The 49-episode series is also known as Dream of Chang’an and Awakening Chang’an, whereby the title is subsequently revised to Stand by Me due to censorship requirements. Watching this series will remind you of Love and Redemption, as many of the actors & actresses are in both series.
The series follow the path of Qi Yan (portrayed by Cheng Yi), who is Qing Dynasty’s puppet emperor controlled by the eunuch Duke Cui aka Qiu Zhi Liang. Qi Yan maintains a low profile, but pulling the strings behind the screen in plotting to overthrow the powerful faction of eunuch. Duke Cui (portrayed by Mickey He) is the main villain, holding the main power in the court and holding Qi Yan to ransom on various matters. With the palace guards & army within city under his control, he holds a stronghold.
Qi Yan with the assistance of newly appointed Sword Bearer Cheng Ruo Yu (portrayed by Zhang Yu Xi) manoeuvres the many sinister plots. There are other characters all with their own hidden agenda:
- Qiu Yan Zhi aka Chess Observer (portrayed by Xuan Lu) is Duke Cui’s god-daughter who executes the evil-doings. She has Yan Xiu (portrayed by Li Jun Yi) as her personal bodyguard as she doesn’t practice martial art due to an injury to her heart in early childhood.
- Cheng Xi and Cheng Huai Zhi (Ruo Yu’s aunt and uncle in the palace) who serve as the trainer for Violet Bureau which is managed by the Sword Bearer and personal eunuch attending to Qi Yan respectively.
- Prince Guang (portrayed by Han Dong) who is a recluse with medicinal knowledge, often coming on board to save Qi Yan and Cheng Ruo Yu
- Court Official Li Deyun and his cunning daughter Li Zening who is harbouring intention to return to be a powerful family in the city
- Han Ding, Qi Yan’s personal body guard who runs around to do his secret biddings
- Liu Mi Sha, the foreign princess from Zhen Wu who is supported by the Military Adviser Han Yue
Throughout the series, the parties involved from both sides keep having their plans thwarted, mainly due to unknown forces – deemed the Third Force. At each step, the question beckons who is the third force? What are their motives? Everyone harbours their own secrets. Similarly, each of them planning each step to achieve their agenda.
Qi Yan has been a lonely soul throughout since crowned as the successor to the previous emperor, but finds his soul-mate in Cheng Ruo Yu and falls deeply in love with her. It is easy to see why Qi Yan’s character is attracted to Cheng Ruo Yu, as she wears her feelings on her sleeves, extremely honest & loyal with no hidden agenda. Cheng Ruo Yu’s character is happy-go-lucky and sunny, always taking things in her stride – a complete opposite to Qi Yan who is required to keep his emotions in check at all times.
As the plot deepens, Cheng Ruo Yu is often pitted against Yan Zhi but both feel a deeper connection with each other. The connection arises mainly as both are the lost granddaughters of Advisor Wang Yang, who is the trusted aide of the previous emperor. It is also none other than Qi Yan who went on the offensive in confiscating & eliminating the family in doing the bidding of Duke Cai. The conflict & resentment culminates slightly differently in the sisters.
Yan Zhi who is always aware of her identity (as Wang Ruo Qing), takes cover under her enemy Duke Cai by becoming the god-daughter to take revenge. In her path, patience is a virtue and she herself has to do the evil biddings of Duke Cai, giving her some understanding of Qi Yan’s situation. In her eyes, her ultimate aim is to take revenge on both Duke Cai and Qi Yan to avenge her family. She treats everyone as a chess piece to advance her game plan.
On the other hand, Cheng Ruo Yu loses her memory when she was rescued as a young child and does not remember her actual identity (as Wang Ruo Ling). She lives a protected and happy life as the adopted daughter of Cheng Xi and Cheng Huai Zhi, maintaining her sunshine outlook of the world and her naivete.
The series slowly peels the various characters and their hidden agenda, with the various characters changing their loyalty over time – showing how in the game to win the throne, circumstances dictate that there are no forever friends, nor forever enemies. It makes a mockery of honesty & loyalty.
Towards the end, Qi Yan manages to out-smart Duke Cai and during the confrontation, manages to kill him. His last confrontation is with the third force – who is revealed to be none other than his close uncle Prince Guang, who has been aiding him.
The doubts on each other’s intention & agenda are laid bare during their confrontation in the main court, but with a slightly different direction. Both experience the wrath of the rebellion which places Qi Yan as the emperor. While Qi Yan takes on the offensive to be the puppet Duke Cai wanted, Prince Guang lays low to ensure his own survival. Over the past decade, both encounter different experiences but found solace in their ultimate objective of ensuring a peaceful & prosperous country for the citizens. It is due to their common goal of a peaceful Qing dynasty that both have taken actions based on what they think is the right direction. No real right or wrong, and luckily the knots of misunderstanding is finally broken.
Beware that the series does not have a happy ending for the couple, as Qi Yan dies leaving the throne to Prince Guang. Cheng Ruo Yu leaves the palace to live a life as a commoner selling noodles.
Thoughts & Muses
Although the series seems to be complicated with plots hidden amongst other plots, I personally found the series to be a drag and less engaging. There are many holes within the plots and some actions do not seem to be rationale.
Cheng Yi as Qi Yan the oppressed emperor is convincing & believable. Cheng Yi is a good actor, his expression often changing ever slightly to reveal his feelings and he carries through the character of Qi Yan well. However, I do think that the series provided a too constricted view of Qi Yan’s character. The storyline is also a little weird which pits Qi Yan characters in various difficult situation of wounding himself to threaten Duke Cai. This leads to too many injuries & poisoning to lead to his early death. It has been proven in past series that Cheng Yi is very good in portraying a character similar to Qi Yan – enduring misconceptions by others. He should really try new characters to test his own acting skills and perhaps obtain a breakthrough.
Zhang Yu Xi is totally not convincing as the Sword Bearer Cheng Ruo Yu. Zhang Yu Xi is very pretty – her features are just lovely. But she can’t act well – and definitely does not carry Cheng Ruo Yu’s character well. In many occasions, she tries to portray the innocence but comes across as an idiot. It also does not help that her character is not well-developed. Her chemistry with Cheng Yi is touch and go, sometimes there sometimes totally missing.
On the other hand, I find Xuan Lu as Qiu Yan Zhi a way better actress who portrays Qiu Yan Zhi’s character with aplomb. She is calm when needed to be, vulnerable when facing off with delicate situations involving her family, her anxiety when facing a conflicting situation that test her own principles in life. In the series, her character only cares about her family’s revenge and her sister (after she finds out that she is Cheng Ruo Yu).
Her interactions with all the male actors are very well done, whereby I felt some deeper feelings but could not be sure. Her interaction with Duke Cai is always professional & business-like, but her eyes give away the loathing. Her interaction with her loyal personal bodyguard Yan Xiu – it makes her a completely selfish person. She definitely knows Yan Xiu has deep feelings for her, and she uses these feelings to ensure his loyalty including protecting Cheng Ruo Yu’s life. Her interaction with Qi Yan is also business-like, always wary of each other – like a hunter observing the prey from afar. There seems to be some tint of jealousy at the beginning when she realises how much Cheng Ruo Yu means to Qi Yan, probably envious of both of them to be able to find a soul-mate.
In her interaction with Prince Guang (portrayed by Han Dong), there is always an undercurrent between the two of them. Prince Guang always seems to have something to say to her, but keeps himself in check. He clearly admires her very much, and I suspect has a soft spot for her. I also like Han Dong’s portrayal of Prince Guang – a prince who could have been easily swayed for the power grab. He has so many reasons & opportunities to push him to take the rebellion route – he resisted throughout.
In many of the scenes, there are references to the chess games in action. Unfortunately, the intricacy of the games and its pieces are lost on me.
The series actually is based on real historical figures of the Tang Dynasty. Due to censorship issues, some of the information have been revised. Qi Yan’s role is based on Emperor Wuzong Li Yan while Prince Guang’s role is based on Emperor Xuanzong Li Chen. True to history, Li Yan died young at 31. Both historical Li Yan and Li Cheng are unfortunately not as noble as portrayed in the series. But repeatedly actual history provides a glimpse that being born in the royal family is torture itself as finding real family love may be as elusive as ever in the fight for the ultimate throne.
Frankly, the series is neither here nor there. It is not a nail-biting plot with palace schemes (the women are better at these), neither is it a full-blown love story, and it is definitely not an idol drama either. Unless you are a fan of Cheng Yi, the series may not appeal to many. After watching Love & Redemption, I like both the male and female lead of Cheng Yi and Yuan Bing Yuan. The attraction stops there – this series is very far off to be compared to Love & Redemption.
The storyline itself is already a major gap as the riveting story of Love & Redemption keeps you on the toes while the direction of Stand by Me is more of an attempt to make a rather ordinary plot exciting. Acting-wise, Zhang Yu Xi is a miscast as she is unable to carry the role and this rather spoils the series significantly. It also does not help that the series has a sad ending. The only reason I persevered is due to Cheng Yi.
If you decide to watch, cut the series lots of slack.