I Will Find You A Better Home (2020) 安家 : C Drama Series Review

Main poster

The modern series uses Shanghai as the base, exploring the very fundamental of a Chinese family – finding the right home for the family. Xu Wen Chang (Luo Jin) is the branch manager of Jingyi branch of An Jia Real Estate, who faces off with Fang Si Jin (Sun Li) who is sent by the head office to monitor & turnaround the performance of Jingyi branch. An Jia Real Estate’s Jingyi branch is different from other real estates as the team focuses on the strength of individuals & practices teamwork to help each other out. Wen Chang & Si Jin work together to solve the cases that come their way, slowly getting to know each other & falling in love without even realising.

Interesting Cases of Finding the Humble Abode to Call Our Home

Each of the cases featured in the series are very special. I think this is the main reason the series is so interesting. Buying a home is always an important decision in many family’s life. Shanghai, a cosmopolitan city, is an extremely expensive city whereby buying a home is a luxury not many can afford. Each case highlights specific issues encountered by the families and these are very realistic issues.  

Friends & Family

The apartment with a long corridor leading to the washroom :

Two doctors who are married with a child, with another coming are looking for a new home. As professionals with two high income, they find it difficult to afford expensive apartment with good location. Si Jin ends up renovating a cheaper apartment with not-so-great layout, specifically catered to the family to provide privacy to the couple with a private workspace for the wife’s “me time”. Very observant & innovative method to attract the wife. The same apartment is then rented & resold to a live streamer who requires his own space to do his live streaming while living with his parents, allowing the doctor couple to move to another apartment nearer to the child’s school. Both cases explore the complications of living together, and the emphasis on tolerance to maintain harmony. Having personal space within the home allows privacy & comfort to continue in maintaining the harmony of living together.   

Apartment with a murder case :

Homes whereby criminal cases happened, especially with death in the home is usually more difficult to sell considering many Asians are superstitious about unnatural death in a home. The observant estate agents managed to match the home with a person who firmly believes in fengshui, directed by a fengshui master to own and stay for 49 days in an apartment which has bad luck (in this case with murder). Subsequently, the same unit is resold to a coroner, who is not superstitious but is very used to facing death. The marketing method employed is very ingenious – distributing the flyer nearby hospitals whereby health employees are more used to facing death. The follow-up case also explores the despicable fengshui master who is actually a swindler working together with estate agents to influence buyers to buy specific apartments.  

In the Jingyi branch office

Noise Pollution with Difficult Neighbours

An apartment becomes unattractive due to the noise pollution from a neighbour mainly due to the “tiger mom” trying to discipline & teach a wilful son. The estate agents managed to convince the “tiger mom” to enrol the son in a reputable school but with slightly different teaching methods & focus, with focus to improve the relationship between mother & the wilful young son. The tactic obviously works very well, and a new “quieter” family comprising a couple with a daughter moving in. However, the daughter practises violin which angers the neighbour who sleeps odd hours as his work schedule follows a different time zone. In the pressured working environment as a trader in the west, the husband is high-strung with insomnia, very particular to even light noises. In this particular case, I thought that the wife is over-bearing towards the neighbour and totally unreasonable. Somehow the estate agents found a way to pacify both parties, with solutions catered towards both family – sending the daughter to practise in a music school with a chance to perform in the public at the store display and finding a traditional chinese medicine practitioner to provide some solutions to the insomniac husband.

Buying an Apartment in hard-earned cash from decades of work

An elderly couple is looking for a new apartment to buy in cash, all earned from decades of selling buns. The conflict arises when inserting the names in the purchase agreement, whereby the son insists on putting the wife’s name. The elderly couple ends up not able to stay in the same apartment as the daughter in law invited her family to stay with them. There is a great gap in expectations – the son & wife seems to take it for granted that a home should be provided for by the parents, without staying with them while the elderly couple expects to stay with the son & be doting grandparents. During the signing ceremony, Wen Chang reminds the family on the possibility of taking a loan with the son paying for a share of the home. It is heartbreaking as the elderly couple rejects the notion that the son will incur debt. It is even harder to stomach when the elderly couple had to continue to sell buns and stay in the cramped up small store as they ran out of money for rental. Morale of the story – never ever spoil the children by providing too much that they take it for granted the sacrifices of parents.

The elder husband – paying the apartment using hard-earned cash from decades of selling buns

Forced Sales of Traditional Bungalow Land to save a business

In an attempt to save his business, a son attempts to sell a valuable bungalow land sitting in prime Shanghai land. Unfortunately, a branch of an extended family who used to stay in the disintegrating bungalow claimed ownership for part of the home. Instead of being grateful for all the years of free accommodation, the extended family really has thick skin whereby they moved back to the dilapidated extension just to prove that they are the rightful owner & deserve part of the proceeds. The subsequent drama to rid the extended family emphasizes that any people can be the villain when money proceeds are involved.

Loyalty of the caretaker & gifting in exchange for 3-generations of services

A caretaker family has taken care of an old villa for 3 generations, with no contact with the original owner subsequent to their migration to the west in the early 1920s. When Si Jin is determined to find the owner as there is an interested elder buyer (who turns out to be such a crook! Grrr… ), she investigates to find & trace the descendant of the original owner to Europe. The caretaker family has a certificate of gift from the original owner (who has since passed on), but is unable to prove ownership due to insufficient evidence. This particular case on the other hand, is almost the polar opposite of the earlier case. The building extension is occupied by the caretaker family with the understanding that the building belongs to them, but the descendant of the original owner is adamant not to recognise their contribution in taking care of the villa over 3 generations. Does seem that loyalty is not rewarded. But all ends well pursuant to the perseverance of Wen Chang & Si Jin in helping them to obtain evidences to support their claim on the building.

And the buyer! Such a crook, trying to skip the commission payable to the estate agents by signing with the descendant of the original owner in private but ending with losing more as he really wants the villa badly. Frankly, it is also littered in the series that the public’s perception of an estate agent is not great – at best they are perceived to be persistent sales person and at worst they are perceived to be swindlers. In this case, I really felt bad for the estate agents as they can also be swindled after all the hard work & perseverance put into a deal.

An Inherited Bungalow – urgent sale to save a life

This is also a very sad case of which an old villa with 3 floors is inherited by 3 sisters. The only surviving sister stays in the 2nd floor with her aging & sick husband, while the other 2 floors are left empty & owned by her nephews. When the husband is diagnosed with cancer, she resorts to selling the inheritance in order to pay for his medical bills. Unfortunately, the bungalow can only be sold if all 3 floors ie the owners are agreeable. Due to the “fire-sales” nature, the nephews perceive the sales offer as not attractive and subsequently tried many tactics to delay the sales. The husband eventually dies without the expensive treatment, leaving the wife extremely sad. She donates her inheritance of the 2nd floor to the government & passed away within a week from her husband, technically rendering the other 2 floors as worthless as the government won’t sell a donated old bungalow!

There are a few takeaways that I had garnered. First, money does help in human’s life especially when you are sick & first-class treatment is required. Whether there is a value attached to the extension of a person’s life – this is arbitrary. Some may feel an elderly person may have enjoyed the glory of his life and will not attribute much value to his remaining life. In the wife’s eyes – her husband is everything and his life is worth more than the value of the bungalow. Second, human can be such arse-hole hypocrites especially when a lot of money is involved. Falsely agreeing to sell, but playing bad cop good cop & employing various tactics to delay the sales, the nephews prioritise their interest first (getting the highest price for the 3-floor bungalow) instead of the needs of the elderly aunt. Third, karma comes back & can bite. The personality of the aunt does not seem to indicate that she purposely donates her 2nd floor to the government out of spite. But the person up there definitely has a plan, and it definitely does not entail the sharing of benefit for the nephews.

Co-habiting in the rented apartment

Big project – New lifestyle accommodation for young working adults

The final case is one which Wen Chang & Si Jin undertake with significant risk as they invest in a building to explore & experiment with long term rental concept for young working adults. The idea of providing decent & modern accommodation to young adults with accommodation that entwines socialising & lifestyle. The case is left open-ended, as the concept is new even in many cosmopolitan cities.

For many building owners, it is true that the rising property prices in cosmopolitan cities are a boon and bane at the same time. The rising prices ensure huge potential for the owner to unlock the value of their properties. However, the expected returns on highly priced properties drive the rental upwards, resulting in high rental & even higher property prices.  

In the post-pandemic period (the series is probably filmed pre-pandemic as no one is seen with face mask), the very humble abode that we stay in may also be the working place, and the only place for entertainment & exercising. Not many people have the luxury of space for their homes, which may totally change the landscape of accommodation in the future. Would be interesting to see how the society responds & corresponding reaction of the developers.  

Main Couple

Originally, I could not imagine Luo Jin and Sun Li as a couple in the series. I have watched both actor and actress in many series and felt they are very good in their profession. My conclusion – the opposite really attracts and the chemistry is really quite special. The chemistry the couple share is not the quick romantic type of chemistry, but the slow-charcoal burning type of romance. It is heart-warming with lots of learning curve & understanding. Very nicely done.

Xu Wen Chang with his bao-bei dog

Luo Jin is very natural in his portrayal of Xu Wen Chang. It is highly probable his own character is similar. He has a laid-back personality, with very special way of handling relationship with people, using humour & kindness. I love his banters with Si Jin, his own team, his own bunch of old college friends and even his clients. His concern & empathy are the attractions people feel for him. Luo Jin should act more in such characters as it totally suits him, instead of the very depressing Crown Prince Xiao Ding Quan in Royal Nirvana. Don’t misunderstand, I think he is a great actor but I definitely think he suits cheerful characters better.

Si Jin’s character is a very difficult one to portray. Her difficult journey in life especially her relationship with her family (the mom! My god, I just can’t imagine someone like that!) shapes her into the original Si Jin when she steps into Jingyi branch. Through her own interaction with the cases & especially Wen Chang, her layers of defence are slowly peeled off one by one. She starts changing to be more empathetic towards everyone around her.

Fang Si Jin at the marathon

In their relationship, it does feel like Wen Chang has managed to provide different perspective to Si Jin, allowing her to grow into a kinder & empathetic person. The journey is very nice & positive to watch. Which is also why Sun Li is really a great actress. She made the audience go through the journey with her in an extremely natural manner. The character could easily turn out to be annoying, but she has the flair of pulling you to root for her.

Friends Around the Couple

The branch’s employees have their own interesting personality & stories too.

Xie Ting Feng, the senior sales who is an old sly fox. In earlier episodes, I really thought he has a young son. Only in later episodes, it is revealed he is married with a son who is graduating soon. His involvement with the lady & son starts off as concern to his dead saviour’s family which grows into some genuine feeling. Although nothing happened, his wife suspects & beats him up (domestic violence!), ultimately realising his heart is not with his official family. 

Wang Zi Jian, nicknamed the Prince, the superstar sales who is smart and flamboyant. He is ambitious and strives to earn as much as possible, with very sarcastic replies to many people but never comes across vile or evil. His relationship with Zhu Shan Shan is actually very sweet, very apparent that both enjoy each other’s company and banters. The actor who portrays this character has the exact same name ie Wang Zi Jian and his nickname is precisely Wang Zhi or Prince. He is a talk show host and is reported to be a victim of domestic violence, whereby he fades away for a few years. His comeback to the industry takes up a lot of courage. I wish him all the luck in his future career.

Wang Zi Jian @ the Prince

Zhu Shan Shan, mascot of the branch, the ever optimist, brings positive energy wherever she goes. Although not so bright, she tries her best. I am very glad that she realises that she does not love the dull statistician boyfriend. Her logic and her analysis (via her very random questions) are just her own method in making a decision, whereby she does not regret her decision of breaking up. In fact, I was disappointed with Wang Zi Jian who doesn’t realise that he is not in love with his Emily whom he has been courting for years. Of all the couples in the series, I ship this couple the most – the prince and the snow-white princess mascot!

The Princess meeting the frog, who turned into a prince?

Yu Hua Long, nicknamed 985 representing the Project 985 to promote development of reputable world-class universities, the ever prim & proper graduate from an elite university. The actor Zhang Xiao Qian portrays Yu Hua Long is Mu Qing in Nirvana in Fire! But he looks way cuter (and younger) in NIF, while in this series, he looks bloated. The character is a little less developed but his relationship with his mother is very heart-warming. He ends up with Xiao Gua, the little tomboyish girl who owns the food bar. Lou Shua Guan, the country boy who is an eager but slow student who took Si Jin to be his “sifu” or master. His life is very sad as he saves all his salary to send home to pay off his mother’s gambling debt.

The musical band formed with Wen Chang and his 3 college friends has a deep & close friendship. Their banters show deep friendship, always willing to help each other. The lawyer, Qin Tao a wife-fearing guy but smart & very devoted to Wen Chang whenever he asks for help and always asking for the dish Buddha Leaps Over the Wall佛跳牆.  The musician, Liu Bei Si, is still devoted to music. The most flamboyant of them, Suo Ding La, is a famous actor who sometimes over-react to his deemed fans. But his shirt is just too flashy! Eeeek….!

Main villain is Zhao Yun Xiao – archnemesis of Wen Chang who uses Si Jin to hurt the reputation of Wen Chang. The villain is ridden quite easily at the end and there is not much emphasis on character development. But the series really does not need a main villain, the cases & the friends around are already very interesting. Almost forgot the ex-wife! Zhang Cheng Cheng. And the cutie dog the own.

The Gang!

Conclusion 9/10

Very, very interesting and eye-opening series that provide some colours to the livelihood of Shanghai dwellers – especially their difficulty in owning a humble abode to call their happy home. Personally, I thought the show is very realistic in portraying the issues in buying & selling homes, family conflict in looking for a happily-ever-after home & money issues involved in such big investments (or the sales proceed thereafter).

Having been to Shanghai 2 times, I can appreciate the issues. I love the beautiful shots of the various new buildings, of the bund, and especially of the old villas & bungalows. The first time I visited Shanghai, I stayed around the French Concession area, totally loving the place. The architecture is different and the villas & bungalows are indeed gems of the old world. The vibes are different compared with Beijing. Just imagine Shanghai Bund’s iconic buildings and the same song 上海滩sung by Frances Yip. 

Frankly I have not watched many modern Chinese drama, but I have found a few gems here and there. This is definitely one of them, to add on to the list which also comprises Ode to Joy and All is Well. 53 episodes, but very interesting and never boring. Go ahead and watch it, perhaps it will spur you to start looking to buy your own humble abode. But my own personal take – the responsibility of buying a home especially the financing is not something that can be taken lightly. Buying a home may not suit everyone, and renting is equally good as long as the home provides calm & peace. Happy hunting!

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