Streaming on Netflix, The Rational Life revolves around Shen Ruo Xin, a 34-year old independent & rational woman working as a legal manager in an automotive giant in Shanghai. The series traces her journey in her career & love life. In Ruo Xin’s case, she is an outstanding student and employee, with very realistic & rational structure in her decision-making process. Ambitious & assertive but not overtly aggressive.
Older Woman- Younger Love Man Relationship
The series explores a few themes, the main one being the love relationship between an older woman and a younger man. In China, there is a term coined for women who are not married by 27, leftover women on the shelf. Sound so derogatory! The pressure is real as it is parental & societal expectations, coupled with the cost of living & the expectations of city-dwellers combining together a total pressure cooker for the next generation. At 34, Ruo Xin’s mother is eager to see her married off. Being a beauty, Ruo Xin is not without suitors. Throughout the series, there are many interested men with different background & motives as well.
When she is courted by Cui Li Xin, a colleague, Mother Shen is over the moon although Ruo Xin doesn’t seem too bothered. Cui Li Xin is more direct in his portrayal of love, but does seem needy & chauvinistic in his view of women. His “affections & continuous calls” actually annoys her and provides red flags to her to begin questioning whether they are really suitable for each other.
Director Xu Ming Jie as the successful & rich career man, seems to be a perfect match for Ruo Xin, always looking out for her subtly without giving out too much emotionally in their professional relationship. His admiration for her starts from her talent & capabilities, and slowly evolves to a little more. However, it is true that their interaction seems too rational & “calculated”, lacking the magical feeling of love.
The childhood friend suitor Huan Yu Tao, on the other hand, is a little bit coarse & outright in expressing his opinions, usually cloaked in self-righteousness or self-praise. Obviously attracted to Ruo Xin, he does thing in a roundabout way but always selling himself as a great catch.
Last but not least, the younger suitor of Qi Xiao. A dozen years younger than Ruo Xin, he is surprisingly attentive, righteous, understanding and ambitious in a laid-back way. He is never pushy, giving lots of space to people around him especially Ruo Xin. His caring way touches Ruo Xin’s heart in a manner no one is able to, slowly winning her over. Ruo Xin and Qi Xiao’s interactions are very natural, arising from real concerns for each other, slowly building up an ember of fire. Both are rational and have clarity in their own needs, with Qi Xiao’s outgoing character a natural attraction to Ruo Xin’s more inward-looking character. They shared many similar values & beliefs, giving them ample opportunities for growth.
One observation is the reliability & positivity that Qi Xiao brings, and it is quite obvious he gets this from his mother. Mother Qi is such a bright spot, with so much understanding towards life & empathy amidst a simple life. I truly believe Qi Xiao is influenced deeply by his mother.
Society’s expectations and prejudices towards relationships with big age gaps are difficult to manage. But when both describe their feelings towards each other, and willing to take on the challenges together, it was really a sweet journey of discovery. There is trust issue, insecurity and even doubt as well, but the theme focuses on the couple going through these challenges by understanding & communication.
Working Environment for a Career Woman in a Male-dominated Industry
The series also provides snippets of Ruo Xin’s journey in the automotive industry. Although capable & effective at work, Ruo Xin is often pulled down from politic-plays of various characters and departments. The old adage that generally people do not like changes is very true as the “old generals” gangs up to resist the changes coming on board (in the form of new energy car).
One particular scene whereby Ruo Xin’s superior accuses her of being “emotional” at work got her really worked up. She pents up her emotions when still facing off with her superior but finally releases her pent up anger when she is in the lift, scaring off Qi Xiao. From my perspective, this particular scene is actually very familiar and depicts the subtle bullying women receive at work for being “emotional” creatures. Emotions are part of everyone’s daily life and it is obviously good to have good emotional intelligence at work. However, there is diversity at work and I firmly believe conflicts and emotions are not to be avoided but managed at work. The supervisor’s manner & implied conclusion that Ruo Xin as a woman is emotional in her actions & decision-making are really not supported. The supervisor uses the “emotion” excuse to brush off her intention & confrontation, practically pushing the blame to her gender rather than addressing her concerns and her capability at work.
Another scene which is disturbing is when Ruo Xin and Qi Xiao are asked to leave the table for “seniors”. In most instances, it is true that seating is arranged based on seniority at work. But it is very embarrassing to be specifically asked to leave, and done in such brazen manner too. Working life is really not easy, and no wonder why most of the Gen Z and millennials are keen to start their own business, even if that means owning a micro business or small business.
Finding One’s Path – As a Singleton or as a Couple
Song Zi Yan is Ruo Xin’s best friend, who is married but decided not to have children. Her relationship with husband Zou Cheng undergoes challenges as they face pressure from family to have children. She also felt lost as she becomes a home-maker, with no direction for her own life. Her rediscovery of her own purpose in life strengthens her understanding of her own personality and subsequently strengthens her relationship with Zou Cheng.
Su Yang (Qi Xiao’s good friend) and You Si Jia (intern with Ruo Xin) shows how opposite attracts. Su Yang is a planner, lacking confidence to try new things including love and new career. With Si Jia’s encouragement, he takes on the uncertainties by going through as a couple.
The subsequent focus on Qi Xiao’s designing jewellery, and the challenges that come with starting micro businesses is quite interesting. Many youths including Zhu Lin, Su Yang and Qi Xiao are creative and innovative with many great ideas. My key take-aways, find your own niche in the big world, as it is big enough for each and everyone of us.
At 35 episodes, the series focuses mainly on simple themes on the surface only, and could come across as very slow at times. The themes brought out are interesting, and what makes the series tick for me is really the interaction between Qin Lan as Ruo Xin and Dylan Wang as Qi Xiao. In real life, the age differences between the 2 is almost 20 years, but as Qin Lan has kept a youthful appearance, both of them looks good together. At 22, Qi Xiao is barely a kid himself, but in the series he is reliable & empathetic. The only telling tales are Qin Lan’s hands (and partly her neck), which exposes the wrinkles covering age differences.
Dylan Wang excels in this series, and portrays the role very well, showing the childish side as well as the empathetic matured personality. Compared to his other series Ever Night 2, this series changed my perception of him as an actor. I really think he does a terrible job in Ever Night 2 but he did a 180 degree turnaround with this. As for Qin Lan, I love her exquisite beauty and gentleness in The Story of Yan Xi Palace as the Empress, but she can also bring out the steely career woman in this series. I finished this series really because of them.