VIU: Imperfect Us (2024)

Every time I step out of the house for work, Choo would always utter these interjections (I am not even sure they are called that): “小心啊”, “小心驾车”, “看路”, “慢慢啊” which translate literally to “stay safe”, “be careful when driving”, “watch the road” and “slowly slowly”. I think every culture has theirs and after a while it is easy to take the words for granted till they become mere elocutions used to punctuate a time and a space. There is a female character in Imperfect Us named Qingfen who has the words “小心开车” uttered to her by her ex-husband after a long and pregnant pause on the phone. At that moment, Qingfen (and I) has a moment of epiphany and realises the ex-husband meant the 4 weightless words with all his heart and he is counting the moments she is back in his arms, and just like that I understood Choo mean the words every time they left her lips. When was the last time a TV show opened your heart and rearranged everything you thought you know?

Taiwanese drama Imperfect Us begins with a working mom and dutiful wife named Qingfen (Ariel Lin) balancing work, her son and household chores deftly. A respite soon ensues, she whips out her phone to search for a woman named Rebecca (Tiffany Hsu) on social media.

It will soon be clear that Qingfen is suffering from Imposter Syndrome. She questions her self-worth at every step, living her life for others. She looks happy outside but on the inside her life is a mess. A murky sense of insecurity radiates from her being.

Twelve years earlier, Rebecca and Qingfen’s husband, Ruizhi (Mike He) were in a relationship, while Qingfen had the hots for Ruizhi. The relationship soured later on and Qingfen who by that time has wormed her way into Ruizhi’s mother’s heart, nabbed the man.

The love-triangle narrative flits effortlessly between the past and the present, each informing the other and allowing us to feel the weight of choices made. When I hear love-triangle, my mind will be awash with scenes of well-oiled tropes, but Imperfect Us subverts my expectations and surprised me with its thoughtful wisdom. We still see those crippling and lingering regrets, but they are not tinged in familiar hues.

Written and directed by award-winning Mag Hsu (Dear Ex), Imperfect Us feels very personal like you are privy to pages out of the diary of her life. There are nuggets wisdom on finding love in a fast city, the possibility of true love between a man and a woman with a huge age gap, loneliness, identity and self-worth. The themes aren’t new but Hsu shines a new light on them. Coupled with a screenplay that is sprinkled with sketches of truth and thought-provoking dialogue, the drama elevates with deftness and ease. I usually hate voiceovers because it is such a tired device but I listened to every voiceover here in rapt attention. There is one in particular that hit me hard. Qingfen speaks in her mind as she scrolls through Rebecca’s posts of her colourful life: “Sometimes, we think what we’re chasing is happiness, but perhaps what we truly love is pain.”

The one aspect that sets this apart from so many other love-triangle narratives is that it is not afraid to show you complex and realistic female protagonists. The neuroticism, the eccentricities, the capability of being kind in one moment and cruel in a blink of an eye are all here. In Ariel Lin and Tiffany Hsu, the ills and spoils of being a modern woman in a fast-paced society are engagingly portrayed. Come award season, I am sure both of them will be remembered, but my money will be on Ariel Lin because her role has so many moments to display range. Mike He might look like a placid presence in front of both actresses, but the world-weary nature of his character is brought off subtly with his hunched shoulders and measured speech later on.

Finally, the music score and songs by Tanya Chua is a character in itself. This is the first time she has provided the music soundtrack for a TV show and she has outdone even her last award-winning album, Depart (2021). The music vibe fits the hustle and bustle of Taipei to a tee with a sense of jazzy playfulness and quiet melancholy. The music lifts and underscores the dramatic scenes very well like a welcomed rain after a long drought. I am sure lots of filmmakers are knocking on her door now.

My friends and students are always surprised by the number of TV shows and movies I watch in a week. The one constant question I get most of the time is where do I find the time and I always tell them if it is your passion you will find every single free minute in your life to do the stuff you love. It is writing about them that is hard, especially the good ones. Sometimes I wish my words are so persuasive and powerful that people will drop whatever they are doing to check out something I raved about. This is one of those moments that eloquence elude me. This being is a Taiwanese drama, how does it compete with all the Korean and English ones out there? We all watch movies and TV shows for entertainment. I am no different but sometimes, once in a long while, there are the ones that can make you feel understood and let you understand what makes us human. These are the ones that resonate with me the most. This will serve as my last word on the show and hopefully a few readers will give this a shot.

4.5 / 5

PS – This is on VIU. You can sign up for a free seven-day trial and just watch this. If you are in the mood for something funny and raunchy, I would also recommend LTNS *(Long Time No Sex)*also on VIU.