Holding each other’s hand, they hop onto a bus. (Bring on the bus motif!)
Winding down, Guangxi complains jokingly that riding the bus is more uncomfortable than he imagined. This causes Mucheng to lean in and ask dubiously, “You’ve never taken the bus before?” He shakes his head, “When I was little, I used to look out at people in buses. It’s always incredible to me that bus riders can decide their own destination.” (More like the bus decides how a rider arrives at a destination.)
“I’m the opposite of you.” Mucheng explains, “I used to hate riding buses. No matter how tired or sleepy I am, I have to force myself to stay awake because I’m scared that once I fall asleep, Auntie will leave me all alone on the bus like she once did.”
“If,” Guangxi replies thoughtfully, “if we met earlier, you can take me to ride the bus and I can sit in the seat next to you. But I will never leave you.”
They get off the bus and the subject returns to the bird they saved on a collective effort. “You know I haven’t fed the bird since you told me to leave it alone.” Guangxi admits openly. Astounded, Mucheng exclaims, “You can’t have really left it alone!” “Exactly. Even though you know you can’t be there for it forever, once you decided to help, you’ll keep helping. Because it needs me. And it needs you, too.” Of course Guangxi isn’t simply talking about the bird. He’s talking about Mucheng, about her refusal for help and his insistence on helping. When confronted of his stubbornness, Guangxi admits,
“I may be forceful but once I decide that I want something, I won’t give up. This includes hockey, pets, my bets, and the one(s) I care for.”
If the I’ll sit by you on the bus and never abandon you isn’t enough of a hint, this surely is a second attempt at an explicit confession. Mucheng is obviously no fool and gets the drift. Guangxi reminds her of their piano room rendez-vous, which causes a little flutter in Mucheng, and heads back home.
Let’s leave the relationship seed to germinate by itself for awhile and talk about Xu Fangguo.
Since this embittered 22 year-old will be featured as villain y (villain x being Ah Cai the peeping Tom), he deserves a proper introduction. Xu Fangguo is your typical A student. He’s ambitious and smart alright, but he’s also got questionable moral principles. Born to a poor family, his ultimate goal is to climb to the top of the corporate ladder. What he’ll do once he gets there, if ever, is a whole other issue. (Being constantly paranoid that someone’s gonna poison him I presume?) Nothing disgusts him more than entitled rich men (i.e. Guangxi) and nothing pleases him more than to be around Yiqian, his crush.
Tonight, there’s an event hosted by Yiqian’s father (Guangxi mother’s debtor), announcing the creation of a research foundation devoted to pediatric illnesses. Yiqian’s opportunistic father didn’t suddenly discover the intrinsic value of philanthropy, nor is he doing this to get a big tax cut (or maybe he is) but he’s (mainly) paving the road for his pediatric surgeon-to-be daughter’s future. As a débutante who only recently returned to Taiwan (read: no friends, no connection), she needs to establish herself in order to survive in the dog-eat-dog world. Setting up a foundation is one quick way of getting exposure.
Let’s not forget our friend Fangguo here. Being the bright top student and future employee, he is naturally invited. Unfortunately, he is up for some deep disappointment tinged with excruciating jealousy. For one, he looks like a total dork next to Yiqian (no, it’s not inferiority complex at work, our ace student could really use some fashion tip before he tries to break into the elitist world). Secondly, Yiqian is not only oblivious of his adoration towards her, to add insult to injury, she has invited Guangxi — whom Fangguo can’t stand — to the event as her date and is getting along with him quite well. They look chummy, the parents approve, and Fangguo is left to glare afar.
At seven o’clock sharp, Mucheng enters the piano room. She’s put on a skirt and let her hair down for the occasion. When she doesn’t see Guangxi in the room, she decides that she’s just early and sits down to play the piano.
At home, Ah Cai is pacing around the room, waiting for Auntie to leave (he’s registered her for dance classes to get her out of the house). Earlier in the day, Ah Cai overheard that Guangxi will be attending a night event and won’t be around. This is his chance, he decides to act.
When the piano room opens ajar, Mucheng teases without turning her head, “You’re late.” But soon it becomes clear that the figure looming close isn’t Guangxi. An instant fear washes over her.
“What are you doing here?” she asks in a shaky voice, but the answer is all too clear. Ah Cai edges closer with a nasty smirk hanging loose on his face. He stuffs a handful of cash in her hand, “Isn’t it true that you’ll strip as long as I have money?” She throws the money in his face and leaves to grab her bag. “Stop pretending”, he follows her and blocks her path. “Your rich boy won’t be coming. He’s off to some social event. That’s why I’m here tonight,” he lets out a toothy grin and continues, “Your Auntie, she’s away dancing. Tonight? It’s only you and me.” When the last syllable falls, he leaps at Mucheng. She struggles to free herself from his iron grasp but he holds onto her and throws her onto the sofa. Then despite her resistance, he presses himself onto her…
“What are you doing?” a stern voice saves Mucheng. Ah Cai looks up and to his horror, finds Auntie staring at them both intently, hands on hips — she’s grown suspicious and followed him here. He gets off of Mucheng and hurries to explain. “She, she’s trying to seduce me!” he points a lewd finger at a still-weeping Mucheng, “She’s tried many times. She, she prostitutes! Look, here, the money…” He rushes towards the scattered money, “These are proofs!”
Judgment clouded by anger, Auntie refuses to believe that Ah Cai could possibly be unfaithful to her and insists that Mucheng is the sinful seductress. (Hon, you overestimate your charm and your man’s fidelity.)
At this time, Guangxi arrives to see Mucheng cowering on the couch, clenching her shirt. A cursory glance reveals everything. Without further ado, he beats Ah Cai to a pulp and is finally pulled away by a security guard.
Fueled by anger, Auntie believes Ah Cai’s lies. Fueled by anger, Auntie is shocked that Mucheng is thinking about going to college and moving out — as far as Auntie is concerned, she has sacrificed much to take care of Mucheng and now that this ungrateful little brat has grown her wings, Auntie is going to be kicked aside. The misapprehension cuts deep, so deep and so painful that Auntie throws Mucheng out of the house in a fury.
When the door shuts on her, Muchen says simply and quietly, “Auntie, I’ve done you no wrong…. When you are less angry, I will come to call again… Your back injury hasn’t healed fully, take care of yourself while I’m gone.” Auntie lingers long enough to hear these words on the other side of the door; if she relented, she shows no sign of it.
Guangxi finds a place for Mucheng to live, makes the bed for her while she’s in the shower. And when she comes out of the shower, he tells her that if she’s ever in a dangerous situation, cry out his name. He will come and protect her. Like he did at the ice rink. Like he could’ve done tonight. Then he says, “I’m sorry. If I weren’t late, nothing would’ve happened to you.”
When Guangxi returns with a cup of milk moments later, Mucheng is already fast asleep, fatigued by the eventful night. Setting the milk down by the nightstand, he silently promises Mucheng that what happened tonight will not happen again.
Mucheng wakes up the next morning to find breakfast waiting for her at the dining table (cute). Smiling to herself, she suddenly remembers that the bird she and Guangxi saved has been left unattended and heads to school for the bird. (A weak excuse to get her on campus.)
Little does she know, the previous night’s event is spreading like wild fire on campus. A mysterious person (Zhang Aili, still seeking revenge) stole the security tapes to the piano room, extracted the unsightly picture of Ah Cai trying to assault Mucheng, and chain text-ed the picture with the intention of framing Mucheng as a prostitute. (Double stab.)
Tuoye stands up to shield the sneer and objects being thrown at Mucheng but his effort is futile.
The scandal has spread past the student body, the faculty, the staff, and landed in the ears of opportunistic reporters. The school is now under the scrutiny of the disapproving society.
To best deal with the scandal, the school decides to put the matter in the hands of “justice”. A trial will be held within the school; the involved parties will be place in front of the prosecutor and jury. With the lawyers defend their respective patrons, everything will run like a real court.
Naturally Guangxi volunteers to take on the project in defense of Liang Mucheng. And Fangguo, antagonistic of Guangxi in every way, finds it the perfect opportunity to crush Guangxi and in so doing, make a name for himself. (Talking about killing two birds with one stone.)
But Guangxi is up for the challenge. It gives him the purpose in life that he hasn’t had since his father’s death. He sets to work immediately, even his mother is astounded at the intensity of his concentration.
Tuoye on the other hand, appoints himself to the daunting task of obtaining the security camera tape from Aili. (This is going to be interesting.)
Unfortunately, things aren’t going as smoothly as Guangxi had hoped. He isn’t able to retrieve Ah Cai’s criminal record on a timely basis, the neighbors are unwilling to get involved and refuse to testify, and his headache is getting worse. But time is running short, as much as a thorough physical checkup is wise, he can’t bear to lose time.
The good news is that Yiqian is offering her help. She has organized a psych profile on rapists and hopes it will help Guangxi’s case. Before leaving, she reminds him that if he is so keen on protecting that special girl he can’t seem to shut up about, he should seek any help he can find. This leads to a visit at the family lawyer, Lin’s apartment.
You have to know, there is a certain amount of animosity between the two men. Guangxi has always contributed the failure of his parent’s marriage to Lin and for as long as Guangxi can remember, Lin has been cleaning up after him each time he gets into trouble. To Guangxi, Lin is both the emotional punch bag and, whether he admits or not, a fatherly figure.
Like every time else, lawyer Lin offers Guangxi both patience and invaluable help.
The following day, Mucheng and Guangxi make a trip to Auntie’s place, hoping to persuade her to testify on behalf of Mucheng. When Guangxi enters alone, Auntie is disappointed. But she hides her disappointment well, muttering loudly that if she were to see Mucheng, she wouldn’t hesitate to use violence. When Guangxi makes explicit his intention for coming, Auntie flatly refuses to help. Like a stubborn dog hanging onto a rotten piece of carcass, Auntie is so hung up on the idea that Mucheng might not return the love that she herself invested on the mother-daughter relationship, she’s willing to see Mucheng crash and burn.
But her resolve softens when she finds the laundry that Mucheng had folded sitting on a chair. On top, a letter addressed to her.
As far as plot is concerned, there are some weak points. But the complexity of the characters sort of make up for it.
I like how under the aggressive pretense, Xu Fangguo is but a sore loser. He uses the forceful aspect of his nature to disguise the insecurity ingrained in him through long-term poverty. He’s acutely aware of his awkwardness but wrongfully attributes it to the unfairness of the way of the world, hence his distaste in Guangxi. It would certainly be gratifying to see him fail (or the alternative: Guangxi wins the trial and Ah Cai punished) because he’s not exactly an amiable character. But it would be more satisfying to see him grow out of his bitterness and be a real man.
Auntie is a well written character. She’s crude and perhaps not quite so lovable but she is readily identifiable. She’s willing to settle for less as long as she’s offered a sense of security. She stayed with Ah Cai for no reason other than the support he is able to provide her. The fear of unknown keeps her in oblivion (e.g. 1: ignoring signs of Ah Cai harassing Mucheng e.g. 2: being so inattentive that she didn’t even know about Muchen’s plan to get away and go to college) and when any threat to her security appears, she chooses to live in delusion.