Falling Into Your Smile Review: An Entertaining e-Sports Drama But Not Compelling

In mainland China, the e-sports industry is a lucrative business. Its market size reached US$27 billion in 2021, and it is estimated that half of its 1.41 billion population played video games. 

No wonder, e-sports drama in the C-entertainment becomes a popular genre recently. It's also gaining popularity among international fans.

Xu Kai and Cheng Xiao

"Falling Into Your Smile", an idol drama set against the backdrop of a video gaming competition, is just one of the C-Drama that falls in this genre.

It was a big hit among international fans during its run in July 2021 but suffered a wide backlash and criticism from video gaming fans in China, even offending pro gamer, GodV. 

The series tumbled in Douban (China's most popular rating site similar to IMDb) hitting a low satisfaction rating of only 2.9 out of 10, which is one of the worst ratings for a Chinese modern drama. Well, Douban rating can be manipulated by users, and mostly fans used it as a ground to hit back at the drama they don't like or water armies to pull down a high-performing drama.

Plot Summary:

The story revolves around the daily lives of professional e-sports players. Tong Yao (Cheng Xiao) is a fresh university graduate whose passion is in gaming. She is more interested to become a professional gamer rather than working in the corporate industry.

She has a supportive father but receives a constant objection from her mother who strongly opposes her desire to join the world of e-sports, viewing it as an unconventional industry for university graduates looking for a serious career. Nonetheless, Tong Yao is determined to follow her dreams.

An opportunity comes when Xiao Rui (Cui Shao Yang), the team manager of the all-male ZGDX OPL team, is looking for a replacement of one of its core members, Yu Ming (Merxat Yalkun) who is on the brink of retiring due to his hand injury. 

Rui decides to hire Tong Yao due to her exceptional skill in gaming, having been known as the number one Tamamo-no-mae on the Chinese server. He believes she is a great addition to the team who can bring impact during the competition.

In the ultra-competitive world of e-sports, no teams have ever hired a female player, thus, when Rui broached the topic of hiring Tong Yao, the team captain, Lu Si Cheng (Xu Kai) expresses disinterest, insisting he is in no rush to find a replacement of Yu Ming.

ZGDX is the darling of the crowd in the Onmyoji arena with a solid fanbase. The team's legion of supporters, mostly females, are over the moon obsessing the team leader, Lu Si Cheng. 

Tong Yao is a die-hard ZGDX fan and dreamed to take part in the team. Not to flirt with its members but simply to become a pro gamer with an opportunity to compete in the national level.

After she broke up with her professional e-sports gamer boyfriend, Jian Yang (Zhai Xiao Wen), the team leader of ZGDX's rival, CK, she believes romance is a major no zone in the gaming world. 

Rui invites her to the spring festival e-sports final to watch the team competes while still contemplating her decision. 

When she saw Yu Ming speaks on stage after the loss of ZGDX and his intention to retire to give way to the younger generation, Tong Yao decides to accept the offer. 

Lu Si Cheng and Lao K (Gao Han) give her a cold shoulder during the introduction, firm with their beliefs that professional gaming should be off-limit to females. 

Nonetheless, Rui convinces Si Cheng to give Tong Yao a chance to be part of the team. Eventually, he agrees to accept her as a substitute, a decision that polarizes the team's fans who believed females will just pull down the team's performance during the actual competition.

As she joins the training, guided by Yu Ming, Tong Yao finds Cheng ultra arrogant, hostile, and cold and does not know how to smile. He also doesn't talk much.

Whenever they're in one place, he often chastises her, chiding her shortcomings, and dismissively calling her "shorty".

As a team leader, Cheng is critical of his members' performance and progress because they're aiming for a national championship. So Tong Yao has to work hard to earn his respect and trust.

She finds herself walking in the tight rope of challenges inside the base camp of ZGDX, balancing a grueling training routine and dealing with the hostility of Cheng, adding to her distraction is the persistence of Jian Yang to reconcile with her, insisting he still loves her. 

Due to her perseverance and unflinching desire to make her dreams come true, she winds off the trials, earns the trust of her teammates, thaws the frigid Cheng, and defies convention to become the first-ever female professional player in the Omniyoji arena.

Falling Into Your Smile is adapted from the web novel, "You're Beautiful When You Smile", by Qing Mei.

Our Review:

Falling Into Your Smile is not a plot-driven drama. It has no carefully-outline plot points, lacks compelling character arc, and no well-developed story structure. It is simply a light romance with beautiful graphics of video games and the cutesy bantering of the main leads. 

I won't touch so much on the gaming aspect because I am not into e-sports and I don't understand anything about video gaming and its technicalities.

The e-sports aspect in this drama is also just used as a filler, a backdrop to the romance of the main leads, and not part of the plot twist. So even if you skip the gaming competition scenes, the structure of the story remains intact.

This is basically a story between two gamers who break the "no-dating" policy of their team to yield to their feelings and prove to observers that being in the pro gaming league does not mean a romantic relationship cannot thrive. That romance possibly bloom between teammates, despite the complex rules the team wants to impose.

Weak points

As with most drama, Falling Into Your Smile have weak points:

Most local fans (from the mainland) were critical of Cheng Xiao's portrayal of Tong Yao due to her lack of variation in her performance, failing to give life to the character.

I also find Cheng Xiao's expression painfully bland all throughout the 31 episodes (except in the final scene where she gave a real smile when she caught the bridal bouquet). 

She seems cannot distinguish fear from calm, provoke from evoke, grimace from delight. She lacks the zest to give the character a thud. 

She portrayed Tong Yao in a way that made me difficult to sympathize with her. Her character internalization is so monotonous I could hardly feel its transformation from a lollipop girl to a pro gaming champion.

She paled in comparison to the supporting casts who did well in their roles. And she was constantly overpowered by Rachel Wang, who performed better as Chen Jin Yang.

Rachel Wang

Cheng Xiao's inexperience as a drama actress makes Tong Yao a stiff and tentative girl rather than a gutsy aspiring gamer. Thank God there's Xu Kai who always saves the day. 

Xu Kai, who is a more experienced actor than CX, really did well in his role as the cold team leader of ZGDX. He acted so naturally and understood what's being asked in his role.

Cheng Xiao's raw facial expression is understandable because she is just starting in the industry. She only debuted in acting in 2020 via Detective Chinatown and Legend of Awakening. She started in the entertainment industry as a member of the K-pop group, WJSN.

The drama also shows the culture of C-fandoms. That most of the time they don't know how to respect boundaries. It depicts how C-entertainment fans can go wild with their favorites.

Strong points

But CX has good chemistry with Xu Kai and that's good news. They both have good visuals. And during their interaction, they obviously exhibited a unique rapport. Their chemistry saved Falling Into Your Smile from the slump. 

Tong Yao also possessed unique traits. She demonstrated perseverance and determination to break boundaries. And able to stand with her decision to live with her dreams despite her mother's objection.

She also possessed courage, joining an all-male team, a testament that girls too have the potential to become pro gamers and can rise above adversities in a male-dominated competition.

I like Merxat Yalkun too. He reminded me of the young Vic Chou 😂 I also like how he played the role of Yu Ming, an exceptionally talented gamer but unassuming. He did not judge Tong Yao, albeit, trained her to learn the ropes of the game.

Actually, Merxat is of Uyghur descent (which explains his handsomeness level 😁) he hails from Urumqi city in Xinjiang province, just like Dilraba Dilmurat and Gulinazha.

I like the interaction of the cats 😁 It was one of the best elements integrated into the drama that gave viewers real positive vibes. It's so cute watching their visual in the drama.

The two adorable cats in Falling Into Your Smile

I am happy to see Yang Ming Na (who played the role of Tong Yao's mother) again! She portrayed the role of Princess Yicheng in The Long Ballad, which was aired in Tencent ahead of FIYS.

Zhai Xiao Wen

With due respect to Si Cheng (lol!) I love Jian Yang (Zhai Xiao Wen), he is cute! And I don't think he screwed up Tong Yao. I like the way his character portrayed in the drama, he did not suck and he seems to be an amazing guy, and worth to be given a second chance.

Entertaining but not Compelling

Falling Into Your Smile is just a smooth-ride drama, no plot twits, no building of conflicts, no narrative highlights, no hurdles to overcome by the protagonists in the finale, just a simple story of a budding romance between two gamers. 

It's a drama addressing specific questions. What if a female infiltrates the male-dominated world of e-sports? And catches the attention of the team captain? And deliberately break the rules of falling in love between teammates? How would they handle the pressure? How would the team accept the situation? How would the fanbase react?

This drama is more fit for Generation Z because this age group prefers cute romances rather than plot-driven drama. Most GenZ is also into video gaming so this story is somewhat their cup of tea.

But for viewers who are looking for a more serious tone in storytelling, "Falling Into Your Smile" might be a boring drama to watch. It's just so plain and uneventful with a fairytale ending. 

The aesthetics and the quality of the graphics are good and if you are into gaming, the scenes can be appealing. But for those who are not into e-sports, the repetitive graphics might never attract interest.

The gaming scenes have nothing to do with how the backstory of the characters evolved. The gaming competition is just merely a filler in the story.

Falling Into Your Smile is an entertaining drama but not a compelling one. Its core story is just the playful teasing of Lu Shi Cheng and Tong Yao progressing into a cutesy romance. 

Viewers are just literally waiting in which episode Tong Yao can tame the stoic team leader, when the bantering evolved into feelings, when they fall in love. So it's pretty much predictable. The scenes are  very much a Generation Z sort of thing.

Widespread criticism in China

Falling Into Your Smile was a commercial hit among international fans during its run, but in China, it suffered a widespread backlash and criticism from the pro gamers and novel fans. 

Despite the lollipop romance between the main leads, it was dogged by plagiarism issues after readers found a lot of similarities to a piece written by another blogger.

The novel source author was also accused of using the backstory of real-life pro gamers, particularly, the romance of the main leads, which was allegedly based on the romance of pro gamer, GodV, whose real name is Wei Zhen, a retired Chinese League of Legends player. The drama title was also allegedly taken from GodV's old ID.

Other criticism pointed to the inaccurate depiction of e-sports players and their ethics, distorted plot, and the bland acting of Cheng Xiao who became the target of cyberbullying due to her poor interpretation of Tong Yao

In fact, the criticism triggered a fan war in 2021. It prompted the production team and Yue Hua entertainment, Cheng Xiao's talent agency, to issue statements strongly condemning the nasty criticism. They also threatened to take legal action against netizens who continue to give insulting comments.

The author of the novel also addressed the plagiarism issues and apologized for offending the pro gamer, GodV.

For viewers who are looking for good e-sports drama, you may try watching Go Go Squid (2019 starring Yang Zi and Li Xian), The King's Avatar (2019 starring Yang Yang), and Cross Fire (2020 starring Wu Lei and Lu Han).

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  1. I want to thank you for this program because it actually was a fun one to watch.. I myself am on disibility here in the USA which causes me to be at home most of the day with not a lot to do.. So I spend much of the time watching cable T V when I'm not at a Drs appointment There for I've been able to see this show and really enjoyed it. If there are any new episodes please let me know and I'll watch them too thanks again