After six-months and twenty-six exquisite drama hours, In a Good Way ended this Friday with neither a bang nor a whimper, saying goodbye instead with an indelible touch. I’ll discuss the ending in the post recap thoughts and will instead devote the opening remarks to saying a fond farewell. This drama snuck up on me having initially viewed it as filler for the Friday time slot after the cute and chirpy Just You. Nothing about it hinted at how delightful it would be to watch, and the only main cast member to even merit a second glance from me was Lego Lee, and that was because I thought he was still in the army. I like school dramas be it the structured conflicts of a high school setting or the in-between free flowing interactions of college kids stumbling towards adulthood. It’s easy to toss characters together and write school plot points, it’s hard to create a school drama where the world comes alive because it’s believable that the kids could be classmates trying to grow up at the same time. IAGW is hands down one of the best TW-dramas I’ve watched in years even if it’s still thematically on the light and fluffy side and there are recent fantastic deeper darker dramas out there.
I love IAGW because it’s entertaining to watch and packs a thoughtful well-written punch. That’s a hard balance to strike and this drama did it overall despite small stumbles here and there. Kudos to the leading cast led by the breakout star Lego Lee, with Kirsten Jen being a nice breath of fresh air, Jay Shih delivering a great transformative character arc, and Smile Wen rewriting second female leads the world over with her warmth and intelligence. Fate brought the gang together at CDU and we watched them for a few years of their college life and then taking away the satisfaction of knowing they can deal with the challenges ahead even if it’s not shown to us. A good drama digs deeps and leaves a mark, an imprint of a character or story that sincerely touched us. This story did that for me and I walk away feeling like I walked Jia En’s walk before and viscerally wanting to hug Liu Chuan for being such an amazing young man whose courage and wisdom shouldn’t also come with such life burdens. The ending made me cry, okay I started crying with 20 minutes left and the tears flowed from sadness, poignancy, resignation, and hope. This drama has been a pleasure to recap from the get go and this final recap wrung everything left out of me.
Episode 26 recap:
A series of congressional representatives take the stand one after another to give testimony that Liu Chuan’s dad threatened each of them to vote for the land use proposals that he backed. Finally the president of the development company that bought Lee Lai’s land gets on the stand and says he is a victim as well. He claims Liu Chuan’s dad offered the land to at a discount price and after he bought it then threatened to withhold the development permits unless the developer paid him a kickback. The developer plays a tape of Liu Chuan’s dad calling to say the development proposal has passed and to send him the “cookie”, meaning the cash bribe. Liu Chuan’s dad continues to remain silent and says nothing to counter all this damning testimony. The final witness is Liu Chuan and he’s asked if he knows his dad used his name to sell the property? Liu Chuan answers that he knows and then is asked if he knows his dad took bribes for it.
The prosecutor pushes Liu Chuan to answer and threatens to investigate his involvement since the land was sold under his name and he profited from it. That’s when Liu Chuan’s dad stands up and says his son knows nothing since the land sale happened when his son was 11 years old and he sold it as his legal guardian. Liu Chuan is dismissed from the stand and he gives his dad a look before walking away. All his friends in the gallery smile in relief. The prosecutor wraps up his case and asks the judges to sentence Liu Chuan’s dad for corruption and bribery. Defense counsel brings up the coincidence of all the other legislators turning on Liu Chuan’s dad at the same time even though they all benefited in the alleged scheme and ought to be co-conspirators. The judges refuses to accept any spurious allegations unsupported by facts and adjourns the court to go deliberate. The verdict comes down later and Liu Chuan’s dad is convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
The kids leave the courthouse and Ren Wei comforts Jia En that Liu Chuan is fine at least. She’s worried that Liu Chuan’s dad has been sentenced to fifteen years and how he’s going to deal with it. Ah Qing explains this is just the trial verdict and they can appeal the case but is concerned that his dad as the defense counsel seems to have not enough information to mount a good defense. Ah Qing’s dad walks out with Liu Chuan who remains silent even as his friends are happy to see him. They head back inside to talk privately and Ah Qing’s dad discusses the heavy sentence coming down because Liu Chuan’s dad remained silent in court which is why he didn’t rebut any of the allegations and testimony. Ah Qing’s dad believes only Liu Chuan can help his dad now. Liu Chuan isn’t sure he should since his dad is guilty. Ah Qing’s dad counsels Liu Chuan that his dad is not to enemy and to think of the law as not just punishing the guilty but also making people better.
Liu Chuan visits with his dad in the jail cell and explains that Ah Qing’s dad isn’t coming because he thinks Liu Chuan’s dad is purposely keeping information from him. If Liu Chuan’s dad wants to tell the whole truth, then he will come hear what he has to say then. Liu Chuan’s dad thinks his son shouldn’t be here anyways since he never believed in his dad in the first place. He thinks everything his dad did is dirty and wrong and everything his grandfather did is pure and righteous. Liu Chuan claims to have never felt ashamed by his dad, he just didn’t like what his dad did in politics. Dad explains he did it to survive and gain more influence, and by doing so he could do more good. Liu Chuan’s dad did a lot of good in developing the land, how come no one’s talking about that? The reason he stayed silent in court was so he could preserve as much of his political career as possible because it’s an asset he wants to hand to Liu Chuan. Liu Chuan doesn’t want it because he wants to walk his own path. Dad understands Liu Chuan wants to change the world but what can he do if he doesn’t have any power and influence!
Liu Chuan sighs that people go into politics with the right reason but lose sight in the end. Liu Chuan doesn’t want to argue with his dad and wants him to admit his mistakes. Liu Chuan’s dad asks what mistakes he made? Liu Chuan says the land development projects sacrificed unseen citizens behind the scenes and what his dad did stripped people like Lee Lai of their future and chances in life. Liu Chuan’s dad says this could have been prevented if his grandfather left him the address book so he knew who to reach out to return the treasures and property. He ended up selling the property for the funds to campaign and help his political party and many politicians benefited from it. He also wrongly thought his own dad (Liu Chuan’s grandfather) took someone else’s land in the first place. He’s always known his own dad and his own son mock him for being a loser and not worthy of taking on the family mantle. Liu Chuan doesn’t think that was the reason his grandfather didn’t hand the treasure hunt and the address book to Liu Chuan’s dad. His grandfather was worried that Liu Chuan’s dad would get in trouble himself if he tried to return the items in his lifetime since the political climate wasn’t free yet, so he left it to Liu Chuan believing that by the time he grew up the political climate would be free enough so that he could return the items.
Liu Chuan brings up how his grandfather did leave something to his dad. Liu Chuan’s dad remembers the will and Liu Chuan takes out a key which makes his dad start crying. Liu Chuan knows his dad and grandfather lived in a scary time where thought was the most dangerous thing but also the thing that can bring freedom. So in the will his grandfather left his “ideals” to his son. Liu Chuan’s dad cries knowing that he never understood what his own dad was trying to tell him about what freedom to have ideals meant. Liu Chuan’s dad admits his full mistake in the Lee Lai land sale and apologizes to Liu Chuan who starts crying and says he believes his dad and asks if his dad believes in him? Dad nods so Liu Chuan asks his dad to tell him the whole truth and he will be his lawyer for the appeal. He wants his dad to get a fair and just sentence for the crimes he did commit and not everything that’s been piled on by the other corrupt people involved. Liu Chuan’s dad doesn’t want his son to waste his life on his case but Liu Chuan cries that he is his dad’s son so he’s willing to spend a lifetime if necessary on his dad. Father and son hold hands and cry.
Liu Chuan goes for a walk to clear his mind and heads to small pond where he picks a rock and throws it in the water to watch the ripples. He finally goes to see Jia En at the tea house and she’s ecstatic to see him after a few days of not hearing from him. She peppers him with a million questions about how he’s doing and her dad comes out and has her lay off a bit since Liu Chuan just got out of the detention center. Liu Chuan asks to take Jia En out for the day and dad suggests they go watch Titanic. Liu Chuan agrees to go watch the movie and neither Jia En nor her dad seem to notice how he looks really stern. At the movie theater when Jia En suggests buying snacks she can see Liu Chuan is very distressed and apologizes for dragging him out to see a movie when he’s got so much on his mind.
Liu Chuan is the one who feels the need to apologize to her. He’s always only seen one side of the way his father restricted his freedom but now sees how his dad has fought for giving him freedom in his own way. He used to want to end his relationship with his dad to win freedom but now he feels terrible. He knows Jia En suggested he communicate more with his dad and he’s decided to do so now, he wants to face his dad’s darkest side and get to know him better. Liu Chuan takes Jia En’s hand and she offers to be by his side during this sure to be difficult process. Liu Chuan reveals his dad apologized about the Lee Lai land sale and explained his reasons for not mounting a defense in court so he’s willing to wait until his dad will share the truth so he can help him but this will be a long court battle.
Jia En takes Liu Chuan’s hands in hers and announces her decision NOT to study abroad anymore. She wants to face this challenge with him. Liu Chuan sighs because he doesn’t want her to wait for him. She doesn’t understand why since he agreed for them to wait for each other when she studied abroad or he went off to the army. Why not this? Liu Chuan says this appeal could take years so she’s sacrificing her dreams for something that has no end date in sight. Will she throw her dreams and her own future plans away just for this? She wants to do it no matter how long, even if it takes an entire lifetime she wants to be with him through this difficult time. Liu Chuan stares at her and says nothing and this conversation ends because the movie is about to start.
During the movie Jia En starts crying during the sad parts and Liu Chuan looks over at her and then he starts to cry. She sees him crying and takes his hand before leaning her had on his shoulder. Clearly Liu Chuan is not crying simply because this movie is sad, poor boy. Jia En and Liu Chuan are still teary as they walk home after the movie and she apologizes for taking him to see a movie to change his mood but instead made him feel worse. Liu Chuan suddenly blurts out “Let’s break up!” He doesn’t want her to sacrifice her life for him. Jia En anxiously says she’ll go study abroad if that’s the reason he wants to break up. That’s not the reason, Liu Chuan only has one lifetime and his lifetime is now going to be mired in his dad’s court case. He doesn’t have another lifetime to give her happiness.
Jia En is controlling her freaking out and keeps promising she will study abroad and be a good student and do whatever she needs to do. She just doesn’t want to break up. She won’t break up! Everything will pass and she can wait for him however long it takes. Liu Chuan doesn’t want her to wait for a boyfriend who moves between the court and the jail and doesn’t have any energy to enjoy life with her. Jia En yells back that she doesn’t care but Liu Chuan retorts that he does care! This is not the life he wants for her, she should be a happy college student who lives life fully and pursues her dreams. Jia En screams that he shouldn’t decide that she will be happier without him. He is her dream and she loves him and he loves her too, right? She yells at him to say that he loves her back.
Liu Chuan admits he loves her and that is why he is breaking up with her now. He tells her to take good care of herself and then walks away by shaking her hands off. Jia En screams “Liu Shan Feng, I don’t want to break up!” but Liu Chuan has already walked off without a look back and rounded the corner. Jia En sinks to the ground sobbing her guts out. Liu Chuan is stopped around the corner and crying as he listens to Jia En’s sobs reach him. Finally he strides off without a look back while Jia En slowly walks home alone. She sits outside and controls her crying before heading inside. Of course her dad notices how she looks totally distraught and chalks it up to watching Titanic. Dad wonders why Liu Chuan didn’t bring her back and she explains he went to see his dad. But Ren Wei notices that her tears and mood seem off and not because it was due to watching the movie. Jia En screams “Yes, Liu Chuan and I broke up, okay! Stop asking anymore!” before running upstairs.
Jia En gets a call and she quickly picks it up thinking it’s Liu Chuan but it’s Ren Wei calling to offer a person to talk to if she needs it. Jia En says she’s fine, just a break up is all. Ren Wei tells her to wipe her tears with a tissue and walks into her room to offer her the tissue. They hang up the phone and he stands beside her as she keeps sobbing. You’re a true friend, Ren Wei. He finally asks why they broke up but Jia En doesn’t understand either why it has to be like this. Her heart feels so empty and so pained. Ren Wei thinks that if she didn’t miss getting into college and had to come here to retake the exam she wouldn’t have attended CDU and none of this would have happened. Jia En likes who she is today because of that experience, she can’t imagine her life without meeting Liu Chuan, Bai Xue, Xiao Wei, all her friends. She’s tried so hard to live life and make others happy but now she feels like she doesn’t know how to live anymore. Ren Wei suggest she not go be an exchange student right now in her current state but Jia En insists on going because it’s the reason Liu Chuan broke up with her so she has to go.
Ren Wei sits in the Treasure Hunting club room and draws a six-sided star but remains deep in thought. Bai Xue wonders what is bothering him? Ren Wei explains Jia En is going abroad and Liu Chuan broke up with her so she’s being especially insistent on being more independent. Bai Xue wonders what happened and Ren Wei sighs that Bai Xue can ask her in a few days and comfort her though it’s not clear if anyone can comfort her now. Ren Wei plans to tell Jia En something important before she goes abroad and Bai Xue thinks he’s going to confess to Jia En. She seems a little despondent, awww Bai Xue likes Ren Wei now! She wishes him luck and understands why he’ll do it since Jia En and Liu Chuan are broken up now.
Ah Qing, Tracy, Ri Qi, and Xiao Wei are discussing why Liu Chuan and Jia En broke up. They all thought those two would make it. Ah Qing asked Liu Chuan why and Liu Chuan just said that it was for the best. Tracy can see both of them love each other too much which is why both are in such pain. Ah Qing thinks love can also be letting go for each other’s sake. Ri Qi doesn’t agree, Liu Chuan breaking up now for an unknown future isn’t right. He should stay together and face the challenges to come. Xiao Wei agrees because breaking up now may change their fate for good and in the future they might not be destined to ever have another chance again.
The four of them decide to try and create an opportunity for the two of them and decide to tell Liu Chuan the departure date of Jia En leaving for her study abroad. Ah Qing takes the initiative and tells Liu Chuan to go to the airport to see Jia En. Too bad Ah Qing’s dad has scheduled a very important press conference about Liu Chuan’s dad’s appeal on the same day as Jia En’s departure. Ah Qing thinks Liu Chuan needs to go to the airport because once Jia En leaves everything changes, she could even meet someone else overseas. Liu Chuan decides not to change the press conference date and doesn’t plan to go see Jia En off.
Everyone is gathered to send Jia En off and some are complaining about Liu Chuan not coming. Ah Qing explains that today Liu Chuan is at an important press conference for his dad’s case. The friends take their turns saying goodbye. Ah Di wishes she stayed so he can tell the freshman that the last dance party queen is his good friend. Jia En hugs Ah Di and Jacky and says she is still their friend even if she’s abroad. Jia En asks Ah Qing and Ri Qi to take good care of Liu Chuan for her while she’s gone and they assure her that he’s in good hands. Jia En wishes Tracy and Ah Qing a happy relationship and then hugs Bai Xue through tears for being the best friend ever who taught her everything. She’s sad she can’t see Bai Xue graduate but Bai Xue says she is the one who is grateful that fate let her pick such a great freshman to mentor. Jia En thanks Xiao Wei for being a good friend but it’s Xiao Wei who takes Jia En’s hand and thanks her for making her more courageous. Tracy asks Jia En to write often so they know she’s fine. If anyone is mean to her, she needs to tell them and they will be her mental support even from here. Jia En cries and hugs both Tracy and Xiao Wei goodbye.
It’s finally time for Ren Wei to say goodbye to Jia En. She has the most she wants to say to him but feel like it’s been said before. He doesn’t need her to say anything and just take good care of herself. Jia En has one more thing to say and that’s “thank you.” Jia En wipes her tears and waves goodbye as she turns and starts walking away but she’s sobbing already. Right before she gets to the check point suddenly Ren Wei calls out her name and runs over to tell her one thing. Ren Wei reveals that he changed her school rankings that year which is why she got a better test score than him but ended up not getting into any college. Ren Wei apologizes and bows his head low to her.
Liu Chuan and Ah Qing’s dad hold the press conference to explain their next steps regarding the case. Liu Chuan stands up and first apologizes sincerely on behalf of his dad to the people who supported his dad. He knows that the past needs to be atoned for but the past mistakes can also be the steps for changing the future. His father admits his mistakes but this verdict is not justice being carried out because additional crimes have been attributed to his dad that aren’t true. He holds up a folder containing evidence that the witnesses colluded their verdicts towards his dad. He announces that he is taking over as defense counsel for his dad’s appeal. After the press conference Liu Chuan walks up to the roof and looks up at the sky as a plane takes off. He says “Ver Joan” which means Joan who is far away before turning and walking forward.
A year has passed and it’s now July 1999. Jia En sits in a room in England and writes a letter that time has passed so fast and she’s been here for a year. She thought she grew up a lot studying in Taipei but coming to England and living truly independently showed her that she still had a lot to change and grow. Thinking about the girl who didn’t want to leave Pingdong, the little girl who didn’t want to leave her first love, that girl now feels so foreign yet still familiar. At the airport that day Ren Wei told her that he changed her college rankings that year and she thought she would be so angry when she heard that. But instead she thanked Ren Wei because it was what he did that allowed her to meet Liu Chuan and grow together. She misses home and it’s hard sometimes to live alone so far away. But no matter how tough it is she never thinks about giving up and that is because of Liu Chuan. Jia En thanks him for letting her go back then. He’s someone who truly understands freedom and knew she was one step away from giving up her impetus to pursue her own dreams.
Liu Chuan is working on an appeals brief and stops to pick up the little bottle holding the gold flakes he panned in Jiufen with Jia En on their Summer date. The camera follows him as he walks through Taipei and finally goes to the tea house and stares up at Jia En’s room. Jia En’s dad notices him like it’s a common occurrence that he comes by. Jia En continues writing in her letter that she’s almost arrived at her goal but wants to know “Dearest Liu Chuan, have you found your freedom?” Liu Chuan returns home and runs into the mailman outside who hands him an airmail letter. Liu Chuan takes it and reads the letter is sent from a Joan Lin from England. He sits on his motorcycle with a smile as he holds the letter and the camera slowly pulls back. The end.
Thoughts of Mine:
I love this drama and this ending just made me bawl my head off. It was painfully real and I can’t even decide if it narratively made sense. At least Liu Chuan told Jia En that he was being a noble idiot, but at the same time was he really? He didn’t break up with her just because of his burden in life, he broke up with her because she was thisclose to losing her own dreams and identity if she stayed with him. He was her dream? Oh Jia En, that is not what this boy wants for you. He wants you to be YOU, he wants you to love him because you first love yourself. He wants you to give him up yourself if it means pursuing your dreams and not the other way around. I know that Liu Chuan will love her forever, and he may even be single until the day he knows she’s moved onto someone else. And then maybe he’ll move on himself, but it will always be that the most raw and unfiltered part of Liu Chuan has been left with Jia En during the heady carefree days when they were just college kids.
I know this ending is a non-ending because SETTV is setting up for the movie which begins filming in August. This is clearly a taking a break kind of ending, stopping at 1999 when we know the story can go until the present or at least sometime into the aughts. Even if I’m torn between feeling bittersweet satisfaction that the two still clearly love each other and are just living their own lives in the meantime, I still wish they didn’t have to break up. If Jia En could have been less clingy, if she decided on her own to study abroad, would Liu Chuan have asked to break up? Maybe he would still have for the reason that he didn’t want to tie her down. Will the movie time jump to the point that Liu Chuan’s dad’s appeal is done and he’s free to live his own life? That’s a easy resolution but then sometimes time itself resolves problems, right? Time lets situations end, let processes conclude, creates the space to deal with problems until it is completed. In that vein, we’re left to grapple with time in our hands to wait for the movie to show us what happens once these people become adults living in a world with a different set of problems.
The ending focused on Jia En and Liu Chuan to the exclusion of all the other characters. But it doesn’t leave an incomplete feeling since the rest of the college kids really aren’t dealing with anything currently that requires further development. Ah Qing and Tracy are together and whatever happens down the road for them is fine with me. Ri Qi and Xiao Wei are together and have life goals each are pursuing. Bai Xue is a rock star wherever she goes and even her clear little stirring for Ren Wei works whether it comes to fruition or not because she’s strong and smart enough to handle feelings whether it’s requited. Ren Wei emerged in the second half of the drama as one of my favorite characters, and in many ways so much more attractive a male lead potential than Liu Chuan. His capacity for growth and maturity is greater than the nearly perfect Liu Chuan and his flaws are much more relatable than Liu Chuan’s tightly wound family ideological conflict.
I loved that Ren Wen never told Jia En that he liked her (because how would that ever help her or make her life better?) and instead remained her childhood best friend. He might have a chance with her down the road after she gets back from England if Jia En and Liu Chuan don’t immediately get back together, and I’m actually willing to see how that would turn out, even if ultimately I think the story and character development all point to the unbreakable bond between Liu Chuan and Jia En. They can live separate lives, even date other people, but all signs point to them finding each other again after the messy growing up period is over. What they share is the joy and sorrows of walking life’s journey together and I have faith the movie won’t fail to deliver on that outcome. When Jia En wrote her final letter to Liu Chuan and he held it in his hands with a smile while sitting on his motorcycle, that was a lovely visual to end the drama on if it had to be an open ending.
I now take a break from IAGW armed with the overwhelming feels the last six months gave us. It wasn’t always clear what this drama had in mind despite all the talk about freedom and growing up and learning to become independent. It stuck a lot of family issues in the mix and each of the three leads all had family considerations that rose up in different times to show that freedom cannot come at the expense of cutting ties with loved ones over ideological differences. I loved the plot turn where Liu Chuan becomes his dad’s appeals counsel because it ties together his career calling as a lawyer advocating for justice and in learning to accept his dad for who he is. Liu Chuan finally learned to see the grey and not the two extremes of either pure as driven snow or dirty filthy political corruption. Plus it’s his burden to bear having such a dad and coming from such a family, but he also got to have a great grandfather because of his lineage.
Jia En’s ending letter was lovely because her words conveyed her maturity when she thanked Liu Chuan for letting her go because she wasn’t going to go by herself. If she was more self-possessed like a Bai Xue then she may have come to that decision on her own, but her first love with Liu Chuan was consuming her to the point where it was her priority. And Liu Chuan knew that romance could not be either of their priorities at that point in their life so he pulled the noble card but it wasn’t as idiotic in this case as much as it has been in others cases. They could have stayed together if Jia En understood what being with Liu Chuan entailed even in they dated long distance, but the part that was wrong for her to give up was going abroad. If she’s going to study abroad then I don’t think it matters if they technically stay together or decide to break up for the time being. It’s not like back in 1999 they can skype and text message all the time to keep in touch, plus both have other more pressing concerns to deal with on a day to day basis.
Turns out the IAGW novel and drama endings were totally different in the details but the final twist was still the same – Jia En and Liu Chuan break up and spend a serious amount of time apart in different countries. But the novel ending has them getting back together after 10 years whereas the drama leaves us hanging until the movie. I have the patience and faith to wait for it but I wonder how many viewers are so disappointed with the lack of a concrete ending and will bail after this and not return for the final hurrah? Watching the opening and closing song sequences, it’s clear “Good Morning Hard City” is about the gang getting together to go on an adventure, one that is fun but also has problems like when their car broke down and the boys needed to give it a push, whereas the ending song sequence with “Obviously Love You” strongly foreshadowed this ending with each of the leads going their own way after the trip together and needing to walk their final steps alone.
But the ending sequence also shows us that they still care, are loathe to be apart, and maybe in the end when Liu Chuan leaves the car and heads back the way he drove from, it hints that all will be well and he’ll find his way back to Jia En and his friends. It’s good writing and drama plotting to have the thematic elements of this drama feel even more cohesive in retrospect when it was arranged and filmed before the drama even started filming. I’ll miss the kids of the Treasure Hunting club a lot, a great bunch of characters with unique and entertaining personalities, individual hopes and dreams, and together shared a memorable college experience that I got to hitch a ride on with them. In the end I leave with my beloved Liu Chuan tucked away deep inside my special drama chamber, he was the soul of this show while Jia En being the hopeful catalyst who wore her heart on her sleeve and made us all care. Thanks for an unbelievable ride, IAGW. See you guys on the big screen in the near future!
For those of you who want to feel a leeeeetle bit better about this open ending, the BTS in the final episode shows Lego Lee filming his last scene which was him sitting on the motorcycle holding Jia En’s letter. His costar Kirsten Jen came out specifically to watch him film even though she had already completed filming herself. When Lego thanked her for being a great costar she totally started crying, but this segment gives us some room to imagine Liu Chuan and Jia En together in that scene. Group hug everyone!
Click here to watch In A Good Way.