On the Natures of Physicality and Personality
or, Li Wei is Gross and a Jerkwad
I think the best way to examine the difference between Li Wei and Da Ren—and the best way to examine the difference in their respective relationships with You Qing—is by examining the physicality of their relationships with her. I don’t only want to address this in terms of how the two men look and dress and carry themselves, but also in how they each interact with You Qing, how they exist corporeally* within their surroundings, what their bodies express when they are around her, what kind of touching happens, and, most importantly for me, how You Qing reacts to their physicality.
Ding Li Wei is a very tall man. He towers above You Qing, even when she’s in her heels. This comes into play in their relationship right from the start: they have a theme of rain that goes along with them, and whenever You Qing catches herself in it without an umbrella, he shows up, using a jacket over her head to block her from the rain. He has this huge tattoo that covers his entire back and goes down his arms, and he’s a man who carries himself with confidence. That’s why he has no qualms about entering You Qing’s workplace, without her permission, in fact against her wishes, and showing off to her colleagues, letting them assume what they want about his relationship with her. Da Ren is shorter than Li Wei, and when he stands next to You Qing in her heels the disparity in height is not that great. His body language is entirely different from Li Wei’s, often putting his hands in his pockets as opposed to crossing his arms over his chest, and never looming over You Qing. In this episode each of them stand behind her. When Li Wei does it he kind of lurks over her, leering, while she cowers away on the couch, and when Da Ren does it he’s just standing behind her. There’s always a sense of danger when Li Wei is around, and it’s not just the I-might-end-up-kissing-him kind of danger, but the he-might-kiss-me-even-if-I-expressly-tell-him-not-to kind of danger.
When You Qing is around Li Wei, specifically when she is at his apartment, in his personal space, a place where she has considerably less power (both Maggie and Li Wei have their own apartments while Da ren and You Qing live with their families; interesting), she envisions herself as a ninja. She feels that she has to protect herself form Li Wei. At first this is a metaphor for how hurt she is by him emotionally after he left her, but then it becomes literal when she has to slap him—use physical violence—to get him to back off. Each and every time Li Wei hugs her You Qing never reciprocates; he inserts himself in her place of work, first through flowers, which he should know she hates, and Da Ren does know she hates, and then with his presence, which at first (again) only metaphoriaclly surrounds her and then literally does when he climbs up on the ladder and ignores her when she tells him to go away. He doesn’t respect her boundaries. He’s the exact opposite of Da Ren in that he is open about his feelings, which is a good thing, but this also means that he prioritizes his own feelings and desires over You Qing’s, which is a very bad thing. He comes off as selfish to me, appearing out of the blue after 5 years, wanting to reconcile after he’s run out of wanderlust, hugging her left and right, and trying to make out with her without even apologizing for breaking her heart.
You Qing: What right do you have? What right do you have that I should follow your beck and call? What right do you have that you don’t even apologize? And to think that I would forgive you? What right do you have to mess up my life when I had restored it with difficulty? What right do you have? What right do you have?
The physicality between You Qing and Da Ren is entirely different: he follows her when she is mad, but always keeps a distance between the two of them because he understands and respects the concept of personal space and he does not think that he’s such a wonderful gift to the world that there could be no possible way that his presence could be unwanted. When Da Ren touches You Qing it is not imposing or intrusive, but something of a caress; when he tucks her hair behind her ear it is a gesture of intimacy that simultaneously expresses the closeness of their friendship while highlighting the romantic tensions between them. It’s effortless and sweet, while all Li Wei’s interactions with our heroine are forced and bordering on harrassment (if not they’re not there already).
What I adore about the scene where You Qing is helping Da Ren with his work is that she reads his gesture (of tucking her hair behind her ear) as a kind of request, one that she’s willing to do: after he tucks her hair behind her ear she pulls her hair back in a ponytail, which makes Da Ren smile again. Request is not a word that can be used for anything Li Wei does. A better word for him would be douche, I mean, impose.
Let’s not forget how the boys react to You Qing. The attraction Da Ren has to You Qing is palpable, and it comes through in one of the later scenes of this episode, when You Qing gives him some medication for his cold and then proceeds to rub it into his temples: the camera shows us Da Ren’s discomfort at being at eye level with You Qing’s ladybits while she gives him a head massage, and he waves her off to get her to stop. I feel that Li Wei has a very different reaction to You Qing, which stems from his perception of her. Da Ren respects You Qing and sees her as an equal; he doesn’t agree with her attraction to Li Wei and doesn’t understand how she ever could have dated him, but he does respect her right to make her own decisions. Li Wei doesn’t, as evidenced by his constant disregard of her requests that he leave her alone. Tellingly, when Da Ren speaks about his attraction to You Qing, he says that she’s the most beautiful or best looking. When Li Wei speaks about it, he calls her cute (in episode 6 when she runs into him in her sweats) which is infantilizing. Also, You Qing is never the one to approach Li Wei; he’s always the active one, the pursuer, in their relationship, and he seems to enjoy that position. I feel as though this was the dynamic in their past relationship, him chasing after her and her being “hard to get,” and perhaps that’s why now he can’t seem to understand that she legitimately wants him to leave her alone, not to pursue her even harder until she gives in (which unfortunately is the narrative of many a romantic comedy; it’s the whole “standing outside her window” thing.) Conversely, there is a mutuality in her relationship with Da Ren: they both call the other for help, they both ask the other for advice, they both affect the other’s romantic relationships, and so on.
It’s interesting to note that when Maggie and Da Ren were dating, it was always Maggie who was approaching Da Ren, always her who was kissing him, her who was hugging him, and him not reciprocating. (This is usually how the woman in a heterosexual pairing reacts in Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese dramas. Here we have the man in the relationship acting this way, indeed, the man in the relationship being the less abrupt and blunt of the two. The only difference is, in those dramas the narrative tells us that the heroine does actually enjoy being hugged or kissed, despite her tepid reaction, while here Da Ren clearly dislikes Maggie’s advances. Does this make Da Ren a feminine hero? Frankly, I find it refreshing to have a hero who isn’t lording his privilege about all over the place, a la Joo Won in Secret Garden. A Darcy Da Ren is not, thankfully.) In You Qing and Li Wei’s relationship, it is Li Wei who is always approaching You Qing: he hugsher, he tries to kiss her, he invites her to his place, follows her around, gets undressed in front of her. I find Li Wei threatening, while I found Maggie a bit overbearing and pathetic. It may be because of the gender reversals, but I think it has more to do with the fact that Li Wei is this huge man who towers above our heroine, who insists on kissing her and inserting himself in her life despite her numerous and forceful protestations. She slaps him, and he still doesn’t leave her alone. While You Qing is constantly actively fending Li Wei off, Da Ren was passive; while he was giving off signals that he wasn’t interested in Maggie through his body language, he accepted and continued a romantic relationship with her; that is the difference that makes Li Wei dominating and disconcerting in his insistence while Maggie was just an annoyance.
Another note about Li Wei: Who tells a woman you love her by telling her you’re giving her your freedom? What is this, Kimi Wa Petto-land? Do you not have any human rights either? (Loved that drama, by the way.) Loving someone does not mean giving up your freedom, and your freedom is not something any other person can own. This is the way the man thinks, the way he sees the world, in this neanderthal-like “settling down means giving up my life, but look, I’m willing to do it for yoooouuuuuuu! Aren’t you flattered?” Rip Van Winkle bs. Um, no thank you. I’m actually kind of offended that you think loving me is a great sacrifice that you weren’t ready to make before but now that you are, I should just jump ship. I like You Qing’s response: “Even if I’m 40 and unmarried I can’t accept a discounted ‘season of love.’ Your control and your freedom no longer belong to me. Because I’m the strongest worker in the work force, Cheng You Qing.”
And, “I think she’s cute when she’s angry”??? I HATE. SO. MUCH. About the person you choose to be, Li Wei. So much. You aren’t even a bad boy. You’re just a clingy ex. I think I’ve made it abundantly clear that I am not on the Ding Li Wei ship.