At the Dolphin Bay

Reviewed by: inpacerequiescat

September 12, 2004

Rating: four-point-five


A fairytale about two immortal lovers that conquered all. That's how At the Dolphin Bay begins.

We are then shown a flashback of events that took place some 20 years ago. A little girl (Angela Zhang Shao Han) found herself in an orphanage after her mother was killed by a speeding car. Prior to that we are taken to an office and we see her mother begging an old gentleman to take custody of the girl. The old gentleman turned out to be her grandfather and the Chairman of SET TV. He sarcastically told her mother that he did not recognize the girl since she was a lovechild of his son. The girl developed some sort of trauma and avoided speaking to anyone.

It is in this Catholic orphanage where Xu Ce Ya (Ambrose Hsu Shao Yang), who was then known as Tah-Tah and the orphaned girl first see each other as orphaned kids. She came to be known as Siao Pin Kang and was always being teased by other kids because she was afraid to speak, traumatized by the tragic death of her mother. Tah-tah would come to her protection. He swore that they would not be separated from each other, ever.

Later, the old gentleman decided to adopt one of the two kids and he came to pick up the boy. Siao Pin Kang and her dolphin doll were the ones that reminded the boy about her. When he left, Siao Pin-Kang was adopted by another woman who ran a noodle shop by the Dolphin Bay. She was then christened as Tien Pien. She would spend most of her time at an old ship by the Bay with figures of dolphins all around and look at the vast sea in front of her. She would dream of becoming a big star like Mandy Shen Man Qing (Jill Xu Jie Er).

After 20 years, Xu Ce Ya returned from studying in the United States to become the the General Manager of SETTV. It was his grandfather who put this post into his hands, even though his other grandchild Shan Ni (Penny Lin Wei Xin) also aimed at becoming GM. Shan Ni's mother made life difficult for Xu Ce Ya, but his grandfather always had faith in the talent and ability of the boy.

Xu Ce Ya and Tien Pien crossed paths again after 20 years, when Xu Ce Ya happened to be in need of directions one day. Since then, he would visit Tien Pien regularly. She auditioned at SETTV to become the new contract star for the SkyWalk project, together with her idol Mandy Shen Man Qing. She came in late during the day of the auditions but with the help of Xu Ce Ya, she got the part. It seemed that everybody -- Mandy, Shan Ni and even Mandy's boyfriend and talent manager Xiao Kang (Wallace Huo Jian Hua) disliked her.

Xiao Kang trained Tien Pien and through the preparations for the SkyWalk project, he began to get close to her. Because of this, Mandy hired a new talent manager to replace Xiao Kang. Meanwhile, Shan Ni also developed feelings for Xu Ce Ya after he rescued her from a demented fan who plotted to bomb the SETTV studio. Later, Xu Ce Ya and Shan Ni discovered that Tien Pien was the long lost granddaughter and half sister of Shan Ni. They eventually told their grandfather about this, and the grandfather revealed that he really wanted Shan Ni to marry Xu Ce Ya. Much to their disappointment, the grandfather denied Tien Pien and only recognized Shan Ni as his grandchild. Despite this, Xu Ce Ya's true feelings for Tien Pien remained.

Tien Pien's album was a flop. The project was ready to be trashed were it not for Xiao Kang's intervention. The grandfather gave a seven-day extension; if the project failed, they'd scrap it. Xiao Kang brought Tien Pien's album to the streets even if it meant he would lose all the money he earned as a talent manager. Tien Pien sang to people too woo them to buy the album. It seemed a miracle was what Tien Pien and Xiao Kang needed. Indeed it came.

Two foreigners took notice of her voice. Unknown to both Xiao Kang and Tien Pien, these two were actually talent scouts searching for a new commercial model for the product Aqua Aura. While everyone thought Mandy would get the stint, they offered the part to Tien Pien! One thing led to another and almost overnight, Tien Pien became a household name.

Shan Ni was diagnosed with leukemia. She also began feeling sisterly love for Tien Pien. Because of the grandfather's arrangement for Tien Pien to live with them and Shan Ni's sickness, Xu Ce Ya decided to marry her. The wedding did not push through. Shan Ni fainted during the ceremony and she was rushed to the hospital. Tien Pien offered to serve as a donor for the bone marrow Shan Ni needed to survive, but hers was not an exact match with Shan Ni's. Shan Ni began to accept her fate and that she'd die pretty soon.

She wished that she could work on Tien Pien's world tour even before she departed and that Tien Pien would take care of Xu Ce Ya for her.

In the last few episodes, the rift between Mandy and Tien Pien was resolved. She even got to sing at Tien Pien's concert. The concert ended tragically as Shan Ni did not live long enough to see its successful end. She died that same night. Meanwhile Tien Pien dumped Xiao Kang and told him that Mandy still loved him.

A year after, we see Tien Pien's foster mother and Shan Ni's mother fetch Tien Pien from the airport after a successful world tour. Tien Pien has now become a successful artiste! In the final scene Xu Ce Ya and his grandfather drive to the orphanage and as he is driving away, he recognizes Tien Pien, gets off the car and they go into each other's arms, never to be apart ever again.


At the Dolphin Bay is a tale of various expressions of love in certain degrees. Sisterly love between Tien Pien and Shan Ni. Parental love between Tien Pien and her foster mother. Unconditional love betewwn Xu Ce Ya and Tien Pien, as well as Shan Ni and Tien Pien.

For this reason, At the Dolphin Bay does not fail to capture the hearts of its viewers, regardless of age, gender or social class. It transcends these barriers and it is no surprise that this Asian drama did well in the ratings game and reviews.

Its screenplay was also well-written. The build-up from a light to a heavily dramatic scene was done in good taste. The transitions between scenes were smooth and scenes that were cut deliberately were done so to heighten the suspense and emotion. However the lighting was a major flaw. Heavily dramatic scenes should have been treated differently from lighter scenes. Inasmuch as there was too much light on some heavy scenes, the emotions that could have been fully expressed by those scenes were not released. The presence of light usually indicates lightness in theme: joy, satisfaction, resolution.

I was not at all disappointed with the choice of actors. I was surprised, however, that Penny Lin could actually portray a role other than a brat. Her inclusion in the drama turned out to be the biggest surprise and not to mention, one major advantage.

The music was excellent. The songs were properly chosen for the scenes. If lighting was a major upset, the musical score was its one of its biggest - if not certainly the biggest - advantages. Notable were songs like Yi Shi De Mei Hao and Shiroi Yuki, although other songs which were used, especially during the later parts of the drama, were also chosen with utmost care.

Cinematography came in a good second to the musical score. It seemed as if Asians have perfected the art of cinematography, probably influenced by their culture, beliefs and traditions. But in this drama, the background served more than being the take-off point of every action in the story. The backdrop - the sea - was very meaningful. On several occasions, the sea served as a metaphor for hope and even resolution. Most problems were resolved when they were brought near the sea. The treatment of the sea as a backdrop - sometimes as part of the subject - was interestingly figurative. Other interestingly meaningful places were the field of flowers and the Catholic orphanage.

On the whole, At the Dolphin Bay was a good drama. Were it not for the flaws, it could have deserved a higher rating.

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