If you are one of those people whose impression of C-dramas is less than stellar (as I once was) and ask me for one good reason to watch one, my answer has always been and always will be the series ‘Go ahead’.
Thus, if you will only watch one C-drama in this lifetime, then let it be the coming-of-age masterpiece ‘Go Ahead‘. It’s a show that I keep going back to on my good and bad days, and these are some of the key messages I took away from the drama.
1. Growing Up is Inevitably Painful
Go Ahead traces the growth of our three protagonists from childhood to their late 20s. The point that marks a change between these phases is often the painful experience and how the characters deal with them.
The point of growth for all three comes with the pain of separation, loneliness, and the constantly changing notion of ‘family’. There are no villains here (except maybe Ling Xiao’s mother), but life is the antagonist that breaks you down and builds you up repeatedly.
2. Adulthood is not indicated by a number but by experiences that shake you to your core.
There are precise moments in the show where you look at the character and know that something has shifted. In that sense, it’s a drama that brilliantly portrays character growth. People change, and children grow into adults- and it’s not a measure of age. It’s not always the slow process that goes along with the trickling of minutes, days, or years, but sometimes it is momentary and so impactful that a return to what you used to be is impossible.
Or, in Ling Xiao’s words, ” The true growing up happens in a flash. No one knows it except yourself. Your mind will change, and you will feel the weight of life. At that moment, you grow up without anyone noticing. That moment can be the next second, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, ten or twenty years later, your whole life.”
3. Life is Unfair, and it has nothing to do with what kind of person you are.
Ling Xiao is more or less forced into taking care of his bedridden mother, who had previously abandoned him as a child. The same goes for his mother, who, while quite a horrible person at times, lost a child and her husband in a couple of years.
The story we are told in the first fifteen episodes is of three siblings whose bond seems impossible to break apart. They are all kind, sweet children who should not make the sacrifices they do at such a young age. Thus, in a way, Li JianJian’s emotional breakdown upon realizing that her brothers were leaving the country is one that the audience reflects.
Life is full of the unexpected and the unfair and you might not have much control over it, but it does not mean you can’t grieve over what should have and could have been had circumstances been just two inches kinder than it was.
4. There are relationships more precious and essential than just mere romantic love.
Like most Asian dramas, Go Ahead also has a heteroromantic love narrative at the centre. There was a whole thing about how the central couple were siblings, and the relationship between them felt wrong while the show was airing, at first I agreed with it because the dynamics of them as the three siblings were too good to be ruined by an unnecessary love plot nobody asked for.
Upon my consequent rewatching of the drama, I am confident that Ling Xiao’s attraction towards Li JianJian was not always merely ‘brotherly’. By the last arc, the boy is so full of issues, that he needs her. I related a lot to Ling Xiao and could see how desperate I would be to keep someone who had consistently chosen me from the beginning.
With all this being said, Go Ahead’s heart is not set on its romance but on its portrayal of friendship and family. It also questions the idea of a romantic relationship through He Ziqiu’s mistaken interest in Li Jianjian. Ziqiu thinks marrying Li Jianjian is the only way for him to stabilize his place in the family. Still, his relationship with her is just as powerful as Ling Xiao’s without crossing the boundary of platonic affection.
At times it’s even more valuable than the central romance narrative. The same goes for Li Jianjian and her roommates, or even more notably, the link between the co-parent Hai Chao and Heping. You don’t need to be in love to love and be loved.
5. Parents make mistakes too, and they need to be held accountable for the children do not make the same mistakes
This is exemplified through Ziqiu, who is so desperate to detach himself from the legacy of his birth parents that he mimics similar faults. He lived in misery for years because he didn’t want to burden his family, the same way his mother kept away from him, afraid of ruining the family he did have.
The same goes for Ling Xiao. He comes back from Singapore with a lot of trauma and abandonment issues because of his mother. He is afraid to turn to his father, who is always too busy with his work to notice him.
We also get a picture of a good parent through Hai Chao. It is his warmth and loves the children reflect. Maybe that’s why, once they do grow up, Jianjian, who lived the most with her father, is the only one who seems not to be haunted by her parent’s traumas.
This drama is one of the rare 9/10 I would recommend to anyone. It’s got its issues, but at the end of the day, something about it resonates with people like me who had to grow up from a scared child to a fearful adult all too quickly.