic look and sound, its quiet tone is pretty much killing me. Here’s hoping for 20 more episodes just like this one.

Episode 7. I can see why some people wouldn’t like this show—it’s slow to the point of being sleepy and doesn’t have anything resembling a real plot. And yet to me it feels like a treasure: a drama that’s wordy and thoughtful and naturalistic, full of moody voiceovers and emotional sophistication. Maybe it’s just because I’m its target age group, but this show is speaking to me in a way few others have.

Episode 9. “She’s like a book that makes people tempted to read over and over again.” Swoon. Swoon. Swoon.

Episode 18. You know what could use more of Nic? This show. You know what else could use more of Nic? My bedroom.

Episode 18. Clearly I am hallucinating, because YOU DID NOT JUST DO THAT, CHENG YOU QING. I won’t allow it.

Episode 23. Every great show should end with a dog wearing a tiny cowboy hat. No joke.

Watch it

(Note that this show’s episodes are sometimes broken up differently—Drama Fever has 23 forty-five minute episodes, while other streaming sites divide it into 13 eighty-minute episodes. As far as I can tell, all are complete.)

You might also like
Coffee Prince, my favorite drama ever, for its realistic portrayal of friends becoming something more 

Direct quotes
• “Fourth Charm of a mature woman: A mature woman knows laughter can overcome her enemies and herself.”

• “Life is not perfect. But that doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.”

• “My principle is, in this lifetime I’ll never let you leave my side.”

• “Do you know I spent a lifetime to learn one thing. Possession is the beginning of losing. But at the end I still couldn’t learn, I can’t accept that having youth is actually the beginning of losing youth. Having a marriage is actually the beginning of losing the marriage. Having reputation, it can also be lost. Having wealth is also the same. Health is also the same. Even raising a dog is the same. Possession of love . . . losing a loved one is harder to accept. Why is it that everything I pursue in life, I start losing it as soon as I gain possession of it. If I don’t have it, then I won’t have anything to lose.

Now do you know the reason I don't love you? Because possession is the beginning of losing.”

• “Sixth sign of getting old: always putting important things in important places, and then forgetting that important place.

I have lost my self confidence. It has gone to a place I can’t find.”

• “Remember you are not the other choice. You should be his only choice.”

• “Hey, Li Da Ren. Do you ever get the feeling that the happiness of purchasing all the shoes on the rack is far inferior to the joy of finally getting the one pair you’ve long coveted?”

• “What do I do? When you leave waves of longing come flooding in.”

• “Rely on mountains, they collapse. Rely on people, they run away. Best rely on yourself.”

• “This seems to be a rule: The more I don’t want to, the more I love.”

• “Don’t let yourself be someone’s bookmark. Be a book worth reading again and again.”

Quotes from:

(A sad note: even when people are writing about how great these lines are on the internet, they usually attribute them to the actors. Not Hsu Yu Ting, the woman who actually wrote them. Must behind the scenes always be so very behind the scenes?)


  1. I've been hoping to see a review of this awesome drama! I agree with everything you've said. I wish Taiwan would produce more dramas like this.

    1. I wish *anybody* would produce more dramas like this one—It's every bit as wonderful as any Korean drama I've seen.

      Weirdly, the woman who wrote it also wrote one of the Meteor Garden sequels. Something tells me that's less amazing =X

  2. i totally agree! it wasn't anything new or spectacular, but it worked for me. everyone just felt real. i've been in a drama rut lately, and find myself dropping dramas after a couple of episodes. but i was able to finish this in a few days. after autumn's concerto and this, i think i'm more open to t-dramas! :)

    1. I'm the same way with dropping dramas lately. Once I gave myself permission to stop watching if I wasn't really enjoying something, I've found myself spending a lot of time fighting the urge to quit even shows that are pretty good just in case I'm missing something better =X At this rate it will be a miracle if I ever get through the mediocrity that is The World They Live In.

      I just wish T-dramas were easier to find streaming—I'd love to watch that Mars, which is supposed to be incredibly good. (ARE YOU LISTENING, DRAMA FEVER?!?!)

    2. Mars is on DramaCrazy and I would love for DF to stream it as well. Maybe they will one day. In the meantime, at least there are alternatives, if you're interested :)

  3. ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤! OMG, I'm so glad you loved this show! Isn't it wonderful? couldn't you watch it over and over again? It's in my top three favorite dramas ever. I totally agree with you about it's issues toward the end: I felt like it was unnecessary to make Ding Li Wei a cheater because there was enough wrong with him (he was abusive) to warrant You Qing breaking up with him without having to use that as justification--I wanted her to leave because she realized that she didn't love him and also because she realized how much of an awful person he was; and then another thing that got me was when You Qing was crying in the rain--one of the best things about the show was that it had this incredible sense of pathos without ever turning to melodrama to get us to feel for its characters, and that one tiny moment rang a little false for me, even though I loved the cinematic aspect of it (confessing in the rain! Squee!).

    But, oh, how wonderful was everything else? Their long conversations. The music. The fact that You Qing had an entire family and lots of friends. That they both did. They had lives outside of one another. How fully realized the world they lived in was. How Li da Ren was this perfect guy, but was so flawed (he was a coward, just like You Qing, and I hated that he was using Maggie to buffer his love for You Qing). And You Qing. She was such a dynamic character: she was this strong, bossy, opinionated woman, even arrogant sometimes, but she was so unsure of herself, and so lonely sometimes. That it didn't say that opposite sexes/genders couldn't be friends (they both had friends of the other sex). And that last, fanservice full episode. Only a show this good could have a final episode devoted to fanservice that still managed to be narratively satisfying.

    I love love love what you wrote about You Qing and her mother. They're so sweet together, and they care for each other so much. Sigh. I could watch this show forever. (Actually I think the ending was rushed and wished they had made it longer.) Any who, I'm so glad Dramafever came out with HD episodes and great subs. Oh! and speaking of Coffee Prince, did you know that the show was originally going to be the Taiwanese version of Coffee Prince? If you go on the Viki page you'll see it in the URL. Coffee Prince: the show that keeps on giving! And "Located in a urban world full of the leitmotifs of airplanes and clocks, In Time With You’s settings and scenery are both gorgeous and cozily lived-in." Gah, I'm drooling over your words.

  4. I've started watching this based on this recommendation, and I can't thank you enough for it! I haven't been this into a drama in a long time. I'm just 5 episodes in, but I really like the serene pacing. I've watched a lot of k-dramas (Coffee Prince is my favorite too, as I suspect it is for a lot of people) but this is the first Taiwanese drama I've watched and I'm fascinated by the cultural differences. I have a theory that you can learn a lot about a country from it's popular entertainment. This show suggests to me that Taiwan is a little less formal than Korea. Like there seem to be less honorifics being used.

    1. Like Coffee Prince, In Time With You seems to be one-of-a-kind in its homeland—I've seen a few Taiwanese dramas now, and none have been remotely as good.

      I you're right about it being less formal than most Korean dramas. The way people act toward each other is just different, like they don't turn away when they're drinking with someone older than they are. "Older sister Qing You" seems to be similar to the "noona" honorific, though.

      I hope you like the rest of the show!

    2. It took me a while to notice that people weren't bowing, but when I finally did, I couldn't stop noticing.

      Big difference is that the show allows the lead female a sex life. Not only is she allowed a sex life, but she's allowed a sex life with a character who is clearly not the OTP. That is a kdrama no-no.

      Love her brother in episode 12- He LOUDLY proclaims the emperor has no clothes, frequently and at all times. I especially loved when he said he would protest any marriage between Ding Li Wei and You Quing on the grounds of it being between human and beast. HA! BURN!

  5. Final comments: I.LOVED.THIS.
    1. I LOL'ed extremely hard when she gets a job working for IKEA. You have to understand, I spent a great deal of the show musing over the set designer's apparent love affair with the IKEA catalog, so to realize that it was actually massive product placement was kind of hilarious. It was like I was trolled by the show.
    2. LOVED the dressing down she gets from Maggie. It was incredibly satisfying to have her say the hard truths about how unfair the Li Da Ren, You Qing friendship was to anyone who was trying to have a romantic relationship with either of them. Preach it sister! It was a pleasant surprise to get it from Maggie, who otherwise seemed so wimpy.
    3. Whoa, this drama didn't hold back with a...err..realistic portrayal of what happens when you drink 12 beers.
    4. I really, really like that they don't end it at happily ever after. They stayed true to the overall realistic tone of the show by showing that happily ever after doesn't mean that every day after is happy or perfect. For a drama, which are generally wish fulfillment vehicles, I thought that was a very healthy message.

    Thank you so much for introducing this one to me!

    1. I was too busy being jealous that she lived near an Ikea to LOL. I once drove four hours to visit the nearest one, and it was like a religious experience. I wanted to move into their display showroom on a permanent basis.

      And I loved the treatment of Maggie, too. Like Coffee Prince, this show doesn't make anybody a bad guy. Each character has their own motivation, instead of being a "good guy" or "bad guy." And Maggie was just telling the truth, no matter how horrible it might have seemed to You Qing.

      If I were to do a pan-Asia list of favorite dramas, ITWY really would be number two. Everything about it is perfectly imperfect, as you mentioned. I wish there were more shows out there like it.

  6. Hi there! :) Sorry for commenting so randomly. I just recently finished watching In Time With You over the lenten season break and I happened to stumble upon your blog. :) I agree with everything you've said regarding ITWY. There's just something so quaint, so real, so heartfelt about it which I love. Plot-wise it wasn't anything groundbreaking, in fact it was pretty much the opposite, but the way it was put together... it just worked so well! :) Watching this drama, it gave me a similar feel to not only Coffee Prince but tVN dramas like the I Need Romance series plus bits of the Answer Me series. They have that beautiful cinematography plus that simple, nostalgic, indie-film feel to them that's just lovely to see. The lines in this drama were wonderful, practical yet deep. The side characters, their family members, Cheng You Qing's mom, their high school buddies and work friends were a delight, as well.

    I was wondering if you could recommend any other drama (aside from Coffee Prince, which I've seen a couple of years back ^^) that you liked as well? Perhaps something similar to this - a simple, mature drama that's charming, light yet thought-provoking, with lots of heart! :D Thanks, friend!

    1. I wish I could recommend another drama like that, but I don't think I've found one ;)

      You could try Painter of the Wind, if you haven't watched it yet—it's a historical drama about a female painter that has lots of interesting things to say about art and friendship. The only other Taiwanese drama I've really loved was Autumn's Concerto, which is definitely worth watching. (But it's very melodramatic and dark.) And then there's the currently airing show Secret Love Affair. It's completely unlike Coffee Prince and In Time with You, but television doesn't get more thought-provoking than that.

    2. 9 end 2 outs is the only drama that comes close. Coffee prince I dont think I will see, I think Chinese wuxia does the cross dressing bit much better haha. I would also recommend dramas based on Jin Yong's novels. I love the Condor Hero Trilogy. I watched from 2003 onwards

  7. Hi! Thanks for reviewing ITWY. I just finished Episode 1 and I am looking forward for the rest of the episodes since you gave it an A+ rating :) Anyway, I fell in love with Ariel's character here. She is different from the usual Xiang Qin that we know from ISWAK and TKA :)

  8. If you want your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend to come crawling back to you on their knees (no matter why you broke up) you must watch this video
    right away...

    (VIDEO) Text Your Ex Back?