A Little Reunion (2020) 小欢喜 : C-Drama Series Review

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The 3rd installment of the “little” series, the focus is on the stress of taking pre-university examination in the Chinese education system. The lives of 3 families are turned up-side down in the year of “gao kao” for their children.

The Fang family is the ideal happy family with Fang Yuan and Tong Wen Jie as husband-wife team who showers loads of love & attention to his son, Fang Yi Fan and nephew, Lin Lei. The 2 boys are polar opposite of each other, whereby Yi Fan is happy-go-lucky with average academic results but street-smart and a social butterfly while Lei Lei is studious & excel academically. While Yi Fan is still not sure of his direction in life, Lei Lei strives to enter Tsing Hua University.

Tong Wen Jie, Lin Lei, Fang Yi Fan, Fang Yuan

The Qiao family is a broken family, whereby Qiao Wei Dong and Song Qian divorced many years ago due to an unconfirmed cheating suspicion of Qiao Wei Dong. Regardless, their daughter Ying Zi is mature and excels academically too. As Song Qian is a tutor, she places significant importance to her studies & preparation for examination. Precisely because of this, Ying Zi is significantly pressured to meet her mother’s expectations, taking time off with her much more relaxed father to release the pressure built up.

The Ji family is a family that lives apart, as father Ji Sheng Li is a public servant who is posted to far-away counties over the years. Mother Liu Jing is the dutiful wife who accompanies Ji Sheng Li in his postings. As their son Yang Yang is cared for by his maternal grandparents and uncle Liu Zheng, he is naturally closer to them. Yang Yang is an introvert, and quite rebellious in nature although he has a love for kart-racing.

As the children grows into adulthood while preparing their pre-university examination, their lives go through ups and downs.

Communication with younger generations – At first, the Ji family has a difficult time to communicate with Ji Yang Yang, who is a little rebellious and unwilling to open up. When Ji Seng Li takes the first step to apologise, it is a great opener and shows Yang Yang how serious & committed his parents are to open the channel of communications. The series also showcases the different types of personalities, and each may need different channel of communication.

When Liu Jing is diagnosed with cancer, she is reluctant to admit to it, not even to her husband and son, Yang Yang. However, both husband and son, takes it positively and even make changes to themselves to ensure Liu Jing is well taken care of. Facing the sickness together, the communication within the family becomes even more important. 

The Ji family releasing their wish balloons

The pressure of meeting parents’ expectation – Although all 3 families exhibit pressure to their children, the severity of the pressure is different. Wen Jie’s interaction with his son Yi Fan shows tough love, but his son’s character allows for such loud scolding. Fang Yi Fan! If this is applied to Ying Zi or Yang Yang, who are way more sensitive, it may totally turn them off.

Ying Zi is a really empathetic and sensitive young girl. She is confident & shows great interest in astronomy, but her mother’s exhibition of love is suffocating her. As she indicates, she could not accept her mother’s expectations & love. When Song Qian persistently rejects her request to study at astronomy in Nanjing University, Ying Zi ultimately falls into depression.

It starts off very subtly, exacerbated with the suicide of Tong Yi (an ex-student who commits suicide due to extreme pressure). At first, losing interest in activities that makes her happy. Then feeling sad and wanting to cry all the time. Subsequently, having insomnia. The situation actually corners her into taking extreme measure and she runs away from home. I find the depiction a very realistic portrayal of the situation. The mother Song Qian is so busy with her own work that she is not aware of the changes in her child. The father Qiao Wei Dong is supportive of the daughter, but due to the strained relationship between the divorcees, he has little avenue to provide comfort to his own daughter.

It is extremely lucky that Ying Zi has a good friend in Yi Fan, who is surprisingly empathetic and always notices when his friends are not in the best mental situation. In situations as this, I think having friends to confide in who does not judge is definitely a great avenue.

Qiao Ying Zi, Song Qian, Qiao Wei Dong @ the family gathering at school

Frankly, I would like not to judge the situation as it is realistic and could really happen, but the character of Song Qian annoys me to no end. She is angry at her ex-husband, and transfer all her energy & expectations on her only daughter. She is very lucky to have such a matured & understanding daughter, and also an accommodating ex-husband. As an adult, she should be assertive enough and self-aware to understand her own feelings so that she does not project such negative behaviour towards those around her especially the daughter. Her constant rejection of the needs of her daughter is the reason that pushes Ying Zi towards her depression.

Finding their own path – On the contrary, the couple Wen Jie and Fang Yuan shows self-awareness and slowly accepting the needs of their son Yi Fan. Wen Jie is originally opposed to her son’s interest to pursue a career in performance arts.

Frankly, most conservative parents & family may be opposed to performance art purely from a realistic perspective, as the career is unstable and may not be able to provide well for them in the future. In the past, pragmatism & practicality drive a person’s choice in career. Many children are sent to be apprentice with tailors, cooks, carpenters etc. These are stable jobs that will ensure enough food on the table for the family, and the skillsets obtained will definitely be useful towards that.

But as the global economy prospers with many more opportunities for the future generations, the traditional view of a stable job is changing. For the family with adequate financial resources, their future generations could be focused on being involved in activities of their own interest. This may not hold true for families with financial constraints, and pragmatism may still drive their ultimate career choice.

In a supportive family as the Fang family, Fang Yuan is able to provide some perspectives to his wife Wen Jie, who ultimately does her own research and observes his son’s real interest in performance arts. Her acceptance of his son’s choice is something not to be taken lightly, as any parents are eager to protect their children and want the best for them. 

Although education is one channel towards a better future, it is not the one and only. As Teacher Li reiterates in her message to her class – “gao kao” is very important now as it determines your future, but in the overall scheme of your whole life, it is not significant at all. A life is more important and surviving is the main thing.

Fang Family is considered as well-balanced in their take on various issues

Blip in mid-career in 40s – It is also interesting that the series portrays Fang Yuan losing his job, and Wen Jie having to make a difficult decision to resign. Statistically, it is shown that it is more difficult to find an office job once you reach certain age. The Fang family is lucky to have kept some financial savings as the breadwinner losing a job is a serious financial consideration to many families.

The series provides great optimism with other career options as possibilities – driving via didi (Uber or Grab equivalent in China), voice-dubbing, tutoring etc. My key takeaway – when a family faces financial difficulties, maintaining transparency on the financial status is important to pave the way to discuss about potential changes to lifestyle. This will be great help to face the reality and find other options to survive financially for the family as a whole.

Teachers’ commitment – I really like the way the teachers are portrayed in this series. There is a spectrum of different types of teachers, all committed in their own way. On one spectrum is Teacher Li Meng – fierce, protective with focus on academic excellence, always pushing her students to do better. On the other spectrum is Teacher Pan Shuai – who takes a more laissez-fair approach, with a more relaxed attitude towards academic excellence, but a balanced approach.

Each individual has their own way of learning, hence the focus on academic excellence favours those who are more scholastic & academically-inclined. But it definitely does not mean being scholarly and academic will ensure a smooth life ahead. As there are so many different career opportunities, each of us has a special place in the world. Henceforth, I personally believe in the concept of ikigai for a happy blessed life.

The introduction of psychological assessment & activities to manage stress in school are very nicely portrayed in the series. Counselling, self-assessment on mental state, activities to manage stress – these are very important self-awareness that should be introduced to adults and children alike. These are life-long mindfulness which will help each individual in their own life journey.

Teacher Li during exam time

Conclusion 8/10

With 49 episodes, the story really flows naturally. With each episode, I feel anticipation to know what will happen next, not feeling bored at all with the mundane daily issues brought up. The 3 families exhibit very different types of love for their family members, mostly complementing each other while facing the stress of managing a career, ensuring financial stability for the family and taking academic examination to determine the preferred career path.

A special mention on the romance of teachers Pan Shuai & Li Ming, loving their interactions and Teacher Pan’s very patient approach to going after Teacher Li. Love these couple!

The other “little” series are:

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

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