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...

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