The ‘ex’ factor

China’s rising tide of divorces is proving dramatic fodder for Hunan TV

Zhou Xun-w

Zhou Xun: stars in new drama A Little Mood for Love about divorcees

After making dramas that explored modern-day parenting in Chinese society, the producers behind the TV franchise A Love For Separation, A Little Reunion and A Love for Dilemma (see WiC537) were ready for something different.

Their latest show A Little Mood for Love focuses on how people in midlife navigate divorce and remarriage. Since its release in mid-December, the fourth instalment of the franchise has dominated the ratings as the biggest success for Hunan Satellite TV in 2021. It has also been generating some wide-ranging discussion on social media.

The story – adapted from the original novel by Yi Bei – features two sisters, one of whom is getting divorced. After Liu Xiaomin (played by actress Zhou Xun) files for separation from her spouse, who wrongly accused her of cheating, she leaves her seven year-old son in the care of her ex-husband to go to Beijing to start a new life.

There the 43 year-old meets Chen Zhuo (actor Huang Lei), a fellow divorcee, and they fall in love and decide to get married. But the two soon find that combining their respective families and former spouses is not as easy as it seems…

Meanwhile, Liu’s younger sister Liu Xiaojie (starlet Tang Yixin) also divorces. It doesn’t take long for her to fall in love again – in her case with Xu Zheng, who is younger than her, much to the dismay of his parents.

The show, with its star-studded cast, soon attracted audience feedback. A lot of the comments were from middle-aged viewers, touching on themes such as the sadness and anxiety of ‘empty nest’ syndrome, the challenges of caring for aging parents while also having to deal with teenage children, and the difficulties of blending the different parenting styles across the families of divorcees.

While Liu Xiaomin is estranged from her ex-husband in the series, Chen maintains a friendlier relationship with his ex-wife and even her new husband. Meanwhile, Xiaomin plays a non-traditional mother. After reuniting with her son after more than a decade apart, she doesn’t try to be his mother again. Instead, she treats him like a grown-up, giving him space and independence. Eventually, the two come to a mutual understanding and appreciation of one another.

“Thank you to A Little Mood For Love, it shows that there can be more than one type of mother in this world,” applauded Uncle Kai Tells a Story, a parenting blog. “It also allows us to finally catch a glimpse of a middle-aged woman in China that is in full in control of her own life.”

“From Xiaomin, we see a women in her middle-age who is comfortable in her own skin. She doesn’t try to be somebody she is not. She shows what it means to be divorcee, a career woman, and someone who loves her age,” another critic wrote.

As divorce rates steadily increase in China, A Little Mood For Love holds out a more optimistic view of the new opportunities in life that can follow broken marriages. “Ultimately, what the show tries to convey is that divorce is not a failure, and that the relationship between two ‘exes’ don’t have to be estranged and antagonistic. After going through the divorce, two people – through new relationships, friends and family – can find themselves and heal again,” claimed Yiyu Guancha, an entertainment blog.

A Little Mood For Love arrived in the wake of another popular reality TV series about divorce, See You Again, which was one another of the surprise hits for Hunan Satellite TV last year.

That reality series followed three celebrity couples already on the verge of splitting up as they headed out on a road trip together. In the end, the contestants could choose to go ahead with their divorces or give their marriage another shot.

Although the format sounds pretty manufactured, the show struck a chord with audiences, earning a rating of 8.9 out of 10 on Douban, the TV series and film review site.

“Am I the only one who cries easily?” one fan asked on Douban about her response to the series. “I feel like I was crying whenever the couples talked about one another. And I think that its name Goodbye Lover [the show’s Chinese title] isn’t accurate – it should have been called ‘Goodbye Marriage’ because when there is no love between two people, what’s left is only marriage”.

“A lot of people choose not to get married because they want to be happy, but they definitely choose to divorce because they want to be happy,” she added .

With the success of two different series around the theme of divorce and middle-age, expect other copycat shows to tap into similar formats over the rest of 2022…

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