I am feeling a bit more cultured today lol and will devote a post to this fabulous adaptation.
Also, people are saying that only the cut version of the drama is available for some reason, so there are abrupt parts in the show which might lead to some head scratching unless you have read the novel. I am not sure why they decided to cut it, since 36 episodes are barely enough to cover a 120-chapter novel.
read about my blogpost here), this particular one stuck throughout the decades. Maybe it was the music, or the enigma back then about the lead character.... I couldn't convince myself he was a boy even when they called him Brother Bao “寶哥哥” lol. Also his girly hairstyle and jade necklace threw me off since the girls (and there were many!) wore similar ones, so that was really confusing until I asked my dad if he was male or female.
- 14th century's The Water Margin Shui Hu Zhuan 《水滸傳》,
- 14th century's Romance of Three Kingdoms San Guo Yan Yi 《三國演義》
- 16th century's Journey to the West Xi You Ji 《西遊記》
My father also purchased Romance of Three Kingdoms dvds, directed by the same Mr. Wang Fulin. I only caught a few bits and pieces of the drama, one day I will sit down and properly watch it when I can separate my attention span from work lol. I also own 1998's Water Margin from my aunt; an absolute favourite back in secondary school - also watched it twice on tv (not the remake!).
Written by Cao Xueqin 《曹雪芹》(born 1715 or 1724 - death 1763 or 1764) and published posthumously in 1791, 'Shi Tou Ji' (later retitled as 'Hong Lou Meng') is believed to be a semi-autobiography of his life experiences and a dedication to the women in his life. The author did not complete the novel before he passed away and it was said the manuscript drafts that contained the endings were lost. The first 80 chapters are canonised Cao's work.
Cheng Weiyuan's 《程偉元》 & Gao E's 《高鶚》 additional 40 chapters (to complete the story) is the most published version although a large number of Redology scholars agree that Gao E's ending was not what Cao Xueqin had in mind. There are still debates whether any parts of Gao E's 40 chapters contained a few of Cao Xueqin's original scripts or if they were all Gao's telling.
Hong Lou Meng is considered the pinnacle of Chinese classic literature, unfortunately the true ending to this masterpiece will always be a mystery.
|Baoyu and Daiyu|
|Xue Baochai, played by Zhang Li|
|Wang Xifeng, played by Deng Jie|
My favourite character is Tanchun 賈探春, Jia Baoyu's half sister. Other than being born to a badly behaved concubine and holding a low status in the family, she has spunk and is highly capable - she has a better hand at managing the household finances than Wang Xifeng. Her ending is unfair for a character of her calibre, but then that is what the book is about: Everything good must come to an end. Lives are short, good times end quickly.
I also like Lin Daiyu's maid - Zijuan 紫鵑 and maybe... Granny Liu 劉姥姥 - the comic relief who repays her gratitude to Wang Xifeng later!
Back to the show:
36-episode Hong Lou Meng drama does not cover all chapters of the story due to budget and time constraints and many characters were not included. It is impossible to, as there are more than 700 characters in the novel!
In the later episodes, the plot deviates from the novel. Since Cao Xueqin did not write the last 40 chapters, the scriptwriters took some creative liberties to enhance their work, forgoing Cao E's version. The endings to the characters were based on consensus from Redology scholars who have analysed Cao's poems that prophesy the fates of the girls.
Therefore the timeline has changed, some of the characters' plotlines have changed, and the endings for the main characters are different. All I can say is the super-compounded tragedy is quite memorable for this adaptation. I think the writers were thinking this: take that all you future remakes, you can't one-up anything more tragic than this!
Poor, poor Baoyu.
The actors were trained in a cultural crash course at the Yuanmingyuan (Old Summer Palace) to make them as authentically 1700s as possible, such as learning calligraphy, music, painting, music, poetry, etiquette and studying the book.
The 3 main characters:
|Jia Baoyu, played by Ouyang Fenqiang|
|Lin Daiyu, perfomed by Chen Xiaoxu|
I cannot recommend this show enough if you are interested in watching chinese classics. There are different TV versions (Hong Kong, Taiwan, the new China remake) but this version is the most painstakingly put together, exquisitely shot and full attention to artistry and beauty. The details, furniture, the jewellery (of course lol), right down their body actions makes me want to watch it again. Every time I watch it, I learn something new, either a detail in the background or something related to later events that I had missed earlier. Each episode is a chapter in the book, and I can't find any part of the script that was not important to the progress of the plot, that is.... no useless dialogue!
One thing I would have liked to see more was extra interaction between Baoyu and Daiyu, other than them bickering. But there is a massive amount of content and characters to cover in less than an hour, I guess that part had to be skimmed down to a minimum. Anyhow I don't like it when tv dramas drag out episodes just to milk time when we clearly get the picture already.
Can you believe this drama was initially panned by the media, Redology scholars and whoever didn't like the adaptation because Daiyu was not pretty enough (really?), or that she was too sorrowful than expected, or how the scriptwriters changed the plot or how it's against whatever political agenda they have? They were complaining so much the show was nearly taken off air... thankfully it didn't happen. The critics changed their minds when a movie adaptation came out and the comparison of what was considered true integrity to the original source became stark. Then there was another adaptation that wasn't up to par, so this 1987 version became labelled THE Classic, the best Hong Lou Meng screen adaptation yet. I'm glad they changed their minds because I loved it at first sight, even without understanding what was going on. In fact this show is so well loved now, it is always listed in those "Top Chinese Dramas Ever Made" topics, usually at #2 just behind "Journey to the West" (who can beat that show anyhow lol). Likewise, Chen Xiaoxu's Lin Daiyu is so synonymous with the actress, people are still thinking of her as Lin Daiyu 3 decades later.
Below are the 2 famous poems converted into classic hit songs from Dream of Red Mansions, the translation is half borrowed from online sources and my own translation to plain English. The 3rd one is from Tanchun's last scene.
Theme song 1 “枉凝眉” Brows Vexing in Vain. This song is symbolic to Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu's fates.
One was a flower from fairyland, one was a flawless jade,
If it were not fate, why should she meet him in this life?
If it was fate, why does their love come to nothing?
One sighs to no purpose, the other yearns in vain;
One is the moon's reflection in water, one is a flower in the mirror.
How many tears can one well from the eyes?
That they flow from autumn to winter, from spring to summer!
Theme song 2: “葬花吟” Burying Flowers Song. This song is symbolic to Lin Daiyu's eventual passing and her outlook in life. While others are busy celebrating the flowers and decorating bushes, she sneaks off and weeps over fallen flowers.
Flowers wilt and fly about in the sky,
Who pities the loss of your fragrance when you die?
Floss flutters and drifts about,
Petals gently cling to embroidered curtains.
In three hundred and sixty days,
The blade of the wind and sword of the frost is severe.
How long can the flowers remain lovely,
Once loosed, the drifting is hard to track.
It is easy to see blooming flowers but hard to find when fallen,
Before the steps I sorrow.
Alone I lean against the hoe and secretly weep,
Splashed on your bough my tears are as blood.
I wish to have a pair of wings to fly,
After the flowers unto the farthest end of the sky.
At the farthest end of the sky, Where does the grave of your fragrance lie?
At the farthest end of the sky, Where does the grave of your fragrance lie?
Better to keep the remains in silk, To bury under the clean earth.
For pure you have come and pure you have left,
Is better than soaking in the foul ditch.
Now that the flowers are dead I hold a burial,
How can one tell when it is my time to die?
Others laugh at my burial of the flowers,
Another year who will be burying me?
At the farthest end of the sky,
Where does the grave of your fragrance lie? (x2)
As spring fails and flowers fall,
The bloom of beauty ages and wane.
One day when spring has gone and beauty has aged,
No one knows when both flowers and the beauty perish! (x3)
《分骨肉》“Separation of kin" for Tanchun's political marriage to a foreign war enemy.
Three thousand li traveling through wind and rain,
Leaving my home and kin behind.
I fear my remaining years are wasted away with tears,
Dear Father and Mother, do not worry for your child.
Since of old fortunes and failures has been predestined,
Partings and reunions does not mean we have not fate.
From now on we live in separate lands,
Let us take care of ourselves.
I am going now, be not troubled for me.
Beautiful review, very helpful, thank you.
Is the series online to be seen? I read the English version of the novel in 2000and would love to see the series.
This was a fantastic blog post. I learned so much I might otherwise never have known, because I don't read Chinese. I love this show so much, and it was great to know more about the making of it. I'm sad to hear about Chen Xiaoxu.
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