Skip to the final section for a quick, spoiler-free rating.
My initial tagline for this review of The Romance of Tiger and Rose was “24 episodes of wasted potential.” I had planned to recap and break down episode by episode, but by episode 8, I was ready to call it quits.
I decided to pause reviewing episodically and binged the rest of the drama instead. The subsequent sixteen episodes went a lot better and made me reassess my original opinion. Once I stopped getting angry at the little things, this drama became a lot more fun!
The Romance of Tiger and Rose (Chinese title: 传闻中的陈芊芊) is about a young screenwriter Chen Xiaoqian who, after transmigrating into a world of her own creation, has to see through the story she wrote as the previously ill-mannered and short-fated villainess, Chen Qianqian. Things get complicated as her numerous intentional and unintentional interferences cause the plot to deviate, even more so after the main male lead, Han Shuo, develops feelings for her instead of her in-world sister and the original main female lead, Chen Chuchu.
What separates Tiger and Rose from other transmigration drama out there for me is its setting; Huayuan City, which Qianqian is Third Princess of, is a matriarchal society where women are heads of households, political officials, and in positions of power in every way that socially matters. Their neighboring and enemy city-state, Xuanhu City, where Han Shuo is from, is the exact opposite. This difference made for some hilarious setups… and it’s also, unfortunately, a failing point. Not a huge failing point. Or maybe it is.
Qianqian, Han Shuo, and Their ‘Ehh-pic’ Romance
We’ve all seen the “smart but ditzy female protagonist who charms the male characters with her unconventional quirks” archetype, and Chen Xiaoqian/Qianqian is that down to the tee. I say “smart” and “ditzy” because she seems to remember and forget her advantage as the near-omniscient author of her own script at the most convenient times. Although I often got frustrated with her because of it, her smarts win over her dumb moments by a considerably large margin.
Han Shuo took me a few episodes to get on board with, mainly because it took until he first fell for Qianqian for him to show any redeeming traits—that for all of his ambition and ruthlessness, he’s kind of an idiot in the best ways possible.
Even though their setup positions them akin to star-crossed lovers, their romance doesn’t come off as dramatic as the trope implies. While Qianqian’s mother doesn’t like Han Shuo, her love for her daughter wins out against everything else time and time again. And while Han Shuo was duty-bound to destroy his wife’s city and home, he revises his plans so immediately after falling in love that it doesn’t become an external cause of conflict to their romance for a long while.
As the story progresses, Qianqian and Han Shuo learn how to grow together as a couple, to trust, forgive, and overcome their individual shortcomings to become each other’s strengths. I love that they actually learn to communicate and come to not just love, but respect, each other, especially later on.
It’s sweet to watch, if you can overlook certain unsavory choices and actions in the earlier episodes.
I’m not going to get into all the lies, assassination attempts, and emotional manipulations that happen between Qianqian and Han Shuo because as far as Asian romantic dramas goes, they aren’t that bad. (I know, I know. But having seen so many of them, it’s true lol.) However, the one scene I could not get pass was the attempted rape scene after Chuchu and Han Shuo took over Huayuan City. I genuinely thought the drama, for all its sprouting of gender equality and feminist ideologies, was going to address how very not okay it was via Xiaoqian and her modern-day sensibility. Instead, it’s simply played off as playful behavior from Han Shuo trying to test his wife, and the story never mentions it again.
(I actually have a lot of problems with the half-ass, borderline bizarre ways this drama came at the subject of gender equality, but 1) I recognize that my views came from a western upbringing and 2) this shit is too serious for an online review of a 24-episode romantic comedy series, so I’m not even going to try opening that can of worm. It is what it is.)
For the majority of the drama though, they are just two bumbling young adults trying to figure out how to be in a relationship without being the worst of themselves, like every young couple ever.
Why Chuchu Disappoints Me as the Villain
I started out rooting for Chuchu—not in an I-prefer-her-over-the-female-lead kind of way, but I had hoped that she’d flip the script and wouldn’t let resentment and jealousy get to her. I wanted her to stand by her sisters, and to choose her relationship with them over power and romantic attachments. Unfortunately, that was too much to hope for.
That being said, her path to antagonism makes a lot of sense. A person can only take so many years of abuse and bullcrap from their own family before they snap.
What I don’t understand is why her sudden infatuation with Han Shuo needs to be a part of it. Even if that needed to happen for plot purposes, why have her prioritize him over her own desire for power at times? It really dampens her effectiveness as a villain. Without it, I think she would have more room to be cruel and it would’ve made her a more interesting and badass character.
The Side Stories and Characters Made Up for a Lot
Zi Rui and Bai Ji? Talented. Amazing. Spectacular. Showstopping.
Su Mu and Yuanyuan? *chef’s kiss* Before Chuchu’s blackening, I had thought that Yuanyuan was going to be the main villain, and Su Mu her tragic accomplice/unrequited love interest. I’m glad to be wrong because they’re just the sweetest.
Lin Qi? Questionably at first, but badass and loveable as hell. I wish she was a little less abusive towards the “musicians” in her “academy,” but hey, nobody’s perfect.
Meng Guo? MY MAN!
Han Shuo’s parents? Probably the funniest couple I’ve seen in fiction this year. I disliked Han Shuo’s father up until the feet washing scene, and the way he froze at his wife when she glared at him was so funny and indicative of his character that it made my opinion of him do a one-eighty. With Han Shuo’s parents, I could see exactly from whom he inherited different aspects of his personality, and I love that.
Pei Heng? To be honest, he’s a better character on his own than as a second male lead. He’s at his most interesting and compelling when Qianqian isn’t part of the picture. I like that.
The City Chief? She’s somehow both the best and worst mother ever. There are just so many layers to the mother-daughter relationships in Tiger and Rose, so much angst and complexity, that I don’t know where to begin. For instance, if she had shown Chuchu half the affection she showed Qianqian, things would honestly not have gone this bad. On the other hand, her unconditional love for Qianqian is literally everything a mother should be. Also, she literally doesn’t pay attention to Yuanyuan. What’s up with that?
I really appreciate each and every single one of these side characters for how well-rounded they are. Definitely one of the highlights of Tiger and Rose.
The Ending Is a Cop-Out, and I Will Die on This Hill
First of all, let me just say that I know the whole plot reason why Chen Xiaoqian even transmigrated is because of Mr. Han’s criticism that she doesn’t know how to write romance. I know that her whole purpose within the universe of Tiger and Rose is to learn how to fix this flaw in her script. The problem is that it matters very little.
I wasn’t following Xiaoqian’s journey as a fresh-faced screenwriter. We weren’t emotionally invested in her real life. We were being shown and told to care about these “fictional” characters she created. Yes, her relationship with Han Shuo is a huge part of the drama, but it’s the backdrop of the world Xiaoqian transmigrated to, and the characters we met there, that gave it life.
That isn’t to say that I dislike the ending. In fact, I think the succession ceremony was the perfect place and time for Xiaoqian to return to the real world—Han Shuo was dying, Chuchu’s claim to the throne got thwarted by bad omens, Yuanyuan finally stood for herself with Su Mu’s help—but I can’t help but feel like we’re owed a “what happens afterward.”
If Han Shuo was near death in the Tiger and Rose universe, and it’s heavily implied in that moment that Qianqian died right after the heavenly vision appeared, then what’s going to happen to the two city-states? Will Chuchu finally relent and give up her pursuit for power, or will she challenge even the result of the sacred ceremony? Will the two city-states finally achieve peace and some semblance of gender equality under a new leader, or will it devolve into all-out war again?
While we don’t need a full episode to wrap up loose ends, an epilogue of some sort would’ve been nice. Maybe the actors in the modern universe could’ve answered interview questions about the fate of their characters. Or maybe Xiaoqian or Mr. Han pens an afterword after filming concludes. Something, anything, because the drama is about a lot more than Xiaoqian’s future love life with someone who may or may not have been her husband in a different universe.
Final Rating and Recommendations
Tiger and Rose isn’t a drama I’d revisit, simply because it’s not that memorable, but it’s definitely one that took my mind off the real world for two or three days and made me laugh.
A tip: I didn’t watch the drama correctly on my first try because I took things way too seriously and nitpicked too much, so I would recommend others to not do that. Yeah, Tiger and Rose has some major flaws, and its takes on gender politics are questionable, but if you can look past all of that and see the entertainment value, you’re going to have a way better time.
It’s got a pretty solid cast, good storylines, and a romance between two immature people that ended up turning them better for each other rather than worse. Plus, the costumes are kind of nice. You can tell it’s not the most well-funded production, but aside from one or two things that stick out, the flaws are hardly noticeable. And the whole thing is only twenty-four episodes!
My rating: 6.5/10