It Takes Two To Make A Thing Go Right: Unbalanced Romance in The General and I

General and I
General and I

The best romances are with people who are well-matched and help each other out.  In General and I, somebody’s not pulling their weight, and everybody’s losing out.

A good couple in an Asian drama is when individuals are well-matched. In General and I, Chu Bei Jie (Wallace Chung) and Bai Ping Ting (Angelababy) are both clever and observant. Bei Jie is treasured general of the Jin state, valued by his emperor and beloved by his people. He also has a bit of an attitude due to his success on the battlefield, but in time you just let that slide. Bai Ping Ting was originally a maid in the Prince of Jing An’s household in the Yan state, but as one character observes, they never treated her that way. She’s often compared to the famed military strategist Zhuge Liang. Both Bei Jie and Ping Ting are loyal to their respective people.

So when these two get together, you expect them to take the world by storm. But wait! It wouldn’t be a Chinese drama if it were that easy. They face obstacles. Everybody in Jin is giving Ping Ting the side-eye because she’s from Yan. They don’t trust her and wonder how she’s got Bei Jie wrapped around her finger. Bei Jie can never be friends with the Prince of Jing An’s household. The young prince, He Xia (Sun Yi Zhou), is holding the mother of all grudges, which is exacerbated by the fact that he was planning on marrying Ping Ting (although she never looks all that thrilled at the prospect). Bei Jie and Ping Ting are not much different from other couples in Chinese dramas.

Except…they are not contributing equally to the romance. Early on, Bei Jie throws down the gauntlet, defying even the Emperor on numerous occasions for his wife. What I like about Bei Jie is that he’s not shy about it. He tells his army, he tells the Emperor, he tells his nemesis He Xia: Ping Ting is his girl, and it’s his duty to protect her, always. It doesn’t matter what she’s done, what it looks like she’s done, what she might think about doing. That’s his girl. However, Ping Ting apparently did not get this memo. Her actions constantly show that she questions Bei Jie’s devotion to her. She claims that she doesn’t want to cause him trouble, but it’s actually her actions that cause the majority of trouble for Bei Jie by running away, constantly. Yet through it all, Bei Jie is constant. Dude is going above and beyond his duty in his devotion to her. Ping Ting also seems to forget that Chu Bei Jie is no dumb bunny; he can get himself out of predicaments without her help, even ones she accidentally has a hand in.

One of the biggest problems is that Ping Ting tries to change Bei Jie and deny their responsibility to the people. Ping Ting seemed content to run around the country to try to protect He Xia, but once she acknowledges her feelings for Bei Jie, she’s all ready to retire to the country. YOU CAN’T LEAVE! Bei Jie was a general for a reason: he feels a duty to his people. He was a general when Ping Ting met him: that’s who he is. But Ping Ting thinks it’s ok for them to peace out once they get married (formally). She’s no stranger to the battlefield. Heck, that’s where we first see her. Rather than avoiding the obvious, namely, that people as talented as they are should use their talents to help others, Ping Ting wants to live a quiet life and leave the people hanging. And trying to be out of the affairs of state does not work: problems will just come knocking on your door (literally).

But it’s not the actors fault, and here’s where the writing comes into play. Not a stranger to Chinese drama, high episode counts do not faze me. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for the coincidences and chance meetings and implausible scenarios. But the writers of General and I tested my patience with an unnecessary and unprecedented separation of the leads that lasts nearly 20 episodes.  That was ridiculous! Moreover, the actions of Ping Ting after the separation made no sense. There were lapses in logic that, quite frankly, insulted the viewer. Bei Jie is doing his job as a devoted husband, and Ping Ting is acting like a fool. She’s making unilateral decisions and not even giving Bei Jie a chance to respond to their changing circumstances.  For 20 episodes, it’s all about Ping Ting.  So when they reunite, it’s kind of a let-down. There’s no discussion about what caused the separation in the first place. They just kinda pick up where they left off, which makes you wonder about the whole separation in the first place.

So why did I stick with General and I? Three words: Chu. Bei. Jie. You know your character is strong to overcome my initial wariness. At first, I thought Bei Jie was arrogant and a bit hands-y. But dude is devoted, not just to Ping Ting, but to his army. He appreciates loyalty and gives it in return, especially to his right-hand man, Mo Ran. He’s truly picking up the slack in this Chinese drama.

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It Takes Two To Make A Thing Go Right: Unbalanced Romance in The General and I by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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2 thoughts on “It Takes Two To Make A Thing Go Right: Unbalanced Romance in The General and I

  1. Like a lot of Chinese dramas based on novels, they definitely toned down Ping Ting’s character in this drama. I think it’s just the Chinese historical drama trope of fair maiden needs rescued.

    However, in the book, she is a lot more about planning her own rescues and he is a lot more stand-off-ish. Yes, he loves her but he’s bound by his family and laws more than Ping Ting at first. I haven’t seen any c-dramas where they have total equality between hero and heroine yet – even my favorite Singing All Along. That one benefited from having a woman producer, the star of the show Ruby Lin. Her productions always feature a very strong lead because she demands that kind of writing. But it isn’t very common.

    By the end of General & I, she does start to step back up as a planner but I noticed that the script has brought the other female characters down quite a bit as well. Her qin playing friend who is married to the general does nothing but fear and weep. The doctoress who cares for Ping Ting seems practically like an infant. Unfortunately, I think it’s just a trope.

    1. I don’t read novels that the dramas are based on: dramas and novels are two different things and they often take license, so I stick with the drama. Same with manga and anime. I don’t think it’s just the damsel in distress trope. I know I’ve seen more capable women in C-dramas, and folks in comments on the drama have been pointing it out. Maybe it’s because I watch a lot of C-dramas that have martial artist in them, but The Young Warriors, Condor Heroes, Return of Condor Heroes, even Virtuous Queen of Han had more capable women, and that was WAY conservative. And it’s not even that Ping Ting is not capable, but she is falling down on the job when it comes to the relationship. Her actions just don’t make sense.

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