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....

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