Hua Tuoye escorts Mucheng out of the ice rink and walks her home, always keeping pace but lags behind just enough to give her space. Perhaps the distance is more telling about Tuoye’s own relationship with Mucheng: as a friend, he’s always there for her, ready to catch her before she falls; but as a man, he’s always a step or two behind her, short of crossing the barrier between friend and lover.
Mucheng has more similarity to Guangxi than she cares to find out. Like her auntie, who’s eager to sell her off to a rich man (literally) and thereby bring prosperity to the family, Guangxi’s mother is flirting with the prospect of Guangxi wooing the daughter of her debtor. The decision is a highly economical one; by uniting the young folks, her debtor will become her investor and resolve her financial difficulties.
Calculating she might sound, President Fang isn’t as cold as she pretends to be. She could have sold the piece of land her debtor wanted, but she didn’t. Why? Because it’s the only memory of her late husband. Of course, she keeps this piece of information from Guangxi, allowing her rebellious son to continue blaming her for his father’s death.
Baffled and more or less hurt by the adults’ ill regard for their wishes, Guangxi and Mucheng coincide in the abandoned piano room. She sits down to play Bach’s “Air on the G-String”, he wakes up to the sound of the familiar notes. Right when Mucheng finds her peace of mind through the flow of music, it shies away at Guangxi’s hot hostility. She apologizes for intruding but he persists in ruining her family business. She grows angry and retorts that there’s no sign at the door forbidding entrance, therefore it’s not her fault that she stumbled upon the “holy sanctity” of his territory and tainted his “sacred” piano. But none of her reasoning seems to register with this unreasonable man. At last, she gives up trying and simply asks what she should do to get herself off the hook.
He scoffs. “We’ve kissed” he leans in, “The next step should be… sleeping with me, no?” Savoring the nectar of his sweet revenge, he towers over her, “Quit acting innocent before me. You know the drill. Or… you want me to take you through it step by step?” He winks dangerously.
She pushes him off and declares, “If seeing me naked will keep you from troubling my auntie’s business, I will do it. But please tell me, why should a girl willingly sabotage herself in front of a stranger. Please tell me how much enjoyment do you get out of watching me humiliated?”
Outside, Ah Cai the peeping Tom cranes his neck at the thought of seeing Mucheng naked.
Her words reaches out and touches Guangxi but it’s the tears that makes him change his mind. “Stop it.” He says. Crying, she continues to fumble with her button. “I said stop it!” he rushes forward and grabs her hands to stop her, a shiny tear drops onto the back of his hand. (This. is. good.)
“You men are all the same. Does hurting women bring you so much pleasure?” She asks accusingly.
“Men?” Guangxi repeats suspiciously then suddenly alarmed, he demands, “Who else is hurting you?” Before an answer can arrive, the pair are discovered by a security guard who then enters to inspect. (The guard sees Ah Cai first. In a moment of frenzy, Ah Cai points out that there are two people in the room acting chummy and runs away.) Guangxi grabs Mucheng by the hand and drags her behind a sofa to hide. The guard narrowly misses them and heads back out. As he leaves, he locks the door behind him.
When the guard is far away, Guangxi muses, “That’s your step-father who followed you here? He acts like a possessive boyfriend!” Then the meaning sinks in, Guangxi’s smile fades. “You said someone else’s been hurting you, is that your step-father?” “No.” Mucheng denies but too quickly to be convincing.
Back at home, Ah Cai is agitated. Unsure what Mucheng is doing alone with another man, he takes his irritation out on Auntie and blatantly ignores her all-too-obvious plea for sex.
A strange noise attracts Mucheng’s attention. Tracing the source of the noise, they come upon a scratch on the floor. Running his hand along the depression on the floor, Guangxi tells Mucheng a story…
There used to be a music professor at this University who would always bring his son to the piano room for skating lessons. One time the father let go of his son’s hands without warning, the boy fell and the blade on his skate scratched the floor and left the mark. Some time later the professor let go of his son’s hand again and went to another world.
“The boy was only eight when his father left him. After that, the boy basically died. They say that you can sometimes see the ghost of the boy skating to and fro in the room. When asked why he’s lingering in this world, he would reply that he wanted to ask his father why he let go of his hand. Are you scared now?”
Mucheng shakes her head. “I’ve never learned to skate but my father taught me how to ride the bicycle. In the process of learning, he let go of me as well. It was after the fact that he told me when he let go, he felt a pang of sickness. But he did it anyway because what’s more important than falling is learning to stand up. I’m sure that boy’s father felt the same way when he let go of his son’s hands.” “Why are you telling me this?” Guangxi blinks innocently, “It’s not like I’m that boy.” Mucheng smiles a knowing smile and says nothing.
The noise turns out to be a bird with a broken wing. Mucheng decides to cure the bird. Guangxi questions the value of saving the bird but Mucheng disagrees,
“I can give him (the bird) a home, an opportunity. If he cannot survive the wound, then it’s not his family who gave up on him, it’s himself.”
When dawn breaks, Guangxi takes out his spare key and unlocks the door (I don’t know what kind of special lock they use that has key holes on either side for the guard to lock them from the outside and Guangxi to unlock from the inside.)
When confronted with his reason for holding out on this piece of information, Guangxi simply shrugs, “You never asked if I have the key.” Ignoring Mucheng’s look of exasperation, he adds, “Oh, from now on, come to play the piano for me after you get off work.” “Why?” “Didn’t you know?”, Guangxi replies with a straight face, “Not playing the piano for a prolong period of time is bad for the piano. For the sake of the piano, you need to come and play for me every night, starting tonight.”
Guangxi walks Mucheng home and is faced with Ah Cai’s hostility. Guangxi looks Ah Cai up and down and when Ah Cai tries to strike, he warns darkly that according to the constitution, offender charged with sexual harassment can stay in jail for two years. (Guangxi is a law student.) Ah Cai bustles off while Guangxi grabs Mucheng by the hand and takes her outside.
He stuffs his phone in her hand and orders, “I don’t care if you’re sleeping or taking a shower, keep this with you at all times. If he dares to do anything to you, call the cops.” Mucheng refuses to accept his help but he insists, “Did you ask the bird last night if it wanted your help? You just did it. How’s that different from what I’m doing?”
Back at the school, the entire student body is wondering whether Guangxi succeeded in stealing Mucheng’s kiss. According to rumors, the punishment for losing the bet is dire.
Guangxi is soon surrounded by the curious and the sadistic alike. To everyone’s surprise, he professes failure — a lie that only he and Mucheng knows the truth of — and graciously accepts the punishment of running around the tracks in heels. Before submitting however, he announces that Liang Mucheng was and is his last target. He will no longer participate in silly love games. But the meaning behind his proclamation extends beyond a sudden maturity, he’s serious about Liang Mucheng.
The result shocks everyone, but it’s Mucheng who’s most surprised. She watches afar, Guangxi’s cellphone clenched in hand. Slowly, she smiles.
After n laps, Guangxi’s vision starts to blur. He presses a hand at his temple to relieve the pressure, but the pain won’t go away. He trips and falls. Mucheng rushes to his side but Yiqian, the debtor’s daughter who’s on campus for a tour, is faster. He grabs her hand for support — the concern on Mucheng’s face turns to dismay; she averts her eyes and walks away — Guangxi helps himself up.
The follow up treatment is done in the infirmary and with Yiqian. Guangxi’s irritation is in full exposé but this bluntness (i.e. “My mother wants me to get you into bed so your father can solve our financial hardship) earns him points with Yiqian. She likes his honesty and asks him out.
Mucheng is in the truck with Ah Cai on their way to a sea port. An unspoken unease stifles the air in the small vehicle. She edges as far away from him as physically possible but the discomfort only grows with Ah Cai’s incessant flaunting of his sexual appetite.
He takes Mucheng to buy soft-shell turtle (an aphrodisiac, to add to the creep). While she stands awkwardly on the side trying NOT to listening to his bragging of his sex life, he takes notice of her discomfort and purposely picks up a small soft-shell turtle. He speaks to the animal just loud enough for Mucheng to hear. He tells the little thing not to be coy with him, no matter how much she wants to run away, he will snatch her right back. There is no escaping. (Oh yeah?)
She runs away crying. Amidst her despair, she takes out Guangxi’s phone. But the socio-economic disparity quickly diminishes her impulse to seek comfort. She hastily puts it away and collects herself.
Guangxi is waiting for Mucheng in the piano room. When she shows up, he jokes that she has a terrible sense of time, she’s a minute and 35 seconds late. She sits down without utterly a word but once the music starts, her frustration carries through. He makes explicit his impatience but urges her to stay, using the bird as an excuse. She answers him coldly, “How much did you pay for the cage and bird food? I’ll pay you back.” This upsets Guangxi, “Why are you talking about money? I was there when you saved the bird, I have as much responsibility as you.” “Yes you were there, but what gives you the right to interfere with every aspect of her life?”, obviously not speaking of the bird anymore, Mucheng continues passionately, “If you keep protecting her, how is she going to survive on her own once you’re gone? Stop taking care of her, leave her alone. You are there only out of pity.”
He grows angry but she receives it with feigned indifference, “I’m made of more sturdy stuff. You don’t need to protect me.” (What if it’s not a matter of “need” but of “want”?)
Mucheng thought drawing a line between herself and Guangxi will make life easier, she thought wrong. First, auntie is warned that Ah Cai might be making advances on Mucheng. Instead of worrying about her husband’s perversion, she blames it on Mucheng. Then, Guangxi’s ex-girlfriend, Zhang Aili, finds out about Guangxi’s recent development with Mucheng and decides to avenge the humiliation she suffered when Guangxi dumped her.
She lures Mucheng to an isolated room, brings her to the rival school’s outdoor hockey rink by force, and calls Guangxi. Although Guangxi replies coolly to the call, correcting Aili that he is not interested in Mucheng and advises her not to waste time doing useless things, he’s already rushing to Mucheng’s side.
The rivals are contemplating what to do with Mucheng when Guangxi makes his grand entrance. As he can’t fight eight well-built man singlehandedly, he does the one thing he is capable of doing — protect Mucheng. He stands over her, tied up and placed in the goalie’s position, using his body as a shield, he separates her from the flying pucks.
The pucks come shooting at Guangxi like little rockets, he flinches in pain but his determination remains unabated. And so, under the merciless attack, they grab onto one another, as if only each other existed…
At last, Hua Tuoye’s arrival saves Mucheng and Guangxi both. (Tuoye overheard Guangxi on the phone and found his way to the practice rink.) He sacrifices himself to create an opening for Mucheng to escape.
Getting to his feet, Guangxi offers his hand; Mucheng, remembering that on the ice, giving someone your hand means you’re willing to place your life in the hand of another, takes it. Together, they flee.
I think this episode is a solid progression from the last one, not extraordinary but not bad either. There are the requisite cliché (i.e boy girl locked in a room or the damsel-in-distress needed to be saved), some work, others are plain trite.
The lock up scene for instance, worked. When Mucheng stumbled upon the piano room and keyed in her first note, she’s effectively entered a “sanctuary” that Guangxi had guarded jealously since childhood. He reacted with anger, one of the emotions he’s most acquaintance with (cynicism among others). The security-officier interlude and the lock up provided him enough distraction to recover from first the anger and second the shock (of when she shed a tear on his hand — which by the way, was brilliant and to the point –), so that he opened up enough to talk about his past. The clever thing about this incident isn’t that they were given an opportunity to develop their relationship, it’s the fact that Guangxi had the key but they still spent a night locked up together. In other words, he wanted Mucheng to be there with him.
Although the contrived plot development worked in this instance, the dialogue was so didactically written that the themes and motifs felt preachy, as if they were shoved down my throat. Sometimes, less is more; had the writer framed her dialogue more delicately, this scene:
might’ve been more powerful.
That’s it for now. Talk amongst yourselves, I’m off to watch You’re Beautiful! 😀