Miles to Go (2023) 人生之路
Summary: The drama follows Gao Jia Lin ft Chen Xiao and his friends in the countryside of Shaan Bei during the 1980s. Gao Jia Lin is an intelligent and talented young man who aspires to go to university, expand his horizons and leave behind the farming life. However, he failed to pass the university examinations and is left to remain in his impoverished living conditions. But with the help and encouragement of the uneducated but extremely capable Liu Qiao Zhen ft Li Qin, he decides to reinvent himself and continue to walk his path of life.
Unbeknownst to Gao Jia Lin, his university acceptance was stolen and his childhood friend Gao Shuang Xing ft Wang Tian Chen took his place, and the life he should have enjoyed in Shanghai.
Total Episode Count: 37
Initial Airing Date: March 20, 2023
Platform: CCTV, iQiyi
*Note – most English translations are my own and may not exactly match iQiyi’s official translations
Rating: 7.5/10: A powerful and thought provoking drama that follows the lives of youngsters from the countryside who fight to walk their paths in life while also accepting the hardships life throws at them. Understandable and imperfect characters, beautiful scenery and realistic life conflicts help make this an introspective and engaging watch.
Gao jia lin 高加林
chen xiao 陈晓
Highly intelligent and a gift writer, Gao Jia Lin thought he would be accepted to university to go on to bigger and better things. However, his acceptance letter and university spot was stolen which changed his life forever.
huang ya ping 黄亚萍
Zhang jia ni 张嘉倪
A beautiful woman originally from Shang Hai, Huang Ya Ping who loved to dance. She became attracted to Gao Jia Lin after seeing him work and actively pursued him.
gao shuang xing 高双星
Wang tian chen 王天辰
A childhood friend of Gao Jia Lin who took his spot to go to University and pretend to be Gao Jia Lin in Shang Hai. He tried his hardest to live up to the spot he stole but the truth still ate at him inside.
ma shuan 马栓
Tang zeng 唐曾
A classmate of Gao Jia Lin and Gao Shuang Xin. Ma Shuan is a hardworking man who loves Qiao Zhen
Chen xiu li 陈秀礼
guo xiao ting 郭晓婷
A young woman born and raised in Shanghai, she fell in love with Gao Shuang Xing while at University together
Based off of a book called Ren Sheng by Lu Yao, the drama begins in the 1980s in the countryside of Shaan Bei. High school students Gao Jia Lin, Gao Shuang Xing and many other classmates are preparing to take the university entrance exams. Liu Qiao Zhen is a young girl who was unfortunately not allowed to go to school because her father thought women did not need an education. She is a capable individual who grew up with Gao Jia Lin and Gao Shuang Xing and has always admired Gao Jia Lin for his intellect as he is top of the class.
The day of the university entrance exam comes and goes and Gao Jia Lin is eagerly awaiting the results. He hopes to change his life and leave the mountains to not be just a farmer as his family has been for generations. He hopes to see the world outside his village. But when the results came out, he did not pass the exam. Instead, it was his friend Gao Shuang Xing that passed the exam. This was a huge blow to Gao Jia Lin who could not accept that he has to live out the rest of his life now as a farmer.
However, the reality is that the village leader, Gao Ming Lou, father of Gao Shuang Xing, stole and swapped out Gao Jia Lin’s university acceptance letter. He then gave the opportunity to his own son Gao Shuang Xing who originally did not pass the exam. Gao Shuang Xing, using Gao Jia Lin’s name and identity, heads off to Shanghai to attend University.
With the lives of these two men dramatically changed, Gao Jia Lin struggled to accept that he missed his opportunity. Liu Qiao Zhen stepped in to help bring him out of his rut and encouraged him to live his life to the fullest. Soon after, they begin a relationship. He finally stepped out of his depression and was able to secure a job in town as a reporter after the return of his uncle. This opportunity marks a turning point in his life as he finally is able to showcase his writing capabilities to a greater audience and attracts the attention of his former classmate, Huang Ya Ping, where they realize they share passions and interests. Gao Jia Lin is left to consider which relationship he views as more important, Liu Qiao Zhen or Huang Ya Ping.
The path of life takes these youngsters through various stages of life as they make their mark not only in ShaanBei but in Shanghai as well.
This drama garnered surprisingly high viewership on CCTV, peaking at 3.17% by its finale (when breaking 2% is already considered a hit) and reaching 8500 on iQiYi’s popularity index (a relatively high number for this type of drama). This is currently only outclassed by The Knockout in terms of viewership stats this year. Miles to Go is a drama that certainly is more appealing to the masses, i.e. older crowd, rather than young folks but it had plenty of trending posts online as well. I did not think I’d like this drama because of the subject matter but I decided to give it a go because I’m a fan of Li Qin and was surprised by how much I liked it. It’s a very grounded show that touches on very real topics and provides powerful introspections on life.
The direct Chinese translation for the title of the drama is The Path of Life and the original book’s name is just Life. This is a drama about how to face adversity and challenges life puts in front of you and how you decide to walk your life. There are many ways one can walk life and it’s not always going to be picture perfect but that is the whole point. There’s bitterness and sweetness in every life around us. A key line that Qiao Zhen says in the drama which really stuck with me is “Walk your own life and you will know what your path is once you walk it. You should not try to walk another’s life if it’s not meant to be”.
- Realistic setting: The first half of the drama is set in the countryside in Shaan Bei and the cast really did spend several months filming there. The rustic homes, the never ending dirt, and beautiful scenery added plenty of immersion in the drama. While the main cast didn’t speak the local dialect, supporting characters who had the ability most certainly did. Chen Xiao and Li Qin also purposefully put on tanned makeup to better portray their characters as individuals from the countryside. There was plenty of criticism around how “dark” and “ugly” the drama made these actors/actresses look but I thought it showed dedication from the cast that they are willing to let go of the beautiful looks that are pervasive in fantasy and historical dramas to portray more realistic characters. Also, I feel like the criticism came from people watching the drama with their modern lenses. Both the production company and Lu Yao (the book’s author’s) family members have praised the look of the cast saying this was an accurate representation of life at that time.
- Imperfect yet understandable characters: Chen Xiao’s Gao Jia Lin is absolutely an imperfect character. Many viewers while chasing this drama were surprised by this since many dramas try to make the main male and female leads as perfect and righteous as possible. Gao Jia Lin loves writing and reading, hates being a farmer and thinks extremely highly of himself. Perhaps what most people could not stand was his wishy-washiness around his relationship with Liu Qiao Zhen and Huang Ya Ping. He ultimately gave up his relationship with Qiao Zhen because he realized he was a better fit with Huang Ya Ping. While it would have been very easy to hate on him, you are still drawn to this character because you could perhaps understand why he made the choices he did. You can dislike Gao Shuang Xing and Huang Ya Ping for what they’ve done to Gao Jia Lin and Liu Qiao Zhen respectively but they didn’t do what they did just to be bad people. Their motivations were complex or at least, understandable. Liu Qiao Zhen and Ma Shuan though? They’re the best. No doubt about it.
- Liu Qiao Zhen – the woman with a heart of gold: I’ll be biased here but I was blown away by Li Qin’s Liu Qiao Zhen. This young woman felt insecure about not having an education but that did not stop her from having an extremely positive outlook on life. She was always the positive force that brought people up around her and her earnestness, determination and courage helped her change her life in Shanghai after she went there to help cure her daughter. She was always a shining beacon on screen and I was drawn to her scenes because she was rarely selfish and always tried to take care of the people around her. She fought to make her path in life with the hand she was dealt and always persevered forward. I strive to be more like Liu Qiao Zhen and hope to meet more people like her.
- Powerful ending: [SPOILER ALERT] – I thought the drama did a great job with the ending, giving a reasonable and thought out resolution to each character’s lives. I most definitely cried buckets at the end of the drama and walked away satisfied with how they handled the various storylines, something that cannot be said about many fantasy and romance dramas out there.
What didn’t work:
- Gao Shuang Xing’s side story: The drama added these scenes of Gao Shuang Xing in University in Shanghai to show the challenges he faced while there using the guise of Gao Jia Lin’s identity but it didn’t really captivate me. Perhaps because I was much more invested in Gao Jia Lin and Liu Qiao Zhen’s story that anything outside that orbit felt unnecessary. His romance with Chen Xiu Li was fine at best because this was not grounded well in the story world that the book created so the liberties the screenwriters took here were certainly the weaker of all of the other storylines out there. Only until Gao Shuang Xing and Gao Jia Lin’s stories converged in Shanghai did it become more interesting.