Dream of the Red Mansion

Reviewed by: nguyet_chi

March 08, 2008

Rating: four

Hong Luo Meng is a celebrated Chinese literary novel written by Xueqin Cao during the Qing Dynasty. This Eastern version of Romeo & Juliet concentrates more on the inevitable law of change rather than just teenage love. The story is set in Beijing under an unknown dynasty, which we assume to be the Ming. The novel tells the story of two star-crossed lovers: Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu, who are first cousins to each other. It also tells the story of the downfall of the powerful and properous Jia family. ***Please excuse any invalid information (according to series). I watched this less than a decade ago; hence the weird summary.

The series begins with the mother-less child, Lin Daiyu -- whose beauty and intelligence surpasses all -- moving into her maternal grandmother's family in the capitol. There, the child meets numerous relatives, one of whom is Jia Baoyu, her mother's nephew, and the heir of the family. Baoyu was borned with a jade tablet and so, is treated like a fragile egg, and is spoiled by his grandmother. What more, is his handsome appearance: autumn moon face, pink flushed cheeks, well structured nose, rippled eyes, and penciled eyebrows... He often spends his time with his female cousins and maids instead of being in his studies. One of the cousins he hangs around with is Xue Baochai.

As the story goes on, Baoyu and Daiyu eventually fall in love with each other. But Daiyu is not very well-liked by the family, and instead, the family members favor Baochai; perhaps because Daiyu is so intelligent and she shows it, while Baochai is also well educated, but is orthodox and self-contained.

The story also introduced us to some other characters like Xi Feng, the Mistress of the house, whose sharp tongue and malicious nature did many harm to others. Anyway, this family's extravagance is beyond imgination. They lavished on anything that can be spent on, like they always have festivals and their dinner is like a whole year's supply for others.

War broke out and Baoyu has to serve in the military. When he returns, he immediately rushes to his sweetheart's chamber, only to find out she that died of tuberculosis (the poor girl coughed up blood before she died). So an arranged marriage for Baoyu takes place. When he lifts the red wedding veil of the bride, he was surprised it is Baochai and not Daiyu (in a state of denial perhaps??).

Baoyu's sister, the Emperor's favorite "wife", passed away and her influence on the court also went with her. An enemy of the family persuaded the Emperor to imprison the family for some reasons. They did go to prison, but Baoyu was released later under the Emperor's order for some other reasons.

This series was aired around the same time (a bit later) as Journey to the West (CCTV). But it was not as popular among the Vietnamese viewers. Perhaps it is mainly about dark plots among the family members or teenage love that the kids found uninteresting as contrast to "Journey", where there's a mischievious monkey and tons of magical power tricks. I, myself, FOUND (past tense) the story to be quite boring. (hey, how do you expect a 2nd grader to be sitting around watching Daiyu cries herself to sleep?). But of course, as I grew older, I came to appreciate this classic story.

The series itselt did deviate from the novel, like how Daiyu is suppose to die on the day Baoyu and Baochai are getting married. Or how I always get a feeling that Daiyu is such a fragile girl who isolates from everyone else, when the truth is, she IS fragile, but is lively and got a mischievous sense of humour.

I love the acting of everyone, especially Xi Feng. She was so cruel yet so beautiful at the same time. Baoyu is pathetic to me, but that's the character, not the acting though. The actor's really good at playing a flirtatious, spoilt rich boy. Daiyu is not as beautiful as the writer's description, but then again, who can really be that pretty?? Though I have to admit the girl's pretty fragile and willowy. Baochai is also pretty. She got that chubby yet healthy look and I felt so sorry for her because she got stuck in between Baoyu and Daiyu's relationship.

The props and costumes of this series is EXCELLENT. They're elaborate in such numbers that you really believe this is the extravagant life of the ancient family. From the numerous lantern, the attandent fans, the wall papers, silk curtains, large paintings, to the furniture, the embroidered screen, the clothes, the ornaments, etc. are all detailed and beautiful.

The music is not like the modern pop stuff in series nowaday. They got this traditional, ancient and dramatic feel to the songs. It's really good. I especially like the one where Daiyu sings when she buries the flowers.

All in all, the series is excellent. It's highly recommended (by me of course).

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