Illustration by Marlowe Pody for an article on Go Ahead
Sometimes family isn't born, it's made. (Illustration by Marlowe Pody, Rhode Island School of Design)

‘Go Ahead’ Redefines What It Means To Be a Family

The Chinese drama series shows that sometimes blood doesn’t matter as much as who we choose to be with and care for.

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Illustration by Marlowe Pody for an article on Go Ahead

The Chinese drama series shows that sometimes blood doesn’t matter as much as who we choose to be with and care for.

“Go Ahead” is a Chinese television drama series released in August 2020. The series has 46 episodes, each about 40 minutes long. It’s a light-hearted story that follows three young children who all share troubled paths in their journey of creating their own unconventional family. The viewers watch the three main characters from childhood to adulthood as they struggle with familial and other personal issues. The series highlights many important themes, especially concerning the definition of family. The literal meaning of the title (以家人之名) captures the heart of the show, translating to “In the name of family.”

Stephanie C. from HotpotTV told readers, “The drama is a multifaceted story showcasing a great balance of showing the poignant, heartwarming, sweet and funny moments while depicting the beautiful, good, bad and ugly sides of a family.”

The Unconventional Family of “Go Ahead”

The series begins with Li Hai Chao, aka Father Li. He’s a noodle restaurant owner and father to Li Jian Jian, and he and his young daughter are trying to heal from the loss of their wife and mother. Young He Zi Qiu is abandoned by his mother, and is introduced to Father Li by a matchmaker friend. As a result, he is left to the care of Father Li. Eventually, upstairs neighbor Ling Xiao also ends up relying on Father Li for meals and companionship after his mother leaves both him and his workaholic father. Li Jian Jian, who is an outspoken, family-oriented girl, finds that she has two new brothers.

Some of the most heartfelt scenes show the entire family — including Ling Xiao’s biological father when he gets home from work —  as they all eat around the table. The family jokes and puts Father Li’s homemade food onto each other’s plates, smiling and poking fun at each other.

Throughout “Go Ahead,” viewers watch as the kids grow up into adolescents, college students and grown-ups. The family tackles every twist and turn that comes their way. In a heartbreaking plot development, Ling Xiao and He Zi Qiu unwillingly leave to study abroad for nine years in Singapore and the UK respectively, leaving Jian Jian lost and lonely at home as she finishes her last year of high school. She formed an unbreakable bond with her brothers, and, for years, she has grown up with their support and love. The siblings drift apart as time moves on, becoming awkward with each other when all of them finally reunite. Amid the tension, however, they eventually begin to understand each other and the decisions they each have made, making their bond grow stronger.

As Li Jian Jian says in the series, “I always believe those who share the ties of blood aren’t necessarily a family. But those who cherish and love each other, they definitely are.”

Other than the family created by Father Li, viewers also see the bond created between friends and how they become family as well. The series sends a powerful message: Blood family means nothing if there is not love and support. “The drama looks at what defines a family and has at its heart an unconventional family brought together by love as much as circumstance,” wrote John Lui from The Strait Times.

Kind-Hearted Father Figure

Father Li is one of the most interesting and exceptional characters in the series. His personality revolves around his kind, paternal heart. Not long after his wife dies, he takes care of two young boys along with his daughter. He is a patient, accepting father who would do anything for his kids. Every day, he cooks for them while maintaining his noodle restaurant. His iconic cooking scenes make your mouth water as he chops up vegetables, simmers meat and creates colorful dishes.

His relationship with Ling Xiao’s father is something to put smiles on the audience’s face. The trailer describes the family’s relationship as “Two single-parent families living together as parents.” They bicker like an old married couple, gossip about the kids and talk through familial problems with each other. They try to solve any difficulties together. The kids always come first.

One of the biggest problems that Father Li faces in the series is his role as a father for the two boys. He’s viewed as a courteous man who would take in the children of others, but Zi Qiu and Ling Xiao aren’t just some kids to him —  they’re like his real sons, and he wants other people to see him as their real father. It breaks his heart to think that he could never fully be their dad. He completely loves his children, putting aside his physical health and his love life in order to provide for them.

Strong Female Friendship

The female friendship in “Go Ahead” definitely passes the Bechdel Test. During the years in which her brothers are abroad, Li Jian Jian and her best friend, Qi Ming Yue, befriend their former rival, Tang Can. They graduate high school and college together and move into an apartment.

Throughout the series, viewers watch as the strength of their friendship is tested by arguments and jealousy over jobs, boys and families. Qi Ming Yue and Tang Can come from similar families that pressure their daughters to succeed. However, through job insecurity, familial pressures and relationship problems, the girls always support one another.

In one scene, the three girls are in a café as they vent their problems. Tang Can has just been offered a stunt double role in a big movie where she was auditioning to be one of the leads, and Ming Yue had just come from a dinner to talk her mom out of buying her a house that the family cannot afford. They support one another, giving kind words, cracking jokes and offering real advice for their problems. This series does a great job at demonstrating the realness in female friendships, showcasing the fights, emotions, never-ending support and goofy moments between the women. 

Mental Illness and Trauma in “Go Ahead”

While Ling Xiao is in Singapore for nine years, he reluctantly resides with his disabled mother. Although she abandoned him and his father only to have another child, he is the only person that can look after her. His mother emotionally abuses Ling Xiao, manipulating him and speaking ill of his family, but he’s afraid to leave her alone — after the accident that injured her, his mother refused to eat and attempted suicide.

When he finally returns home, he is happy to be with his family, especially Li Jian Jian whose bubbly personality is like a light to him, but he struggles with anxiety and insomnia, taking pills each night to sleep. His family helps as much as they can, with Jian Jian making his room homey, and his father taking him to a traditional Chinese medicine doctor.

He Zi Qiu faces a different struggle. His mother abandoned him as well, with his father out of the picture until he reaches high school. He suffers through constant feelings of loneliness and fear of abandonment. As a child, he is shown working hard for Father Li to prove his worth. This bullheaded, hardworking personality follows him abroad as he works hard without the financial backing of his biological father, unbeknownst to Father Li. He is stubborn and internalizes his feelings, but over the course of the series, his little unconventional family proves to him that he doesn’t have to face his problems alone.

“Go Ahead” is a heartwarming slice of life drama that viewers of all ages are able to enjoy. With its beautifully written script and the relatable characters, the show isn’t something to miss out on.

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