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I was re-watching some of my old Asian dramas, and I came across a Taiwanese drama that was released in 2003. At the Dolphin Bay starred Ambrose Hsu, playing Hsu Ze Ya, and Angela Zhang, who plays Yi Tian Bian. The drama also co-starred Wallace Huo (Xiao Kang), Penny Lin (Shan Ni), and Jill Hsu (Man Ching).
Legend has it a dolphin once helped to reunite a pair of tragic lovers. From then on, the well-adored animal became the guardian of love. At Dolphin Bay, a tale of love and myth continues. Two children, Ze Ya and Xiao Pin Gai, met at an orphanage. Seeing the latter was often bullied by the other kids, Ze Ya rose to the occasion to become her gallant protector. Alas, the young couple parted ways when the director of a big company Hsu Ruo Gu arrived to bring his ‘grandson’ home. Ze Ya promised to come back for Xiao Pin Gai, but when he finally makes good his promise 20 years later, his childhood friend is nowhere to be found.
If the legend of Dolphin Bay is to be believed, then when a girl makes her first confession to a guy, that guy becomes her destined lover. This is the general setup for the drama. Two “destined lovers” meet and are separated, only to be reunited again years later. Only now they have to face tremendous obstacles before they can live happily ever after.
At the beginning, we see a young girl peeking into a room, where she sees her mother begging an old man for mercy, telling him that the little girl is his granddaughter. The old man, Hsu Ruo Gu, refuses to assist them, saying that he has only one granddaughter, Shan Ni (the daughter of his son’s legitimate wife). The mother and young child walk out into the pouring rain, and the young girl witnesses her mother being hit by a car. Because she is just a child, she is unable to understand that she has just seen her mother die.
She is taken to an orphanage, where the other children name her Xiao Pin Gai, saying that she should be called this because she is a bottle cap that people take off and throw away; Xiao Pin Gai is constantly reminded that no one wants her, and that she was thrown away. Here, Ze Ya steps in and protects her. He befriends her, supports her, assists her, and helps her to stand up for herself. Xiao Pin Gai comes to depend on him, trusts him, and calls him Dada. In the end, he leaves her behind when he is taken by a man, who claims him as his deceased son’s child. Ze Ya promises her that he will return soon. Only, by the time he returns, Xiao Pin Gai has been adopted. Xiao Pin Gai feels betrayed, and decides to never believe in anyone else again. Ze Ya is left with a broken promise, and a sense of responsibility to the friend he unwillingly hurt. And, thus, twenty years go by.
In twenty years, Hsu Ze Ya returns from abroad and has become the general manager of SET (a media company), and Xiao Pin Gai has become Yi Tian Bian, a woman who dreams about becoming a singer. The two meet, when Tian Bian accidentally confesses to Ze Ya, and her plan to make the legend of Dolphin Bay come true in her favor is foiled. Tian Bian helps Ze Ya, and in return, Ze Ya helps Tian Bian, by setting up another confession for her, by taking her to her singing competition, by attracting Xiao Kang’s notice, so that this music director can hear Tian Bian’s voice, and by taking care of her mother. During these interactions, we get to see the Hsu Ze Ya of the past. This man is soft-spoken, and is always willing to lend a hand to a damsel in distress. But these aren’t just Ze Ya’s protective tendencies coming out, he also feels an attraction to Tian Bian because she reminds him of Xiao Pin Gai and because she is a good person. There is a hyperawareness between the two that is a pleasure to watch. When the two accidentally touch lips or hands, you can see that both are deeply affected by these moments.
When Tian Bian is picked to be the new singer for SET, everything changes. Tian Bian finds herself attracted to Xiao Kang, her musical director. Xiao Kang is abrasive and curt, but he also takes care of Tian Bian, protects her, and she is grateful to him for giving her a chance, and letting her live at his home. When Ze Ya tries to protect her, pointing out that people might think badly of her for living with Xiao Kang, Tian Bian hotly defends Xiao Kang and indirectly tells Ze Ya to back off and butt out. Tian Bian eventually reveals to Ze Ya that she likes Xiao Kang, and Ze Ya is heartbroken. He gracefully steps back.
Around this time, he also finds out that Tian Bian is the Xiao Pin Gai of his past. At the same time, he also finds out that Xiao Pin Gai was the actual Hsu grandchild. He feels that not only did he take away Tian Bian’s ability to believe, but he also took away this great life that Tian Bian could have had. It is at this point that Ze Ya makes a deal with his “grandfather”. He promises to marry Shan Ni, if grandfather will bring Tian Bian into the family. Shan Ni convinces Ze Ya to fake an engagement so that Grandpa will do his part. Grandpa agrees, but only if Ze Ya will have no further relations with Tian Bian.
Tian Bian finds out that Hsu Ze Ya is her Dada at his engagement announcement to Tian Bian’s half-sister. When she runs to confront Ze Ya, he has no recourse but to harshly reprimand her for her behavior. Faced with his rejection of her and his revelation that he never tried to look for her, Tian Bian asks Ze Ya whether she really is Xiao Pin Gai, something to be thrown away. Ze Ya can only promise her that he will tell her the answer one day. She asks him if she can believe in him, believe in a destined love, and Ze Ya responds by gently reminding her that she had confessed her feelings for Xiao Kang. It is only then that Tian Bian admits that her feelings for him were that of a fan for an idol, but that she does not love Xiao Kang. She loves Ze Ya. Ze Ya tells her that they cannot be. The past is the past.
As time goes by, Tian Bian is angered by Ze Ya’s closeness with Shan Ni. Ze Ya finally reveals that the engagement is a sham to induce Grandpa Hsu to bring Tian Bian into the family, but Tian Bian finds this hard to believe when she sees Shan Ni hugging Ze Ya. Only when it is revealed that Shan Ni has end-stage Leukemia, do the two admit that they cannot be together. They sacrifice their love, so that Shan Ni can have at least this happiness. Shan Ni and Ze Ya marry, but the show makes it clear that the marriage is never consummated. Shan Ni collapses immediately after the wedding and lands in the hospital. After witnessing her half-sister’s triumph on the stage, Shan Ni quietly dies. After a period of separation, Tian Bian and Ze Ya are reunited, and kiss once more near the orphanage where the two first met.
When I first watched this drama, it took me time to get used to Ambrose Hsu. I was kind of put off by his makeup (too much) and his hair (too puffy). But once I looked past that, I fell in love with his character. He was just so sweet. Hsu Ze Ya was the kind of man that didn’t have to shout to be heard. His quiet strength and charisma was the reason that Tian Bian fell in love with him in the past, and the reason she loves him now. He only ever wanted Tian Bian’s/Xiao Pin Gai’s happiness, and he did everything in his power to give her back everything he felt that he had stolen from her. If there was a flaw, the flaw was that Ze Ya took on too much responsibility, even for those actions that he had no control over.
Ambrose Hsu acted superbly as Ze Ya. His ability to emote his fascination with Tian Bian, his awareness of her, and then his pained shock when she confesses to liking Xiao Kang were excellent. I love the way he acts with his eyes, when the rest of his face can remain expressionless. Ambrose Hsu’s ability to reveal his broken heart just from the way he stands was amazing. I wish that I could see more of his dramas, but I can see that he hasn’t been too active in the past few years. If there was one problem I had, it was that he cried a bit too much. Beyond that, I loved this drama because of Ambrose Hsu’s portrayal of Hsu Ze Ya.
Tian Bian was a poor girl, who had been abandoned by both mother and friend in quick succession. She learned not to trust promises, and she decided not to believe. She wants to earn money, so that she can help her mother. She is confused about her emotions at first, thinking that she loves Xiao Kang, but asserts later on that she only idolizes him. The one she really loves is Hsu Ze Ya. I wasn’t too sure about that. It felt to me that Tian Bian would have chosen Xiao Kang over Hsu Ze Ya (which I so do not understand), but that Dada won hands down. Therefore, Hsu Ze Ya only wins because he was Dada. It kind of makes me feel bad for Hsu Ze Ya, even though he does win at the end. But once Tian Bian knows who Hsu Ze Ya is, she is constant in her love and loyalty. She might be hurt by his engagement to her sister, and subsequent marriage, but she understands and wants this for her sister. She even pretends to be engaged to Xiao Kang, so that she bring that necessary distance between herself and Hsu Ze Ya (her soon-to-be brother-in-law).
Angela Zhang was great as Tian Bian. She was able to emote Tian Bian’s pain and anger, her vulnerability and sweetness. And she looked pretty doing it. I always enjoy her acting.
The rest of the cast was capable, and I liked Penny Lin’s portrayal of Shan Ni. I was able to sympathize with her character, even though she was the reason that the main couple was unable to live happily ever after. And I felt bad for her when she died.
I didn’t understand Xiao Kang in this drama, because he was a man that went from being with one woman to loving another. When Tian Bian rejected him, he went back to Man Ching (his first girlfriend in the drama), but made no promises to her. His actions left me frustrated with Xiao Kang and feeling sorry for Man Ching. Because I could not understand these characters, I couldn’t really accept the actors. I haven’t seen Wallace Huo or Jill Hsu in anything else, so I can only say that they acted capably.
The drama also had a great soundtrack, and my favorites were “I Don’t Want to Know” and “Shiroku”. Even though I had no idea what the lyrics meant, the music itself fit the drama. I also loved a Korean track in the drama, called “Want to Love You” by Wax, whose haunting melody stayed in my mind long after I finished watching the drama. Here is a subbed MV of that song, along with great scenes from the drama:
I highly recommend this drama, and suggest that you guys check it out. I believe that there is a subtitled version of this uploaded on Youtube.
Let me know what you all thought of At the Dolphin Bay.