Year in Review 2020: Most Memorable Drama Characters

“He learnt his lesson well.” Illustration of a scene from The Bad Kids by 电子鲫鱼

I can count on one hand how many dramas I watched from beginning to end, so I’ve decided to do things differently this year and shine the spotlight on the characters that I really liked. Feel free to submit your own reviews and posts here.

Standalone reviews 2020: A Murderous Affair in Horizon Tower, We Are All Alone, The Romance of Tiger and Rose

Which dramas did you follow this year, and which characters made a lasting impression on you?

Love Is Sweet

By Episode 22, I had already lost count of how many times they’d kissed.

Yuan Shuai (Luo Yunxi) and Jiang Jun (Bai Lu) are my favourite onscreen couple of the year. Jiang Jun is a kind and smart (for the most part) adult who isn’t afraid to call the hero out on his mistakes, while Yuan Shuai is a condescending and controlling superior and childhood friend who eventually learns to respect Jiang Jun’s feelings.

What I like most about this pair is how much they trust each other – most misunderstandings are resolved within ten minutes, and they actually talk out their problems like proper adults (looking at you here, Dating in the Kitchen). Luo Yunxi and Bai Lu have natural and sizzling chemistry, and their comedic timing is great – a lot of the cliché scenes would be excessively cheesy and awkward in the hands of lesser actors. Love Is Sweet actually looked modern and fashionable, and now I’m excited to see what director Yu Zhongzhong will bring to the table next.

Honourable mentions: Zhao Yuanyuan as the capable Qiao Na – when can we get a character like this one as a drama heroine?

The Long Night

Jiang Yang (Bai Yu) was a young prosecutor with a bright future, yet was willing to give up everything just to uncover the truth behind his university classmate’s death. He never gave up his responsibility as a prosecutor nor did he lose faith in the judiciary, even if it meant seven years of injustice and hardship. The scene that really hit me was when Jiang Yang finally found the last witness, and was able to understand why she didn’t want to join their fight: “Everyone has the right to lead a normal life.”

I loved pretty much all the characters on the hero’s side, but the supporting characters that stood out the most were the hot-blooded and upright police officer (Zhao Yang), the shrewd medical examiner turned businessman who is adept at keeping his true feelings hidden (brilliant acting by Tian Xiaojie) and the lawyer who got his own mini redemption arc (Ning Li).

The Bad Kids

A huge chunk of the The Bad Kids’ success can be credited to the creative and confident rookie director Xin Shuang, who clearly believed that “less is more” and knew exactly how to stoke viewers’ imagination. The miniseries also gave us a whole handful of flawed and morally ambiguous characters that were both well-written and well-acted. I knew Qin Hao would be good at playing a murderous sociopath, but I didn’t know he’d be this good. Zhang Dongsheng acts like a meek son-in-law, but you always get the sense that there’s something dangerous bubbling underneath.

Another character that stood out to me was Zhu Yongping, played by the detail-oriented Zhang Songwen. His love for his daughter, guilt towards his son Zhu Chaoyang (Rong Zishan) and his decision to finally act like a responsible father were clearly communicated across to the audience in the limited scenes he had. I’d like to think that Zhu Chaoyang has always had a dark streak, so I’m pretty happy with the open ending, which ties back nicely to one of the main themes of the show: Do you choose to believe in the “fairy tale” or the “reality”?

Honourable mentions: Li Meng as Wang Yao, Liu Lin as Zhou Chunhong

Kidnapping Game

“A father will do anything to save his daughter.” – Liu Yijun in Kidnapping Game

Shen Hui is pretty much the heart and soul of this show. His was a journey of redemption, except the choices he made to tame his guilty conscience unwittingly led to another tragedy. It’s a damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t situation, so it was a real cathartic moment when Shen Hui finally decided to confront his inner demons.

The last few minutes of Episode 12 were brilliant, and perfectly echoed Shen Hui’s belief that “mercy can defeat darkness”. The human elements of the story stood out more than the plot itself, and I feel like the character can only be fully appreciated if you’ve watched the show in it’s entirety.

Nothing But Thirty (dropped)

Tong Yao is amazing as Gu Jia.

Gu Jia is the level-headed friend who gives the best advice and knows exactly what she wants. She is driven, competent in whatever role she plays and pushes ahead with her goals despite the difficulties ahead. I guess the screenwriter thought the character was too awesome, and decided to up the melo factor by padding out the series with a hypocritical and cheating husband (Li Zefeng), which really screwed up Gu Jia’s character arc in the second half.

Hunting (dropped)

Hu Jun as Yang Jianqun and Fu Jing as Yang Jianqiu

The pair of siblings played by Hu Jun and Fu Jing were definitely the most memorable characters from the show. Coming from a poor rural family, Yang Jianqun was only able to embark on a career as a detective because Yang Jianqiu chose to delay her education. Yang Jianqiu was naive and gullible, yet her desire for respect, money and a better life meant she wasn’t completely against stepping inside the grey area.

When she got involved in the stock market corruption case, Yang Jianqun’s guilt towards his sister became the main catalyst that pushed him to the dark side. Yang Jianqun’s love for his family meant he couldn’t continue being the upright and honest detective he aspired to be, and Hu Jun was absolutely excellent at conveying the mixed feelings of anger, guilt and despair when he finally decided to help Wang Bolin leave the city. In 2014, Yang Jianqiu finally learned to use the situation to her advantage and did what she thought would help her brother, which is a huge improvement from the blubbering mess six years ago (whether that was the smart thing to do is a another matter).

Detective Chinatown (dropped)

Roy Chiu as Lin Mo and Janine Chang as Ivy

Roy Chiu was perfect as the broody crime scene sweeper Black Dog, and his ability to devour soup noodles like they’re the most appetising dish on earth is very impressive. Janine Chang looks gorgeous in a red dress, and the mysterious Ivy is definitely one of my favourite female characters of the year. Their sizzling chemistry paired with Russian Red’s Loving Strangers also helped create a moody, romantic vibe that I really liked.

Legend of Awakening (dropped)

Tse Kwanho as Guo Youdao

Guo Youdao (Tse Kwan-ho) is a chivalrous vigilante who masquerades as a carefree and foolish teacher who loves alcohol and silver and has a penchant for dramatic reactions. Despite his flippant demeanour, he truly cares for his disciples, and does his best to protect them from harm. I loved his interactions with his disciples, and was disappointed to see the character leave the show so early on.

Joy of Life (dropped)

Ye Qingmei – key scene at 17:35 mark.

Ye Qingmei’s story could only be pieced together from the snippets revealed by the older generation, but she is definitely one of the most fascinating time-travelling heroines in drama land. It’s not everyday you see an idealistic female lead who admits to feeling like an outsider and chooses to focus on innovation, political and economic reform over developing a romance with an x number of male characters.

9 thoughts on “Year in Review 2020: Most Memorable Drama Characters

  1. I didn’t have dramas organized in the above format when I watched them, so I’ll be very random below.

    I didn’t want to watch many heavy dramas this year. Lighter or entertaining dramas I finished were Joy Of Life, Ancient Detective, Young Blood.

    Heavier dramas I finished were The Long Night, Horizon Tower, Reborn.

    I enjoyed The Kidnapping Game, but I did not want to watch the unhappy ending, so I quit at a spot that was ideal for me.

    Hikaru no Go is watchable. I have not finished. It makes me wonder if there are really so many backstabbing Go players in the field. There are quite many in the drama. Some otaku-ism of the characters can leave one wondering about mental and physical health.

    In retrospective, I’d rather not watch Horizon Tower.
    It makes for an interesting story to tell, but the ladies’ kidnapping of Meibao’s father is very poorly executed and makes no sense. Did these ladies ever plan how they would resolve or deal with long term effects of having their prisoner around? Of all the dramas I finished, I disliked this drama’s general plot the most. It’s a drama where viewers have lots to discuss, but it is the most remote from how things should be done in reality. The ladies’ efforts look a lot more amateurish compared to The Long Night’s comparable version, though The Long Night isn’t perfect in its plot either. Given how unpleasant Meibao’s senior family members are to watch, overall, this drama was not worth it for me.

    Despite lackluster case stories, Reborn has pleasant and varied characters I enjoyed watching.

    I FF’d through Nothing But Thirty. Gu Jia’s character is too Mary Sue in her ultra achievements. It sets her a mile apart from most other characters. Several male characters are too anti-Gary. It doesn’t create a good drama balance. Had I liked the entire plot, I would have liked this drama.

    I haven’t tried Go Ahead.

    Fearless Whispers may be interesting to check out.

    • Horizon Tower had a lot of compelling characters, but I agree the story could’ve been tighter.

      I watched the first 10eps of Fearless Whispers, and dropped it because I couldn’t stand the hero’s personality. Wang Longzheng is perfect as Xia Jicheng though.

  2. Finished and liked Murderous Affair in Horizon Tower, Long Night, Bad Kids, and Love in Between. Enjoyed We Are All Alone, Ancient Detective, Dating in the Kitchen, Love is Sweet and Crossfire to some extent but lost interest in the middle so dropped. Couldn’t get into Hikaru no Go, Kidnapping Game, and plenty of many others. But overall this is actually a great year for cdrama for me. I actually finished 4 when I usually finished 1 or 2 or none at all.

    Favorite character… maybe Mei Bao from Horizon Tower? I like tragic, beautiful, and tough heroines. Oh and Zhan Shi Qi from AD too, for similar reason.

    Hoping 2021 will be an even better year for cdramas.

  3. You should definitely finish Joy of Life – hands down best drama this/last year. Amazing script and acting.

  4. I think 2020 has been a great year for Chinese dramas. I do drop a lot of dramas, but also found so many good ones as well. Below, in no particular order, are dramas that I really liked (there are more, but I can’t recall them at the moment =P).
    – Hikaru no Go
    – Cross Fire
    – I Don’t Want To Be Friends With You
    – Candle in the Tomb: The Lost Caverns

    • Forgot to mention the characters I loved! LOL.

      Hikaru no Go – Chu Ying (the ghost) is lovable and hilarious. Zhang Chao was perfect with the ancient dialogue delivery. And somehow was so endearing despite the hideous makeup and wardrobe he had. Chu Ying, Shi Guang and Yu Liang were so much fun to watch.

      Cross Fire – All the boys from the 2008 timeline were great. Lu Han impressed me with his portrayal of Xiao Feng. His bromance with Xiao Bei (Leo Wu Lei) was good and I teared up when they finally met in person in the present timeline.

      I Don’t Want To Be Friends With You – The 1999 to Y2K timeline was a character in itself =P.

      Candle in the Tomb: The Lost Caverns – The 3 main characters are great, but Vengo Gao’s cameo as Zhe Gu Shao for 2-3 episodes was the highlight for me. He is the embodiment of cool!

  5. I too, watched and liked, Jiang Jun and Yuan Shuai from LOVE IS SWEET. I also liked Huang Jingyu and Wu Jinyan’s characters from SOMETHING JUST LIKE THIS, even if I think the drama was a bit repetitive.

  6. The ladies of Nothing But Thirty were great, even if the later half of the story dragged down my overall sentiments about the show. Man Ni and Gu Jia were so smart and driven.

    Go Ahead was a heartwarming drama that was again let down by some dog blood plot elements, but I loved the dynamic of the makeshift family. The two dads were so cute! Li Hai Chao stood out to me for his kindness and gentleness… the way he warmly reached out to the young boys, and how supportive he was of all three kids, and his camaraderie with Ling He Ping.

    • Ah yes, I completely missed Go Ahead! I dropped it after Episode 6, but I did like Li Haichao and his interactions with the child version of He Ziqiu.

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