- Title: A Dream of Splendor
- Original Title: 梦华录(Mèng huá lù)
- Year: 2022
- Number of Episodes: 40
- Genre: Romance, Historical
- Country: China
A Dream of Splendor Synopsis
A Dream of Splendor is a Chinese romance drama released in 2022. It has 40 episodes in total. The story is about Zhao Pan Er, who is a resourceful and intelligent teahouse owner in Qiantang County. She is engaged to be married to Ou Yang Xu, a scholar of humble origin. Awaiting for Ou Yang Xu’s return, after he successfully graduated from the Imperial Examination as third candidate (探花 Tànhuā ), Zhao Pan Er dreams of her marital life in the capital city. Unfortunately, Pan Er received news that her fiancé has left her to marry another woman in the capital city after he became a government official.
Determined to find the truth of the matter, Pan Er sets out for the capital city. Along the way, she meets Gu Qian Fan, a commander of an elite force in the capital. He is currently embroiled in a sticky situation which involves the power struggle within the imperial court. Although they had a rocky start, Gu Qian Fan and Zhao Pan Er decide to work together. First to survive and then to achieve their own goals. From friendship, love begins to bloom.
During her journey to the capital city, Pan Er crosses paths with her two best friends. Thus, their adventure begins; from opening a small teahouse together to successfully running the most popular restaurant in Bian Jing. Relying on each other for care and strength to get through all the ups and downs, the three sensational ladies set out to conquer the big city.
A Dream of Splendor Review
This drama is truly a treat! Brimming with glorious wealth of culture and refinement. From painting, music, literature, to the art of tea making, a pure delight that is hard to come by. Viewers are transported to a world that is enchantingly beautiful, elegant and cultured (yet bitter, but we will talk about this a bit later).
Every scene is mesmerizing, the music cinematic, the costumes and sets are well thought out, believable to the viewers. Everything was a joy to watch and let us be immersed in the wonderful universe that makes up A Dream of Splendor. I especially love that the city where the story takes place seems to be by the harbor. We are treated with stunning views all around.
A Lesson in Culture
One of the main draws to this drama is the cultural opulence, which showcased mainly from the Song dynasty. Everything is depicted stunningly, beautiful and picturesque. They are mainly scenes of people just doing everyday things, but the director paints such an enchanting world which gives me a sense of peace and wonder.
The story also delves into the world of guqin music and gives the audience a taste of its powerful allure. This drama is so rich in culture, more than I have ever seen in other Chinese dramas. It gives me a familiar feeling yet foreign at the same time.
Before this drama, I have never known that the Chinese have their own unique way of tea making. The only serious tea ceremony that I know of is only the one for weddings where you offer tea to the parents (ᗒ ᗨᗕ). But I guess I have a lot to learn.
As it turns out the Song dynasty have their own distinguished way to making tea. Seeing the process played out by Liu Yi Fei is nothing short of divine. I wouldn’t mind watching an entire episode just dedicated to that(๑˃́ꇴ˂̀). But we are not living in a perfect world.
A Story About Women
This drama is based on the Chinese opera A Sister Courtesan Comes to The Rescue (赵盼儿风月救风尘 Zhàopàn’er fēngyuè jiù fēngché) by Guan Han Qing (关汉卿). Although I have never seen the opera myself, but Guan Han Qing (1241-1320) was well known to have written many plays based on strong women lead. He sympathizes with women who most of the time are oppressed by society. The story of Zhao Pan Er is one of such stories.
The director in turn makes a link to story of oppression to women in ancient time to modern time. Sadly, it is very easy to make such stories easily relatable since oppression and injustice to women are still alive and well in society today.
Three Women, Three Misfortunes
Zhao Pan Er, together with her two best friends, Song Yin Zhang and Sun San Niang, come to the big city in search of a better life. Hoping to start their lives anew, away from all the predicaments which entrap them at home. They decide to run a teahouse together in the capital city of Bian Jing.
After the fall out of her engagement to Ou Yang Xu, Zhao Pan Er decides she cannot face the mocking and sneering from the people at home. Dazzled by what the city has to offer, she decides to stay in the capital city despite Ou Yang Xu’s taunting and intimidation to drive her out. In fact, through her wit and acute mind, she is able to turn the tables on Ou Yang Xu and force him to leave the city instead.
Song Yin Zhang is a highly talented guqin artist. Her master level skill earns her local fame in Qiantang County. However, her smooth career and comfortable income attracts the unwanted attention of the notorious wife killer, Zhou She. The naive and guileless Yin Zhang is blinded by Zhou She’s charm. Zhou She marries her only to use her money and abuse and torture her like an animal. She is later rescued by Zhou Pan Er through ingenious intricate scheme.
Sun San Niang comes from a family of butchers. She is talented in cooking and making delicate pastries. She sells them at Pan Er’s teahouse. And this is how they develop their deep friendship. San Niang dreams for her son to do well in school and one day becomes a high-ranking officer to bring her honor. Unfortunately, her husband decides to divorce her and marry another woman. On top of that, her young ignorant son also disowns her just to put the cherry on top of this twisted horrible cake!
So, together, the three ladies with nothing to lose, embark on a new adventure, breaking barriers for women: thriving in business and embracing their independence in the big city which most people can only dream of.
A Dream of Splendor Indeed
Looking at the depressing predicaments our ladies found themselves in, I cannot help but sigh and think to myself: man, life can sometimes throw you a mighty kick in the gut!!
I mean these ladies are living their lives as best they could; they give their best all the time in whatever they do; they are super talented, yet misfortune still comes knocking on their doors. This is the whole premise of the show.
Without it being any fault of their own, women can find themselves in undesirable situations. And since being a woman is a disadvantage in this drama plot, it is very hard for them to turn their circumstances around. For instance, their testimony is not to be believed when they bring their cases in front of a judge, once married they are not able to get out of their marriage unless the husband divorces them, and they are not to be taken seriously when they engage in businesses.
Hence, the three ladies are determined to be independent and not to rely on any man to achieve their happiness. This is the dream they want so desperately to achieve. A very inspiring story and would serve as motivation for many viewers. And who would be better to portray such strong heroine character other than Crystal Liu Yi Fei, especially with the image of Mulan attached to her.
Zhao Pan Er
Even though this story tells the tale of three different women, but had this drama been called ‘Zhao Pan Er’, it would have been just as well. The character Zhao Pan Er is so strong willed and everything that has happened to her is also incredible. It is both inspiring and heart wrenching to see.
I can also imagine if in the book Zhao Pan Er would have been called a ‘peerless beauty’ with looks that can bring down countries and move mountains, in the drama this has been executed perfectly. Because Liu Yi Fei is breathtakingly beautiful. She shines in every scene. She plays the character very well and is a joy to watch.
I first saw her in Demi Gods and Semi Devils 天龍八部 Tiānlóng bā bù in 2003, she was ridiculously beautiful there. It is nice to see her becoming the big star she is known today.
Room For Improvements
If there is anything bad that can be said about this drama, to me it most probably be the chemistry of the main couple. Not that it’s bad, it is just not fiery enough? Not sure if I know how to describe it perfectly, but as one of the viewers, I just do not feel the umph in it, you know. I guess some things just cannot be forced no matter how good you are at acting it out (˃̣̣̥ ▿ ˂̣̣̥).
I find this surprising myself, considering how much attention this show is garnering after the release of their kissing scenes trailers and still pics.
The first time I saw Chen Xiao‘s performance was in Nothing Gold Can Stay, and he was so endearing there. His talent is obvious, and it certainly can be seen in his portrayal of Gu Qian Fan. But unfortunately, it did not leave as big an impact in the romance part of the story with Zhao Pan Er. Is it just me…? His fighting scenes are top notch though, very thrilling to see.
Another missed opportunity for this drama is that they should have also showcased the wonderful food in more details. Especially during the banquet at Yong An restaurant. They put so much effort and emphasis to the performance in the private pavilion. It is so entrancing and jubilant; I feel like I’m watching the spring festival gala. If only they would also showcase the food that is being served with the same fervor.
Memorable Scenes and Performances
(Watch Out of Spoilers)
There are many things that this drama does right and hence brings delight to the viewers but there are however scenes and performances that stand out in my mind.
For instance, during the trial where Zhao Pan Er sues Ou Yang Xu and the citizens chip in to pay the fine for her so that she can escape the flogging punishment. It is always a good feeling to watch people come together to help one another.
I also appreciate Lin Yun‘s acting chop as Song Yin Zhang. The change in her after she discovers Shen Ru Zuo is far from sincere with her, is obvious to see from her facial expression and demeanor, without it being too overbearing. It is as if she turns into a completely different person.
And also the character Chi Yan Nei who is whimsical yet endearing that it’s frustrating me to the max (｀∀´). I have to wonder whether this character is purposely written like that or is it just the way Dai Xiu portrays him that is so out of the box? Either way, he is in charge in bringing in the laughter and brings humor onto the screen.
Surprisingly, the small role of the empress played by Liu Ke Jun gives me quite the impact. When the emperor reprimanded the empress, and she is jolted back to sanity, her portrayal is fascinating to see. At first, I thought the empress looks a bit too young and she lacks the regal quality of someone of nobility. But what she lacks in bearing, she makes up in that particular performance.
Is A Dream of Splendor Have A Happy Ending?
It is somewhere between happy and sad ending. The climax of the drama is when Ou Yang Xu is brought to justice. Personally, to me, this is odd and leaves me somewhat unsatisfied. Of course, I understand the logic in that with him being made to pay for all his wrong doings, brings closure to our female lead. This also teaches the lesson that women should not be looked down upon. Because when you do, you will lose your job and be charged for murder ( ՞ਊ՞). But still, the entire drama also brings out the intrigue within the place. Sure, Ou Yang Xu now pays the price, but what about the other scheming rats who create all the chaos behind the scenes?
Overall, this ending to me does not seem final. What will happen to Gu Qian Fan’s career? Will Xiao Qin Yan leave him from under his claws? Why is the emperor continuously having headaches? How did Sun San Niang’s son come to his senses? So many unanswered questions.
Regardless of how I think of the ending, it does bring some satisfaction and needed closure. And for all the wonderful portrayal of the arts, music and culture, this drama is a must watch, for sure. By the end of episode 40, I feel very reluctant to leave this world that has been so enchantingly created by the director, Yang Yang.