Falling Before Fireworks (2023) 最食人间烟火色
Summary: Bank manager Si Qing 司清 (ft Lu Yang Yang 卢洋洋) has worked tirelessly to get to her level and title at the bank. But, as a daughter of divorce, and a woman working her way up in a new city, she lacks a sense of security and belonging.
She just bought a new car and apartment and was hoping for another push to make her bonus this year. But one of the customers default on payments. As she tries to collect payment, she encounters the cold and aloof Jing Chen 景琛 (ft Chen Xin Hai 陈鑫海) . He’s a talented but poor artist that lives in a beautiful village. After one night with clients, Si Qing angrily finds Jing Chen and proposes marriage. He at first refuses but has a change of heart a short time later. What was at first a flash marriage becomes a loving one as two people with broken families find each other.
Total Episode Count: 23
Initial Airing Date: March 31, 2023
*Note – most English translations are my own and may not exactly match iQiyi’s official translations
Rating: 7.2/10: A heartwarming and engaging romance about the hardships of succeeding in a tough career as a woman and what it means to continue the traditions of old. Set in a beautiful old village, we are presented with a feast of Chinese delicacies and the quiet life. The female lead Lu Yang Yang carries the show with her endearing turn as the ambitious but at times hot headed bank manager. However a nosy ex-girlfriend drags some of the episodes in the middle of the drama.
Si Qing 司清
Lu Yang Yang 卢洋洋
Account Manager at a Bank in Nan City. She’s excels at work and wants the stability of a house and car. She meets Jing Chen when she’s trying to investigate a bank customer who has defaulted and finds that he is quite despicable. However, due to nasty rumors from her co-workers, she hastily proposes marriage to Jing Chen.
Jing Chen 景琛
Chen Xin Hai 陈鑫海
A poor young artisan who lives in a historical village. He is an orphan who was adopted by Grandpa Jing. He learned the traditional arts of carving and painting. He was content in his life until Si Qing once again upends his life.
Yun Pian 云篇
Nan Sheng 南笙
A Han clothing designer and Jing Chen’s college classmate. She deeply loved Jing Chen while at school but Jing Chen refused to move abroad with her after school. She returns after 6 years hoping to rekindle the relationship but finds that he’s married. She decided to move next door and become his neighbor.
Jing Mu Sheng 景木圣
Zhao Zhen Ting 赵振廷
The biological grandson of Grandpa Jing and older brother to the adopted Jing Chen. He moved in with his mother when she remarried. He and Jing Chen had a couple of scrapes when they were younger, leaving Jing Chen rather traumatized. He returns after the death of Grandpa Jing
Chi Zhong Yu池中煜
Ji Hao 籍皓
Apprentice to Si Qing at the bank, he’s from a wealthy family and went to school with Jing Chen and Yun Pian. He’s always there to support Jing Chen but oftentimes accidentally does the exact opposite
Qian Xuan Ying 钱宣颖
Si Qing’s best friend in the city. She always devises ideas and plans for Si Qing when the latter feels lost with regards to her career or romantic relationship
Si Qing has steadily climbed the ladder at her bank for the past several years. She travels to a traditional village on the outskirts of town to reclaim the loan of a client. There, she encounters a rather cold Jing Chen who cleverly aids his neighbor. It quickly becomes apparent that Si Qing and Jing Chen do not see eye to eye on many matters. Si Qing finally persuades the client to repay the loan after showing her proof that her husband has been having an affair but Si Qing cannot bring herself to leave the woman destitute and agrees to stall repayment. However, this means that Si Qing must work doubly hard at the bank or else all of her team’s bonus will be forfeit.
After having to deal with some slimy clients, she scores the bonus. Unfortunately, her success has caused several of her co-workers to spread nasty rumors about her methods. Despite her best efforts to hide her resentment towards her colleagues, Si Qing feels desperately alone and finds herself at the traditional village where Jing Chen lives. She rashly blurts out a proposal of marriage. Jing Chen is shocked and rejects this proposal.
Sometime later, Jing Chen heads to the bank where Si Qing works. After visiting her office, he suddenly agrees to the marriage. She’s shocked but they move ahead and get married. Turns out, when Si Qing was 20, she spent all of her birthday savings on a piece of art by Jing Chen. This was his graduation work. The name of the piece was “Winter Solstice” and shows a family enjoying the fireworks in a traditional family courtyard during the Winter Solstice. Her purchase changed Jing Chen’s life.
The two get married but quickly realizes that it’s not all sunshine and roses because in essence, they barely know each other. However, they slowly fall in love as they each help each other achieve their professional dreams and move past their childhood traumas.
This was a very enjoyable short drama to binge. It tackles a wide range of topics in its short runtime including the struggles of a woman’s career, the realities of dying trades, and the struggles of every day life. I especially appreciated the focus it placed on traditional Chinese arts and handicrafts and the struggle of keeping those traditions alive. This drama had the right mix of romance and tension without being too saccharine or having characters be too dramatic. I’m very pleased with the choice of adding in traditional set pieces and making that a part of the overall plot. After watching this drama, I just wanted to spend some time in a small village sipping tea and enjoy time with family and friends.
- The traditional village and the rustic life: I honestly think the main character of this drama was really the village where Jing Chen lived. The setting and design really transported me and the characters into another world that is separate from the hustle and bustle of life. The winter scenes and the plum blossoms really added to the atmosphere of living in an 18th century village where all of the neighbors know each other and each are making a living using their own skills. Jing Chen’s kitchen was so charming, especially how he used traditional cooking methods to cook every day.
- Lu Yang Yang’s portrayal of Si Qing: Lu Yang Yang impressed me with her acting in this drama. She showed range for the different scenarios her character went through, whether that’s sadness from the vitriol from her colleagues, her unwillingness to bend for money, her jealousy towards Yun Pian, and her budding love for Jing Chen. I was especially impressed in the scenes with her parents because I could tell that Si Qing as a character wanted her parent’s love but didn’t know how to ask for it. A few people also mentioned online that Lu Yang Yang looks like the lead from a Korean drama. There were certainly scenes with her where I’m like – whoa! I’m watching a different type of show! I don’t necessarily mean that she looks like a Korean actress, it’s just her overall vibe is very similar to what I saw in Kdramas. Her style was also very on point in this drama with several notable outfits.
- Focus on tradition: Jing Chen decides to stay in his village to continue the traditions of Chinese handicraft art alive. There are some great discussions in the drama on how and why the aging artisans chose their craft and the reality that their craft might die with them. It’s tough work that can’t be replicated by machines but who wants to spend the years to train as an apprentice? This plot line gets wrapped up a little too neatly in the end, but I enjoyed the spotlight it highlighted for these artisans.
What didn’t work:
- Chen Xin Hai as Jing Chen: I’m probably in the minority but I didn’t find Chen Xin Hai’s portrayal of Jing Chen as very convincing. Here’s a character who is an orphan and became adopted but he always lived in his brother’s shadow and spend his time trying to live up to his grandfather’s expectation. Because of this he learned to control his emotions. What I got was a character who was rather wooden and showed little emotion. He was just nice. I was thoroughly enjoying everything from Si Qing but I felt like every time we got to Jing Chen, the drama went to a standstill. He was scared, he had trauma. I barely felt much of it. In the end, I was rooting for the couple mainly for Si Qing’s sake. Chen Xin Hai is very young and this is a great start to his career but hopefully he’ll develop more range.
- Ex-Girlfriend Yun Jian: We get this trope of an ex-girlfriend who returns to win back Jing Chen’s favor. At least she doesn’t outright try to make him have an affair. However, her stance at the very beginning was – I don’t want to marry anyone. She just wanted to see Jing Chen and Si Qing’s relationship end and then she and Jing Chen can be together without getting married. I would have respected her a little bit more if she held onto that stance but basically she decides to marry someone else in the end. Overall, she wasn’t too annoying of an ex-girlfriend, but I felt like some of her plotlines could have been omitted.
- Jing Chen and Jing Mu Sheng’s conflict: We spend a lot of time seeing Jing Chen trying to move past his childhood trauma of his rivalry between Jing Mu Sheng. The resolution was rather sudden in my opinion; I won’t spoil it but I’ll admit I was very puzzled at both of their reactions to certain events in the drama. Moral of the story – they should have just had a conversation years ago instead of this drawn out storyline that we got in this drama.
- The OST! They actually got the rights of a very famous song from the Korean movie The Classic. It was translated to Chinese and boy, it really did add to the mood of the drama. Maybe that’s why I was saying I felt Kdrama vibes at certain times.