A Love for Dilemma (2021) 小舍得 : C Drama Series Review

A family-focused series which explores the struggles for academic excellence and family relationships within the highly competitive academic environment of the young children moving from primary school to junior high school (~ 11 – 12 years old). The main children in focus are Yan Zi You, Xia Huan Huan & Mi Tao. 

3 generations linked by the children

Xia Family

Parents : Xia Jun Shan & Nan Li who are equally successful in their careers, with a care-free attitude towards parenting with a firm belief in having an enjoyable & memorable childhood

Grandparents : Nan Jian Long (Uncle Nan), Aunt Cai (stepmother), Aunt Zhao (biological mother of Nan Li), Aunt Xia. The relationship is a little bit complicated as the divorce occurred after Uncle Nan’s stroke whereby Aunt Cai nursed him to health & both fell in love.

Children : Huan Huan & Chao Chao, 11 years and 5 years old respectively who are lively & living the comfortable life with doting parents.

Yan Family

Parents : Yan Peng & Tian Yu Lan. Opposite attracts with Yan Peng having a laid-back attitude towards most things while Tian Yu Lan having strict expectations especially her attitude towards academic excellence.

Yan Peng & Tian Yu Lan, facing the doctor

Grandparents : Uncle Yan, Aunt Yan, Aunt Cai. The Yan family built their fortune by working hard from scratch, able to provide comfortably for the next generations.  

Child : Yan Zi You, a shy boy who is stressed all the time due to the pressure from his mother to achieve academic excellence.

Mi Family

Parents : Father Mi & Mother Mi are migrant workers who are working hard to support their family, with the hope of bringing their younger daughter to the city as well.

Child : Mi Tao, a genius who does very well academically. However, she lacks confidence due to her family social standing.

The migrant Mi family, struggling to survive in the city

The couple teachers Ms Zhang & Mr Zhong features extensively in the series as well, depicting very different attitude towards the education of children. The priority given towards academic excellence is deeply embedded within the Asian context, whereby higher education is seen as the catalyst to transform towards a better life. The series actually explored many different themes.

Chasing Academic Excellence to Enter Prestigious Schools & Universities

Central to the many conflicts & dilemmas faced by the parents are the pursuit of pure academic excellence to enter prestigious schools & universities. Yu Lan’s one-track mind in putting her child, Zi You, towards various tuition activities to improve his academic results come at a high price of losing one’s precious time in childhood. It is obvious that both parent & child forsake their precious time even during weekend to ensure that the child is always one step ahead of his peers. There are signs of trouble in Zi You with the constant fingernail-peeling, timid & quiet nature, rebellious streak and the final straw that broke the camel’s back i.e the imaginary friend.

Stressed out Zi You, flanked by his grandma & grandpa

Yu Lan really represents the Asian Tiger Mom’s syndrome, severely. Her personality is also competitive, combined with her own personal journey during her youth, probably contributes towards her belief that getting into a prestigious school is all that matters. For her, early sacrifices are needed to achieve getting the academic certification to be successful in the future. In a way, the whole process promotes delayed gratification. But she does overdo it, with constant reminder to the son & totally controlling of his livelihood. It does suffocate anyone, not just a child who is learning the ropes of life & finding their own comfort zone. 

On the contrary, Nan Li & the husband’s parenting style is quite laissez faire which focuses on providing plenty of playing time & creativity for the children. It was interesting to see both husband and wife falling towards the trap in pursuing academic excellence. It begins slowly with the constant comparison of children’s academic performance, followed by other parents’ constant discussion on which prestigious school to target to enter, to the deteriorating results of the daughter, sugar-coated “insults” on the mediocrity of the daughter. The list goes on and on. The environment really is a pressure cooker for the easy-going parents to go on a discovery journey in their priorities and parenting style.  

Father tutoring daughter, before turning into Incredible Hulk

The father’s anxiety when Huan Huan could not cope at school prompts him to personally tutor her. Unfortunately, it turns him from a mild & loving father into a monster that screams at the daughter for failing to complete her homework. Similarly, when Nan Li decides to take a more active role in her daughter’s academia, she morphs into a tigress ready to devour the cub for not learning fast enough. The responses of these parents actually embody their own guilt in not providing adequately for their children.

Yu Lan & Yan Peng’s parenting journey does seem mild. The parents finally discover the psychological effect of the pressure on Zi You, whereby Yu Lan retreats to give some space to both father and son. However, although Yu Lan finally relents in scaling back the ridiculous schedules & activities (their activities calendar is even worse than a working adult’s!), it doesn’t really seem that she will change her principle of striving for academic excellence.

Nan Li & Jun Shan’s journey is slightly more complicated. They start off as the perfect family with a really balanced parenting style that prioritise spending valuable time with family. Their journey is waylaid into the competitive mainstream mainly due to peer & environment pressure as everyone is doing it. Their insecurity is all out in display when they realise their children may not be able to enrol in “good school”, making them feel guilty. They even make really stupid mistakes by buying a home just to be able to enrol in the neighbourhood school. Huan Huan’s stubbornness turns into a rebellious nightmare with confrontation with the mother.

Uncle Yan’s advice – everything in moderation is the best advice that I take away from the series. Perhaps the parents should really reflect on the word “moderation”.


Constant Comparison

One norm is the parents’ constant discussion of their children’s achievements with family and friends, often in the presence of all the children. The constant comparison also does not help. Good example – people keep comparing Mi Tao’s good results with everyone else’s. It is no wonder Huan Huan begins to harbour jealous thoughts and even started bullying by ignoring Mi Tao. Such conflict is more apparent in girls, and I am sure it happens everywhere and often too.

It is also interesting to see the reaction of the various parties towards the conflict when confronted. Although hurt, Mi Tao’s first reaction is losing confidence before plucking out her courage to confront the bullying. On the other hand, Huan Huan’s reaction is quite typical of being even more rebellious after being confronted as the bully. She does not believe she is in any way wrong, and her apologies are not sincere at all as it was a forced apology threatened by her mother.

Highly intelligent, humble & sensible, but lacking a little confidence

Mi Tao’s parents are simple & grateful people, who are not willing to confront a conflict which they deem as children’s quarrel. Understandable situation. I am especially impressed with Nan Li and Jun Shan’s stance on the conflict, eliciting immediate discussion with the daughter and insisting on an apology towards Mi Tao. In real life, I am not so confident that parents of children who bullies may take such stance. It is more natural to be defensive of their children’s actions, sometimes even finding justifications for the bullying child’s behaviour. Huan Huan’s bullying behaviour is a direct reaction that she has to “protect” herself from the seemingly more popular Mi Tao. It is not a justification to her bullying, but confronting the bullying, and raising the concept that it is not acceptable is a very difficult conversation to have with a child.  

One particular principle that Xia Jun Shan advocates is – always compete with our ownself and not with others. I find this statement very apt, as each individual person is different. If there is improvement from yesterday, this is good news. 

Daughters, the Apple of the Father’s Eyes

Father-daughter relationship is explored a little more in the series.

Nan Jian Long & Nan Li’s relationship is hot and cold at different times, with many misunderstandings along the way. But it is obvious that Nan Jian Long loves the daughter dearly, always looking for the best in her interest. Nan Jian Long’s character is a selfish one, as he looks for an easier route upon his stroke. Father-daughter pair making amends & understanding their different perspective is a warm feeling.

Such a beauty already, dont’ go breaking my heart!

Xia Jun Shan & Xia Huan Huan’s relationship is like the super cool father-daughter. He is always attentive & protective over the daughter, while the daughter is like a sunshine in his life. He cuts some slack for her, and provides time for the daughter to absorb the situation. Total model father! Love his “fight” with the teacher who insulted his daughter! Perhaps his own experience of the traditional family whereby criticism is used to provoke their motivation as a child by his parents shape his views. He believes in motivation & encouragement rather than criticism. Many people are deeply affected by their childhood, whereby it may be easier to fall into the trap of turning critical even in adulthood.  

Overall Series Feel

I am familiar with Jiang Xin who portrays Tian Yu Lan and Tong Da Wei who portrays Xia Jun Shan, having seen them in a previous series. I love Jiang Xin, although her characters are usually the dramatic kind while Tong Da Wei is in his typical role – the loving boyfriend/ husband/ father. Both are actually playing roles that are familiar. Not much of a stretch for their portrayal.

Song Jia as Nan Li

What I have to commend is Song Jia’s performance and her chemistry with Tong Da Wei. They are a super-cute couple who does yoga together. Totally loving their interactions. Song Jia is able to bring out her arrogance and reluctance in her facial expression, without her saying anything.

The child actors & actresses were also impressive. I thought Li Yi Qing’s portrayal of Mi Tao is really spot-on as a child with poorer social standing, but smart & ambitious on her way to exploring new things in the city. Liu Chu Tian as the pretty & blossoming Xia Huan Huan is also good. She is a beauty, and definitely will be breaking hearts in the near future! Wu Ze Zing Xi portrays Yan Zhi You. He has quite an impressive list of series that he has been. Commendable as the tightly-controlled mama’s boy. And who can forget our dear adorable Chao Chao! Super cute when he gives kisses, and always able to break the ice during really flamable conflict!

Cutie-pie Chao Chao with his googly eyes

Surprisingly, the elder generation actors & actresses did not shine. 

Philosophical Key Take-Away

China has always been prioritising education, and the series really provides an eye-opener to the flaws of the education system. Frankly, for me, education is a life-long journey. The academic pursuit is only a fraction of the journey. For most people, it may be the catalyst that helps them to achieve success in their career and perhaps life.

But I totally disagree with the total focus on academic excellence. The whole education industry becomes a commercial centre, using emotional blackmail on parents to spend good money on their children’s tuition activities. An education for children really needs to be holistic. Each child is different, and not every one of them will be excellent in academic pursuits. Each child has their own talent & specialty, some may just be still in rock form – diamonds in the rough to be discovered.

More importantly, the child should really be prepared to face the outside world. How to deal with obstacles & failures, how to deal with conflicts, how to deal with challenges.  

Exams in class

Besides, examinations are just one measure to measure the “excellence” of the children. How sure are we that these measures are correctly used? Why are we not using other more subjective measures? Who are we to call a successful person? A poorer dad who shares his meal with his elderly neighbour who is hungry, or a richer dad who retrenches employees in a bid to further improve profitability? Where are the virtues?

Quoting Confucius and his philosophy on education – “The core of Confucian educational philosophy is how we learn to be human. Confucius believed that the ultimate end of learning was to realize the true nature of human beings – become fully human.” I shall leave that with you to ponder & conclude.

Conclusion 8/10

Generally, a feel-good series, providing thought-provoking situations for the public to think about. Commendable job from the actors & actresses. Very relatable themes that can generate lots of discussions.

One annoying thing in the series is the way the songs are introduced & totally overwhelm the conversations. This is the first time I am watching the “Little” series, apparently there are already 3 instalments of which this is the 3rd. There is a 4th instalment coming with Zhou Xun slated for the main female lead, to be released in 2022! Goodies!

The other “little” series are:

  1. A Little Love for Separation (2016)
  2. A Little Reunion (2019) a-little-reunion-2020-小欢喜-c-drama-series-review
  3. A Love for Dilemma (2020)
  4. A Little Mood for Love (2021) a-little-mood-for-love-2021-小敏家-c-drama-series-review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s