After watching Word of Honor, I did the same thing I did after watching The Untamed and went through the filmographies of the two leads, hunting down other shows they were in that looked interesting. I spent an evening with MyDramaList and four separate streaming services open in different tabs, adding things to my watch lists. I wanted to start with a modern-day show, so I settled on The Love Equations, and I am so glad that was my first choice, because I am addicted. (I may already be re-watching it. Don’t judge me.)
The Love Equations stars Gong Jun as Zhao Fan Zhou, a second-year university student majoring in forensic science who, through a series of comic misadventures, keeps running into first-year literature student Zhou Xiao (Liu Ren Yu). As the series continues, he tries to court her using extremely subtle (but also not at all subtle) measures, and she remains hilariously oblivious, even daydreaming that he has a criminal background and wants to kidnap her. At the same, though, he is dealing with a sick mother and a former high school classmate who is determined that he fall in love with her instead.
I loved Zhao Fan Zhou and Zhou Xiao both as leads and as a romantic pairing. Zhao Fan Zhou was so endearingly awkward and clueless about social interactions; because of his mother’s illness (she’s bipolar but she actually isn’t diagnosed until later in the show), he doesn’t have a lot of friends and has never dated. And Zhou Xiao is just completely unaware of all of this, immediately suspicious of everything he does, because she’s a massive fan of detective novels and treats everything like a case.
Their relationship, once they finally do get together, was just as cute as they were separately. She makes it a point to visit his mom in the hospital, even doing silly things to cheer his mother up. And he is consistently doing things like eating the gross food flavors she tries and doesn’t like and reminding her to eat when she gets caught in a writing spiral. You can actually pinpoint the italicized “oh” moments for both of them, and at one point early in the show, Zhou Xiao is literally blasted back by the force of his smile (a smile she is immediately suspicious of), which was hilarious.
Also, if I can be shallow for a minute, I absolutely loved Gong Jun’s wardrobe throughout this show. It seems to be almost completely made up of Tommy Hilfiger sweaters (with a few New York Yankees shirts – nobody’s perfect), and I’m not going to lie, high school me would have been a puddle in her seat. All he needed was an untucked dress shirt and a loosened tie and he would have walked straight out of teenage Jamie’s fantasies.
There is some behavior in The Love Equations exhibited by several people that is at best inappropriate and at worst harassment. Some of the actions are approached romantically and some are not. It was actually in working on this post that I got the idea to talk about problematic behavior in rom-coms that is portrayed as romantic, but I won’t linger on that in this recommendation, because for all its faults, I really did enjoy this show. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably followed along with my binge without knowing that’s what was going on, because I couldn’t contain myself. This show is super adorable.
No, seriously. Super adorable. The yearning, y’all. The pining. Zhao Fan Zhou basically blue screens whenever he sees Zhou Xiao, completely zoning out and ignoring everyone around him. There’s a scene after they start dating where he walks by her and he just brushes his pinky finger against the side of her hands and I damn near wept with joy because that is the kind of peak period drama behavior that I live for. They also have my all-time favorite ship dynamic, which is the grumpy one is soft for the sunshine one. She’s bright and bubbly, and he’s dour and reserved, and I think they suited each other nicely.
There are quite a few tropes in The Love Equations, because of course there are, but I think they’re handled pretty well. Some of them are even favorites of mine – there’s a road trip to the beach, during which Zhao Fan Zhou gets comically drunk, they go to an amusement park and watch a fireworks display, and at one point he and Zhou Xiao are locked in the library overnight and build an igloo out of books.
As for the more serious stuff, Zhao Fan Zhou keeps something pretty huge from Zhou Xiao because he doesn’t want to burden her with it, and later she confronts him about not giving her the option of making the decision herself. I really appreciated that, because I feel like so often that kind of behavior is just glossed over. The most important thing in a successful relationship is communication, and both people must go into it with both eyes open; you shouldn’t keep important things secret and you shouldn’t make decisions on behalf of the other. So I quite liked that they addressed it.
Zhou Xiao’s relationship with her roommates was also fantastic. They’re in a quad, and at the beginning, they get off on the wrong foot with Zhu Lu. She is initially cold to them, and as a result, the other three form a group and exclude her. Luckily, they don’t let this linger, and Zhu Lu eventually confronts them about it. I found this extremely relatable, because I was in a quad my freshman year of college, and it was generally understood that in a situation like that, there was usually going to be a 3-vs-1 dynamic, where one roommate was hated by the other three. And that one was me.
The girls resolve their differences and become the sort of ride-or-die friends that everyone wishes they could have. They are extremely supportive of each other – going to each other’s events and even grabbing everything that could possibly be used as a weapon so that they can go beat up a cheating boyfriend. I loved their dynamic, and I’m so glad that a fair bit of The Love Equations had Zhou Xiao spending time with her friends. Oftentimes in rom-coms, female friendships are neglected for the romance, and I’m glad that this was not the case in this show.
Zhao Fan Zhou’s mother’s mental illness is, I think, handled fairly well. It’s hinted early on that she is not well – she repeatedly calls him and seems to behave very irrationally. He has a scar on his arm that he got during an argument his parents had when he was a child. Her mental state continues to deteriorate until she is hospitalized and only then is she diagnosed as bipolar. It’s a very big part of his arc and affects his relationship with Zhou Xiao.
There is some stigma about her mental illness – the reason Zhao Fan Zhou is on unfriendly terms with his former classmate is because her family warned her to stay away from his family – but for the most part, I think it’s handled carefully. She starts taking medication, and it turns out that a lot of her unstable behavior was due to going undiagnosed for so long. Zhao Fan Zhou is a very dedicated son to her, even at one point withdrawing from university so he can take care of her, which I found very sweet. I’m not one to champion setting yourself on fire to keep others warm, but when someone you love is struggling, it’s natural to want to do all you can to help.
This is such a basic thing, but I really loved the title cards for each episode. Usually, it’s just something very simple – in The Untamed, it was just the episode number in white text against a black background. But The Love Equations does something different for each episode, cleverly tying it into that episode’s main plot. For example, in the first episode, the title is written on the spines of the books on Zhou Xiao’s shelf. I thought that was a really neat, creative way to give the show a little more character.
Basically, The Love Equations is just a charming, sweet story with a cute romance and good friendships. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for something to put yourself in a good mood.
The Love Equations is currently streaming on Viki. It is 27 episodes. Just so you all know, there is a shorter, special episode that is not currently on Viki, but I found it pretty easily on YouTube. The story is complete without it, but the special episode is a fluffy epilogue that is worth tracking down.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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