Dream is the passage between night and day. It can bring light to darkness, it can also bring darkness to bleakness. Too much dreaming can numb the mind and exacerbate the “bad” to “worse”, but the natural inclination to dream is strong nonetheless. Some dreams of wealth, fame, and success, others of love, family, and security. Cai Jin Lai or Frank, as he prefers to be called, promptly falls under the former; Zeng Shan Mei the latter.
Frank and Zeng Shan Mei are both dreamers, each of love and bread, respectively. (Although Frank cares for branded clothes more than he does for bread.) The difference between them is that Frank wakes up from his dream a little quicker than Shan Mei — but Shan Mei, faster to distinguish dream from reality…
Frank is dirt poor by design. Although he dreams constantly of becoming rich, thrifty and moderation are not in his dictionary. Instead, hedonism is the purpose of his existence. So are extravagance, lavishing appearances and the like. That is how he ends up being in debt with no hope of ever repaying it. That is how he finds himself at the mercy of two gangsters, threatening him to repay the interest. That is also how he finds himself in this rather uncalled for situation:
It happened on Zeng Shan Mei’s last day to work before she departs to Hangzhou to marry her long term boyfriend. (Her boyfriend didn’t actually propose to her yet. She only suspects that he will, as soon as she goes to Hangzhou.) As usual, she dials a client’s number, politely “reminding” the client to pay up the debt to avoid going into default (as if the client isn’t already defaulted). Instead of the boring “leave a message at the tone”, she is galvanized into bolting upright at Frank’s screaming and the gangster’s impatient grunting of how to dispose the body.
Maybe it’s the impending marriage that gives her the courage, maybe it’s her sense of justice that supersedes her sense of judgment — Zeng Shan Mei reports to the police AND arrives at Frank’s house to check on the half-dead… (Maybe having to give CPR to a complete stranger in a cluttered, mildewy apartment will teach her not to rush out to the “crime scene” on impulsivity, if — lord forbid — there were a next time.)
After the horrendous CPR event, Frank is back to his day-to-day wrestling with moral and $. This time, he’s taking the only keepsake he has of his deceased mother — her gold wedding ring — to the pawn shop. (Is it me or does the ring glows faintly in the picture above right?) But, in the society today where everyone is so entranced with a carbon based rock called diamond, who cares for the old-fashioned gold anymore? A one-time valuable wedding ring is now only worth 3,000 TWD (about 100 USD, which I think isn’t too bad).
The plan to knock a few gold coins out of his mother’s love encapsulated ring is off — maybe if his mother were Lilly Potter, Frank will be better shielded against the dementors of Poverty and Starvation (and preserve a piece of his soul and dignity).
He walks out of the pawn shop and walks right into the two gangster who attacked him just this morning. A cat and mouse ensues to end Frank up in front of a department store’s bathroom. He does a double take and decides against entering the men’s room; he heads toward the lady’s room instead. A shrewed act, but a predicted one. The two gangsters stop short before the bathrooms, they exchange a knowing glance and approach the women’s restroom slowly…
In a vertigo, Frank stumbles upon Shan Mei, who is sweeping the bathroom (one of her 934329394839 jobs in an effort to earn enough money to support her family of six and her boyfriend’s tuition in Hangzhou.) He covers her mouth and drags her — rubber gloves and all — into a bathroom stall. (Looks/sounds familiar?) Hence, on Shan Mei’s last day at work, she is violated thus: with a man almost twice her size sitting on her atop the toilet seat in an upright piggy-back position, his floppy arms wrapped around her as tight as a ribbon, and his left hand covered her mouth so vehemently that her head was pushed back in a neck-aching 90° angel.
With her entire body binded as such, Shan Mei is powerless against Frank. The only thing she can do is scream, which comes out squeaky and weak against his iron clasp. The two gangsters check the stalls in turn and concludes, with a winkle of the nose, that in the only occupied stall is an ugly woman, judging by her shoes, having problems with constipation. (There was a Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat; there is a man who mistakes screaming for constipation.) Once the (loony) gangsters leave, Frank exhales a sigh of relief and loosens his hand. Shan Mei seizes the opportunity and bites into her attacker’s palm before fleeing the cramped stall.
They come staggering out and for the first time since their morning meeting, they have the same thing on mind: they both lung for the emergency button.
Shan Mei with the goal to alarm the security and Frank with the intention to prevent Shan Mei from doing so. In the end, Shan Mei prevails over Frank, but with a bloody price to pay — amidst the struggle, Frank accidentally pulled on Shan Mei’s attire and yanked it off of her.
The crispy ringing of the alarm is echoed by Shan Mei’s scream of disbelief and Frank’s cry of horror — horror, not from having done what he did, but from having seen what he did not want to see.
Frank is subsequently sent to the police station where his best friend’s brother Chun Xiong, dully records his misconduct with Frank yammering nonstop on the side. Ah Xing comes and bails his best friend out of the police station. They walk out and Frank is suddenly reminded of his ring. He looks through his pockets and could not find it. Without warning, he dashes back to women’s restroom again to search for the ring.
Three times is a charm indeed, Shan Mei runs back to the restroom to release her turbulent digestion of their inner turmoil, only to find Frank staring blankly at her. Mortified at seeing Frank so soon after the recent episode — forget about intestines and their needs! — Shan Mei lets her legs carry her as far from this perverted man as possible. Frank closes his hanging jaw and chases after. He catches up to her and demands to see her bag for the ring she pocketed — his ring had fallen off of him during their bathroom struggle and the security who came to clean the scene had mindlessly packed it in Shan Mei’s bag. She refuses, of course, and fights back.
The next thing Frank knows, he’s hand cuffed to a bar in the police station.
The day following proves to be just as eventful. First it’s Frank going to work with his best friend Ah Xing and discovering the house owner’s young, dead wife looks exactly like Zeng Shan Mei (Ah Xing owns a cleaning company, he and Frank are there to clean the house.) Next is Shan Mei’s tearful goodbye with her protesting family. She has been the checkbook, the maid, the pedestal, and the daughter-sister(in-law)-auntie-all-in-one of the family, no one wants her to leave. They have a point: the man whom Shan Mei had been working from day-to-night to send money too doesn’t really love her; he only uses her as his ATM. (Like so many others.) But Shan Mei’s decision to go to Hangzhou and get married is irrevocable, even if her leaving means she will be disowned by her mother.
She leaves without blessing, without having anyone believing that she will be happy. Yet luck is not on Shan Mei’s side, even as she musters the courage to chase after her own happiness. Her cab driver has a heart attack on the way to the airport. She is fortunate enough to stagger out of the car unharmed but once she gets out of the car, she sees Frank, driving the same road to retrieve cleaning products for Ah Xing, almost the victim of an head-on collusion. He sees her and attacks her hand bag right away. She is much too vexed by what has been happening to her all morning and much to busy calling the ambulance to care. He flips through her bag and doesn’t find the ring.
When the ambulance had came and went, Shan Mei and Frank pick up their belongings and each turns left and right to trod their separate paths. Frank, driving away and peering at his side mirror surreptitiously backs up at last. “Hey, aren’t you going to the airport?” he inquires, knowing the answer well before asking, “I can take you.” She gives him a disgusted look and drags her luggage away. “Fine by me if you don’t want my help. Just thought you should know, in an isolated place like this, even if you wait for three days, you might not see a single cab driving by.” She considers it for a moment and turns to face her defeat. He sees her turning and ducks his head back in the car, and starts driving. She sprints after him, yelling for him to stop. He stops, allowing her to catch up, but before she can get on, he distances them again. On and off, he teases. He drives away when she walks, he stops when she stops.
When she finally gets on the car, she grapples onto the side to keep maximal distance from him. He chuckles at her, “I saw your passport. Your name is Zeng Shan Mei,” he laughs meanly, “your parents must love the movie Sound of Music very, very much.” (Sound of Music in Chinese is called Zheng Shan Mei, which “incidentally” sounds similar to Shan Mei’s name.) Accustomed to being mocked for her name, Shan Mei says nothing and grapples tighter onto the rail of the van. “Then you must’ve been called Do Re Mi when you were little!” with that, Frank breaks into song.
Shan Mei finally sees her “boyfriend” at Hangzhou. He sees to it that she eats the delicious local food, he takes her to put out a wishing lantern by the famous west lake. (I hope her wish comes true, becoming rich one day and all.) He treats her with brotherly affection, yet they have an air of politeness about them that belongs only to strangers…
The next day he takes her to the well known love tree and under the tree, he professes:
Shan Mei, thanks for all your devout sacrifices in the last three years. I know in the past, you have been thrifty and diligent to save money for my education. Now that I have graduated, there are things I would like to confess…
Poised and patient, Shan Mei waits for the magical moment to come. What arrives instead is a detrimental blow that not only punctures a large hole in her heart, it also sucks away all the gaiety out of her. She finds herself so overwhelmed by grief that she couldn’t even cry. He tells her, “Shan Mei, I am sorry. Legend has it that confession under the love tree will be blessed…” he pauses, “penance under the love tree will also be forgiven. I have betrayed you, please forgive me.”
Disillusioned and penniless, Shan Mei returns to Taiwan. She visits her family and her best friend Lin Long in secret, but how could she tell them they were right about the man whom she had trusted and missed for three years? Exhaustion sweeps across her, she faints on the road…
She is discovered and sent to the police station, where kind hearted Chun Xiong gave her food and listened to her recounting her tragic love life. At the end of her story, she drops her head and sniffs noisily, “I’ve lost everything over this failed relationship… I have nothing left…” “No, you haven’t lost everything,” the police man says kindly and takes out a tiny gold ring, “you’ve still got this. This ring rolled out of your bag when you fell.” Shan Mei scrutinizes the ring and nods once. Maybe it’s a sign.
Using the ring as deposit, Shan Mei rents herself a room in a spiffy cottage and busies herself all day to clean it.
At night, when Frank who, after getting kicked out of his old apartment, had rented a room in the same cottage, returns home to find his two cans of beer drunken by his new housemate, comes banging on Shan Mei’s door. (The landlord had helped himself with Frank’s beer earlier in the day.)
Hence, commences the story of laugher and tears; of trickery and jealousy; of love and bread.
I said I will think about recapping this drama after I have watched a few episodes. Well, episode one and two had me considering this, then out comes three and four and I know I’m not up for long term commitment. But why? It’s been so enjoyable, you ask. Let’s just say, episode three starts to get a little… preachy. Although preachy under certain context can be necessary (character development for instance), it wouldn’t be called preachy if it’s well done. (It would be considered thematic or even symbolic.)
So, as a compromise to the 200 that voted yes for recapping this drama and the 14 that voted “yes even though the subs come out quickly”, I will only recap the episodes I like. Fair enough?
Now, a few general complains about the drama:
First of all, if Rainie’s portrayal of Xiao Hua in Miss No Good has set off a trend, then she has set off a trend of unbearable annoyance for Shan Mei’s coworkers are contaminated with the same intentionally slurred, shrieking plague that we are obliged (with grudge) to call speech. If such a person should exist within any five yard radius of me, the orange that is balancing in my hand will surely be served as a plug to that person’s big, yacking mouth. And maybe, out will grow James’ giant orange tree (for a lack of peach in this weather).
Secondly, there’s the occasional obscure craziness that no amount of head-scratching can lead me to an acceptable explanation of what the shenanigan actually means. Shan Mei’s drawing on the bathroom mirror and the coworkers’ subsequent reaction at the very beginning of the episode — What. Just. Happened?!?
Lastly, to those who read this on the 25th, merry Christmas to you!