Not a Well Intended Love

Chinese drama Well Intended Love was a massive hit in China last year, getting a rare second season pick up and being purchased by Netflix for worldwide distribution.

The show about a (very) young C-list actress, Xia Lin (played by Simona Wang) and her contract marriage with wealthy CEO, Ling Yi Zhou (Xu Kai Cheng) has everything you need for a cracky binge hit. Good looking leads, smouldering chemistry, a series of truly ridiculous happenings, and forced cohabitation within a fake marriage.

There’s just one problem.

And it’s a big one.

It’s no surprise to anybody who watches Asian dramas – whether from Japan, Korea, China, Thailand or any other country – that it has a domestic violence problem. From something as seemingly benign as Korea’s endless wrist grabs through stalking and harassment to actual sexual assault in Thai Lakorns, the problem may exist in varying degrees but it exists nonetheless.

The normalisation of strict gender roles combined with a deeply-entrenched patriarchy infuses all forms of cultural product but is especially evident in the visual arts. And this can express itself in small ways – the male character always needing to maintain a certain dominance over the female, whether in terms of age, wealth or employment – or in larger ways – the female lead being always submissive and passive while the male lead is domineering and aggressive.

Women are often portrayed as behaving like children – aegyo remains rampant – while powerful men are beguiled into taking care of them. Women are expected to be coy, chaste, desirable but virginal, flirtatious and cute but not sexual.

This leads inevitably to the overriding of a woman’s bodily autonomy with forced kisses, hugs  – even sex – being thrust upon them as a way of including skinship in a drama without implying the female lead in any way wanted or asked for it. Nun/whore dichotomies remain rife.

Large age gaps with older men and (often much) younger women are also normalised, both in the portrayal of on-screen romances and in casting parts for romance dramas.  Women are children, conquered. Men are adult, conquerers.

And nowhere is this more devastatingly and disturbingly portrayed than in the awfully mis-named Well Intended Love, which portrays systematic, soul-destroying physical, emotional and financial abuse as romantic and desirable.

Well Intended Love is one of the few dramas where I don’t just recommend that people not watch it – I actively lobby against it. I wish I could somehow convince Netflix to drop it. I wish I could go back in time and stop it from existing.

And with Season 2 of the drama airing in China now (and with the show likely to get another Netflix pick-up), I cannot emphasise enough that this drama should be avoided.

Well Intended Love may not be the worst drama ever made for portraying abuse. But it’s certainly the most popular, the most high profile, and the one most hiding its underlying philosophy under a glossy Cinderella fantasy of good-looking rich guys who will love you for the rest of your life – just so long as you allow them to control every aspect of it.

Spoilers from here on in

Not that you care, right? You’re never watching it, right? My introductory tirade convinced you?

See, one of the reasons why I stopped lobbying people not to watch this drama at one point is because I was deeply worried I was just making them curious. I’m not writing this so you’ll wonder what I’m on about and press play: I’m writing this in the hope that you never will.

The plot

The plot is pretty simple and, with contract marriages being a very popular genre, no doubt it’s the premise that drew people in.

When Xia Lin finds out she has leukaemia she accepts a life-saving bone marrow transplant from wealthy CEO, Chu Yan, in exchange for her marrying him to make his ageing grandmother happy. As time goes on, they fall in love. Their love is then tested by the usual crazy parade of insane second female leads, a vicious gossiping public, and the fact her new husband is a sociopathic abuser (spoiler).

At the beginning, this drama had a lot of things happening that were ridiculous – and by that I mean silly, overblown Makjang. To be honest, for the first few episodes, I kept watching just to see how ridiculous the plot could get.
Unfortunately, it’s not the overwhelming list of silly that is the problem here.

List of silly:
Cancer scares
And more…

The biggest problem with this drama is that it is a shocking apologia for domestic abuse of a particularly subtle and manipulative kind.

Cut it whichever way you want: Xia Lin’s husband is almost sociopathic in his possessiveness. He controls her every move, manipulates her, gaslights her, tracks her, stalks her, lies to her, imprisons her. And worst of all, all of this is framed as evidence of his great epic love. It is not. This is not romantic, it is hugely disturbing and hugely wrong.

This is the story of an abused woman who tried to escape her abuser but ends up falling back into the relationship anyway. It would actually work quite well as a warning against men who behave like this; using their wealth and power to control another person. Ling Yi Zhou is the most abusive male lead I’ve seen in a drama in a long time.

The only acceptable resolution to this scenario would be Xia Lin being strong enough and brave enough to leave this toxic relationship behind and forge her own path in the world without Ling Yi Zhou. Anything else serves as a justification for horrible domestic abuse.

The Twist

Anyone who watched Season 1 of this show will tell you that they were enjoying it well enough until Episode 11. But while the show was almost cracky in its insanity until that point, I was personally starting to get a bit concerned at Ling Yi Zhou’s behaviour. At one point, Xia Lin gets drunk and does embarrass herself quite a bit. His response? To ban her from drinking alcohol for the rest of her life.

I admit I was rather taken aback at this. Not only does he respond in a controlling and paternalistic way but she accepts it and agrees. But show had far far worse than this ahead.

In episode 11, we discover that the leukaemia she was diagnosed with never existed. He had been stalking her for two years and had paid off her doctor to lie to her about the cancer so she would be forced to marry him for his fictional bone marrow. To be clear, he didn’t just lie about possibly-terminal cancer: he faked hospital records, made her believe she was dying, had her undergo fake surgery and fake chemo and set himself up as her saviour.

Now, at this point you’re probably laughing – that’s ridiculous! Nobody could take this show seriously. But ridiculous or not, the show’s underlying philosophy about relationships remains consistent. Men who control you do it because they love you. Men who manipulate you just want you that badly.  Men who abuse you do it for your own good.

It would be one thing if Well Intended Love  was an outlier: a weird, creepy Uncle who shows up at family outings and can be packed off at the end without a second thought. But it’s not. It’s part of a pattern, a culture of dramas that normalise abuse as romantic and prime women to accept this behaviour as part of their lives.

It’s about time this pattern ended. And it can start by everyone refusing to watch Well Intended Love and its brand new sequel.


2 thoughts on “Not a Well Intended Love

  1. What hurts me is that abusive relationships permeate most of the most well-known and well-loved dramas, the ones people tell you that you must try as a right of passage. Itazura na Kiss, for instance, is probably responsible for popularising the “lovesick dumb heroine wears down an intelligent and popular but cruel hero” situation. It’s toxic from Day One – he doesn’t want the heroine, she’s just too dumb for him, but when she tries to move on? He’ll manipulate her feelings to get her attention back. And this little manga has spawned countless remakes and knock-offs. Then there’s Meteor Garden 2018. I’m contractually obligated to watch every adaptation of Hana Yori Dango, but this one makes the mistake of actually being faithful to the manga. Because the manga is awful. And Meteor Garden took the most horrifying scene in it (of the hero ATTEMPTING TO RAPE the heroine) and put it to screen. And nobody cares! They write the hero as dim and endearing, and everyone forgets how abusive and controlling he is on a daily basis. The fact that shows like these are telling whole generations what romantic relationships should look like is enough to make me sick.

  2. Soooo… What you’re saying is you didn’t like this drama?

    On a serious note, yes I agree 100%. I am a sucker for contract relationships/marriages and cohabitation hijinks. I actually liked the first few episodes. Especially since it was him who fell for her first which is also my catnip. So it was starting out like it would be a binge worthy drama, but then I started getting weirded and grossed out by the ML. At one point (and I don’t recall where it falls in the drama, before or after the ‘big’ plot twist) she had gotten an acting stint that would be a pretty big break for her career. But the ML was jealous and didn’t like her coactor so he pulled strings and managed to get the whole production shut down. Because of his abusive levels of possessiveness he ruined her big break. And she was briefly upset at him but was fairly quick to accept his actions. And then there was the awful and horrible twist that he used a lie that her life was at risk to get her into a relationship. That is not the actions of a normal person. Most normal human beings would go and talk to them first, not device a sick and twisted scheme to get the person you like, and barely know, to marry you. He may not have been physically abusive but he was 100% emotionally abusive. I am not even sure why I even completed watching all of this. I think because I did like the first few episodes that it tricked me into watching the rest. Either way, I agree this is a drama that everyone should stay far away from.

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