WHY “WELL INTENDED LOVE” IS DANGEROUS
This show is stupid.
Sometimes it’s hard to really demonstrate how crazy a narrative sounds until it’s plainly described. So, imagine this: a rich and powerful business man encounters a young and beautiful woman who is congenial to him in his time of distress (she is clearly living by the practice that you should be kind to all strangers) but their meeting is so significant to the man, he decides that he has to have her. Despite others believing him to be handsome and a coveted bachelor, the man is insecure about the prospect of being rejected so instead of approaching her and asking her to a meal, he decides to track her, create a manipulative plan to win her which involves hiring people to follow her, invading her privacy, and hiring doctors to give her a falsified medical record that would require him saving her life. This is all in an effort to trap her in a marriage for two years and manipulate her further into falling in love with him. Is this situation romantic? No, what I’ve described is a stalker, but if I were to distract from the story by including details about his denial of his egregious actions, or deflected from the plot by showing you that he has enemies and family issues, while adorning the narrative with beautiful music, it’s very easy to briefly forget about the vacuous narrative. This, is the plot that “Well Intended Love” ( 奈何BOSS要娶我 / Nai He BOSS Yao Qu Wo) attempts to romanticize.
This 2019 Chinese drama which is directed by Wu Qiang revolves around how a young ‘overbearing’ CEO, Ling Yi Zhou (Xu Kai Cheng), is able to convince a third-rate actress Xia Lin (Shuang Wang) to get involved in a transactional marriage. (She gets a bone barrow transplant and he gets a wife for appearances.) Twenty-one year old Xia Lin had just graduated from university and was brimming with optimism and determination when she started experiencing chest pains and fainting episodes. After taking tests to get confirmation about what was ailing her, she got the terrible news from her doctor that she was diagnosed with Leukemia and that they didn’t have a match on market to give her a bone marrow transplant save for an anonymous donor who had decided to be removed from the hospitals donor list. Determined to live, once the doctor stepped out of his office to attend to another patient, she checked his medical records and found that Ling Yi Zhou, was her match. So, she decided to convince him at any cost to donate his bone marrow so that she can live. She had no idea that this decision would destroy her freedom.
This story, perhaps surprisingly is written by Peng Yi Ying and Han Yu Ting two successful female screenwriters known for their work on other popular shows like “The Romance of Hua Rong” and “Visible Lie”. It’s surprising because the writers are complicit in creating a series that promotes a very dangerous narrative which is masked behind a whimsical love story enriched with suspense, light musical tones and even humour. It’s insidious how this wicked story about how a woman is entrapped in an abusive relationship is spun into an enchanting loving tale. The darkness of the narrative is contained through an aside, and only revealed in fleeting moments when Ling does something that is indisputably disturbing (constantly stopping production of her movie and interfering with her work and her ability to earn money for instance) but which is quickly disguised as harmless and followed by light romantic music with bright cinematic shots. The writers continuously use these types of contemporary and romantic storytelling tools to gaslight viewers. It’s jarring and confusing to watch and almost makes the viewer deny the very twisted and sadistic nature of Ling.
But it’s for her own good
Our first introduction to Ling’s domineering and coercive behaviour is when he starts to control how Xia dresses and acts around him. At first she begins to protest but he quiets down her objections and leads her to conclude that she needs to conduct herself in a certain way so that others would believe that she is truly his wife. Then overtime viewers are able to see more of his obsessive controlling behaviour when he has her followed by his subordinates so that he is able to regularly track her movements. All the while, his enemy and step brother Nan Jintian (Yang Haoing) who is trying to hurt Ling, uncovers the truth behind Xia’s illness and becomes the catalyst to Xia learning the truth about the harrowing foundation of her relationship.
When Xia discovered the truth, she was scared and traumatized. So, she confronted Ling about his stalking and overbearing love. A narcissist, Ling doubled down on his hunger for control and locked her in his house. Supposedly, he’s unable to see beyond his obsession to realize how destructive his behaviour was until she leaves him. Of course this doesn’t last long. A course of even more poor writing has her returning to him after the loss of a good friend. So, Ling never really deals with the consequences of his actions or changes, instead he is absolved of his abusive nature as soon as he gives a superficial apology and says he will do better which is reminiscent of the problems with ‘ Emergency Couple’. His character is actually closely aligned with that of Joe from ‘You’. Think about it, what would have happened if Xia decided to leave him forever?
It’s troubling how popular this show is and how the majority of people who have seen it have professed their love for the story, so much so that there will be a second season. Yet, the violent themes of sexism, abuse and patriarchy ring strong throughout the story. It’s arguably an allusion to the strict gender-based socialization and emphasis on the patriarch in family images in Chinese culture. In such a system where women are not always given the same consideration as men, problematic men like Ling can flourish. Consider for instance how both Xia’s friend Jia Fei (Liu Jiaxi) and Ling’s assistant Wen Li (Huang Qianshuo) conspire to enable Ling’s abuse by helping him to attach himself to Xia. For example, once Xia decides to leave Ling, Jia helps to keep him in the loop with what’s going on with her, while making Xia feel sympathetic towards Ling when she wavers in her resolve to leave him and Jia even going so far as to create scenarios that would give Ling an opportunity to gain contact with Xia. Of course, she does all this with good intentions so Xia is unable to really express true frustration towards her for her actions.
The other worrying note is that Xia gets pregnant which means that it’s very unlikely that she will leave since she is financially dependent on Ling, socially linked to him and has essentially been brainwashed to believe that his overbearing behaviour is ordinary since it’s been normalized by pretty much everyone around her. (The only one who reacts rightly at first is Ling’s best friend Chu Yan (Ian Yi Pochen) but even he ends up helping them back together. ) Still, Xia’s case isn’t extraordinary.
In Fact in a 2014 research article by Jac Brown titled “Factors Related to Domestic Violence in Asia: The Conflict between Culture and Patriarchy,” sixty-eight per cent of women in rural western China said that they experienced psychological abuse over their life time. The common finding was that most women even those in urban cities reported undergoing psychological abuse. Brown noted that patriarchy was the problem and that it had to be addressed to lower the rates of domestic violence. If we contextualize this, Ling and Xia’s relationship was unbalanced. He is older, held the power and therefore authority because she was living in his house, using his money and trying to work for his company. More, he constantly interfered with her work thereby making it impossible for her to be financially independent. As a result, when she decided to leave him, she had to rely on the generosity of her friend Jia to support herself.
As you watch the series, his psychological dominance and abusive tactics slowly change her personality from being assertive (enough to negotiate terms of a marriage that protected herself) to passive and docile such that whenever he didn’t like something, she quickly acquiesced without protest to avoid angering him. As Brown notes in his research, perceived control lowered abuse. So when husbands dominated decision making, it led to less domestic violence which explains why Xia slowly decides to simply ‘trust’ him. Brown also acknowledges that in-laws were identified as risk factors in domestic violence, highlighting that a woman that has also been victimized can also become a perpetrator of abuse. Although Ling’s grandmother didn’t directly harm Xia, she enabled Ling’s behaviour by softening her admonishment of his coercive controlling actions and tries to save face by trying to force them to stay together when Xia wanted a divorce. It’s clear Xia lacked the healthy support system needed to be able to free herself from him given that her own parents are never mentioned in the show (which is maybe a nod to the fact that he separated her from her parents).
At heart, ‘WelL Intended Love’ is embarrassingly disappointing. So I pose this question again what is the point of this show and who is it intended for? It certainly can’t be for the benefit of women because every woman in this show is minimized and dominated. So is it for men? When the message of a show is devastating and harmful to those who are impressionable, isn’t it time for us (the viewer) to demand better? When are we going to stop protecting predators and stories that glamorize them?