Stars : Nick LacheyFrancesca FaragoDom Gabriel
The Perfect Match is about a young night market cook Wei Fen Qing (Ivy Shao), who challenges Michelin star chef Huo Ting En (Chris Wu) to a cooking competition. Ting En looks down on the night market food and night market life, but Qing is determined to prove to him that she can cook just as well as he can. Qing reminds Ting En of his sister, so he agrees to give her a seven-day apprenticeship at his fine dining restaurant, La Mure, and in the process they start to fall in love…
I really enjoyed The Perfect Match. It’s a light, feel-good watch. But despite the opening theme song (SO catchy!), there’s no addictive hook, so it isn’t quite on my favorites list. As far as dramas go, it’s very tolerable, with likable characters who experience meaningful growth and relatively few plot points that made me want to throttle someone.
Ivy Shao and Chris Wu really shine with their performances here, and are benefited by solid stories for their characters. Both Wei Fen Qing and Huo Ting En are highly charismatic characters. Qing is a strong female lead who stands out because she never needs the men in the show to protect her, though she is a bit naive (26 and never been kissed; completely oblivious to the fact that her best friend is in love with her.) Chris Wu brings a maturity and depth to Ting En’s character, and portrays Ting En’s internal struggles in a convincing and natural way. Ting En and Qing have great chemistry and are just so dang cute together when they’re allowed to have their happy moments.
But this show really would not be the same without Lawrence Liu as Peng Xiao Bin, Ting En’s best friend and right-hand man. Xiao Bin’s impeccable comedic timing and exaggerated reactions create some of the most memorable and laugh-out-loud moments of the show and really breathe life into the drama.
The other performances are largely forgettable if not a bit stiff. Ben Wu plays Ah Wei, Qing’s best friend who is in love with her, but she views him as a brother. (They just really love putting Ben Wu and Ivy Shao in these pseudo-sibling relationships!) He’s.. fine. Not the most annoying in terms of rival love interests, but definitely not one of those second leads I rooted for because he is pretty immature and it shows. (Ting En frequently jokes about how he’s just a boy.)
Xiao Man as Meng Ru Xi, a rival love interest for Ting En, is underwhelming. I dreaded any scenes with her, not because her character was annoying (she’s actually pretty decent as far as rival storylines go — no cattiness or antagonistic tendencies) but because I just found her character so uninspiring and the line delivery robotic.
Huo Tian Zhi (Nylon Chen) started out as a favorite because he seemed like such a sweetheart, but in the end he became a bit too simple (despite attempts at a complicated background) and the acting was as well.
The strongest part of the show, other than the lead performances and Xiao Bin, is how it reverses a lot of drama stereotypes. The show starts with what seems like a teacher-student or boss-employee power dynamic with Ting En educating Qing on cooking. But as Ting En comes to realize and later tells Qing, she never needed him to teach her about cooking. What she lacked was experience and confidence, and he simply gives her the platform to find that confidence. Ting En isn’t the teacher or protector, but instead is an advocate and supporter. As he tells Ah Wei at one point, Qing doesn’t need him to fight her battles for her, but he’ll be there as a safety net to fall back on.
In fact, Qing teaches Ting En more than he teaches her, because she makes him question his prejudices about food and his notions of family. One of the strongest messages of the show is that family isn’t so much about how you’re related as it is about how you treat one another. At first, Ting En doesn’t understand the night market and how much it means to Qing, because he can’t comprehend how she considers the night market her family when she isn’t even related to any of them. That’s no surprise, because Ting En barely considers himself family to people he’s legally tied to but has no blood relation to. He struggles with how he views himself in relation to the Huo family, which he is a stepson of, and doesn’t consider them his true family, holding his brother and grandmother at a distance despite their repeated treatment of him as a true family member. Qing is the one who makes him understand that these people can be his family without being biologically related.
Grandma Huo, the matriarch of the Huo family, is a great example of a character who reverses the usual drama stereotype of a chaebol family matriarch. In contrast to her daughters-in-law and other rich matriarchs in drama-land, she just wants peace and hates the squabbling of family and corporate politics. She loves all of her grandchildren as true grandchildren, despite having no blood relations to Ting En and his sister.
Despite such strong messaging, the show loses its way the last few episodes, introducing drama that feels contrived. Sure, a lot of loose plot ends had to be tied up somehow, but it felt like the writers thought a messy, tangled knot would be better than some neat and clean stitches. Then again, most dramas tend to disappoint in the last few episodes, and at least the finale itself felt satisfying even if the two episodes to precede it did not.
In the end, the weaker episodes of The Perfect Match were such a small part of the overall journey that they can be easy to overlook. This show is very watchable and great for any rom-com fan who wants to watch heart-warming characters who won’t make them want to tear their hair out!