Thursday, June 21, 2012

Startling By Each Step/Scarlet Heart (步步驚心)(2011): Characters Analysis/Review

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Startling By Each Step/Scarlet Heart (步步驚心)

Characters Analysis/Review Main Cast/Characters 
Alright, as usual, for complex dramas like these, I would usually draw an analysis or a review of all the characters and do bear with me, for this is a drama loaded with plenty of important characters/actors who deserved a mention. 

Cecilia Liu Shi Shi as Zhang Xiao/Ma'ertai Ruoxi 
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Starting with the main character and also the lead actress role in the drama, Cecilia plays modern day Zhang Xiao who was involved in an accident which brought her back to the ancient times set in the Qing Dynasty in the year of Kangxi's reign and she assumes the identity of Ma'ertai Ruoxi, the second daughter of a Manchu aristocrat. 
As Zhang Xiao
She was confused as to whether she was dreaming initially, and I don't blame her as seriously, how many of us could imagine being knocked unconscious and when you open your eyes to wake up, you are a different person altogether let alone in a different era, and we are talking about three centuries ago! I felt Cecilia really brought out the confusion and surprise of a modern woman, Zhang Xiao very well and how she was adamant to return to her lifestyle and refused to be known as Ma'ertai Ruoxi and made several attempts although she had no idea whatsoever on how to achieve that. When she finally decided to play along and adapted her new identity gradually while waiting to return to her era, she included that modern thinking of a 21st century woman into her identity and became a rather stubborn yet free thinking girl in the era. Therefore it is no surprise that her style and carefree attitude attracted the attention of all the royal princes who were brought up in a rather conservative environment and restricted to all the protocols required of their status. 
As Ma'ertai Ruoxi
It was funny to see how a modern woman like Zhang Xiao trying to fit into an old-fashioned and supposedly graceful lady (she is of aristocrat family, don't forget that) and Cecilia did have quite a challenging role in the beginning but I see that she was slowly losing that modern thinking slowly as the drama progresses as she realized that nothing is to be determined by herself in that era and that being in the favor of the one who decides everything; the Emperor only meant that she totally had no control over her own life, at all, and all the princes cared about her enough to warn her about it. Perhaps it was this realization that threw her into the submission mode as she could no longer do anything about her own fate and if she were to insist, that would only bring trouble to her own family and loved ones, that we see modern day Zhang Xiao truly transformed into the reserved and conservative Ma'ertai Ruoxi. This was probably the first thing that Ruoxi had to deal with when she assumed the identity. 
Secondly, besides worrying about her own destiny, she also had to deal with the rivaling affections of the princes who were competing for her and then it narrows down to the 4th, 8th and the 14th; all of whom were contending for the throne at the same time. Yes, talk about headaches! Ruoxi was close to them and thus became the object of their interests as they vie for her affections. 
She treated 13th Prince as her best friend and confided in him in almost everything. She never really liked 10th Prince and only saw him as a fun guy to befriend; and though she was upset with his arranged marriage, it was because that she realized they had no control over their own lives. 
She fell for 8th Prince but gradually fell out of love, and to me, I don't think she loved him enough to be able to let go just because he would not agree to her condition to give up the throne. 
She had always had this feeling for the 4th Prince; which she assumed was fear and respect for the future emperor but at the same time, she slowly realized that his character had captured her heart right from the start; just as she had done the same to him. Her heart longed, ached and cared for the 4th Prince, and the fact that he was about to be the Emperor she had heard of in history and feared due to the many disputes and rumors regarding his rights to the throne, it was no longer a matter she cared and in her eyes, the 4th prince is only a man in her heart whom she loved and would do anything for him. It was evident when she helped him to declare him as the Emperor, and even sacrificed her years of beauty and youth to stay in the laundry department to turn down the marriage proposal to the 14th prince which was the only way out of the palace at that time. While many may think she is confused about her own feelings, but I think from the start, she only has the 4th Prince and he was all that mattered to her.
She cared so much for a guy yet she was hurt by how he had turned out to be when he became the Emperor; and though she loved him, her fear of him returned like in the beginning but she became so fearful of him that she did not want him to be caught between his feelings for her and in dealing with his subjects. She cared about Yongzhen not as an Emperor, but also as the man she wanted to see not to be unfairly judged by the future generation and also her care for the other princes also led to her not wanting them to be hurt because of her and because of that, she had to make the decision to leave Yongzhen. It was not because of fear or hate, but rather because she loved him too much and was very afraid that her presence could destroy his humanity and that very compassion he still had in him. 
It was the hardest thing she had to do, but she just could not bear to stay and watch him lose his senses and become more and more cruel towards his own brothers and even people around her. Another reason was also due to her being over consumed by her own guilt which stemmed from the realization that her mere warning due to her experiencing the predestination paradox led to her shaping history towards what was seen in the present though she wanted to help the 8th Prince in the beginning. Knowing that her words to 8th Prince led to the damage and consequences which befell the 13th Prince (her best friend) and also affected the 4th Prince (her true love), she could no longer bear to stay beside him for knowing that she was the cause of their fates and how Yongzhen turned out to be. She knew that she loved Yongzhen deeply, yet she could not face him after what she had done, and the hurt she had brought unto him which made her firm in leaving him although she suffered immensely in her own pain and guilt until the day she died. That, and all her actions, thoughts and words were truly symbolic of her love for Yongzhen. As mentioned in her final letter, she only loved Yinzhen; the 4th prince and there is no place in her heart for the Emperor.
As Zhang Xiao again
When she returns to the present after her death in the Qing Dynasty, she became a more subdued character and emotional. Though there was not much of a focus on Zhang Xiao as it was the last scene, but comparing to her earlier Zhang Xiao, she did seem like she has absorbed the personality of Ma'ertai Ruoxi into her modern self.
Acting Skills
It was quite a tough transition for Cecilia, in my opinion to have to change her expressions before each Prince but it was quite a good job done by this sweet actress. She could really cry and I enjoyed her acting through the drama as she was just bubbly and can be quite expressive as well. She also portrayed the different stages of Ma'ertai Ruoxi really well; from the playful young girl to a woman searching for her identity and one who was truly madly and deeply in love to someone who gave her all for love and then to one who was in pain to see the changes in the one she loved and finally mature through the love and life she went through. 
This is a character which truly saw the changes through the drama's progress and there were stages of maturity through the ups and downs experienced and there is no reason why she is not well-liked by almost everyone in the drama and those watching the drama. 

Nicky Wu Qi Long as 4th Prince Aixin Gioro Yinzhen/Prince Yong/Emperor Yongzhen 
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Besides Ruoxi, this is my Favorite character in the entire story and it does help that Nicky Wu is my favorite idol since, like a long time ago (yes, I have always liked Nicky Wu and his Little Tigers gang; especially Nicky). Never mind that he is playing the disputed role of one of the greatest Qing Emperors whose ascension to the throne was constantly being talked about. 
As the 4th Prince, he was excellent with his calm and expressionless demeanor, and Nicky showed that an actor does not need express through his actions/gestures or any form of facial expressions to be able to show his emotions. In this drama, Nicky's stares, eyes and his faraway look along with his clenched fists which spoke far more than the dialogues that he spoke. He did an excellent job in portraying the exceptionally calm yet careful planner of the 4th Prince who did not even display his real intentions from the start until the end. Had we not been in the present who knew of history like Zhang Xiao, it would have been hard to predict that this would be the future Emperor or someone who was rumored to have plotted to take the throne from his own brother. Yinzhen actually could be seen to pay attention to the bubbly Ruoxi right from the start (yes, from the stares at the balcony and also his care for Ruoxi's fate in the Imperial selection), and his love for her just grew gradually along the series which just became more and more immense that it just touched the bottom of our hearts. His anger, his love were all not publicly displayed nor physically shown but rather expressed through his eyes when he looked at Ruoxi and also the way he smiled when her name was mentioned or when she does something in front of them. This is also one of the breakthrough roles for Nicky Wu as we see him in a rather serious and stable role; and he played the charismatic prince extremely well, definitely deviating from his previous roles which were rather of a boyish or stereotypical type. He is definitely one of the reasons which drew me to this drama but he proved that I was not wrong. 
As 4th Prince Yinzhen
Yinzhen, the 4th Prince, as depicted in this drama just had me yearning for him and is the epitome of the charm and suave intelligence of a gentleman during that century, who could have all the women fall at his feet. He did not have to openly declare his love for Ruoxi, nor were there any explicit sexual scenes between them and the only scene was of him forcibly kissing her, but that was it and yet I could sense the growing intensity of their love/romance for each other especially in Yinzhen as he was constantly doing things for her. He hid his emotions yet he was honest with Ruoxi because he wanted her to be completely honest with him too. The character of Yinzhen in this drama, besides the romance part was quite pitiful in my opinion. His own mother showed obvious favoritism towards his younger brother, Yinti, and he could only trust Yinxiang, the 13th Prince. Perhaps he is not one who trusts anyone simply, and this was depicted through his only confidante who was Yinxiang, but at the same time, can we really blame him? (All his brothers seemed to be plotting against each other and the throne is always at question) To me, I think that Yinzhen never really learnt about love; his own mother did not really love him as much as his brother, his father treated his brother better too, and he probably married Nian Gengyao's sister not out of love but for the sake of Nian Gengyao's backup (I am deducing from the drama alone). The only people who made him feel loved was Ruoxi, Yinxiang and maybe his first wife, Lady Ulanara who would later become his Empress (this is a good wife who was really kind and even open to the existence of Ruoxi in her own husband's heart to compete for his love). He probably wanted the throne to himself, but he did not show that he was going to extricate his own brothers out of the feud; or at least, not as ruthless as the 8th Prince but he was definitely pushed towards that direction when he and Yinxiang were being thrown into the situation staged by Yinsi who wanted them out of the picture totally. Therefore, he vowed revenge to save Yinxiang and Ruoxi; the two people he really loved and he may have been a little harsh, but I don't really blame him for the things he did to his brothers and all those who betrayed him when he became the Emperor. He was a very sad character really, and my heart goes out to him in pain and grief when he realized that Ruoxi was once in love with the 8th Prince and that she never told him; even the part when she warned Yinsi of him. When he hears of her death, his grief was realistic and Nicky Wu played that scene extremely well with his tears and dark circles under his eyes (maybe that was not really intended). He is and remained my favorite character from the start until the end; even when he no longer could remember Ruoxi in the modern day. 
As Emperor Yongzhen
He ruled with an iron fist, and as I have mentioned in my first part of the review, I could not really blame him considering his past and his lack of love by his parents and even his own brothers. It was probably due to all these factors which made him cold and bitter towards them for they forced him towards that extent when they threw him into the scandal which caused him to lose favor and arouse the suspicion of the Emperor and also dragged the 13th prince along with him. That was the turning point that made him clench his fists and also his heart towards the cold-blooded guy who no longer cared about the rest of the world but the ones who loved/cared about him. When he ascended the throne, he had to bear tons of responsibilities and at the same time, protect his own throne and the ones he loved. The continuity of the threats from the 8th Prince's gang bothered him and he hated the fact that Ruoxi was caught between their feud for he wanted her to be happy after he became the Emperor; thus pushing him to pick on them to get them out of the picture and to leave Ruoxi alone. It was not purely for her alone; but also due to their ambitions which he simply had to subdue. Come on, let's be honest, no one would want to lose something they fight for and had it been the 8th Prince, I believe that he would be just as cruel (or more) towards the 4th and 13th if he was to ascend the throne. 
Towards the woman he loved, he was really kind and compassionate and he was pissed that his brothers, in their continued efforts to seize the throne from him manipulated Ruoxi and that led him to take swift actions to extricate them from his court before they could do anything. Well, I guess he learnt his lesson the bitter way. He was cold and I still pitied him when he was still working so hard as the Emperor (no wonder the historians referred to him as the most hardworking Emperor) to clear the mess in the administration and even to the extent of neglecting his own health (this is in historical facts). Though his rule was for a short period, his actions were swift and effective in paving the path for an easier rule for his successors as he really did cleaned up the mess in the court. It just made me respect this Emperor more. 
From his personal life, as depicted in this drama, he was still quite pitiful and though some may chide him for including his personal life as the reason for using his authority against his brothers, it was not really his fault that he had to do so because his brothers were the ones who also used Ruoxi to pit against him; especially when their wives would not stop pestering Ruoxi to plead for their husbands. Maybe it was not the princes' faults, but rather the love their wives had for them that led them to seek Ruoxi for help but Yongzhen just had it at that to protect the woman he loved. 
Ruoxi never thanked him for all that he had done and was often mad at him for resorting to violence and even taking her loved ones away from him (he killed her foster sister, Yutan by steaming her in a large hot pot) and did it in the most cold-blooded way. As if being misunderstood by his own mother and brother was not enough (his mother refused to acknowledge him as the Emperor), his worst pain came when Ruoxi cruelly told him that she was the one who caused his and the 13th Prince's downfall due to her warning to the 8th Prince to be careful of him when he was the 4th prince. Then another arrow pierced through his heart when the mean 8th Prince came forward to reveal the explicit and intimate details of his romance/relationship with Ruoxi which was really the final straw for Yongzhen. He felt betrayed, hurt and cheated again and again by the woman whom he loved so deeply, and to me, he is really the most pitiful as he did not have anyone beside him anymore towards the end after all he had done and he was just so lonely and even had to watch his loved ones die before him (13th Prince and Ruoxi).
The best scene was when he showed his grief and pain when he heard of Ruoxi's death; a brilliant part played which showed the depth of his love for Ruoxi and how he just could not cope with the news and still harbored hope that she was alive or even if she has gone back to her era, as she had constantly told him.
Acting Skills
One word; SUPERB! 
This is one side of Nicky Wu we have yet to see, and as I have said over and over again, it is probably one of his breakthrough roles. Of course many would see that he maintained that cold and expressionless face from the start to the end, but I could sense and see the transition of his character throughout the series; in between the blank and unpredictable face to that affectionate and simply-could-not-resist to smile when in front of Ruoxi who was just his soft spot. Though he was supposed to maintain the blank expression most of the time, he did explain in one scene to Ruoxi that the more fear one has in his heart, the more they have to keep the expressions off their faces. Others would never dare to do anything towards you if they could not tell from your facial expressions what you were thinking of and how you were feeling and I feel that Nicky did a wonderful job in expressing his emotions only through his eyes and stare. There were many scenes when I could just tell how he was feeling just from the way he looks at others; and one of the best would be when he gave the 8th prince that cold stare and he made me feel that if looks could kill, the 8th Prince would have definitely been a dead man by then. I just love the acting and character portrayed by Nicky Wu.
Awesome job!

Kevin Cheng Ka Weng as 8th Prince Aixin Gioro Yinsi/Prince Lian 
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Not to be outdone by Nicky, Kevin is also one of the good HK actors selected to portray the role of the famous 8th Prince involved in the battle for the throne among Kangxi's sons. Exceptionally expressive, Kevin did not have the audience guessing his emotions or thoughts at all and he just knows how to exude that charm through his eyes and actions and I would say he did a great job in expressing the aggressive 8th Prince.
As the 8th Prince
He is also another pitiful prince and was unfairly judged based on his mother's lowly background which was the main reason he was never the object of affection/favor of his own father who never saw his potential and capabilities to succeed the throne. He is definitely ambitious, but that is just the basic instincts of man, and especially a man like him who knew of his own capabilities and strengths and even his brothers and officials hold their strong support for him. After all, how can so many people be wrong, right? It may be this reason that the 8th Prince often thought highly of himself, but he could be a little too rash and aggressive and at the wrong timing, as depicted in this drama. Also, I think he lacked in terms of luck and he just seems to rush things through; unlike the more subtle 4th Prince. He was just as capable to rule the country; with his supporters and the way people just liked him and he is definitely the strongest competitor for the 4th Prince as they were both exceptional in their own ways and even their brothers thought the same way. Had they worked with each other, they would be an undefeated team but because they knew of their strengths, they both competed for the throne for their own. Due to their strengths also, they became the fiercest of the competitors and in this drama, the 8th Prince was constantly plotting against the brothers who were not in his group; especially the 4th and also the Crown Prince whom he wanted to overthrow right from the start. Unlike the other brothers, he never took the 4th Prince lightly and was often vary of his actions; which showed the wisdom of the 8th Prince.
Of course, in this drama (not in historical facts), the 8th Prince was also against the 4th Prince in competing for Ruoxi's affections and he was just adamant that he should not lose to the 4th Prince in both love and war, but he still did. To me, the 8th Prince is just never content with what he had and seemed to be want more and that is just plain greed. Besides his own background, he is far more popular than the 4th Prince, as shown with the number of brothers who supported him and his capabilities are often acknowledged by everyone around him as well, which was the reason the Emperor was constantly suspicious of his intentions. Then he had a wife who was just so dear and loyal to him, but he still wanted Ruolan, who was clearly in love with someone else, and the part which irked me about this guy was that he claimed to love Ruolan so much but yet he still could not help feeling attracted to Ruoxi; who was Ruolan's sister. Do you call this loyalty and true love? I doubt he really loved anyone except himself, and somehow, he comes across as a very self-centered character to me as I felt that the only person he cared about is himself and of course, the throne which was again, all about himself. It was when he finally lost everything that he realized the love of Minghui and how much he had neglected her. This is a man who only learns to cherish when he had lost everything, but when he had everything, he wanted even more and that was why he was described as an extremely ambitious man. Had he been the Emperor, I doubt he would be less cruel than the 4th Prince either despite him being termed as a popular guy. I did not really want to comment on how ruthless and despicable he is compared to the 4th Prince for pulling that stupid act to overthrow the Crown Prince and also the 4th Prince's favor in front of the Emperor and though he was successful, he also dragged the innocent 13th prince into it and yet, unknown to him, even caused more harm to him than before as the Emperor knew that his appetite is just becoming more evident. 
However, was he truly without feelings or care for his own brothers, despite earning the nickname of 'Ba Xian Wang'? (A man of caliber and compassion) I would not say so either, for he still cared enough not to go all the way to harm his brother and it was evident when he found out that the 13th Prince was imprisoned for 10 years and the 14th Prince knelt before the Emperor to allow Luwu to serve him during his imprisonment and he brought along his other brothers to kneel along to plead for the 13th Prince. As Ruoxi had said, they were the ones who caused the fate of the 13th Prince but yet they were the same group who tried to help him and that to me, is a point which showed that the 8th Prince never intend for such a consequence, especially in dragging an innocent 13th Prince to their battle. Another part was when he confronted Yongzhen to reveal the details of his romance with Ruoxi, and while many thought that he was just being mean, but in fact, Ruoxi revealed that he did not do so to hurt Yongzhen due to hate but rather, to force Yongzhen to give up on Ruoxi and that was when even the 13th Prince realized that he was a man of deed and honor.
Acting Skills
What can I say about an actor who used to come from TVB? Kevin is extremely expressive in my opinion, and somehow that became something I was getting quite used to although I do find it a little annoying at times because he just seems to carry those similar expressions throughout every single role he played. I even find some of his expressions a little over-exaggerated at times, but most of the time, he is still doing a good job at displaying his emotions. On his own, he is definitely a good actor, but when compared to others, he did seem to have taken a backseat; or maybe I was just biased towards Nicky? :-P
Kevin does have his own style in acting and also the way he portrayed his charm towards the ladies was just one of his strengths in acting; as his eyes can be rather expressive especially when displaying his affections towards the women he loved. It was not exactly an easy job for Kevin; and I don't know why, perhaps the rumors of him being associated to so many women in real life did affect a little of my impression for him as he was once again thrown into a role where he seemed to be switching from one woman to another and Kevin would need to show his different feelings for each of them. From respect to love for the 8th Prince's 1st wife,  he had to portray himself as a man who treated his arranged wife with the style due for a woman of honorable nobility. Then Kevin also had to show that he longed for the love and attention of the 2nd wife, and was bothered that she never gave him a second glance at all and moving onto the appearance of her younger sister who seemed to have captured his interest that he wanted to marry her. It was all an apparent show of affections and to have to switch and balance his emotions to differentiate the extent of his feelings for the different women, I would say that Kevin had gotten himself quite a role too, so to be fair, quite a good job by this guy too!~

Yuan Hong as 13th Prince Aixin Gioro Yinxiang/Prince Yi 
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The carefree style and playful traits were naturally displayed by the actor who brought out the character of a prince who cared for nothing but freedom and justice, not to mention love. 
As the 13th Prince
Despite not being born of the same mother, Yinxiang and Yinzhen forged an exceptionally close brotherhood as compared to the other brothers, or even between Yinzhen and Yinti who were actually biological brothers by birth. From what I know of this prince, he was said to have been raised by Consort De; who was Yinzhen and Yinti's biological mother and would later become Empress Xiaogongren, and perhaps that was the reason Yinxiang was close to Yinzhen. It was quite funny at the same time, that he could be so close to Yinzhen, because according to age, he should be closer to Yinti, but I deduce that it was probably due to Yinzhen playing the elder brother role who protected and cared for him that he remained so loyal to him.
If you were to search the Internet, you would find that many were fans of this Prince, and it is not hard to understand why; for if you were to watch this drama, he was probably the only Prince who never really gave the throne a thought (besides 3rd and 5th prince, that is). He pledged his support for the 4th, but yet never really went against the other brothers openly and was as subdued as Yinzhen. He tried not to be involved in the feud between the brothers and chose to enjoy his life by drinking and going anywhere he wanted at anytime and it was probably due to his lack of ambition that made him less of a threat to the 8th Prince's gang although they were vary of him due to his close relationship to the 4th. To me, he is truly a man who cared for nothing; ambition, power, wealth but the only thing he truly cared for was love.
His love for the 4th Prince was unshaken and that was indeed admirable; and I am sure many would agree that he won everyone's hearts when he stepped forward to help his 4th brother when he was being accused of ambitious in court. Then his love for the rest of his brothers, though were not as strong as that compared to his loyalty for the 4th was still apparent when he pleaded with Yongzhen not to continue to harm them and it seemed that his 10 years of imprisonment did not make him hate any of them at all, and that is indeed a very respectable trait I see in a true gentleman.
As a friend, he cared for Ruoxi in a way that may seemed non-existent at that time; for they were purely platonic friends and he was constantly on the lookout for Ruoxi because of the 4th Prince and when he realized that they had feelings for each other, he was just there for them and the best part is, none of them even admitted to him that they were already in love and their relationship had started. He just could read through their minds and expressions, and that was just such a beautiful friendship, in my opinion.
His love for LuWu was true, and it was apparent when he was in such pain over her sudden disappearance and though he never really knew the truth, I think he guessed as much and yet he could never get over her leaving him although he never blamed her but rather, he blamed himself for not being able to protect her or make her feel safe beside him. This is definitely one of the best princes; who showed his might and qualities while others fight to death for the throne.
Acting Skills
This is my first time watching Yuan Hong; although he is quite a prominent actor in Mainland China, as I know but I must say I am impressed and like many, I also like his portrayal of the carefree 13th Prince very much for he was just expressive, playful and a real joy to have around whenever he appeared on the screen and I can imagine why anyone would love to have a brother/friend like him. His expressions, though were subtle still managed to convey the image of this respectable prince and for that, Yuan Hong is an awesome actor and I hope to see him in more dramas in the future!

Lin Gengxin as 14th Prince Aixin Gioro Yinti 
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Said to be the rightful successor to the throne after Kangxi, the 14th Prince Yinti was indeed one of the most discussed/disputed historical figures when it comes to the issue of him being betrayed by his own brother for the sake of the throne.
As 14th Prince
I did not really like this prince that much; especially in the beginning for he was always so brash and harsh towards Ruoxi and it was all because of him being angered by the way she is not reciprocating the love of the 8th Prince, although seriously, I do not see how is it that is any of his business. He was constantly after Ruoxi, demanding explanations, warning her and reprimanding her; the poor girl and yet he thought it was just the right thing to do and that seriously annoyed me. He was also pleased with the affections from his mother, and neglected his own brother's feelings; just because he was on the side of the 8th Prince. Like Hello, the 4th Prince is your biological brother and you would rather help your stepbrother to harm your own brother? He seems to think that he is right, and does not seem to understand things before he takes actions which gave me the impression that he is just a no-brainer who rushes into things just because he deemed it right. Unlike Yinzhen, I find Yinti having a much happier life, with the love of his mother and even his father who seemed to see him as the potential heir to the throne; surpassing that of all his other elder brothers. I mean, there are 13 princes before this guy and he is more suitable? History states that Yinti is a great General who have fought and won many battles and that the reason he was put in charge of the army was that Kangxi was paving the way for him to be his next successor (all the rulers must hold command of the army, it makes sense, right?). Despite the many great and positive images painted of Yinti in history, in this drama, I do not see much of him besides running after and badgering Ruoxi for Yinsi and then even acting to inform Yinsi while he was away and risking his own life. At the same time, he claimed to be loyal to Yinsi and yet he could not help falling for Ruoxi and sometimes his affections even surpassed that of Yinsi and yet he was furious with Yinzhen. Why? Because Ruoxi liked him? Well, too bad then.
This is just a poor guy who was brainwashed to believe that the 8th Prince is good and his own brother, the 4th Prince is bad and I just feel pity for him that he could not learn to tell for himself. He helped Yinsi so much and even to the extent of dragging Yinzhen and Yinxiang into trouble, and frankly, I just felt like giving this guy a good slap in the face to wake him up but then he proved his worth when he tried to help Yinxiang by begging his father and even kneeling in the rain. Okay, that was when I changed my perception of him and that he could really be a good guy when he wanted to, or when he came to his senses.
The part when he asked Yongzhen to marry Ruoxi, I just could not help feeling annoyed with that smirk on his face, and it made me wonder, did this guy ever thought of the 4th as his own brother, at all? It was rather confusing, from my viewpoint.
Acting Skills
Given that this is Lin Gengxin's first drama, he deserves a break and not too much criticism and to be fair, he did fairly a good job too in displaying the emotions although I am sure he can slowly improve along the way. For a first timer and being placed in a heavyweight role in history like this, I could imagine the pressure he had when portraying Yinti and I felt he was getting better towards the end; whether it was the character development or even in Lin Gengxin's acting. Keep it up, and hope to see him in more dramas too.

Damien Lau as Emperor Kangxi 
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Credits to the veteran and I do not have much to comment on his portrayal of Kangxi Emperor which was quite fitting for the role and his persona.
As Kangxi Emperor
This is one of the famous Qing Dynasty Emperors; due to his ascension to the throne at a young age and also facing threats from Ou Pai. At the same time, this is the start of the legendary saga from his own reign to the battle of the throne among his sons until the glorious reign of his grandson who was the well-known/liked Qianlong Emperor. Kangxi was also rumored to have indirectly caused the feud among his sons as he was promoting them to compete to be the best; perhaps as a father, he wanted to raise the competency level in his sons but inadvertently caused them to pit against each other in their hungry quest for the throne. Honestly, in this drama, I do feel that Kangxi was depicted to be stern and constantly instill the values of brotherhood among his sons but yet at the same time, his actions were contradicting his intentions as he seemed to be showing favor towards some of his sons, which raised further issues of jealousy among them. Right from the start, it was obvious his favoritism towards the Crown Prince and though I can understand that he raised this son and that he was born of the Empress but his prejudice towards the 8th Prince was just a little biased, in my opinion. Maybe it was his background, or his ambitions, but either way, the Emperor, as a father, should never display so much displeasure towards one son and so much favor towards another in front of his other sons. Also, whether the dispute in history was true or not; regarding the rightful successor of Kangxi which was supposed to be the 14th Prince Yinti; I must say that in this drama, it was shown that Kangxi favored the 14th over the 4th and that made me wonder, how could he overlook the fact that having the 14th would mean surpassing 13 sons who are all older than him and seriously, won't that be inviting the possibility of a rebellion? Did the Emperor really think that all the elder sons would just accept that their younger brother is right for the throne compared to all of them and not feel unjust/unfair? To me, that is just simply ridiculous and does not make sense; furthermore, I thought they usually go by the age and also their seniority to maintain that just selection. After all, haven't history proved that most of those who are younger and succeeded the throne are overthrown by rebellion in the end? It just didn't really make that much of a sense to me, at all and for that, I felt that he failed as a father towards showing his love for his sons.
As an Emperor, he certainly had that charisma and stern voice required to rule his country but as the head of the family, he failed in my opinion. He did constantly instill fear among the brothers and warned them against pitting against each other for the throne, but isn't he at fault in the first place? That being said, his firmness in keeping his son's intentions at bay did work, and he did it to ensure a smooth transition for his intended/selected successor and many version stated that he had wanted Yinzhen and sent Yinti away from the capital to ensure Yinzhen's smooth ascension to the throne but that was not portrayed in this story as Tong Hua took the version where Yinti was believed to be Kangxi's choice.
Acting Skills
Need I say more about a veteran who came from TVB? Excellent performance by Damien although he was not the main focus in the story, but he created that environment where he controlled his sons and was trying to subdue all the feud among them to ensure a smooth transition for his selected successor. Damien did not have say much, his expressions spoke all, and somehow I am impressed with actors who only used their expressions to portray their character. I could not think of a better candidate to play this Emperor besides Damien, so a good choice for this role.

Supporting Characters: 
Ye Zuxin as 10th Prince Aixin Gioro Yin'e 
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One of the characters that helped to lighten the mood with his naivety and also his innocence directly displayed on his face all the time. 
As the 10th Prince
This is also one of the rather cool and carefree prince; although not as carefree as the 13th Prince for he was such a staunch supporter of the 8th Prince that he can be so blunt at times towards the 4th Prince whom they were dead set against and presumably because of his support for the Crown Prince rather than along with their gang to support the 8th Prince. Despite his silly ways, he can be quite loyal to the 8th Prince but his directness in forwarding his words can be rather annoying at times and  sometimes, he just seemed to come across as silly to me. Even Ruoxi was found to be saying that he was just a dumb guy who knew nothing and blindly follow the 8th Prince, and not even wary of his surrounding and the fact that any of the strong princes could end up being the Emperor; especially when he was constantly chiding the 4th Prince. He is quite a happy-go-lucky character and somehow, it is hard not to believe he is dumb for he invited trouble and attention to himself when he presented himself to the Emperor in the earlier episodes which made the Emperor notice that he was yet to be married and he ended being arranged to marry Gororo Mingyu to be his princess consort; although he did not really have a good impression of her and even thought of her as an unreasonable woman despite coming from a noble background and relations with the royal family. However, he slowly learnt to love her and his end was not really featured that much, but it seemed that he was the only one in the group of 8th Prince's supporters who had a less miserable end.
Acting Skills
Cute, funny and hilarious; this guy could just pull the comical expressions on his face especially when dealing with Ruoxi and his own wife. Love the part when he was upset that he was to marry Mingyu and also when he fought with her. I just enjoyed his appearances so much which just brought the light and happy moments to the drama so definitely a good job to make me enjoy it so much!:)\

Han Dong as 9th Prince Aixin Gioro Yintang 
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This was another of the 8th Prince's supporters, and also known as one of the more ruthless princes in history.
As 9th Prince
He was cold and barely showed much emotions; although there were certain light-hearted scenes where all the princes were gathering that he showed as much as a smile or a laugh on his face. He is definitely a very bold and staunch supporter of the 8th Prince, and also the most defiant of the lot. He was also the only prince who was unmoved by Ruoxi's cute personality nor was he attracted to her at all, and it just makes you wonder if this guy even has warm blood running through his veins. He didn't seem to give a damn about whatever was going around him; and instead was constantly seen to be pissed at the 4th Prince; again a blind move to show his support for the 8th Prince. It is hard to believe that this is the same man who showed compassion and kindness to the young Yutan and although it seemed like he was unnerved or unaffected by her untimely death, he did finally showed his emotions as he cried for her and proved me wrong for a moment, for I thought he was just a guy who used Yutan based on her feelings for him.
Everything about him was clearly depicted in the drama as according to history; including his end.
Acting Skills
Despite his minor role and screen time (he did appear quite a bit along with the 8th prince gang), I have to take my hats off to this actor who did a marvelous job in playing the cold and bitter 9th Prince accurately and was really believable. While most people would just hate his appearances on the screen, I am quite taken and impressed by the way he pulled off this character in an almost effortless or flawless manner and to a certain extent, I felt that he was better than Kevin Cheng in some of the parts too! Great job by this actor, really amazing and a perfect complement to the differing personalities among the princes.

To be continued to the other supporting female roles....

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Startling By Each Step/Scarlet Heart (步步驚心)(2011)

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Year Produced: 2011

Adaptation from a novel by Tong Hua
Director: Li Guoli
Producer: Karen Tsoi
Production Company: Chinese Entertainment Shanghai
Country of Origin: China
Language: Mandarin

Theme Song/OST: Startling By Each Step
Composer: Raymond Wong
Opening Theme: A Persistent ThoughtYinian Zhizhuo (一念执着) performed by Hu Ge and Alan Dawa Dolma
Ending Theme:
1. Silver Paradise- Sancun Tiantang (三寸天堂) performed by Yan Yidan 
2. Waiting for Your Season - Dengni De Jijie (等你的季节) performed by Cecilia Liu

No. of episodes: 35 (or 40 in some versions)

Main Cast:
Imperial Family
Damien Lau as Emperor Kangxi
Dai Chunrong as Empress Xiaogongren (Biological mother of Yinzhen and Yinti)
Liu Jie as Consort Liang (Biological Mother of Yinsi)
Zhang Lei as Crown Prince Yinreng
Chen Jingyu as 3rd Prince Yinzhi
Wang Xiaodong as 5th Prince Yinqi
Nicky Wu as 4th prince Yinzhen/Prince Yong later Emperor Yongzhen
Kevin Cheng as 8th Prince Yinsi/Prince Lian/Ba Xian Wang
Han Dong as 9th Prince Yintang
Ye Zuxin as 10th Prince Yin'e
Yuan Hong as 13th Prince Yinxiang
Lin Gengxin as 14th Prince Yinti

Cecilia Liu Shi Shi as Zhang Xiao/Ma'ertai Ruoxi
Annie Liu as Ma'ertai Ruolan (elder sister to Ruoxi and 2nd wife of Yinsi)
Shi Xiaoqun as Gororo Minghui (first wife of Yinsi and elder sister to Mingyu)
Liu Yuxin as Gororo Mingyu (younger sister of Minghui and first wife of Yin'e)
Guo Zhenni as Lu Wu (love interest of Yinxiang)

Palace Maids/Eunuchs
Ye Qing as Yutan
Cao Xinye as Qiaohui (Ma'ertai family maid)
Kang Mingtong as Yunxiang (maid along with Yutan)
Deng Limin as Li Dequan (Kangxi's personal eunuch attendant and mentor to Ruoxi)
Zhou Yancheng as Wang Xi
Hu Zhonghu as Gao Wuyong (Yongzhen's personal eunuch attendant)
Gao He as Li Guangdi
Lian Teyue as Imperial Physician He
Chai Wei as Chenghuan (Yinxiang and Luwu's daughter)

Cristy Guo as Princess Min Min
Ba Sen as Prince Suwan Guwalgiya
Zhang Kai as Irgen-Gioro Zuoying
Ma Tianyu as Huang Di

Synopsis/Plot Storyline:
The story starts in the period of Qing Dynasty where a lady (Cecilia Liu) wakes up with a bandage around her head and she seemed to have lost her memory of everything as she was pursued by her maid in waiting to lie on her bed and rest. She then tried to recall and her flashbacks bring us to the modern times where she was Zhang Xiao, and she was having an argument with her boyfriend, Huang Di (Ma Tianyu) whom she caught cheating with another girl and their fight intensified in front of a billboard promoting a historical exhibition on Qing Dynasty. As she was trying to push her boyfriend's hand away, she ended up being hit by a truck which flung her towards the big billboard and that was where her memory ends.

Zhang Xiao now wakes up and finds herself in a different place where the accident took place and not just that, she was dressed in ancient costumes and was lying in a room which did not seem like that of hers. She was waited by maids around her who kept calling her "Second Miss" and she kept thinking that it must have been a bad dream. She then tried to ask her maids of her real name, which shocked the maids as they worried about the consequences of her concussion following her fall from the staircase in the residence. She found that her name was actually Ma'ertai Rouxi and is the younger daughter of a general and she is staying with her elder sister who is the wife of the 8th Prince. Curious, she pestered her maid with more questions and found that she is now in the Qing Dynasty during the reign of the famous Kangxi Emperor. Her knowledge of historical facts (since she came from the future) allowed her to link that her brother-in-law must be the famous and ambitious 8th Prince, Yinsi. Though she was baffled as to how she ended up in this era, she concluded that it must be time travel and tried to figure out a way to get out by trying to reenact the sequence of events which led to her fall, but was foiled by her maid.

She then meets her sister, Ma'ertai Ruolan (Annie Liu) who was the second wife of the 8th Prince and that she clearly models the epitome of grace and beauty of the women in that era; soft-spoken, gentle and intellectual. Though it seemed that Ruolan must be happy being married to a prince, it appeared that Ruolan was not really that happy, as deduced by Ruoxi. She then meets the 10th and 14th Prince who were visiting her brother-in-law and who seemed to have taken a liking to her straightforward character.
Assuming the identity of Ruoxi, she then slips out of the house and runs to the street to look for the solution to return to the 21st century by reenacting her accident in the beginning (hit by the truck on the streets) and it was then she spotted a scurrying eunuch who resembled the man who was putting up the billboard in the beginning and rushed towards him to ask about her boyfriend, Huangdi; which shocked the eunuch immensely (for the name of Huangdi in Chinese has the phonetic sound similar to 'Emperor').
Zhang Xiao fell on the streets and was almost knocked by the horse ridden by a man; whom her maid referred to as 4th prince, Yinzhen (Nicky Wu) and she recognized him as the future Emperor Yongzhen.

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As she returns to the 8th Prince's residence, she met Gororo Minghui (Shi Xiaoqun), the first wife of the 8th Prince and presumably her sister's love rival for the affections of the prince. Apparently, she was not on good terms with Ruolan and further picked on Ruoxi. Ruoxi's episode of running out to the streets from the house angered Ruolan who warned her not to do so ever again as she is of honorable nobility and she is tarnishing her own image and of her family. As she adapts herself to her new identity, she is perplexed by their culture of putting on layers of clothing which was adding heat to her body. Her playful character also ignited the interests of the princes; 9th, 10th and 14th, especially the 10th Prince, Yin'e (Ye Zuxin), as they frequented the house to visit the 8th Prince whom they have allegiance with. Ruoxi finally meets her brother-in-law, the 8th Prince, Yinsi (Kevin Cheng) and her admiration for him grew due to his good looks, background and kindness with which he treated her sister with though at the same time she could not see the link between his character with his depicted ambitious personality in history.

Still determined to return to her era, she slips out of the house for a second time in an attempt to kill herself so that she could leave this era and automatically transported back to her era. As she runs to the streets, she is again held by the horse of the 4th Prince and this time, he was accompanied by the 13th Prince, Prince Yinxiang (Yuan Hong). Due to her failed attempt for the second time, she made them promise not to tell her sister. At the same time, the 4th Prince had already noticed her intention to commit suicide which she denied and even stated that the reason for her in doing so is to survive although he could not yet fathom her words at that point. Left with no choice, she has to take on the identity of Ma'ertai Ruoxi and to learn to adapt to the lifestyle and culture of the era then.
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Ruoxi then learns that she is to be sent into the palace soon for the Imperial harem selection; which was requirement for most of the young ladies of noble backgrounds at her age in which they could end up as either a consort or a lady-in-waiting in the palace. Her fate would be determined by the role she ended up in as she could either be released from the palace when she was 24 if she was placed as a maid-in-waiting in certain places or eternal confinement in the palace until her death if she was a consort or a direct royal maid-in-waiting.
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Ruoxi met all the princes at the 8th Prince's residence when they gathered to celebrate the 10th Prince's birthday and was delighted to see their seemingly close relationship with each other and wished that they could remain this way as she recalls each of their fate from what she had learnt in the historical facts. Her bubbly personality also attracted all the princes' attention; with the exception of 1st, Crown prince, 9th Prince, 3rd and 5th Prince, as they enjoyed her company, and thus, when the time came for her to enter the palace, the princes worked together to try to exclude her name off the Imperial Harem list so that she would not end up as the Emperor's consort, by approaching the 4th and 14th Prince whose mother was Consort De (Dai Chunrong) and was the Imperial Noble Consort next to the Empress at that time. Image Hosted by PicturePush - Photo Sharing
(The princes were worried as Ruoxi had caught the attention of the Emperor during the celebration of the Mooncake festival in which she entered the palace with her sister to celebrate the festival with the Imperial family. Her defiance and stubbornness had also earned her the nickname of 13th Prince's sister whom they compared to as both would go all the way out to fight for justice and love).

Ruoxi's name was indeed taken off the list but due to the requests from two concubines to have her as a lady-in-waiting (one of which was Gororo Minghui's aunt), the Empress placed her as the tea lady to serve the Emperor directly which meant that Ruoxi would be confined to stay in the palace forever. This piece of news, though comforted the princes that Ruoxi would not be a concubine, also angered Yinsi for he knew that this was a result of his wife, Minghui's tactic in approaching her own aunt who was a consort to keep Ruoxi away from the Emperor so that Ruolan's position would not waver hers and as a result, Ruoxi was subject to lifetime confinement in the palace. Yinsi was upset as he had intended to marry Ruoxi as his third wife after her serving contract ends in the palace and thus, he ignored Minghui out of anger.
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Ruoxi then began her life in the palace; by serving tea to the Emperor and the princes and her straightforward character earned her the favor of the Emperor very quickly and she soon became one of his favorites; along with his personal attendant, Eunuch Li Dequan.
However, Ruoxi's knowledge of the history made her avoid the 4th Prince, Yinzhen whom she knew would become the next Emperor and made it a point to stay on his good side but her gestures in her exceptional care towards the 4th Prince aroused the suspicion of the princes that she liked Yinzhen, as she constantly tried to find out his likes and dislikes. She denied the rumors and also the advances of the 4th Prince as her fondness of the 8th Prince who was caring towards her grew. On one of the Emperor's outings, in a twist of event, she was supposed to learn horse-riding from the 13th Prince with whom she is best friends with but ended up in an awkward situation where the cool 4th Prince turned up. On the second night when she tried to leave, the 4th Prince forcefully kissed her as he believed that Ruoxi liked him but let her off when she denied her feelings for him.
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Ruoxi was perplexed to the way things turned out as she believed herself to fear the 4th Prince whom she referred to as Ice-Face due to his cool and expressionless demeanor.
Though she rejected his advances, the 4th Prince starting sending her gifts, along with the 8th Prince who had been taking special care of her with his presents and letters which Ruoxi seemed to be pleased with the attention. Although Ruoxi told Yinzhen that she will return his gifts, he told her that although she may not intentionally started the whole thing, she does not have the right to end things whenever she wants.

The princes were starting to fight for the throne; or rather, the position of the Crown Prince through the active investigations especially by Yinsi's gang who wanted to depose the Crown Prince and have Yinsi in that position instead. The Crown Prince was angered by this decision and confided in the 4th Prince, whom it seemed was a supported of the Crown Prince, or so it seems, but we know from history that he is not.
The Crown Prince, in an act of retaliation, convinced the Emperor to leave the 8th Prince and his gang in charge of the administration while they are away on their outing which Yinsi believed was a trap to expose his ambitions and also putting his capabilities to the test in which his every move would be monitored or subject to the jurisdiction of the Emperor as influenced by the Crown Prince and Yinsi also knew that this idea was from the 4th Prince. During the Emperor's absence, Yinsi handled things on a rather subdued note but was confronted with a major issue which was the worsening illness of the young 18th Prince in which he had to decide whether to call for the Emperor's return. Though there were objections from some of the officials who perceived it as a weakness and also as a form of disturbance to the Emperor's diplomatic moves with their allies, Yinsi decided that the Emperor had to be informed of the the young prince's illness.
When the 18th prince succumbed to his illness, the Emperor was in grief and Yinzhen sought Ruoxi to console his father due to her close relationship with the Emperor.

The Crown Prince's defiance and pride soon cost him his title when he offended the Mongols during the outing and the Emperor threatened to depose him. However, upon returning to the palace, the Emperor had investigations carried out and it was revealed that it was indeed the 1st Prince who had placed a hex on him and also instigated the incident which led to the Crown Prince committing the mistake. Ruoxi realized that it was just the Emperor's affections for the Crown Prince, who was his favorite son which led to him finding a scapegoat to  reinstate the Crown Prince's position and thus, tried to warn Yinsi from approaching the matter aggressively at the moment. She stopped herself, as she knew that there is no way she could change history or may face severe consequences but when she finally wanted to inform the 8th Prince, it was too late.
Emperor Kangxi was furious with the many letters from the officials stating their support for the 8th Prince to be named the next Crown Prince and accused the 8th Prince for being overly ambitious and reckless towards his own brothers and stripped off his title; demoting him instantly. Howver, when the Crown Prince was reinstated, the Emperor granted 3rd, 4th and 5th Prince to Princes of the First Rank; and Yinzhen was now Prince Yong of the First Rank while 9th, 10th, 13th and 14th were granted the titles of Beizi and the 8th Prince was restored to his title of a Beile. Though it seemed that things have returned to normal, but it was apparent that the Emperor had lost his trust for Yinsi especially when he included him in the next outing to visit the Mongols; to which Ruoxi deduced that Kangxi no longer trusted Yinsi to handle the kingdom and fears his ambitions/revolution when he is away.

During this second outing, Yinzhen was left behind to take care of the administration and his move in reshuffling the cabinet startled the 14th Prince, Yinti who fears for the future of Yinsi and tries to inform him of this event. Yinti was ordered to stay back as well; under the orders of the Emperor in his efforts to cripple the influences of Yinsi but he decided to risk it by traveling to the camp to meet up with Yinsi although that meant defying the Emperor's orders and could result to severe punishment. Yinti sought Ruoxi at the camp, but his presence had been detected by the Crown Prince who was on the lookout since Yinsi's attempt to overthrow him and the Crown Prince wanted to capture or kill him using the excuse of persecuting a trespasser. Ruoxi then hid him in Princess Min Min's camp; whom she was close to, using the excuse that Yinti was her lover to gain the trust of the Mongolian princess who agreed immediately as she thought she was helping Ruoxi out. Yinsi was injured as well when meeting up with Yinti, and had to stage a performance before the Crown Prince to avoid his suspicion by having his own attendant pour boiling hot tea over him to cover his wound (pierced by an arrow). It was then that Ruoxi admitted her affections for Yinsi and the latter was happy that she indeed does love him and their relationship blossomed into romance.
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Due to Ruoxi's knowledge of the future, Ruoxi knew the end of Yinsi and thus tried to take matters into her own hands by making Yinsi choose between her and the throne with the hope that she could save his life without altering history which perplexed Yinsi. He could not let go of the throne for Ruoxi and she ended their relationship, much to the displeasure of Yinti who accused her of toying with Yinsi's feelings. Though broken up with Yinsi, Ruoxi still wanted to protect Yinsi from harm and tried to warn him to be careful of Yinzhen, Nian Gengyao and Longkodo; the names of whom were in Yinzhen's gang who would seize the throne in the future. (At that time, Yinsi were not aware of the intentions Yinzhen had nor does the other princes except the 13th Prince and thus he was confused with Ruoxi's warning).

Back at the palace, Ruoxi continues to receive gifts from Yinzhen but she tried to end things with the two princes by returning their gifts respectively; to which Yinzhen found amusing while Yinsi was brokenhearted.
Ruoxi also learns that she could not choose her own future and her fate from the 4th, 8th and 14th prince as they all warned her of her destined fate which only lies in the Emperor's hands as she is the direct trusted attendant to him and one who is in his favor. Though she tries to defy the fact, especially after watching how the 10th Prince, Yin'e who used to have a crush on her, was forced to marry Gororo Mingyu (Liu Yuxin) as ordered by the Emperor. (Mingyu was also the younger sister of Minghui and was her love rival as she was jealous of Ruoxi due to the 10th Prince's attention and also their sisters' feud).
Ruoxi was adamant that they should not worry that much and believed that she could choose her own path in life and she will not be submissive to the royal orders as only she has control over her own life.
Yinzhen then warns her that if she thought in that direction then her only path is death and also the consequences on her family who would all be dragged along should she choose to defy the Emperor.

Ruoxi continued to live in her fantasy and even helped Princess Min Min to get over Yinxiang, the 13th Prince whom she had feelings for by matchmaking her with Prince Irgen Gioro Zuoying, from one of the powerful Mongolian tribe and her close relationship with the Mongols attracted the attention of the Crown Prince who then requested for her hand in marriage from the Emperor. This news startled all the princes, as they were helpless and yet anxious to help her at the same time, but risks openly opposing the Crown Prince.
Ruoxi herself was immensely shocked and scared as she realized that she knew about everyone's fate but herself and as she worries continuously about her fate, she fell seriously sick and was unconscious for three days. When she woke up, she found that she was visited by Yinzhen, whom she held onto his hand with tears in her eyes, but Yinzhen reprimanded her for not taking his words seriously the last time he talked to her. As Ruoxi was letting go of his hand, he grabbed her hand and told her that he would not leave her alone and that he would figure out a way to save her although he could not promise the success yet as he had to fight against the Crown Prince.
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As the Princes worked hard to save Ruoxi, Yinsi and Yinzhen collaborated to expose the Crown Prince's corruption and also his interest in the Mongolians to indicate a possible coup/power struggle to overthrow the throne in front of the Emperor and also with the help of the majority of the officials. Ruoxi was pleased to learn of the news which was conveyed to her by the 14th Prince, Yinti as it meant that the Emperor would not act to arrange marriage for the Crown Prince with the emergence of such scandal news and also, even when it is cleared, the Emperor may still have his suspicions of the Crown Prince's intentions and with Ruoxi's relationship with the Mongols, the Emperor would take careful consideration in arranging her marriage. Ruoxi also started to take more interest in Yinzhen and even took to wearing his favorite magnolia flower hairpin which he gave to her, but was shy and took it off when she bumped into him. When Ruoxi asked Yinzhen if he would marry her and his reply that he would not want to marry him at that moment, she was upset but Yinzhen told her that her hand in marriage could stir the same suspicion they bestowed upon the Crown Prince and therefore there would not be one prince who would dare to ask for her hand at the moment and that the only thing she could do was to wait; indicating that Yinzhen would wait for the right time to marry her and also the mark of the start of their beautiful romance.

Yinsi also met up with Ruoxi but realized that Ruoxi has had a change of heart and warned her that it had better not be Yinzhen or else trouble would ensue but Ruoxi brushed him off by saying that her matters are no longer of his interest. Ruoxi's growing affections for Yinzhen angered Yinsi who then staged to frame and accuse Yinzhen of overthrowing the Crown Prince by spreading rumors among the officials, for his personal interests which put an end to the seemingly warm picture of brotherhood which Ruoxi had wished would be maintained and it was then that the battle for the throne truly started.
Emperor Kangxi was furious and accused Yinzhen for the very first time that he had such bold ambitions but Yinxiang, the 13th Prince came forward and took the blame, stating that it was all his doings and that the 4th Prince had no knowledge of it. As a result, Yinxiang was stripped off his title and was punished to 10 years of imprisonment in his own house to put a stop to any intention that he or Yinzhen may have.
It was a punishment far worse than one could imagine as the 13th Prince was known for his carefree and quest for freedom and to lock him up in his house would be more damaging to him than death.
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Ruoxi watched in silent grief at Yinzhen who remained kneeling at the court and then left clenching his fist but yet without much expression. Yinzhen remained passive although he was in pain over the fate of his trusted brother and best friend. Yinti also pleaded with the Emperor for the release of the 13th Prince whom he pledged was innocent and all the princes knelt before the Emperor's court in the rain for the Emperor to release the 13th prince.
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Ruoxi also took the opportunity to plead with the Emperor but ended up being punished to kneel in the garden. Yinzhen went to the palace and watched with sorrow at the miserable Ruoxi who was kneeling in the rain, and he threw away his own umbrella to cover her with his cape from the pattering rain. When Ruoxi asked him to leave, he knelt down and hugged her, and was witnessed by Yinsi and Yinti who also came to check on Ruoxi.

Yinzhen walked away from them without displaying any emotion, and Ruoxi also ignored them even when Yinsi knelt to wipe the water away from her face, and she took the hem of his gown from the water puddle which angered him as that meant Ruoxi treated him as a master and not a lover anymore.
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Yinzhen also spent his days in contemplation and retreated from the official matters in the court, preferring to spend his days at home doing gardening to avoid the suspicion of the Emperor. He also told Ruoxi that he could no longer marry her, though the latter predicted that he would come to that following Yinxiang's house arrest. However, when he saved her from being shot by an arrow, he revealed that he still loved her.

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The Emperor started to grow fond of Yinti, whom he placed to lead the military army to suppress the rebellion at the borders; which led to the princes to believe that Yinti would be the next probable candidate to be the Crown Prince as he is assuming duties like the Crown Prince before that and also each candidate to the throne would be required to command the army. At the same time, the Emperor's fondness of both Yinti and Ruoxi also led him to arrange the marriage between the two as he believed that they were perfect for each other, but was angered when Ruoxi turned the marriage proposal down. Believing that Ruoxi was defying his orders, the Emperor then ordered for her to be punished severely with 20 strokes of beating and also demoted to the laundry department to wash the eunuch's clothes. The princes were baffled as to the real reason behind Ruoxi's demotion and even the Emperor's trusted eunuch, Li Dequan tried to ask for Yinzhen's help to save Ruoxi from her fate but Yinzhen turned him down by saying that he no longer took part in the matters of the palace. However, when Yinzhen walked away from the palace, he was seen to be upset and clenched his fists hard.

Ruoxi's days in the laundry department was hard but she tried to get along with most of the other maids, although they were envious of her constantly being visited by the princes who tried to bring her things that she would probably need. Yinzhen also paid her a visit and was heartbroken to see her hands although she claimed that she was happier doing the laundry as she would never have to fear each day over what is to happen but rather only look forward to a bucketful of clothes to wash and that it was simpler life which she preferred. When Yinzhen told her that he would ask for her hand in marriage sometime soon as the Emperor seemed to be growing fond of him and also trust him more, Ruoxi finally revealed that the reason for her punishment was because she defied the Emperor's order to marry Yinti, the 14th Prince who was now the Emperor's favorite son. Yinzhen then assured her that he would do all he can to rescue the 13th Prince from his imprisonment and also marry her eventually.

As Emperor Kangxi was getting older and weaker, he started to miss the food prepared by Ruoxi and summoned for her to be back. At the same time, Yinti was out in the battlefield and the Emperor summoned Yinzhen and his mother, who is now the Empress, to his bedside on separate occasions to reveal his intended heir to the throne. Yinzhen was also put in charge of the annual worship but he postponed it while waiting for the Emperor to be weaker and then entered the palace to visit his father. Yinzhen arrived at the right time as the Emperor was at his deathbed and Yinzhen had Nian Gengyao there at the same time along with the other close maids-in-waiting and eunuchs of the Emperor. When the Imperial Physician announced the Emperor's death, Nian Gengyao seized the moment to announce that the Emperor had informed them that Yinzhen would succeed the throne rightfully, although the Eunuch Li Dequan appeared to be surprised.
Ruoxi decided to play along Nian Gengyao and greeted Yinzhen with the official greetings fit to address the new Emperor.
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As Yinzhen ascends the throne, Yinsi and the other princes tried to confront him at the deceased Emperor's funeral but Yinsi surprised the other princes when he bowed and accepted Yinzhen, now Emperor Yongzhen's orders. Yinsi then revealed that he does not have a choice as Yinzhen had Nian Gengyao and Longkodo who commanded the military to assist him and going against Yinzhen would only mean death.
They had to wait for Yinti's return for he is the great General who holds command to the country's army. When Yinti returns, he was shocked and angered at his father's death and also the fact that his brother may have seized the throne but he did not do anything about it. His mother was furious and refused to acknowledge the Emperor Yongzhen even until her deathbed. Her insistence to investigate the matter also led to the death of the Eunuch Li Dequan whom the Emperor Yongzhen ordered to be poisoned for he knows too much as he was the trusted attendant of the former Emperor; indicating that the Emperor did indeed forged the rights of the inheritance to the throne?

Yinxiang was released and was promoted to be a Prince Yi of the first rank, along with Yinsi who was also promoted to the title of Prince Lian of the First Rank and ordered to assist Emperor Yongzhen in the country administration following his official installation. Emperor Yongzhen also took action by putting the official who accused him of treason previously before Emperor Kangxi to death. His new ruling was that of an iron fist and this instilled fear among his brothers and his enemies. Ruoxi was also released (the bunch of maids and eunuchs at the late Emperor's deathbed were all ordered to be quarantined before Yinzhen's ascension to the throne) and was ordered to stay at Emperor Yongzhen's study chambers where she became his sleeping companion.
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The Emperor is now extremely busy and rarely had time to sleep as he resorted to spend his time clearing most of the mess in the country's administration along with the help of Yinxiang. Yinxiang and Luwu also had a daughter, Chenghuan (named by Ruoxi) and the Emperor adored her, along with Ruoxi.
(Luwu was not recognized by Emperor Kangxi due to her background as a wine attendant and also that she was not of Manchu origin). Luwu ran away from Yinxiang after one of his wives chided her for her poor background and that it would affect Chenghuan who would grow up as a Manchurian princess. Taking her daughter's future into consideration, Luwu chose to commit suicice.

The Emperor and Ruoxi knew of Luwu's death, but chose not to inform Yinxiang to avoid affecting his health which was quite poor from the start. At the same time, Ruoxi started to fear Yongzhen as she could no longer sense what he was up to and also upon realizing the number of people he killed cruelly since he succeeded the throne. She was also upset with his prejudices towards Yinsi and his gang, and the way he was treating all of them although he claimed that they were the ones who instigated the incident to harm him and Yinxiang. (Yongzhen was finding fault with Yinsi most of the time since he ascended the throne).
Yongzhen also killed Yutan; Ruoxi's best friend and maid-in-waiting whom she treated as a sister since she entered the palace as she turned out to be a spy for Yintang.

Yintang, the 9th Prince was furious with the Emperor and resorted to talking to Minghui, revealing Yinsi and Ruoxi's previous relationship and also how Ruoxi was the one who told Yinsi to take precautions against Yinzhen which resulted in their fate today. Minghui was angered by that fact and went to the palace to confront Ruoxi, who was now pregnant with Yongzhen's child and told her how her actions had led to the current fates of all the princes in the same gang as Yinsi. Ruoxi was astonished and alarmed as she realized that her actions was a result of the predestination paradox; and though she never wanted to change history, she had inadvertently helped to shape history and that she had brought the bad luck which befell the princes of which she learnt in historical facts. Consumed with guilt, Ruoxi was excessively in grief that she suffered a miscarriage which led to her not being able to conceive ever again.

The Emperor was angered and learning of Minghui's visit, he issued an edict to order Yinsi to divorce his wife and when Yinsi refused to, he was threatened with the punishment along with his whole family. When Minghui learns of the orders, she begs Yinsi to divorce her and then left to return home where she kills herself. Ruoxi, upon learning of Yongzhen's edict, rushes with the 13th Prince to inform Yinsi to rescue Minghui whom she knew would commit suicide upon being forced to leave Yinsi, the man whom she lived to love her whole life and they arrived to find the Gororo's residence in havoc and Minghui was found hanging from the ceiling of her own bedroom which was in flames. Yinsi, lamenting Minghui's death, lashed out at Ruoxi whom he blamed for causing her death as she was the last person she met before Yongzhen issued the edict and that whatever Minghui had done, it could not have caused that much of an effect which required her to meet with such fate. The devastated Ruoxi before Yinsi led to Yinxiang revealing that Minghui's visit and words had far worse consequences than Yinsi could imagine as she caused Ruoxi's miscarriage and that Ruoxi could never conceive ever again and that last revelation shocked even Ruoxi herself as Yinxiang was ordered not to say a word to Ruoxi by Yongzhen.

Minghui's death angered Ruoxi and when Mingyu turns up to beg Ruoxi to ask Yongzhen to just grant them death rather than life torture, Ruoxi could not take it anymore and wishes to leave the palace. She also reveals to Yongzhen that she was the one who warned Yinsi of him when they were princes; much to the astonishment of Yinxiang whom she apologized to for causing his distress for 10 years. After that, she asked Yinxiang to sent the word to Yinti that she is willing. Though Yinxiang had no idea but promised to convey the message which led to Yinti carrying the edict issued by their late father, the Emperor Kangxi to bestow his marriage to Ruoxi, much to the surprise of Yongzhen.
While he was contemplating on his decision, his wife spoke to him and he was on the verge to forgive Ruoxi, when Yinsi appeared and requested a personal moment with him where he revealed the details of his past relationship and romance with Ruoxi and not mentioning their break up. Yongzhen was angered by this revelation and refused to let Ruoxi touch him ever again and then granted Yinti to marry Ruoxi.

On the day Ruoxi left the palace, Yongzhen was seen to be crying silent tears as he watched in pain at her horse carriage scuttling away from the palace. Ruoxi bade farewell to Yinsi as well, whom she hugged as she knew it may be the last time they may meet in this lifetime and Yinsi told her to forget about the Forbidden City and also all the princes. Ruoxi also bade farewell to Yinxiang and arrived at Yinti's place to begin her new life outside the palace. There were no wedding ceremony or formalities allowed, as ordered by Yongzhen and unknown to Ruoxi, Yongzhen even placed spies in Yinti's place who would report their daily activities to him. At one point, Yinti and Ruoxi were described to be rather close to each other and Yongzhen, angered by this news, vowed never to have her news sent to him again.

Ruoxi started to miss Yongzhen deeply, and as she was getting weaker by the day (she was predicted to only live well for at least 10 years due to her poor health previously caused by her incessant worries and depression, which were worsened by her constant kneeling and time in the laundry department), she requested to write a letter to be sent to Yongzhen to see whether he would come to see her before she dies. Yinti promised to help her to send the letter but inserted her letter into an envelope which he wrote with his own handwriting. When the letter reaches the palace, Yongzhen casted it aside as he assumed that it was another of Yinti's complaints or pranks. Ruoxi waited for days for Yongzhen and started to leave instructions to her family maid, QiaoHui on her will after death. As Ruoxi continues to grow weaker and there was no sign of Yongzhen, Ruoxi believed that Yongzhen would never forgive her and on one day, she was spending time with Yinti, she died with the magnolia flower hairpin Yongzhen gave her falling out of her hand.
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News of Ruoxi's death reached the palace and Yongzhen was hit badly. As he threw the news to the floor, even Yinxiang was shocked to see the announcement that Ruoxi had died. Yongzhen then recalled the arrival of a letter from Yinti's place and searched frantically for the letter among his papers. When he found it, he tore open and found Ruoxi's letter inside the envelope which he then cried over as he realized that Ruoxi loved him truly and deeply. Together with Yinxiang, they made their way to Yinti's house to pay their last respects and claim Ruoxi's body.
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Yinti had cremated Ruoxi's body, according to her last wishes and when Yongzhen and Yinxiang arrived at his house, they were in grief but Yinxiang was surprised that was no coffin in sight which led to Yongzhen believing that Ruoxi was probably playing a trick on them. When Yinti emerged with his wine bottle and a square box, he revealed that Ruoxi was inside the box and that she was cremated, Yongzhen threatened to kill him but Yinti stated that it was Ruoxi's wish to be cremated. Yongzhen then took Ruoxi's ashes away although Yinti was against it, but QiaoHui appeared and said that Ruoxi would want that. QiaoHui also led Yongzhen to Ruoxi's room and handed him all her belongings and Yongzhen cried over the things which she kept and treated as her most prized possessions; which were the magnolia flower hairpin, a handcrafted sniffing bottle and the arrow which he was shot with.

When Yinsi learnt of Ruoxi's death, he also ran to confront Yongzhen and was angry that she was cremated until Yinxiang explained the reason. Yinsi then told Yongzhen that they were very much similar and that they both cared about the throne more than Ruoxi and they were both more alike than they would have liked.

The scene switched to Ruoxi waking up in a hospital; now in the present era and she is Zhang Xiao again, having awakened from her coma. Upon her discharge, she started to search on the Internet about her identity Ma'ertai Ruoxi and could not find anything which led to her wondering whether she really did exist. She then checked the history to find out about the fate of all the princes and realized that most of them did meet with their fates as described by history and that her best friend, Yinxiang also died of poor health and Yongzhen was left all alone.

Zhang Xiao was wandering on the streets alone, wondering about whether all the events were merely a dream since she didn't exist in the history and found the billboard promoting an exhibition on the Qing Dynasty in the museum. She decided to visit, and as she was viewing all the exhibits which included the costumes and also tea sets, she spotted a painting which seemed familiar and she realized that it was similar to a scene where the princes were enjoying their afternoon with the Emperor Kangxi at the pavilion and there was a tea lady wearing a magnolia flower hairpin beside a prince who was wearing the magnolia ring; signifying that it was the 4th Prince and she cried as she realized that she had indeed existed then.
At the same time, a man walked in and when she turned to look at him, he turned and he looked like the 4th prince and tears just flowed from her eyes but he does not seem to recognize her.
He walked up to her and asked, "Do we know each other?"
He walked away when she did not answer and she was left there standing alone, by the painting, crying....
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My Review:
I absolutely LOVE this drama, and this is now my Most favorite drama; overtaking 49 Days and even My Fair Princess. I remembered that the last time I was this into period drama was definitely My Fair Princess; and back then, I was totally absorbed into the beautiful settings and romance between the princesses and their beaus. However, this drama now absolutely took my breath away (not to mention tears and my heart too) with the beautiful storyline and the amazing lineup of the cast.

Thumbs up and kudos to Tong Hua for coming up with such a brilliant story; albeit it is just a historical fiction but I am in awe and admiration for this lady and I am sure she must be extremely proud that her drama and story had plummeted to skyline popularity the moment the drama was aired.
The cast was excellent and though they may not have realized it then, they have all also rocketed to immediate fame overnight with their portrayal of the handsome princes in the story who all was attracted to Ruoxi, the main female lead in the story.
There are many reasons that I love this drama, and I think, judging from the length of my synopsis above, it could take long enough to list out all of them but I was thinking of creating a separate fan page dedicated to this drama (yes, I am in love!), and for now, I will list out the main reasons:
1. Awesome story and plot by Tong Hua (mentioned above). Although time travel is not really a fresh or original concept in stories or dramas, this drama made time travel really enchanting and worth looking forward to and I love how the story focused on all the heartstrings, emotions, competition and even development of the persona of each of the character as the story progresses.

2. Excellent lineup of actors (also mentioned above), and though there may be some who were unknown actors, I doubt they still are after this drama. Each of the choice for the role was fitting and I would not be able to imagine anyone else playing any of them besides the actors selected and it is not just about the looks, but their expressions and abilities in acting which made the drama so enjoyable, so the credits go to all the actors and crew who worked so hard in producing this drama.
(Yes, I can see that most of them seemed to look rather tired in the drama which was a sign that they lacked sleep in the process of filming the drama. Nicky Wu, Kevin Cheng, Yuan Hong and Cecilia Liu were the most evident not because they worked the hardest but because they had the most screen time. Even veteran actor Damien Lau looked like he could do with a bit of sleep in this drama).
Poor fellows, but really, our hats off to your dedication and it really paid off with the popularity of this drama.

3. The wonderfully beautiful settings and costumes! This drama made Qing Dynasty so appealing; and there was quite a display of the costumes as the princes went through changes of attires throughout the drama and they were also complemented with the accessories such as rings and jades. Great job to the director and costume folks for paying attention to such details!
(Usually it's the female leads who get the most attention when it comes to the costumes, but I can tell you, in this drama, the princes' attires deserve that big Wow as they make their way to the screens with their fine quality and colors!)

4. The songs and tunes in the drama are to die for; they are just so perfect for the scenes and tone of the drama; so another good job by the composer Raymond Wong! I love the theme songs and even all the accompanying background tunes which just created that sense of excitement and fiddles with the audience's mood in anticipating the next event.

5. The chemistry between the actors are just superb; be it between the princes (brotherhood), the princes and the Emperor (fraternity), prince and mother (maternal), princes and their alliances (allegiance and loyalty), and the lovers (romance). Even the maids and eunuchs in their own roles, managed to touch me with their portrayals.

6. The touching scenes between Ruoxi and Yinzhen are just amazing, and I would further elaborate on that in my page or in the analysis/review below.

7. Depiction of Qing Dynasty through the series of events; though fictional still manages to stick to the facts although the way the event turned out is purely a work of creation (so, please do NOT treat this as the actual History of Kangxi and Yongzhen Emperors!)

8. Make up; should be categorized along with the costumes but I must mention that I like the subtle make-up and not overly done which gave the actors and actresses a natural-looking complexion rather than exaggerated beauty. Yes, even the guys could be seen with a layer of powder/foundation on their faces to maintain their complexion; thanks to the high quality of the HD videos these days where every imperfection can be seen and I kinda pity the actors for that pressure. It's not hard to see that the actors really looked like they were going through lack of sleep during their filming; as not just their skin was not exactly glowing but the dark circles under their eyes were quite apparent which could not be hidden even by the thickest of make up and I don't think that should be considered an imperfection in the eyes of the viewers; but rather a sign of their extreme hard work and dedication to complete the filming of this drama that caught everyone's interest.
Therefore, the actors should enjoy the credits along with their make up artists who did an amazing job.

This review will be taking longer than my normal reviews, as I just have so much to talk and write about this drama based on my opinions and I will be doing my characters analysis, relationships, and even scenes in different posts. This is my favorite drama and just deserve that much attention :-)

My rating and verdict does not really need to be proven anymore, does it?
Rating : 5/5
Verdict: Highly recommended for Qing Dynasty fans, romance-based historical fiction or even if you are a Huan Zhu Ge Ge fan ;-)

To be continued with the characters' analysis/review...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

ZJTV: The Emperor's Harem (后宫) (2011)

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Year Produced: 2011

Director: Huang Jian Xun
Producer: Chen Chun Xia
Written by: Chen Hui Yan
Language: Mandarin
Country of Origin: China

No. of episodes: 46

Ady An Yi Xuan as Shao Chun Hua/Li Zi Yun
Jiang Yi Yi as young Shao Chun Hua
Tavia Yeung Yi as Wan Zhen 'Er/ Imperial Consort Wan
Patrick Tam as Wang Zhi
Wu Lei as young Wang Zhi
Feng Shaofeng as Yang Yong
Lv Yi as Shao Qing Zhi/ Imperial Consort Shao
Jiang Yi as Zhu Jian Shen (Emperor Cheng Hua)
He Sai Fei as Empress Dowager Zhou
Chen Sha Li as Empress Dowager Qian
Liu Ting Yu as Bai Han Xiang (Imperial Consort Bai)
Liu Na Ping (刘娜萍) as Ling Qi Qiao
Li Ying as Ling Si Zheng
Yue Yao Li as Zhou Shang Shu
Du Jun Ze as Yang Luo
Wang Jian Xin as 5th Imperial Uncle

Set in the Ming Dynasty, the story tells of the conflicts and schemes among the women in the Imperial Harem during the reign of the Emperor Xianzhong who ascended the throne following the death of his father Emperor Yingzong.

Emperor Xianzhong has recently crowned his new Empress, according to his mother, Empress Dowager Zhou's wishes but to the displeasure of his favorite concubine; Wan Zhen Er (Tavia Yeung). Image Hosted by PicturePush - Photo Sharing
Wan was actually his sort-of nanny maid who took care of him when he was younger and being bullied by the then crown prince; who was the son of Empress Dowager Qian and that was the reason that he had grown fond of Wan that he took her as his wife when he ascended the throne. However, his mother, Empress Dowager Zhou was unhappy with his choice and denied her the privilege of becoming the Empress based on the reason of her lowly background as a palace maid servant.
In front of the Emperor, Consort Wan seemed to be a loving wife but it was also due to the Emperor's affections that she was quite arrogant and was even a little disrespectful towards the Empress and Empress Dowager (sometimes) but she kept it at a more subtle level.
However, when she refused to greet the Empress and claimed that she was given special privileges provoking the Empress to slap her, she acted on a eunuch, Wang Zhi (Patrick Tam)'s advice to take the opportunity to eradicate the Empress from her position and the plan worked; resulting in the Emperor lashing out in anger and stripped the Empress off her title and even thrown into seclusion, despite the pleas of the Empress Dowager. Consort Wan even went to the extent to poisoning the poor disowned Empress to ensure that she would never make it to threaten her shoul the Emperor turned merciful someday.

Wang Zhi was an extremely ambitious eunuch and after the incident of helping Consort Wan, he was even summoned to serve her as the head in her household and became her right hand man in assisting her in elevating her status in the royal harem. Wang Zhi came from a poor background; as he was a young orphan boy who often stole and begged from the streets. He was once saved by a man with the surname Li, who happened to be a fugitive from the government during the rebellion period. As a young boy, Wang Zhi found out about the reward offered by the government to capture Li and he went forward to expose his own saviour's whereabouts thus resulting in the breakup of the family as Li left behind a wife and a young daughter, Li Zi Yun(Yang Yi Yi), who went into hiding. After Li was executed, Li's wife also passed away shortly and left her daughter to a trustworthy neighbor who took care of her but his wife mistreated Zi Yun and often ordered her to handle most of the heavy chores around the household. Zi Yun was out selling vegetables in the market on behalf of her foster family when she rescued Wang Zhi from being beaten up by the market vendors after stealing a bun from one of the stalls.
As Zi Yun offered to pay for the bun Wang Zhi stole, she was being scolded and disowned by the woman and at that time, she was rescued by another little girl, Shao Chun Hua and her father, who was also an officer and they took her in. Thus Zi Yun began her life as Shao Chun Hua's maid but fate struck again when the little girl Chun Hua, who was the only daughter in the Shao household, was summoned to enter the palace.
(It was a requirement at that time for the daughters of the officials to be selected or enter the palace when they are summoned. That also meant that their life would be subject to the palace life and it may be difficult for them to leave or return to their homes, thus losing their previous freedom).

As the Shaos moan over the fate of their only daughter, Zi Yun stepped in and volunteered to take Chun Hua's place and by doing that, she had to assume the identity of Shao Chun Hua to enter the palace to avoid being discovered by the government which could result in death sentence for disobeying the royal edict. As such, Li Zi Yun has now become Shao Chun Hua, and entered the palace where she met other young girls with the same destiny. In the beginning, she was almost caught along with a few other girls as the inspectors in the palace could tell from their hands that they were not of noble birth and thus deposed them in jail after their confession. Chun Hua, with the interests of the Shao family, refused to confess but she was fortunate enough to win the heart of the head of the household bureau who placed her in one of the bureaus and let her off the hook.

Shao Chun Hua, now a young maiden, played by Ady An, befriended another girl, Bai Han Xiang (Liu Ting Yu) as they worked together in their daily tasks.
Although Chun Hua just wanted to lead a simple life without trouble or any interest except in the field of music which she was exceptionally talented in, her charm and intelligence aroused the jealousy of another fellow bureau member, Ling Qi Qiao(Liu Na Ping), who was also the niece of one of the bureau head and this girl was intent to make Chun Hua's life in the palace miserable as she spins plot after plot and creating troubles in the palace.

The loss of the Empress angered the Empress Dowager but she could not find evidence to nail the Imperial Consort Wan (she had been promoted since) and thus, she engaged the help of the Fifth Imperial Uncle to advise the Emperor to take on more wives to add to the harem to ensure succession to the royal family. The Fifth Imperial Uncle was more blunt in pointing out the obvious which angered the Emperor and also Imperial Consort Wan. As Wang Zhi was also insulted openly by the royal Uncle, he came out with the plot to take down the Fifth Imperial Uncle by creating false accusations which resulted in his death punishment. The Empress Dowager was upset with the news of the death of the Uncle, but that created an opportunity for the Empress Dowager to force the Emperor to crown a new Empress based on the candidate she selected which he had to agree to console his mother.
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Imperial Consort Wan was definitely displeased with the news although the Emperor assured her that he only loved her. She hinted to the new Empress of her powers and the new Empress, not wanting any trouble, focused her time on praying and not meddling in the matters of the harem.
The Empress Dowager was upset with the inactivity of the new Empress and was even more frustrated when she heard of the news that Wan was pregnant. At the same time, the Empress Dowager Qian, who was the previous Empress Dowager but was maintained because the Emperor still respected her and out of his gratitude for her, was also plotting to bring her own trusted aide into the harem to ensure that her position is maintained or strengthened should her aide win the affections of the Emperor.
Imperial Consort Wan gave birth to a baby boy but he died shortly after, and that gave the reason for the Empress Dowager Zhou to further pressure the Emperor to take on more concubines to carry on the royal bloodline, which the Emperor reluctantly agreed to please his mother and also as Wan was still mourning over his child's sudden demise.
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One of the candidates who entered the palace was Shao Qing Zhi (Lv Yi), who was actually the aide trained by the Empress Dowager Qian's own relative (or uncle). However, Qing Zhi was quite unfortunate in the beginning as despite several attempts and close encounters with the Emperor, she just failed in getting his attention (it was also because most of the time her efforts were foiled by Imperial Consort Wan who faked urgencies so that the Emperor would rush to her side).
When Qing Zhi met up with Chun Hua, she could recognize her and it turned out that Qing Zhi was the actual Chun Hua; the identity of the little girl whom she replaced to enter the palace.
They became best friends again, along with Han Xiang as they spent most of their time together.
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At the same time, Chun Hua and Han Xiang were both trying to audition to enter the musical bureau and they both met Yang Yong (Feng Shaofeng), a male musician whom they both fell for. However, Yang Yong was interested in Chun Hua as he had recognized the musical instrument which he initially wanted and was sold to a bidder within the palace. However, due to the strict rules within the palace, they could only kept their feelings in their hearts.
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 Besides Chun Hua's intelligence, Yang Yong was only the main reason Qi Qiao was trying to bring her down. To add to the success of her plan, Chun Hua's intelligence also accidentally stirred the dissatisfaction of the Empress Dowager Zhou an also Imperial Consort Wan.
When Han Xiang also accidentally became one of the Emperor's new favorite concubine (thanks to Qi Qiao's failed attempt to trick her), Qing Zhi became more distressed and fell for Qi Qiao's lies that Chun Hua and Han Xiang were not the friends she thought they were and they were plotting to become the Emperor's concubines themselves, thus stirring the suspicion and anger in Qing Zhi who then turned them away and even treated them with contempt.
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Chun Hua, despite trying to stay away from troubles found herself facing threats everywhere and thankfully, Wang Zhi, who recognized her as the little girl who rescued him and also the same one whom he caused misfortune upon her family, came to her rescue. However, Wang Zhi was jealous of her affections towards Yang Yong whom he wanted to kill all the while and also because Yang Yong was constantly on his heels to avenge his own brother's death (his brother was killed by Wang Zhi).

Wang Zhi had to come to a decision eventually; to save Chun Hua and send her out of the palace which also meant she would get to be with Yang Yong whom he still tries to get rid of, but saving her would be returning the favor/deed to her and her family who had saved him when he was younger.

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My Review:
This is a drama on a rather serious note; focusing on the battle between the women in the harem, from the highest ranks of the Empress Dowager to the concubines and even the bureaus.
Ady An may be the lead in the drama (it was quite obvious!), but our good ol' Hong Kong team comprising of Tavia Yeung and Patrick Tam held roles of equal weight and shared a considerable amount of screen time. Having watched many of Ady An's dramas, I did not see much difference in her role here as she plays yet another damsel in distress who wanted nothing but was constantly the subject of hatred and anger.
There are a few stories that the drama is centered on; such as the feud between the Empress Dowager Zhou and Qian, the Empress Dowager Zhou and Imperial Consort Wan, Imperial Consort Wan versus the other concubines and also Chun Hua, with the help of Wang Zhi, Yang Yong's love for Chun Hua and his quest to avenge his brother's death.
Yeah, so where does the Emperor comes in? Well, he is just the mere figure who appears once in a while to show his affections for his Imperial Consort Wan or to solve the mess in the harem and that is his major contribution to the drama. After all, the title is about the Emperor's harem and not about the Emperor, right?
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Looking at the complex web lying in the harem, I dare say that the Emperor is definitely a busy man to have to deal with all of them each and every day and handling the country's political matters simultaneously.
There is much focus on the role of music; as Chun Hua, Han Xiang, Yang Yong and even Qing Zhi are portrayed with musical talents (Qing Zhi is involved in dancing) but I was just surprised that with music as one of its central theme, there are only 2-3 musical tunes/songs composed for the drama and it just kept playing repeatedly throughout the drama. It gets kind of boring along the way, and I kept wondering how could the Emperor take it again and again and again, each time he requests for the presence of music to entertain him and his family? I mean, I think the producers/directors should have looked into this particular detail. (Comparing to an average Korean drama which had more than 5 soundtracks to each drama, perhaps the producers should have considered having more composers or his composer to come up with more tunes? Just a thought)

As the relationships are all intertwined, let me do an analysis to explore the main plots featured above:

Relationship 1: Empress Dowager Zhou and Empress Dowager Qian
Both of the Empress Dowagers were the wives of the earlier Emperor, who was the father of Emperor Xianzong. Empress Dowager Qian was the Empress then; and since she was alive, she was automatically elevated to the rank of Empress Dowager when one of the princes were crowned the next ruler. (It was sort of the rule at that time, as the Empress was also known as the Mother of the country and therefore most of the princes are also her sons). Empress Dowager Zhou was the biological mother of Emperor Xianzong and she was displeased with the presence of the Empress Dowager Qian whom her own son, the Emperor, seemed to be rather fond of and respected. As the Empress Dowager Qian had no children of her own, she was quite kind to the Emperor Xianzong when he was a kid and that was the reason he liked her so much. However, fearing the threat of the jealous Empress Dowager Zhou, she knew she had to do something to strengthen her position by having someone on her side to serve the Emperor. Her uncle (or brother) adopted a young girl (who was the real Shao Chun Hua) who was now Shao Qing Zhi and took her in to be groomed for this purpose since young; from the art of embroidery to poetry and dancing so that she could someday win the attention and affections of the Emperor when she is sent into the palace.
Empress Dowager Qian was confident when she saw Qing Zhi who was quite a pretty girl, but unfortunately luck was not on her side when Qing Zhi herself was often pushed aside as the Emperor still prioritizes Imperial Consort Wan and slowly, she neglected Qing Zhi whom she perceived as no longer of value to her. When Qing Zhi finally gained the love of the Emperor, she tried to win her affections again, but it was already too late as Qing Zhi had seen through their real intentions and how they treated her when she was in distress.
The feud between the two Empress Dowager was until the end even when Empress Dowager Qian died, Empress Dowager Zhou still refused to allow her to be buried beside the late Emperor although she was the official Empress as she wanted to be recognized as the legitimate wife and also the mother of the current Emperor. (Wang Zhi had to help the Emperor out on this issue to make the Empress Dowager happy).

Relationship 2: Empress Dowager Zhou and Imperial Consort Wan
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Despite her own son's loyal devotion to this one woman, the Empress Dowager never did like Wan Zhen 'Er,for two reasons; she was of a lowly background (a palace maid servant) and was older than the Emperor by a few years or decades (she was his sort-of nanny then, c'mon!), which clearly suggests she was definitely more senior in her age.
However, another main reason was because she used to be a palace maid serving the Empress Dowager Qian.
Alright, I have to stand by the Empress Dowager on this one and it is not regarding the status or the age issue (I have no discrimination against either), but the thing is, she is his NANNY! For goodness sake, this is so close to incest! Why do they like relationships like these? I mean, how could you have someone you used to respect or care for you like your own mother (okay, at least big sister) to be your wife? It is just odd, in my opinion.
I am not about to debate on this topic because I think this part did exist in the history that one of the Emperors did marry his own nanny.  Anyway, the Imperial Consort Wan was displeased with the fact that the Empress Dowager was constantly picking on her and though she tried to be subtle, she just could not hide her own displeasure which was quite realistic as she was not of noble background and therefore lacked in the many qualities of education which was taken note of in the drama.

Relationship 3: Emperor, Imperial Consort Wan and Wang Zhi
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While I am impressed with the loyalty of the Emperor for having so few wives in his harem (he actually only wanted one wife and it was really rare during those era, even more so if he is the Emperor), I just find it weird that he liked his own 'nanny'. Okay, I'll get over that point, but I did feel the Emperor was a little blinded out of his love for his consort, and sometimes even to the point of disrespecting his own mother and uncle. I understand that he does loves her, but in that case, doesn't he know her true character, that she is not as simple as she seemed? I mean, they grew up together,didn't they?
Then comes in Wang Zhi, a low ranking eunuch who suddenly seized the opportunity to present himself and his idea to Consort Wan and immediately gaining her favor which elevated him to a higher rank. However, he was not satisfied with his position and aimed to be next to the Emperor which he succeeded; much to the displeasure of Imperial Consort Wan who realized his intentions. Wang Zhi was a smart fellow, as he did not dare to offend Imperial Consort Wan and even continued to serve alongside the two masters; ensuring for his own safety and yet at the same time, managed to feed his own ambitions and greed using his powers in the palace.

Relationship 4: Chun Hua, Han Xiang and Yang Yong
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 The three of them got entangled in a love triangle in their musical bureau as they were called to work together to perform to the Emperor (or was it more than a love triangle, if you include Qi Qiao who also fell for Yang Yong, but then he never did reciprocate her love, did he?) Yang Yong initially thought that the girl who bought the musical instrument he wanted outside the palace was Han Xiang because he saw her using it, yet at the same time, he just felt inexplicably drawn to Chun Hua (well, her doe-like eyes and sweet smile just exude that kind of charm anyway) and he totally fell for her when he found out that she was the one. It was like the whole picture fits in at that time, and then they began silently communicating through duets over the wall each night (they were separated through a wall due to their gender-based dormitories). They knew their relationship may not come to anything as they were confined to the palace rules and that meant they had no freedom in selecting their own partners, if they had any. Han Xiang was also attracted to Yang Yong but she was the timid and subtle lady, and in a twist of fate, she became the concubine of the Emperor, who just loved her for sweet and quiet personality. The incident awakened both Chun Hua and Yang Yong, especially him as he starts to worry if Chun Hua would get entangled in the same fate. It seemed like it was a relationship with no future for Chun Hua and Yang Yong, and like all romance stories, they went through trials and tribulations before finally ending together, yes, out of the palace.

Characters Analysis/Review:
I think I would like to start with my favorite characters in the drama first...
My Favorite Character
Liu Ting Yu as Bai Han Xiang
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She is just so sweet, and her grace is just the epitome of beauty in that era. I could see why the Emperor could fall for her or how she could win anyone's heart for that matter.
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Even Imperial Consort Wan, who was easily jealous of any newcomer in the harem, did not pose much threat to her because Han Xiang was just so courteous and polite to her and also because Han Xiang was not really interested in the Emperor (she liked only Yang Yong, remember?) This lady had a pure heart and she treated everyone with genuine feelings and true love and that made her so lovable in the drama. In spite of all her qualities, she was actually also the most pitiful and lonely character in the series, for although she seemed to have everything at her doorstep, she was just not happy because those were the things she never really wanted. At least she get to lie in the arms of the one she loved before her end, and I think that was probably the only happiest moment in her life.

Best Performances
Patrick Tam as Wang Zhi
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While many may think that Tavia is the best in the drama (actually she does come very close), but I preferred Patrick's portrayal of Wang Zhi. This is a very good actor, and I was quite happy to see him back on a screen after such a long break (so he ended up in Mainland China too!). His acting was just so natural and poised that he just eased into his role without any effort, or so it seems. It is amazing how coolly he played the ruthless and ambitious eunuch who rose to power and then continued to feast on his greed by serving his masters and attaining his wealth through illegal means (but doing it intelligently). He is indeed a picture of evil, but then again, I liked how Patrick portrayed the humanity and compassionate side of Wang Zhi when faced with Chun Hua, whom he loved and was grateful to as she was his saviour twice when he was younger.

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Despite the harsh and cold facade of Wang Zhi who would stop at nothing to achieve his ambitions, we see him hesitating when it comes to decisions involving Chun Hua and how he would be restless or bothered if she was in trouble. Patrick's expressions just made his personalities evident, as he brought out the different sides of a human being in reality and it is no different for someone as cold as Wang Zhi for he still has his own weakness. Great job, and I hope to see him in more significant roles like these! Absolutely the right choice for this character!

Tavia Yeung as Wan Zhen Er/Imperial Consort Wan
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Without a doubt, she comes really close to being second to Patrick Tam, although I would have placed her on the top of the list regardless and it is no surprise for I have always been a fan of Tavia Yeung. This is the second time she is playing a villain role like this; similar to her first breakthrough role as Yiu Kam Ling in TVB's Beyond the Realm of Conscience (宮心計). Well, to be honest, this drama did remind me a lot of the TVB drama due to Tavia and also the focus on the imperial household bureaus. Anyway, perhaps you can say that I am biased but Tavia, in my opinion has always been a great actress and with roles like these, she has proven herself to be a very versatile actress who could play both the good and even evil roles (I have heard that it is harder and more challenging to play a villain compared to a lovable character).
Her character is an attention-seeking and eager to prove her worth type of lady, who was constantly on her guard to ensure that her position is maintained in the Emperor's eyes. It was known to her that she would never be made the Empress as long as the Empress Dowager was around, or if that was even possible due to her background, but she also kept the newly crowned Empress at bay to ensure that she would not be at threat. In fact, the Empress seemed to fear her more than the other way round. On the outside, it appears as though Wan was a woman crazy for power, but deep down inside, she is just a woman craving for the love and full devotion of her husband and she just wants a monogamous and loyal love between two people. Was she really wrong? Not really, as we women are all bent on the same thing. How many could bear to have your husband taking in more wives and then sharing your husband with all these other women whom you don't even know and yet had to get along with? I wouldn't say that Wan Zhen Er was an extreme villain as judging from her intentions and also her quest to protect herself, and also her affections for the Emperor. All I can say is this is just one jealous woman who just wants her husband to herself and will stop at nothing to attain her goal.

Most Despicable Character/Character I Hate 
Liu Na Ping as Ling Qi Qiao
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Seriously, this lady just get on my nerves and I just felt like slapping the crap out of her every time she appears on screen! She is like, the ultimate source of all the drama and issues happening in the palace and she is always creating trouble everywhere she went. Of course, I do understand that without her there would be no plot in the drama, but still, does she have to be so annoying? She may be a good actress, but a little too good for her sake for I now really hate the sight of her even she appears in other dramas (for instance, I am watching another palace drama which had her in it, and she is again the witch in there, argh!)
She deserved her end, seriously and it was really entertaining when she was put on her toes by Wang Zhi for constantly causing harm to Chun Hua (not that I am a sadist or anything like that)! I just couldn't stand the sight of her, at all and I just couldn't wait to see her being put out of the drama, although it was indeed a very long wait in this drama. Acting wise, she was quite annoying as she constantly puts on this same expression as though she is trying to tell the audience that 'Hey, I am going to do something evil soon' and it is that same expression she wears all the time like it is some tell-tale sign or something. So, nope, I am not that impressed with her acting and it's not just because I am biased because of her role, but to play a villain role, I think she should take some lessons from Tavia or Patrick.

Other Lead Characters doing an average job
Ady An as Li Zi Yun/Shao Chun Hua
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Chun Hua, oh Chun Hua, she is just trying to lead a simple life and yet everyone ends up in her life.
It is just the type of character that Ady would play, get what I mean? I think I have watched Ady many times in stereotypical roles like these where she is always depicted as such a sad character whose life story just warrants the sympathy of the viewers and frankly, it does get a little boring sometimes. She is always casted in roles where all she wanted was to mind her own business but then everyone started minding her business, because you see, her own business somehow started to involve helping others in solving their businesses, and then she became the prey for all those in power. All because of her over-helpfulness.
She had a sad story/background, like most of the main characters in stories like these are bound to have and then she was depicted to have led a tough life but yet maintained a positive outlook in life that she just wanted to enjoy life and stay out of the power struggle within the palace and yet she was just drawn into them because of her indirect involvement in helping her friends and people around her.
Perhaps it was those pretty eyes and sad expressions which Ady seemed to express so well that all the directors seem to like and fitted roles like these perfectly, but in my opinion, there is nothing extraordinary in her role here and I think Ady, despite being one of the leads was overshadowed by Patrick and Tavia and even the other characters as mentioned above.
By the way, did anyone notice how similar her character was to Charmaine Sheh's Lau Sam Ho in TVB's Beyond the Realm of Conscience? (Just too nice to the extent that it was quite unbelievable?)

Feng Shaofeng as Yang Yong 
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I have noticed how often Ady and Feng Shaofeng appeared in the same drama and how they are often paired up with each other, but I didn't mind as they do look compatible with each other and there is just so much chemistry between these two. Feng Shaofeng was another actor in this drama who did not have that much of an importance, as I did not really see him showing off much of his acting skills. Most of the time, being Yang Yong, he had to be subtle and the only time when he had emotions was when he was grieving over his brother's death or trying to avenge his brother by investigating Wang Zhi, but other than that, I did not really feel much anticipation when he appears on screen. I even find his character a little boring sometimes as he was just either in the palace pulling that expressionless face or he was out there battering people to find out about the real reason/people responsible for his brother's death. A little too dull for Feng Shaofeng *yawns*, and I personally felt that it was a waste of his talent in this role.

Lv Yi as Shao Qing Zhi/Imperial Consort Shao

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She is quite pretty, in my opinion but a little too easily manipulated and that makes her one of the saddest but the I-don't-get-it kind of characters at the same time. I mean, her story started when she was supposed to escape palace life by sending another girl as her substitute but her family's downfall reverted her back to being subject to being sent into the palace, as a pawn for the Empress Dowager Qian to strengthen her position and to win the Emperor's affections. This poor girl had nothing to say for herself but to submit herself to the arrangements made for her life by everyone around her, and that makes her really pitiful. Perhaps she was disappointed with her own fate/luck or she was just too humiliated or consumed by her own pride that she just seemed to be so easily misled by the evil Qi Qiao in turning her back to her own trusted friends, Chun Hua and Han Xiang. Isn't that a little silly, and all of a sudden, I was just wondering what is on the mind of this young lady? How could she be so dumb as to believe Qi Qiao over her own bosom buddies?

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Anyway, I guess it was because she was just fed up of being manipulated and then subject to ridicule by even the slaves when she could not succeed in winning the Emperor's affections, and when she finally succeeded (after a very very long time), she strode in her glory but that was when she was threatened by Imperial Consort Wan. However, in spite of all the hardships she went through and maybe those made her strong, she was the last one to survive and probably became the Empress or Empress Dowager after the birth of her own child.

Jiang Yi as Emperor
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I think this guy was just there for the sake of being there for the drama needed an Emperor, which was quite a pity for the actor. His acting skills were not required much except showing anger once in a while or loving, but I just felt that the actor seemed to be carrying the same mood or wooden expression throughout the drama.

My Verdict?
Quite good, I must say despite all the things I have mentioned in my review, and the tunes though only a few, are worth listening to, particularly the theme song which just sounds so soothing to the ears.
The costumes were quite impressive too, and I loved the colors display on the women's attires.

Rating: 3.5/5

Disclaimer: The review is based on the author's personal opinion and is in no way meant to affect any viewer. Watch at your own discretion.
Please take note that the images above are properties of the official website of the drama and do not belong to me. Do inform me if you need them to be removed, thank you.