Review: A Dream Of Splendor [China]

THE SHORT VERDICT:

On the upside, Show is gorgeous to look at, and features two beautiful leads in Crystal Liu and Chen Xiao.

Best of all, our leads are both strong characters in their own rights, and who also share a lot of crackly chemistry; y’know, the kind that threatens to leap off your screen and slap you in the face. 🔥

On top of that, Show is a proponent of female independence AND female friendships. How rare! 🤩

On the downside, Show loses some of that excellent dramatic tension in its second half, which can be a damper. I also didn’t jive so well with Show’s sense of humor, a lot of the time.

Still a very solid watch overall, though. Watch it for the leads, if nothing else. 😁

THE LONG VERDICT:

Like I said in my episode 1-2 notes, I first took notice of this show because everyone around me was raving about it.

I jumped in because of good ol’ FOMO, and I’d say that, all in all, I have no regrets checking out this one.

While I can’t say that I’m raving about it as a whole, I can definitely say that there are some very solid pluses in this show, and that these pluses make it worth checking out, in spite of its, uh.. not-so-pluses. 😁

And this review is where I’d like to tell you allll about it.

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.

Overall, I enjoyed the music nicely, even though I can’t say that any single track jumped out at me more than the others.

Generally, I found the OST tracks very melodious and enjoyable, and I did also feel that the OST added to my enjoyment of the show.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS

Here are a few things to keep in mind that I think will help to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:

1. It can be a bit of a slow burn.

It took about 3 or 4 episodes for me to really get into this story and its characters, so if episode 1 doesn’t grab you, don’t give up just yet?

2. Show can get a bit dark at times.

What I mean is, from time to time, torture happens on our screens and that can be rather hard to take, particularly with our modern-day lenses.

On the upside, the torture scenes aren’t terrible, in that they’re not super explicit, and they typically don’t last long.

3. Show’s emphasis shifts after the first half.

In Show’s first half, the OTP loveline takes centerstage and is responsible for basically all of the deliciously cracky feels that Show serves up.

In Show’s second half, however, the focus shifts away from the OTP relationship somewhat, to focus on Pan Er’s journey. Knowing to expect this helps, I think.

STUFF I LIKED

I’ll be doing a quickish macro look at the various things I liked and didn’t like so much in this show, before delving into a selective look at characters and relationships.

Show is very pretty to look at

One of my favorite things about this show, is how pretty it is, and how that pretty, is often in the service of showcasing bits of Chinese culture, while it’s at it.

The attention to detail in sets and costumes is quite impressive, and this story world looks halfway between real and lived-in, and slightly ethereal and magical, with how pretty some of the scenes are.

[SPOILER ALERT]

For example, the opening of Yong An Restaurant in episodes 33-34, turns out to be a feast for the senses.

The performances, the costumes, the choreography, the food, the fireworks; it all comes together to make a very festive picture indeed.

The real spotlight, though, belongs to the opening night of their VIP-only Yiyuan pavilion, which vibes more like an interactive live musical which happens to serve food, than just a fancy feast.

Sure, there’s some suspension of disbelief required in terms of how how Pan Er (Crystal Liu) and her team are able to come up with such an intricate performance in such short period of time (the way she muses over it, it sounds as if she’s still thinking about it, while writing out the invitations).

And, there’s also suspension of disbelief required around how they’re able to pull it off so smoothly, given the short period of preparation time.

BUT. It’s all so beautiful to look at, that I don’t really care about that, even.

The rich colors of the costumes; the graceful flowing fabric; the special lights; the music; the floating confetti; the dancing; it’s quite spellbinding, really. 🤩🤩

And then, having the performance segue seamlessly into the performers helping to pretty up the tables and serve the dishes, is a stroke of brilliance.

It’s beautiful AND immersive; it’s no wonder everyone is entranced.

[END SPOILER]

For an overview of The Pretty, here’s an unsubbed (and therefore not so spoilery) trailer for the show. Beautiful. 🤩

Both leads are strong characters

Another of my favorite things in this show, is how both our leads are strong, independent characters.

No damsels in distress, and no hapless beta male lead here, heh.

I love how both leads are allowed to be strong people, and how Show teases out their connection, in a way where neither of them loses their independence nor personal agency because of their romantic relationship.

Mutual attraction AND mutual respect? Yes, please! 🤩

Female independence is treated as a positive thing

Through our various arcs and characters, Show is clear that it accepts, supports and endorses the idea of female independence.

This feels very progressive for the time period, especially, since this is a time in history where women are expected to defer to the male members of their families, in basically everything.

Show establishes this idea very early on, and then carries this idea through all the way to the end, which I count a positive.

So many dramas introduce an idea, then drop it in favor of focusing on the OTP loveline, but not this one, and certainly not with this particular idea.

I found this nicely refreshing.

Here are just a handful of examples of how Show includes this idea in its story.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1-2. When those thugs come charging into Pan Er’s teahouse, I was thoroughly surprised by how she and her partner San Niang (Ada Liu) fight back with so much fierce gusto. These two aren’t damsels in distress in any way, and that’s pretty darn awesome.

E9-10. I like that instead of Yin Zhang (Jelly Lin) being bound by this idea that she needs to find a way to escape her lot as a registered musician, she finds a way to appreciate the positives in her situation, and find empowerment in her status. LOVE.

And while Show plays the thing with the landlady for comedy, I do like the idea that San Niang finds empowerment in her skill for making cakes and other delicacies.

E11-12. This set of episodes, Show spends most of its time exploring the fact that Pan Er, San Niang and Yin Zhang desire to be independent in the capital, and not be a burden to Qian Fan and his people.

I like their independent way of looking at the world, and their can-do attitude about starting a business in the capital. They’re not intimidated at all, by their new surroundings, though I don’t know how much of that is actual courage, and how much of that is due to naiveté.

Still, it’s nice to see their first day of business going well, with some help from He Si (Hu Yu Xuan) and his friends.

[END SPOILER]

Female friendships are shown in a positive light

With so many shows leaning into the dynamic between petty female frenemies for laughs &/or dramatic tension, it’s really nice to see how Show is pretty darn consistent in showing female friendships in a favorable light.

Not only do we have the strong sisterhood between Pan Er, San Niang and Yin Zhang, we also see other female friendships portrayed positively.

[SPOILER ALERT]

For example, I liked the scenes when Yin Zhang runs into Zhang Hao Hao (Jia Nai) in episodes 9-10.

I’d imagined that Hao Hao might have been mean to Yin Zhang, since Yin Zhang’s a new girl from the countryside, but instead, Hao Hao takes an instant liking to Yin Zhang, which is nice enough on its own.

But on top of that, I love that Hao Hao turns Yin Zhang’s worldview upside down, by giving her a much more positive lens through which to view her status as a registered musician.

Instead of lamenting that musicians are of a lower class, Hao Hao points out all the plus points of being a musician: the independence, the freedom and the respect that they get.

I honestly loved that. ❤️

[END SPOILER]

Show isn’t very predictable, a good chunk of the time

Another plus for me in this show, is that I don’t find the resolutions predictable – at least a fair chunk of the time.

This way, Show keeps me on my toes, because I never know if it’s going to go the way I expect it to, or whip out a sharp left turn instead. 😁

[SPOILER ALERT]

For example, in episodes 5-6, Qian Fan’s just been poisoned by his best friend, and I’d expected that Chen Lian (Guan Yun Peng) would come to his rescue somehow – but that wasn’t how things worked out at all.

In fact, Qian Fan manages to fight off his attackers, despite having been poisoned. Wow. He really does live up to his fearsome nickname of the living devil of the Capital Security Office.

I’d wondered at first, why Wan Qi would have armed assassins hiding in his courtyard, ready to attack Qian Fan, but Show does a nice job of explaining that.

As it turns out, Wan Qi had been under orders from his Commander, and as Qian Fan’s closest friend, had been expecting Qian Fan to show up at some point, to ask for help.

I can buy that, and I can also believe that Qian Fan would make to leave without killing Wan Qi, because, as we’ve come to see, Qian Fan’s not as heartless as most people believe.

It’s Wan Qi who won’t let Qian Fan go, and that’s how Qian Fan ends up killing his best friend.

Literally, one minute, he’s sitting there with complete trust in Wan Qi, and before you know it, he needs to kill Wan Qi, in order to preserve his own life.

Not so great for Qian Fan, but pretty great for dramatic tension. 😅

[END SPOILER]

STUFF THAT WAS OK

Show’s second half can feel a bit meandering

From about Show’s halfway mark, I felt like Show landed as a lot less gripping than before.

[HIGH LEVEL SPOILERS]

Generally speaking, in Show’s first half, what I liked was that the various narrative arcs don’t take too long to resolve. This means that there isn’t a sense of drag about our story in our first half, which I definitely count a plus.

Once the OTP relationship is minted at around the halfway point, however, Show appears to shift its focus.

Meaning, we don’t spend as much time with our OTP sharing screen time, and that definitely takes away from Show’s appeal.

At the same time, Show continues its practice of serving up short-ish narrative arcs, and after a while, this all starts to feel slightly unfocused and meandering, mostly because it feels like we’re floating from one arc to another, while waiting for the OTP to get some screen time together.

The other thing is, sometimes the OTP does get to share screen time together, but the arc isn’t as compelling as I had expected.

[SPECIFIC SPOILERS]

For example, in episodes 21-22, I’d really looked forward to the scene of Pan Er taking Qian Fan with her to visit Gao Hui (Claire Jia), to prove to her that she’s absolutely no longer interested in having anything to do with Ouyang Xu (Xu Hai Qiao).

On paper, that sounds like a potentially delicious sort of scene, but in execution, it was rather meh for me.

It was hardly a blip on the narrative radar, and before I knew it, it was over and we were moving on to other things.

That wasn’t what I’d had in mind, when I said that I was really looking forward to this scene, for sure!

It basically feels like Show was building up to some sort of climax – which then turned out to be an anticlimax.

I mean, we even had people from the Gao family going to Qiantang to get information on whether or not Pan Er and Ouyang had actually been engaged.

And yet, in the scene itself, everything is smoothed over so quickly and easily, that it feels like much ado about nothing. Not the most satisfying thing to watch, from where I’m sitting.

Another thing that didn’t work for me, was in episode 25-26, when Show tries to distract us with quite a few happenings, while Qian Fan’s in a coma, and I felt rather distracted and impatient.

It’s like, I’m not exactly interested in Yin Zhang’s princessy temperament, or in the teahouse’s ice supply problems, or in San Niang’s heated defense of Du Chang Feng, when Qian Fan’s in a coma, y’know?

All in all, it’s not exactly terrible; it’s just.. not as gripping or as compelling as I would have liked.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF I LIKED LESS

The characterization of supporting characters can be quite uneven

By and large, Show does a decent job of fleshing out our main characters, but I did find that the characterization of smaller, supporting characters could be rather uneven.

[SPOILER ALERT]

As an example, Xiao Wei (Li Sheng Jia) is portrayed as really disliking Qian Fan, pretty much all the way through, from the minute we meet him.

Even after Qian Fan saves his life, we don’t exactly see him treat Qian Fan any differently.

But, in our final stretch, when Pan Er goes to see Minister Xiao (Wang Luo Yong), and Minister Xiao tells her that he will help her, Xiao Wei steps in to intervene, and privately tells Pan Er that Minister Xiao isn’t being sincere, and that he’s there to save her from certain death.

This felt like such an out-of-the-blue thing, that I was really confused and wasn’t sure who to believe. For a hot second, I thought that perhaps Xiao Wei was the one who was lying. 😅

See, if Show had done a better job with developing his character, then perhaps this wouldn’t have come as such a surprise, and would have landed in a more organic manner.

[END SPOILER]

Some of the Intended Funny didn’t work for me

I really wasn’t suuper into the Intended Funny that Show serves up. I guess Show and I just have different ideas of what’s amusing and what’s not?

[SPOILER ALERT]

For example, I am not into the supposed comedy that Show is trying to bring to our story world via Chi Pan (Dai Xu).

As a character, I find him excessive and try-hard, and ridiculously petty. I dunno; it just doesn’t work for me, and sometimes Show serves him up rather more than I would like. 😅

And then there’s the thing where Chi Pan gets roundly beaten up in episodes 9-10 by Pan Er and her pals, and Show intends that for Funny too.

I’m not fond of him as a character, but I still don’t get actual pleasure out of seeing him suffer, so I wasn’t too into the Intended Funny of him getting whacked in the mouth, and then scalding his tongue, so that he couldn’t talk properly.

I got somewhat similar vibes when Show has that landlady character go ham on San Niang, about her cakes being sooo delicious, in that Show appears to find its fun at certain characters’ expense.

That’s.. not my kind of humor. 😅

[END SPOILER]

SPOTLIGHT ON CHARACTERS & RELATIONSHIPS

Crystal Liu as Pan Er

Pan Er is, in a word, an awesome female lead. 🤩

She’s smart, not easily ruffled, charming and self-possessed. I love the idea that she’s a shrewd businesswoman who knows how to handle herself in almost any kind of situation.

The deeper I got into our story, the more I saw that she’s really quick-witted, resourceful and daring.

I honestly couldn’t help but love her.

Here are a handful of arcs in our story, which I feel come together to give a nice flavor for the kind of person Pan Er is.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1-2. I feel sorry for Pan Er, that she’s had a hard life after being assigned as a government slave due to the transgressions of her father.

It’s even worse now that she receives news that the man whom she’d believed she was going to marry, has now finally passed the Imperial Examination, but isn’t going to marry her as promised.

Considering that she’s supported him and helped him and believed in him for three years, this is understandably very upsetting news.

I do love Pan Er’s steely streak, though.

The way she decides that she must go to the capital to see Ouyang Xu and talk to him personally, to make sure that they’re not being set up by schemers who’re trying to tear them apart for personal gain, is really ballsy.

I mean, she’s literally willing to die on the way, if it comes down to it. That boldness of hers, to own her decisions to the full, is very admirable, I must say.

E5-6. I honestly had no idea what Pan Er’s plan was, to deal with Zhou She, and save Yin Zhang.

All of Pan Er’s steps felt counter-intuitive to me, which just goes to show how smart, shrewd and quick-witted Pan Er is.

Her step-by-step plan is basically a slow reeling in of Zhou She, so that he gets caught up in her net without even realizing, and eventually finds himself backed into a corner, with nowhere to run.

Smart, smart Pan Er.

And, she really goes all-in, too, with her act, what with holding Zhou She’s hand, and allowing him to get close to her – to a point.

E7-8. It is a little sad and poignant though, to see that Pan Er’s come around to why Qian Fan says that in this world, humanity is the most fragile.

On this point, I thought it would be interesting to talk about the exact phrasing in the dialogue.

Qian Fan actually says, “在这世间有的人心经不起考验,” which literally translates as, “In this world, there are some people whose hearts cannot endure testing.”

I prefer the original dialogue, because not only does it sound more poetic, it has a more specific meaning as well, which aligns much better with the actual developments of our story.

E15-16. In terms of Pan Er being held by Commandant Yu and his men, I have to say that I’m very impressed with Pan Er for remaining assertive and self-possessed, even in such a dangerous situation.

She could literally lose her life, and yet, she remains undaunted by Commandant Yu’s threats and manhandling.

Also, how truly clever of her, to have been as prepared for this, as she is. She’d picked up on the clues that someone was tampering with her accounts, and then done her own testing, and then swapped out the planted false evidence with FAKE false evidence.

Ha. I do love that bit about the fake false evidence.

She basically beat Commandant Yu at his own game, which, while satisfying for us to realize as an audience, only puts her into greater danger, as Commandant Yu decides that if he’s going to have to die, he won’t die alone, and will take her down with him. Eep.

I do love the detail, that what gets the guards to actually take action to help her, is not her earlier appeal to their righteous sensibilities, saying that they aren’t his men, but men of the Capital Security Bureau.

Instead, it’s when she cries out to them, that surely they don’t want to offend Qian Fan, that they hurriedly come to her aid. HA. So their fear of Qian Fan is essentially greater than their sense of duty, pfft.

Thank goodness, though, that as Commandant Yu comes charging at Pan Er with a dagger in his hand, ready to stab her, he gets downed by a flying dagger that comes from Qian Fan (or perhaps it’s Chen Lian).

Ohthankgoodness. They DO come back in time to save Pan Er after all, for which I’m extremely grateful.

And, as it turns out, Pan Er had actually alerted Chen Lian earlier, that she would likely be in danger, so it still goes back to Pan Er being really shrewd and smart, in reading her situation. I love that she’s so smart, and is almost never taken by surprise, as a result.

E29-30. I’m surprised – but also, not entirely surprised – when Pan Er speaks up for Chi Pan, when he’s being bullied by the head of the wharf.

And she is wonderfully eloquent and elegant too, as she speaks the heart of the people.

No wonder this ends up being the turning point, where Chi Pan goes from being Pan Er’s biggest enemy, to becoming her biggest fan. 😁

E33-34. It was actually pretty gratifying to see Pan Er receive the Emperor with such grace and elegance, even though, for most of his visit, she has no idea who he is.

And even when she clues in, she remains unruffled and calm, and navigates the situation to the best of her discernment, telling him that The Night Revels had been destroyed in a big fire, along with many other artworks.

As Qian Fan later says, what a risky move that is!

E35-36. It’s quite gratifying to see that Pan Er’s used Chi Pan’s influence as head of the silk guild, to have all those silk handkerchiefs made and sold – which just happen to look exactly like the one that Ouyang’s keeping hostage over Gao Hui. HA.

Now, his precious evidence has become a common item that can be bought anywhere in the Eastern Capital. Nice one, Pan Er! 🤩

So smart, so shrewd, and so compassionate and thoughtful towards Gao Hui, too.

[END SPOILER]

Chen Xiao as Qian Fan

I have to confess that I didn’t have a very positive first impression of Qian Fan as a character. 😅

However, Show does an excellent job of bringing Qian Fan’s inner layers to the fore, so that, with regular glimpses into his goodhearted core, I couldn’t help but grow to like him, over time.

In fact, I found that Show reveals more and more of Qian Fan’s decent core, and in a way that feels quite natural.

What this means is, while watching the show, there wasn’t any particular point where I decided that he was no longer in the doghouse with me. I just.. realized that I didn’t dislike him anymore, somewhere along the way. 😅

I thought that was very nicely done.

Additionally, as I liked Qian Fan more and more, I also couldn’t help but find Chen Xiao more and more handsome, to my eyes. 🤩

Show does a nice job of fleshing out Qian Fan as a character, and revealing to us, in layers, what makes him tick, and why he behaves the way that he does.

Here is a handful of arcs which I feel help to draw a decently robust picture of who Qian Fan is, as a person.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3-4. I feel sorry for San Niang and all she’s been through, and I have to admit, when Gu Qian Fan creeps up behind her and knocks her out cold while she’s ranting, my first instinct was to think that he did that because he’d found her hysterics too much to take.

Instead, he tells Pan Er that San Niang is too weak to get that upset, and that endeared him to me a little more, again.

He really is more compassionate than he lets on, and I’m pleasantly surprised by how differently I feel towards him now, compared to just 2 episodes ago.

Also, I must say that it’s kind and quite chivalrous of him, to insist on accompanying Pan Er and San Niang, when Pan Er disembarks with San Niang, to get her to a doctor.

I mean, this is extra risk that he doesn’t need, and Pan Er tells him that he doesn’t need to do this, but he says that since he saved San Niang’s life, he can’t watch her go insane.

My take is that he doesn’t feel that Pan Er and San Niang would be safe on their own, and that’s why he goes with them, so that he can protect them, if necessary. That’s really nice, honestly.

E7-8. Minister Xiao seems to care a great deal about Qian Fan, and Qian Fan does appear cold, for not receiving Minister Xiao’s efforts with more warmth.

However, with the context that Bio Dad had walked out on Qian Fan and his mother without a second look, I feel like I can understand Qian Fan’s reactions a lot better.

He’s been hurt deeply by Bio Dad’s rejection at a very tender age. It’s not surprising that he wouldn’t be super keen to forgive Bio Dad and act like everything’s fine between them.

The extent of Qian Fan’s determination becomes clearer to me, when we learn that Minister Xiao is actually so powerful and influential.

Not only does he easily have Commissioner Lei Jing (Du Yu Ming) quaking in his boots, Lei Jing mentions that Minister Xiao is basically on the path to becoming Prime Minister.

I can see why Bio Dad is so perplexed that Qian Fan refuses to take advantage of their relationship, in order to have a smoother and less dangerous life.

But that only goes to show how strongly Qian Fan feels about Bio Dad’s corrupt ways, and how much he wants to distance himself from that type of mindset and way of life.

E13-14. We’re getting small glimpses into what and how Qian Fan thinks, which I appreciate.

It’s rather poignant to me, that he’s keeping Chen Lian away from interrogation, because it’s such dark work, and would stain his character irrevocably.

It seems to me that this kind of work has kind of sucked the life out of Qian Fan, in a manner of speaking, and the thought of what kind of person he’s become, is weighing on him.

That moment when he douses himself with that basin of water, feels like a rare expression of the angst that he’s kept bottled up all this time.

Also, what a great visual, of an angsty Qian Fan, drenched in water, with vapor rising up off of him. I find it quite arresting; kudos to the director.

[END SPOILER]

Pan Er and Qian Fan

This OTP loveline was THE highlight of my watch, no lie. ❤️

The development of their connection and subsequent bond, along with moments of hyper-awareness and hyper-proximity, which sometimes lean positively molten, was the crack that made this watch so thrilling and addictive, in Show’s first half. 🔥

I’m honestly rather disappointed that Show tamps it down noticeably in its second half, BUT, even so, their relationship is marked by quite a bit of healthy conversation, and mostly strong, unwavering commitment, which are all very good things in my book.

These two make quite the power couple, and I was glad to be able to witness the forming and solidifying of their relationship.

Here is a selection of OTP highlights, so that you can relive the feels with me. 🥰

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3-4. I like that Gu Qian Fan and Pan Er are helping each other more and more, and doing so more and more willingly too.

I really like seeing them grow to trust each other, and care about each other, through the various trials and obstacles they encounter, this set of episodes.

I also like the way Show sets up this evolution of their relationship, as a chain of cause-and-effect events.

For example, the way Gu Qian Fan jumps into the water to save San Niang, even though he’s injured, and even though this means exposing his face and risking discovery, is really compassionate of him.

This leads Pan Er to think of a way to protect Gu Qian Fan, where she lies to Mr. Zheng, the  ship captain, that she’s pregnant with Gu Qian Fan’s baby, and that they’re eloping because of a complicated love triangle involving the nephew of the Commander Prince of Pengcheng.

Which leads to that highly amusing exchange between Pan Er and Gu Qian Fan, where he deadpans that he reluctantly agrees to be the father of her baby. Hahaha! I found this very entertaining. 😁

The bickery mutual accusations that they’re each being taken advantage of by the other, is made funnier, because of the way Gu Qian Fan tamps down a very cheeky look, like he’s having way too much fun teasing Pan Er.

That swallowed cheeky look is also one of the things that helped me soften towards Gu Qian Fan. He’s definitely not as uptight and unpleasant as our initial episodes had made him out to be.

Gu Qian Fan and Pan Er essentially each refuse to abandon the other, and I really enjoy that dynamic.

Somewhere along the way, they’ve come to see the other person as not just a friend, but a comrade of sorts; someone with whom they need to stand by, and help and protect, when needed.

There’s the way Gu Qian Fan won’t let Pan Er take San Niang to seek out a doctor on her own, and then there’s also the way Pan Er won’t leave without him, when their carriage is attacked, and goes back for him.

I also like the little moments where Qian Fan and Pan Er reveal little bits of information about themselves, like when Qian Fan tells Pan Er that his documentation and name are real, and when Pan Er mentions that she’s seen a certificate like his, when she was young.

This indicates trust, to my eyes, and I like that a lot.

I am basically lapping up every little sign that indicates that Qian Fan and Pan Er are on better terms.

Like when Qian Fan responds with surprise when Pan Er thanks him for treating San Niang with the same acupuncture technique that he uses on prisoners, and she smiles and says that a weapon can be used to kill or save – and then adds that he’s smiled twice that day.

And then there’s how Pan Er analyzes his situation for him, based on what she’s observed, when he asks her when she’d started to be suspicious of Zheng Qing Tian.

AND, Qian Fan then even tells Pan Er about the test he’s conducting, in sending the message to the Capital Security Office, of his whereabouts.

This beat in particular gives off the impression that these two are on the same side now, and I like that.

Plus, he gives her gold for travel expenses, when he realizes his situation is getting more complicated, because he doesn’t want her to miss meeting Ouyang before the Grain Rain.

This, when he actually doesn’t have much, since he chipped that gold off his Capital Security identity tag. I really like how he’s trying to take care of Pan Er.

I’m bummed when Qian Fan and Pan Er to go their separate ways, because I’ve been enjoying the scenes of them together, but I do appreciate the extent of mutual care and concern that we see, in their final conversation together.

By this time, even though Pan Er’s story, about how the Night Revels painting that Qian Fan’s been looking for is in her possession, sounds pretty out there, I can buy that Qian Fan trusts her enough by now, to believe her wild-sounding tale.

What a demonstration of trust, that he would give her the precious jade that his father had left him. That’s literally a family heirloom.

The way they keep looking back after each other, after saying goodbye, also conveys a distinct sense of wistfulness, like they are reluctant to leave each other behind. I dig that.

E5-6. I’m pleased that there’s a growing connection between Gu Qian Fan and Pan Er, which lends nice lashings of cracky flavor to the watch, even though they are still “just friends” for this portion of our story.

I think Pan Er’s plan to punish Zhou She (Zhang Xiang) is quite brilliant, but I also feel for her, when she wilts in private, and tries to wash the filth and the smell of Zhou She’s liquor off her hands, to no avail. In this moment, she really does seem to find herself disgusting. Poor Pan Er.

I do love that this is the moment when Qian Fan enters the chamber, and I love how he consoles her, telling her in his matter-of-fact, straight-shooting manner, that in his eyes, she’s never been dirty.

And, he takes her hands in his, and washes them himself, then tells her that her hands are beautiful.

Oh my. Swoon. That’s altogether very melty indeed. 🫠

I do love every little indication that they are growing closer, so when Pan Er notices the cut on Qian Fan’s hand, I can’t help but squee a bit internally, at the fact that she leads him towards the table, by the wrist.

Eee! That’s skinship. 😁

The fact that Qian Feng asks Pan Er what she would do, if Yin Zhang were to betray her trust again, after all that she’s done for her – which is basically his own situation with Wan Qi, that is troubling him – tells me that he respects her opinion, and has come all the way to where she is, in order to hear it.

I find that very heart-wobbly stuff too, particularly because Qian Feng strikes me as a very confident person, who wouldn’t often need to hear someone else’s opinion, in order to ground himself.

To think that when he’d felt the need to hear someone else’s wisdom and perspective, he came to her!

And, when Pan Er gives him her answer, that she would let bygones by bygones, and follow her heart in the moment, he does take that answer to heart, for himself. I love it.

Ooh, and what about that moment when Pan Er tells him to stop teasing her, or she won’t repay the money she owes him, and he answers that it’s fine, as long as she pledges to marry him instead.

Ahhh!! He does retract it as drunk talk a moment later, but listen, I am so sure that he meant it when he said it.

I’m sure that he’s just taking it back because Pan Er’s on her quest to look for her fiancé, which means she’s spoken for and it would be inappropriate for him to say that to her.

Notably, when Pan Er tries to friend-zone him by saying that they’re friends, he smacks her hand away with a playful retort.

I’m preeetty sure that the reason he doesn’t want to acknowledge a friendship between them, is because that wouldn’t leave any room for the possibility of being more than friends.

The way that these two are drawn to each other is so palpable, that that’s the only reason that makes sense to me.

Just look at the way they gaze at each other, while Qian Fan’s boat leaves Xiangyun Pavilion. There’s mutual wistfulness in there alright, along with Qian Fan’s growing smoldery-ness, in Pan Er’s direction.

E5-6. I do love that even though Pan Er doesn’t immediately see him, she instinctively knows that this intervention that saves her with the dirty judge, is thanks to Qian Fan.

The way she heads immediately in the direction that Chen Lian indicates, in order to find him, is so focused. I love that she doesn’t even care that Zhou She is getting his just desserts for his horrible behavior.

It’s quite thrilling to think that to Pan Er, Qian Fan is all that matters right now.

Augh. There’s so much mutual knowing in their eyes, as their gazes finally meet. I am slurping this up very happily, for the record. 😁

I do think that Qian Fan is right, that this near-death experience has spooked Pan Er somewhat, and that she’s likely at least a little bit anxious about having to deal with more officials, when she gets to the Capital.

At the same time, Pan Er has a point as well; that if he didn’t want her to go the Capital, why would he arrange the stagecoach for her, and if he wants her to go to the Capital, why is he scaring her with all that talk about intimidating officials?

That definitely shows some kind of conflict in Qian Fan, when it comes to Pan Er, doesn’t it?

E9-10. I appreciate the thoughtful, more quiet interludes, like when Pan Er thinks about Qian Fan, as she looks at the rain, and then wonders whether he’s made it safely to the capital.

And also, when she muses to herself that she wishes he was there, so that he’d be able to say the kind of harsh words that he tends to say, that always tend to end up being helpful to her.

I like the note of that thought, because it shows that Pan Er understands Qian Fan’s personality, and isn’t bothered by the hardness of his words; she’s more interested in the value of his advice, because she trusts him. I like that.

I also like the idea that even though Qian Fan tries not to show it, he’s thinking about Pan Er as well, and wondering how she’s doing.

The way he instructs Chen Lian to get some trusted men to watch over Pan Er’s teahouse in her absence, is also rather thoughtful and protective. I like that too.

Basically, I dig any little hint that these two miss each other, and worry about each other, and want to see each other. 😁

And, I was very pleased to see Qian Fan cross paths with Pan Er, this set of episodes. YESSS. FINALLY.

Just as Pan Er had predicted, he says some pretty harsh words to her, to provoke her into saying that she’s not satisfied nor convinced of the outcome of being chased away from the capital like a criminal – which then gives him an excuse to bring her right back into the capital, which keeps her in his orbit.

Ha. Perfect.

By now, it must be super obvious that I’m mostly in this for the OTP. I just can’t help myself though. The crackling tension whenever Qian Fan and Pan Er are in each other’s company, is so strong that I feel like it’s going to reach out of my screen and electrify me, if I’m not careful.

Like that scene where the ladies are having their wounds tended to by physicians, and he goes in there, to tend to Pan Er’s wounds himself.

The way he looks at her so intently, while cradling her by the neck (by the bare skin of her neck! 🔥) with one hand, and dabbing at her wounds with the other, is so electrifying that I feel like my screen might combust.

Besides tension-laden moments like this, I also really enjoy the snappy, witty tone of their interactions, with lots of sincere care running underneath the surface.

Like how Pan Er decides to let the guard off with just a written confession, because she doesn’t think it’s wise for Qian Fan to get involved, having just come back to the capital.

Or like the way Qian Fan shows up in her room (thanks to Chen Lian, who’s lent them his manor, good man), and proceeds to demand to examine her wound himself.

Tee hee. San Niang’s shocked expression as she overhears them talking about Pan Er having undressed Qian Fan on the boat tickles me quite a bit.

E11-12. Finally, the moment I’ve been waiting for happens, and Qian Fan arrives at the teahouse, and comes face to face with Pan Er. YES.

Even though Qian Fan has his reservations about Pan Er having such a public profile in the capital, and this leads to him and Pan Er having a round of words, what I like about it, is the familiar vibe that comes through, in their conversation.

The way they talk to each other, is clearly more relaxed and unguarded than the way they talk to most other people, and I like that detail a lot.

Like Chen Lian puts it, they look like they’re arguing, but it somehow lands kinda like they’re flirting. Tee hee. Thank you Show, for putting it into words for me. 😁

Plus, how about that beat, when Pan Er talks hypothetically about him lending them money, over and over again, and Qian Fan blurts out that he’d be willing to do it, even a billion times.

Swoon. He looks so honest and intense as he says that to her, you just know he means it for real.

The scene that really gets me in the knees, though, is the one where Qian Fan asks to taste Pan Er’s tea, and then doesn’t take his eyes off her, as she makes that tea in front of him.

That intensity! That smolder! That simmering sense of.. intent. 🔥 I’m squeeing on the inside, not gonna lie. 🫠

It’s just too bad that Yin Zhang doesn’t understand their brand of banter, and takes their little barbs at each other, as an actual argument, and interrupts the crackling tension, to defend Pan Er.

E13-14. I like the idea that Qian Fan is concerned about Pan Er and her teahouse venture, and when he hears from Chen Lian that it’s not doing well, he personally pays her a visit.

I also like that Qian Fan and Pan Er maintain their rather jokey, sardonic tone of banter between them, even when Pan Er’s feeling rather down and discouraged.

Meaning, it’s not flying in that fast and furious manner that we’ve seen before, but even the more relaxed pace doesn’t take away from their unique brand of repartee.

As always, I very much appreciate the note of trust and honesty that flows within their conversations, even though they spend so much of their time trading teasing barbs.

For example, I like the way Pan Er asks Qian Fan about why there’s no other teahouse or restaurant along Mahang Street, even though he’s the person with whom she has that bet, on whether her teahouse will be successful.

That implies that she understands that Qian Fan wishes for her success, and I like that.

Also, I really like how open they are with each other.

Like in the way Pan Er tells Qian Fan about her innate desire to prove herself after being betrayed, and the way Qian Fan tells her that he understands how she feels, and then shares how he’d been betrayed by his best friend – whom he then killed.

I love that in response, Pan Er is not concerned with the fact that Qian Fan killed his best friend, and more concerned about how much pain Qian Fan had been in, when that friend had breathed his last.

She sees him in such a humanistic compassionate light, when he struggles with the label of Living Devil; I can totally see why he’d be swayed by her.

And, I can also see why he would trust her enough, to ask her seriously how she sees him.

I really like how she starts by stating the more obvious things, like how he’s a scheming and ruthless soldier, then goes on to identify with him, in saying that he’s righteous yet stingy, muddled yet smart – much like she is.

Her thoughts about how every person has thousands of layers, and no two people are alike, are also thoughtful and comforting.

And how endearing, that she sees him as a hero, when he sees himself as a devil.

Best of all, she takes how other people speak of him – as hound and fangs – and turns it on its head to be something noble: the hound of the nation, and fangs of the people.

Qian Fan makes light of it and jokes about extending their bet to two months, but that sheepish pleased look that he tries to hide, isn’t escaping my eyes. 🤩

Which is why I’m so happy to see Qian Fan pop up again, to help Pan Er with her things, as she makes her way back to the teahouse, after visiting Hao Hao to discuss a collaboration.

We’re getting moments of hyperawareness now, like when Qian Fan picks that stray wildflower out of Pan Er’s hair, and I’m all for it, because YES, I’d like these two to be hyperaware of each other, please and thank you. 🤩

The result of that hyperawareness though, while natural, isn’t quite what I was hoping for.

I like that Pan Er is self-aware enough to realize that she’s started to like Qian Fan now, but I’m rather disappointed in her response to this realization, even though I can understand it.

She acts rather distant towards him, firstly because she thinks it’s wrong for her to like him, since she’d come with him to the capital because of another man, and also because she finds his behavior towards her inconsistent and hard to read.

Plus, underneath all of that, is Pan Er’s keen awareness that the social gap between her and Qian Fan, is even greater than the one between her and Ouyang Xu, which is a key reason Ouyang Xu had forsaken her in the first place.

I can’t blame her for deciding that it would be better for her to stay alert, and not mistake his kindness for something that it isn’t. Aw. 🥺

Over on Qian Fan’s side of things, I can’t blame him for feeling perplexed by Pan Er’s sudden distancing of herself, and her refusal to admit that there’s something on her mind, when there obviously is.

E15-16. I was rather bummed – as I’m sure Pan Er is too – when Qian Fan pretends not to know who she is, but I understand that this is for Pan Er’s safety. It would actually be more dangerous for her, if people came to know of the connection between her and Qian Fan.

As usual, Pan Er is quick on the uptake and plays along, realizing that Qian Fan has his reasons for pretending not to know her, but, as we see later, her feelings are hurt, nonetheless.

And understandably so, since Qian Fan is the man whom she likes, and here he is, denying that he even knows her. Ouch, right?

The intensity and concern in his eyes is unmistakable though, particularly in the moment when he first sets eyes on Pan Er, as he arrives on the scene. That did make my breath catch in my throat a little bit.

Importantly, I do love that Qian Fan goes to see Pan Er as soon as he can, and gets all upset at how she had been in such grave danger.

And when Pan Er reminds him that he shouldn’t be worried about her since he doesn’t know her, I do love the response that he blurts out.

“Have you lost your conscience? What did you mean by that? I rushed from Xiangfu County to the Eastern Capital for three hours overnight. Who did I do this for?

In the dungeon, I saw half of your body was soaking in the bucket. Do you know how worried I was?

If I hadn’t pretended that I didn’t know you, and let those who regard me as a thorn in their eye know that you were my weakness, what would you do? What would we do?”

Ahhhh!!! He said, “What would WE do?”!!!

He hasn’t had time to think about the words coming out of his mouth, and that’s why I love it so. It’s visceral and unfiltered; this is really how he’s thinking about himself and Pan Er, as a single unit. 🤩

And then, when Pan Er brings him back to reality by asking him to define their relationship, and reminds him of the great difference in their social status, before shutting the door on him (because he has no answer for her – Guh. The tears in her eyes are so sad. 😭), I’m glad that he doesn’t just leave.

Honestly, I really thought there was a good chance that that’s what he would have done.

But instead, Qian Fan comes back to Pan Er’s window, with a parting shot that I really like.

“I have something important to deal with in the Xiao Mansion. About the question you asked me, I’ll figure it out and give you an answer. These days, I’ll have Chen Lian protect you. Feel at ease doing your business. You caught a cold today. Take a hot bath and have a good rest.”

This is the best way of giving Pan Er an answer, when he doesn’t yet have an answer, and I love the idea that he’s going to give it serious thought, and then come back with his considered reply.

I love (so much!) that he thinks to give Pan Er this assurance before he leaves for the night. ❤️

E15-16. I appreciate the detail, that Qian Fan shows up partway through the tea ceremony contest, and roots for Pan Er, while watching from a distance.

Mostly, though, I’m stoked that at the end of the episode, Qian Fan shows up at the teahouse, where Pan Er’s dancing under the moonlight.

The way he’s looking at her with that intent, transfixed sort of gaze, makes me think that he might be there to give her his answer.

E17-18. Qian Fan does give his answer, and his answer is an excellent one, YESSS!

“I came to tell you, I’ve thought it through. I realize that I’ve fallen in love with you. I want to marry you. I want to tie the knot with you. I want to grow old with you.”

Aw, wow. That is such a direct expression of care and intent, and it feels so.. rare and precious, coming from Qian Fan, whom we’ve mostly seen being bickery, teasing and sardonic with Pan Er, when they’re together.

This is the most overt, unabashed expression of love and affection that we’ve seen from him, and I love how unwavering he is, even as Pan Er demurs, reminding him of all the practical reasons he shouldn’t be thinking about marrying her.

He’s all like (and I paraphrase), “So what? I don’t care what other people think. All that matters is that I want to be with you.”

Swoon. I love how he just won’t be dissuaded by anything she says.

And when she accepts, by taking that spray of flowers from him, it’s cute how he doesn’t waste any time in picking her up and twirling her around. And even cuter, that he refuses to put her down, until she calls him by his name (instead of his full name).

Ahhh. Yes please. This is the kind of cuteness I’ve been looking forward to.

ALSO. Can we just talk about how, when he leans in to hug her, we get some lip-on-neck contact??? That somehow hits as even more intimate than if he’d kissed her on the lips, yes?

Rawr. 🔥

E17-18. Aw, I’m sad that Pan Er misunderstands Qian Fan’s conversations with the people around him, and starts to doubt his intentions towards her.

On this note, my first instinct was to feel disappointed, because I’d wanted Pan Er to have a stronger sense of trust in Qian Fan.

However, taking her situation into account, I can understand that she would likely feel extra vulnerable, after having been hurt and forsaken before, and for her social status, specifically.

Because of that, it’s a source of insecurity for her (which is also why she works as hard as she does, to prove herself), and that source of insecurity is easily provoked.

On top of that, there’s also what she says at the end of episode 18; that she essentially doesn’t know much about Qian Fan, aside from his name and his martial arts.

It’s true that she has no idea who these people are, and whether Qian Fan has reasons to keep the truth from them.

With all this in mind, I can’t blame her for taking him at face value, and feeling deceived and cheated, all over again.

Also, I take this as us getting to know Pan Er better.

On the surface, she may appear really strong, smart and independent, but on the inside, she has wounds that she hides from everyone. Her getting hurt like this, gives us a glimpse into her inner workings, and I appreciate that.

All that said, I do think that Qian Fan should tell her the complete truth about everything, including how Minister Xiao is his birth father.

Even though Pan Er touches on his interactions with Xiao Wei as being suspicious, I note that Qian Fan still doesn’t reveal the fact that they are half-brothers.

I would prefer that he tell her now, than have her discover it later, and feel betrayed that he didn’t tell her when he could.

The whole fake poisoning thing at Pan Er’s teahouse doesn’t drag out for too long, thankfully. I’m glad Pan Er, being as sharp as she is, is so quick to figure out that it’s a set-up, and finds a way to get the offending duo to make their confessions.

I like the way Pan Er carries herself with such confidence and grace, when she goes to seek out Inspector Gao, to discuss the situation and ask for his help in sorting out the matter.

She demonstrates forward thinking and class, and even though I cringe at it, I can understand why Inspector Gao might take a shine to her, in the short time that he’s spent interacting with her.

Happily, Qian Fan shows up as a proud husband-to-be, to fend off Inspector Gao’s unwanted attention, and uses the situation as an excuse to hold Pan Er’s hand – after she’s told him that she doesn’t want to have anything to do with him.

This particular detail makes this scene extra entertaining to me, because Qian Fan just looks so pleased to be able to hold Pan Er’s hand, heh. 😁

Also happily, our OTP has a much-needed frank conversation, and for this, I’m glad. Some dramas might drag out this misunderstanding for much longer, and I’m happy that this one is resolved in relatively short order.

And, I appreciate that this frank conversation doesn’t just touch on what Qian Fan had meant or hadn’t meant, but also touches on Pan Er’s insecurities, and the fact that she looks down on herself, for having been a registered performer.

This feels important and honest, and it also feels like an important root cause that shouldn’t be ignored.

Importantly, I’m glad to hear Qian Fan promise Pan Er that he will tell her everything about himself, soon.

E19-20. It’s actually pretty refreshing to see how steady and stable the relationship is between Qian Fan and Pan Er, this set of episodes.

Maybe I’m so used to dramas looking for ways to amp up the drama via misunderstandings between the OTP, that it just feels fresh, to have an OTP that, after a minor wobble at the beginning, is now proving to be steady and strong. I rather like it.

I do love how Pan Er takes this opportunity to also tell Qian Fan more details about her own life and background, not because Qian Fan needs it from her, but because she just wants to be open and transparent with him. That’s quite lovely.

I’m not surprised that kisses ensue, because it’s such a mutually open and vulnerable moment, but what I am surprised by, is how.. ardent those kisses are allowed to be. I guess I haven’t watched enough period dramas to realize that this can be A Thing? 😅

I also have the impression that thunder and lightning in a scene like this, can be traditionally understood to be a euphemism for sexytimes, but.. I’m leaning towards the idea that our OTP didn’t actually have sexytimes, because they’re at the teahouse.

Also, the conversation right after seems to lean a little too matter-of-fact to qualify as actual pillow talk. 😅

I do like the detail, though, that Qian Fan finally gets to give Pan Er the hairpin that he’d bought for her, so many months ago.

It feels rather incongruent that someone like him, who deals with such serious criminal work, has been carrying that hairpin around with him for months on end, but that only makes it feel extra sweet, to my eyes.

That scene of them lying down together on the boat, and murmuring sweet nothings to each other, as the boat floats down the river, is so tranquil and cozy; THIS feels more like a pillow talk sort of a scene, but I’m not jumping to any conclusions here.

I just like the tone of their conversation; it’s so tender and sweet, and I love that Qian Fan tells Pan Er that she can do business for as long as she’d like, and that it doesn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks.

Even more importantly, I like how Qian Fan corrects Pan Er, that this is not a “IF” they get married scenario, because he is absolutely, most definitely going to marry her. Melt. I like how focused he is, on this point. 🥰

And how lovely is it, that when Pan Er remarks that she has nothing of value to offer him, he states that it’s more than enough for him, that she stays by his side, and understands him well.

Aww. Meltmeltmelt.

It’s no wonder Pan Er leans in to kiss him, then tells him that she likes him. And yes, of course he knows that she does, but it’s just nice that she articulates it out loud for him to hear, yes? 🥰

I also like that Qian Fan gives Pan Er a general, indirect hint about why the Night Revels painting is so important to his case.

Given the highly classified nature of the case, it really demonstrates Qian Fan’s trust in her, as well as his concern for her, since she’d been trying to get the painting back from Ouyang.

E21-22. On the OTP front, it is rather pleasant to see Qian Fan and Pan Er get along so well, because I like them, and it’s nice to see them happy together.

Their date on the boat, where Qian Fan throws money to Chen Lian, in exchange for that shower of flower petals, is rather sweet, and it’s also low-key touching to see Qian Fan and Pan Er visit his mother’s grave together, and make promises to her, to be happy together.

E23-24. I’m glad that Qian Fan doesn’t brood for too long, over what Qi Mu (Yao An Lian) says about the consequences to his career, if he were to marry Pan Er.

Pan Er’s plan to open a restaurant instead of the teahouse, seems to alleviate the problem in a big way, since she plans to step back from actually serving customers.

It’s quite nice, the way Pan Er and Qian Fan talk about this, and the gentle conversation seems to put Qian Fan’s heart at ease.

E25-26. I’m horrified that Qian Fan gets this hurt, from having to fight off the fake hat demons that Qi Mu’s sent to assassinate Minister Xiao.

Honestly, if not for Pan Er passing by, and if not for the fact that she’s knowledgeable, quick-witted and steady under pressure, and therefore is able to give Qian Fan lifesaving emergency treatment, Qian Fan wouldn’t have been long for this world.

I feel bad for Pan Er, because this must be really scary and worrying for her, and yet, because of the highly classified nature of the case, she’s being asked to pretend that she isn’t traumatized from watching her beloved almost die in front of her eyes.

All that said, YAY that Qian Fan survives, and makes it a priority to seek out Pan Er, for hugs and sweet nothings.

I also like the detail, that he goes to see her, not just to put her heart at ease, but to put his own heart at ease too. Aw. That’s sweet.

It’s also nice to see Pan Er taking care of Qian Fan, as he rests and recuperates, even though that doesn’t last for very long.

But at least this gives them a chance to spend some quality time together, which feels important. These two just don’t get enough quality time together, in my opinion.

Also, that’s a cute detail, that they get a little carried away having kissy times, and have to stop because Qian Fan’s wound starts to hurt. Hee.

On a tangent, I must say that the way Show’s playing it, in terms of the apparently physical familiarity between them, I’m starting to rethink my conclusion about the stormy night at the teahouse, where things had first started heating up for our OTP.

Perhaps there had been sexytimes then, in keeping with the thunder and lightning trope? 😁

E35-36. Finally, the truth comes out! Chi Pan’s childhood story about Qian Fan, is how Pan Er realizes that Minister Xiao is Qian Fan’s bio dad.

And of course, as smart as our Pan Er is, she pieces everything together pretty quickly, starting from that one nugget of information, that Qian Fan’s birth surname is Xiao and not Gu.

And then, there’s the thing where Yin Zhang knocking over that ornament, leads to Pan Er finally discovering the pawn ticket that Qian Fan had left for her so long ago, when she’d needed funds to acquire that first restaurant.

Gosh, FINALLYY. I’d been wondering when that would come to light!

I’m glad that this prompts Pan Er to seek out Chen Lian for some important context, because it’s important that she gets the full story of what’s really been going on with Qian Fan.

Although Chen Lian doesn’t actually have a great deal of information, what he does know is enough to give Pan Er an idea of what went on. And Chen Lian – good man – is careful to emphasize that Qian Fan has seemed afraid to see her, not that he hasn’t wanted to see her.

And of course, it doesn’t very long from this point, for Pan Er to find the exact court records that back up the conclusions she’s more or less already made, from these various pieces of information.

It makes sense that Pan Er would need some time to grapple with this new realization for a while, because it IS a big deal, that Qian Fan’s father had been the one to impeach her father, which had then been the start of her family’s misfortune.

I’m glad she doesn’t need to grapple for too long, though, and comes to her conclusion soon enough, after speaking with that monk.

I’m also really glad that by the second half of episode 36, Pan Er acts on her conclusion, and draws Qian Fan to meet her at the teahouse, via their secret yellow-flower signal.

I do love the detail, that the yellow flowers that Pan Er puts up, are so numerous and lush; that ensures that Qian Fan would absolutely not miss seeing them, and I think, also makes up for the fact that she’d ripped up the last set of yellow flowers that he’d left for her at her gate.

I also love how Qian Fan flies like the wind to see her, even though he doesn’t actually have hope that she will be able to forgive him, and that they’ll be able to reconcile. He flies to see her, just because she’s asking to see him, no other reason, and I find that quite touching.

During their conversation, Qian Fan looks appropriately tortured as he grapples with his belief that there’s a blood feud between them that cannot be overcome.

I do love that it’s Pan Er who makes it possible for them to reconcile, from putting the truth out in the open herself because he can’t bring himself to say the words, to putting aside her pride to ask him if he’s still willing to marry her.

That putting aside of her pride is absolutely an act of love, because her dignity has been so precious to her, particularly given her pariah past. Yet, she puts it aside, not once, but twice, in order to show Qian Fan that she’s serious about spending her life with him.

Also, I do think that Qian Fan needed that nudge of pressure, that he had to decide by her count of three, or lose the chance forever. Without that, I do think that he would’ve hedged for a lifetime, probably, because he’s so deathly afraid of hurting her.

The reunion feels like it’s been a long time coming, and it does feel worth the wait, from where I’m sitting.

There’s so much depth of joy, in their quiet shared embrace, and there’s a subtle but distinct spring in their steps, as they walk away from the teahouse together.

Aww! Our OTP is backkk, and that makes me happy. 🥰

And, it’s so cute, to see that Chen Lian and Zhao Di are watching silently from the sidelines, cheering them on so wholeheartedly.

The fact that Chen Lian tries to reach for Zhao Di’s hand, is just a cute bonus. 😁

After that, it’s so cozy to see Qian Fan take Pan Er back to his house, so that she can take a look at it, and decide how she’d like to redecorate it, in preparation for their marriage.

Ahhh. That’s really heartwarming to see, especially after all that these two have been through. 🥰

[END SPOILER]

Ada Liu as San Niang

San Niang isn’t given as much screen time as Pan Er of Yin Zhang, but aside from Pan Er, I liked San Niang the most, out of all our female characters.

I like that she’s strong, brave and outspoken, yet also vulnerable, thoughtful and caring.

If I had to pick someone to be on my side, I’d pick San Niang, honestly.

One of my favorite things about her, is how she’s always so fiercely on Pan Er’s side, no matter what.

Her no-matter-what brand of loyalty is one of my favorite things about her. 🤩

Jelly Lin as Yin Zhang

Of the three friends, I have to admit that I enjoyed Yin Zhang the least.

[SPOILER ALERT]

I get that she’s young and naive, but she really spends a lot of time in a very self-centered, princessy sort of space, and that wore on me quite quickly.

In a story world where so many of our female characters are strong and independent, Yin Zhang’s navel-gazing tendencies looked all the more stark, to my eyes.

Plus, she doesn’t learn her lesson quickly nor easily either, as we see from her terrible choices when it comes to romantic relationships.

Not only does she get scammed by Zhou She, she also falls for the sweet words of Shen Ru Zhuo (Sun Zu Jun), whom she barely knows.

I did roll my eyes at that a little bit, can’t lie. 😅

I’m glad that by the end of our story, Yin Zhang becomes a lot more mature, and demonstrates wisdom and strength of character.

However, I have to admit that I felt that Show didn’t do a very good job of teasing out that growth, and when she did show growth and progress, it mostly felt like it had come out of nowhere, almost.

Still, if I had to choose, I suppose inorganic growth is better than no growth at all, so I’ll take it. 😅

[END SPOILER]

Pan Er, San Niang and Yin Zhang

As a general rule, I enjoyed the friendship and sisterhood that Pan Er, San Niang and Yin Zhang share.

The three of them have very different personalities, and they do go through some ups and downs, but they always come through with their love and care for one another intact, which I liked a lot.

Xu Hai Qiao as Ouyang Xu [SPOILERS]

I have mixed feelings about how Ouyang Xu is handled, as a character.

In the beginning of our story, he’s made out to be someone who might not be that honorable, but who isn’t that terrible, either.

Like, he does break off his engagement to Pan Er in order to marry Gao Hui, but he appears to be pushing Pan Er away, for her own safety.

However, as our story progresses, Show makes Ouyang Xu out to be more and more self-centered, manipulative, and ultimately, evil.

In this sense, I wouldn’t say that his characterization was uneven; it’s just that Show takes this so far, that by the end of our story, it feels like Ouyang Xu’s more of a caricature of bloodthirsty evil than anything else.

I thought this was rather extreme and unnecessary.

Needless to say, I didn’t like him very much. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Zhang Xiao Qian as Chang Feng

Du Chang Feng is one of those characters that I started out feeling exasperated by, but that I grew surprisingly fond of, by the late stretch of our story.

Basically, as long as he was acting in the capacity of Ouyang Xu’s friend, I found him quite insufferable, even though he’s played by Zhang Xiao Qian, who played Nihuang’s little brother in Nirvana In Fire, and I therefore do have some residual goodwill towards him.

Happily, Show evolves his role in our story soon enough, and he becomes a lot more benign and endearing.

I’m also glad that Show eventually lets up on the running gag that has to do with his extremely poor eyesight. That did get old. 😅

San Niang and Chang Feng [SPOILERS]

At around the episode 15 or 16 mark, Show starts to suggest a potential loveline between Du Chang Feng and San Niang, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that, at first.

On the one hand, these two had always been at loggerheads, so it didn’t feel very natural, that Show would push a loveline between these two.

Also, even though I wanted San Niang to have a second chance at love, I wasn’t sure if I wanted that second chance to be with Du Chang Feng.

I think I maybe held a grudge against Du Chang Feng for his attitude towards Pan Er, and therefore I didn’t want Show to foist him on San Niang like some kind of consolation prize. 😅

HOWEVER. Show really does create a very pleasant, warm loveline between the two, and I even found it very endearing, to see Chang Feng be so smitten with San Niang, and be in such a hurry to marry her.

Aw. I thought that was really sweet, and I ended up feeling glad for San Niang, that she ended up finding a new love in Chang Feng.

Guan Yun Peng as Chen Lian

I wanted to give Chen Lian a shout-out, because he’s such a good fella, all around.

I like how loyal and steadfast he is, in working with Qian Fan, and I also really like how kind and caring he is, towards Pan Er and her friends, by extension.

Although Show introduces him in quite a random fashion, he really became this very reliable beta rock, on whom many of our characters depended.

He’s such a good egg. 🥚😁

Daisy Li as Zhao Di

As a character, Zhao Di also gets introduced in a rather random fashion, not too unlike Chen Lian.

I was surprised to quickly find her bright, likable and quite charming, in her cheerful, guileless sort of way.

I also felt pleasantly surprised at how well she blended into the existing sisterhood between Pan Er, San Niang and Yin Zhang.

Chen Lian and Zhao Di [SPOILERS]

Right around Show’s halfway mark, it starts to tease a special connection between Chen Lian and Zhao Di, kinda like an enemies-to-lovers sort of arc.

I like this in concept, but I do think that the writing and execution around this was rather uneven.

We mostly see Chen Lian and Zhao Di bickering a lot, and then one day, there’s a quantum leap, and they’re suddenly really nice to each other.

Not only that, Chen Lian is so affected by his argument with Zhao Di, that he leaves the capital for a long assignment. That really felt quite sudden, y’know?

However, I do like that idea that they are nursing feelings for each other, so I did perk up any time Show indicated a bit of a romantic connection between them – even if it didn’t make that much narrative sense, for lack of context. 😅

Dai Xu as Chi Pan

I mentioned earlier in this review that I really wasn’t fond of Chi Pan as a character, and that’s true – for about three quarters of our story.

By the end, I had a lot fonder of Chi Pan, and that’s thanks to him softening towards Pan Er, and also, being a lot less belligerent in his silly tantrums.

Honestly, though, if you’d told me at the beginning, that I would eventually feel only marginally annoyed by Chi Pan as a character, I’d have found it hard to believe you. 😅

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

Hrm. I gotta be honest; I didn’t love how the last few episodes were handled, you guys. 😅

It feels like there’s a lot of stuff going on in this final arc, but.. I just didn’t feel as interested or as engaged as I had hoped I would be.

Overall, I am glad that we get our happy ending, and generally, I understand and appreciate the themes that come to the fore during this last stretch.

However, am I instinctively, viscerally engaged? I have to confess that the answer is no.

It just feels like in the wake of Pan Er and Qian Fan making up and getting back together again, Show is scrambling to come up with one last spot of dramatic tension, to tie everything together and give us our happy ending, but.. it feels kinda forced?

One of the key things is, I find it rather clunky that Ouyang Xu’s made out to be our story’s Big Bad, and in such a way that he comes across as more of a caricature than anything else.

That bit where he’s literally saying, “Kill her, beat her to death,” out loud, with crazy eyes, while Pan Er’s being flogged, feels really over the top and cartoonish, to be honest.

I mean, even if he feels that way, surely he would know better than to say it out loud, in such a situation, right?

It feels like other characters that fall on the side of “bad,” like Qi Mu, get off easy in comparison.

Qi Mu gets sent off to some remote area, sure, but that doesn’t quite compare to death, which seems to be what’s facing Ouyang Xu, in this finale.

The Empress’s turnaround also feels rather abrupt and unnatural, to my eyes. Or maybe I just feel that she shouldn’t get off so easily, for having tried to get Pan Er killed?

Xiao Wei’s turnaround also feels sudden and unnatural to me, and I couldn’t help but feel suspicious of his motives, when he steps in to save Pan Er after she goes to go see Minister Xiao.

And so, while Show serves up all these busy plot points one after the other in this final stretch, I actually found myself feeling rather underwhelmed and growing rather impatient for it to all be over, so that I could get the happy ending that I was here for.

Thankfully, Show does give it to us, even if it has to dish out some magical medicine to restore Qian Fan’s hearing, after he loses it during his torture spell.

The way that all three of our main female characters use their Emperor-granted wishes in increasingly selfless measure, and all in support of a society that doesn’t discriminate against women, particularly women who are of – or have come from – pariah status, feels very.. uh, public servicey?

I do get it, though, in that it’s in support of Show’s key theme of woman power and equality and independence, so it’s basically par for the course.

It’s just.. slightly preachy, in execution? 😅

But I suppose that’s just the kind of drama that Show wants to be.

In the end, I’m glad to see San Niang and Chang Feng have a happy and glorious wedding, where she can stand tall and proud like she’d talked about, and it’s a thrill to also see Zhao Di and Chen Lian getting all cozy, finally, under that shower of flower petals.

And of course, it’s quite lovely to see Qian Fan and Pan Er finally able to just be together and be happy in the moment, without having to fear for their lives.

As Show gives us that highlight reel of some of their key moments from the early days of our story, it really does work to remind me that Qian Fan and Pan Er really have come a long way to be where they are, as we leave them.

They’ve endured so much, and worked so hard, for this happy ending, and I’m glad for them, that they’ve finally reached their dream.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Rather meandering in its second half, but overall, reasonably solid and very pretty to look at.

FINAL GRADE: B+

TRAILER:

MV:

PATREON UPDATE!

The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of A Dream Of Splendor, is If You Wish Upon Me. I’ve taken an initial look, and I’m happy to say that I am liking it quite well, right away. My E1-2 notes on If You Wish Upon Me can be found here.

Here’s an overview of what I’m covering on Patreon right now (Tier benefits are cumulative)!

Foundation Tier (US$1): k-ent tidbits + E1 & E2 notes of all shows covered on Patreon

Early Access (US$5): Love Like The Galaxy [China]

Early Access Plus (US$10): +Little Women

VIP (US$15): +Extraordinary Attorney Woo

VVIP (US$20): +If You Wish Upon Me

Ultimate (US$25): +Love Between Fairy And Devil [China]

If you’d like to join me on the journey, you can find my Patreon page here. You can also read more about all the whats, whys, and hows of helping this blog here. Thanks for all of your support, it really means a lot to me. ❤️

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phl1rxd
phl1rxd
12 days ago

Fangurl – I enjoyed this drama and reading your Patreon posts on this as well! Sean make a great point about the producers wanting to make a drama that modern women would like.

I also thought the romantic tension was very cracky. My favorite character was San Niang because she was honest, loyal and pretty fearless.

I must say that Kris Sun does well handling bad boy roles, and Xu Hai Qiao has a natural talent for dual personality characters (even with his perfect chin).

After a bumpy first quarter, CDrama has been cranking out some good dramas this year.

seankfletcher
12 days ago

A Dream of Splendor (DoS) is bold, with wonderful, breathtaking moments and dares to portray women as successful in ancient China.

This was deliberate on the part of the producers. They wanted to create a show that modern women could relate to.

DoS is based on the Yuan Dynasty opera “Rescuing a Courtesan.” The writer is considered ancient China’s Shakespeare, and by all accounts, just as mysterious. However, a prominent Chinese female editor in her review of DoS comments that show is quite removed from its original source material. The names of the characters are basically the only thing both shows have in common.

Women were successful in the Tang Dynasty. The Song Dynasty that followed, after a tumultuous fifty year period, began to claw this back. By the time of the Yuan Dynasty that followed, it’s clear that women in the entertainment industry were on the lowest rung of society.

Interestingly, the setting of DoS is in the Song period with its visuals, clothing and so on. I have to say, this was down extremely well. My eyes were well pleased, as it were.

For my mind, DoS has some wonderful moments. The operatic scenes in the later episodes as outlined by kfangurl, are some of my favourite in any drama. They were mesmerising.

Chrystal Liu is a favourite actress of mine. DoS was her first costume drama in 16 years, so there were many, many excited fans out there.

I enjoyed the comical moments. I thought Chi Pan stole the show.

However, the aspect that detracted from my enjoyment of the show, which made me mark it down, was the whole premise regarding the fiancé. His story just jarred with me from start to finish.

Ada Liu as San Niang was my favourite throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed her relationship with our beleaguered tutor. Jelly Lin turned in her best performance for some time.

As for our Devil, yes he was quite awesome I thought.

Overall, DoS was a show where I waited in anticipation of the episodes dropping. I put other shows aside (Until “Love Like a Galaxy” came along). The finale was very fitting. 

CDramas are now dominating my viewing schedule. Will Kdramas make a comeback in the last quarter of the year? From what I have seen, it may be a close thing 😊

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
12 days ago
Reply to  seankfletcher

Thanks Sean for the backstory on this drama!

reaper
reaper
12 days ago

So I watched this one until ep 22 I think. For some reason shows tune completely changed after ep 19 which made it unwatchable for me. But the first 19 episodes were very intriguing.

Jiyuu
Jiyuu
12 days ago
Reply to  reaper

I binged Who Rules the World initially but somewhere around the middle my attention drifted until I stopped and never picked up again at episode 35 out of 40! I was analyzing why considering there’s no glaring plotholes and all, I realized it’s probably because there was no tension/mystery to look forward to anymore. But I don’t regret watching it.

I’ve changed as a drama watcher. Before, it was either I finish a series completely or I don’t start at all if there’s some potential issue about it. But now I can just start and enjoy, then drop and forget when needed. Heh.

Bottomline: I’ll probably give this one a go since it seems you did enjoy/binge the first half. 😉

reaper
reaper
12 days ago
Reply to  Jiyuu

Yes definitely give it a go. The first half is really good and then you can decide for yourself whether to continue or not 😉