Nirvana In Fire/Lángyá Bǎng/琅琊榜 (2015) – C-Drama Review

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by Ruby Gege

Hello all! It has been a while since I last reviewed something here. Work (and laziness) have unfortunately been occupying most of my free time. Other than that, I am simply just a horrible human version of a seal, preferring to lie on my bed all day long instead of thinking hard about the quality of dramas and films I just watched. But then, a few weeks ago, I came across this Chinese drama called Lang Ya Bang or Nirvana In Fire and decided… hmmm this seems interesting. At this point, the whole international fandom was going crazy over this wuxia historical drama and I was like whatttttt???? Of course I had to check the drama out and hell yeah, I was not disappointed!

My review of this 54-episode drama can be summarized in the following hypothethical conversation I’d have with myself –

Me – Eh, so how’s Lang Ya Bang? Hao bu hao (good or not)?  

Me 2 – OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO WATCH THIS DRAMA I CAN’T EVEN TALK PROPERLY THIS DRAMA IS LIKE SO FUCKING GREAT HELL IT IS SO DIFFERENT FROM OTHER DRAMAS I’VE WATCHED IT’S LIKE AMAZING SO AMAZING YOU’VE NEVER EVEN WATCHED SOMETHING SO AMAZING THE STORY THE CHARACTERS THEY ARE ALL AMAZING IT IS LIKE A RELIGION OH MY GOD I DON’T MIND WORSHIPING THIS DRAMA DAY IN AND DAY OUT OH MY GOD! 

Me – Are you crazy? *smug face*

Simply put, this drama is everything their fans, viewers and critics alike have made it out to be. It is one of the best Chinese dramas to ever been made.

Why? Ah… so many reasons, I am not even sure where to start. Let me just mention 2 reasons here – 1) the story and 2) the characters.

STORY – 

The premise of the story is of a young general of an army, Lin Shu, who survived a battle 12 years ago. After his whole clan and followers, the Chiyan army, were declared to be traitors of the kingdom and were massacred, he changed into a new identity, Mei Changsu and became the Chief of the Jiangzuo Alliance (some sort of a kungfu/warriors’ group or something). And during this 4th century China, apparently there was also a ranking system made by the distinguished Langya Hall – a think-tank that ranked all things important from wealth, intelligence and warrior skills. Our Mei Changsu here was given the title of the Divine Talent by the Langya Hall and was pursued by the Princes competing for the throne. However, when Mei Changsu entered the capital city using the name Su Zhe, he chose to serve the least powerful prince who was his best friend when he was little. The story revolves mainly around how he worked to increase the best friend’s influence in the imperial court and how he manipulated the factions of power around him in order to put his best friend on the throne.

CHARACTERS – 

Since the drama is also famous for having a shitload (and by shitload, I really mean shitload) of characters, I will only talk about the characters I feel most attached, in a good and bad way.

Lin Shu/Mei Changsu/Su Zhe

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The man here had 2 sides of him – the caring, kind Lin Shu and the brilliant, manipulative strategist that is Su Zhe. With people he trusted around him, he was their beloved leader and friend. However, as a strategist, he was damn cold and distant. The first twenty episodes will get you thinking – aiya, this guy so heartless one arr? Why you never think of other people’s feelings? But that is what makes his character to rationally brilliant. He entered the capital with only one goal in mind – to put his friend, Prince Jing on the throne and consequently clear his clan’s name. He had to cut ties and destroy lives in order to achieve what he wanted and that, he did ever so confidently. He is, by far, the only hero of all the dramas I’ve seen to be unaffected by sentiments and emotions. It is fun and fascinating to watch both sides of him and oh my God, Hu Ge’s portrayal of this character is awesome. He, as other people would say, lived and breathed Mei Changsu – from his style of walking, his words, his mannerism and his facial expressions. I literally felt that he carried the whole drama by himself. Can someone award this man with a Golden Globe, please?

Prince Jing, Xiao Jingyan

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He is one intense dude. Like, really really intense. In the beginning of the drama, Prince Jing was a military general not involved in the competition for the throne. His father, the Emperor disliked him for his bold and brave nature, especially when he chose to stand true to his belief that the Chiyan army and his brother, the late Prince Qi were innocent of the treason charge. With the help of Mei Changsu, he slowly rose to the ranks, eventually succeeding the throne. The relationship between Prince Jing and Su Zhe is the main focus of this drama. Unbeknown to him, his advisor, Su Zhe, who had been supporting him through thick and thin, was actually his best friend and cousin who had been declared dead years ago. Prince Jing as a character is fiercely loyal and righteous, too righteous for his own good, to be honest. Without Su Zhe restraining him, he would have not achieved half the things he accomplished.

Princess Mu Nihuang

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Representing the subtle romantic element in the drama is our Princess Nihuang, Lin Shu’s fiance and also the general of the Southern Army. Alongside Prince Jing, she was among the few who believed in the Chiyan’s army innocence. Nihuang, though a character of moderate importance, is awesome and I love love love her immensely. She is a high-ranked military personnel, powerful in her own right, fearless and extremely respected by the people in the capital. Similar to Su Zhe, we only get to see their softer sides when they were with each other, somehow becoming their younger betrothed selves. She was also one of the few persons (Prince Jing included) that could unnerve Su Zhe of his calm collected self. Several of their scenes had made me cry, especially the part where the Princess brought Su Zhe to Lin Shu’s old house just to test his reaction once she suspected his true identity. Even though I wished so badly for her to have more scenes in the drama, I do understand why the writer kept her the way she was. It made more sense, story-wise. In the end, though, she remained our main character’s true love and despite unable to be together, their relationship was one based on trust and unconditional support.

Yan Yujin and Xiao Jingrui

 

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Even though most fans went gaga and huha over the bromance between Mei Changsu and Prince Jing, it is the friendship between Yujin and Jingrui that I find to be able to relate most. The fact that their fathers belonged to different sides does not hinder their bond. Before all the crisis in the drama began, they were travelling buddies in the martial arts world and brought Mei Changsu into the capital. Their personalities differed so much – Jingrui was the goody-two-shoes, serious son while Yujin was the carefree cheerful one. They spent their days hanging around the capital, visiting their friends and celebrating life in general (this was before all the crisis happened, of course). Not to mention these two are the most consistently good characters from the beginning to the end. The one touching scene I remember most is when Jingrui was about to leave the city with his sister and Yujin chased after him with his horse, asking him to come back without even asking him why he was leaving like all best friends would do. Despite being side characters, I love watching their moments together compared to our main bromance couple, whose affections for each other are just too intense for me to handle. (Aiyo, will shippers of Prince Jing and Mei Changsu kill me for saying these? Haha)

Prince Yu, Xiao Jinghuan

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Among the many princes fighting for the throne (Prince Qi, the Crown Prince, Prince Yu and Prince Jing), I enjoyed the character of Prince Yu the most. He is multi-dimensional – evil yet rational, calculative yet intelligent. He does not push for the throne directly yet worked to amass support and build his network of power meticulously. Prince Yu felt like a dual-role for the actor, Victor Huang, whose performance was convincing. Prince Yu was charming and noble from the outside but merciless and cruel from the inside. It was his battle of wits with Mei Changsu that made me so attached to the drama – wanting to see how Mei Changsu would defeat Prince Yu’s incomparable influence in the royal court. A part of me did not want him to die – I would love to see how Prince Jing fight him once Mei Changsu is out of the picture. Sadly though, that is not going to happen. Isk, isk… Prince Yu.

The Emperor of Liang

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My favourite character in the whole drama is… unexpectedly… the Emperor himself. As the drama progressed, I found myself not being able to support or hate the Emperor in entirety. Is he kind? Yes, he can listen to reasons. Is he cruel? Yes, he sentences people to death very easily. Is he a good father? Yes, he awards his princes accordingly. Is he a bad father? Yes, he made his princes fight against each other. Is he a powerful ruler? Yes, he is extremely charismatic, energetic and clever. Why, then, everyone around the emperor viewed him as if he is the cruelest man on earth? He said it himself in the drama – because he is the emperor and being an emperor, people changes. Everything in the drama – every events, conflicts and achievements – all of those boiled down to one thing, that is appeasing the emperor. In the end, it is his word that mattered, his order to be followed and his graces to win. He was the root of all the problem (he ordered our hero’s clan to be executed) and he was also the solution for it (he ordered Prince Jing to re-investigate the case).

Consort Jing, mother of Prince Jing

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Mother of Prince Jing, Consort Jing had endured many years of being a low-ranked concubine. Like her son, she remained mostly ignored at the beginning of the drama, which seemed to be her strategy of survival in the royal court. Prior to being a concubine, Consort Jing was actually a female doctor. Even within the confines of the palace, she still practiced her medical skills regularly, studying herbs and medicines. Unlike her son, she is the epitome of grace and resilience. She never let her emotions defeat her and embraced every challenges and praises with calmness. The only time she ever cried was when she discovered Mei Changsu’s real identity (she was actually Lin Shu’s aunt). Despite her personality, she is a sharp woman, knowing how to detect traitors and spies in her palace.

CINEMATOGRAPHY 

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I know this is not one of the main point BUT Lang Ya Bang would have not succeeded without the supreme cinematography. Every angle and every shot made me feel like I was watching a wuxia film, only that it lasted for 54 hours. The crew must have put in a lot of thought and ideas behind each frame, for all of them seemed to be conveying a meaning – from the way Mei Changsu moved his fingers to the way the wind moves inside the palace area. Among the things to look out for  are any tea-related scenes. It seems that even people during 4th century China took their tea culture seriously. The way the hand moved the pot, the way they poured it to the way they drank it.

ALL IN ALL – 

Lang Ya Bang is a drama centred on human relationships, revenge, court intrigues and the fight for power. A lot of dramas had tried to use the same formula before but what set the drama apart is its brilliant execution. Anddddd the crew made the right decision not to drag any of the story-archs.The drama ended nicely at only 54 episodes (other wuxia/historical dramas usually got dragged until 80 to 100 episodes). However, be warned though, the mental exhaustion of watching Lang Ya Bang is real! It made you feel so many emotions, think and analyse so many conflicts and doubt your affections for every characters. Never had I experienced this as a drama-lover before since the 2011’s Empresses in the Palace. It took me a whole week of my Chinese New Year break to finish this drama, without any distraction and commitment. It almost felt, guys I am not joking, like a short-term marriage with this drama. Hahahahahahahaha…

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THE PALACE/ 宫锁沉香/Gōng suǒ chénxiāng – 2013 Chinese Film

BY RUBY GEGE WHO IS HAVING HER EXAMS THIS MONTH BUT CAN’T SEEM TO SHAKE OFF HER OBSESSIONS WITH HISTORICAL CHINESE DRAMAS AND MOVIES. ARGH!!!

 The dramatic poster, which I love!

the dramatic poster, which I love!

The_Palace_Chinese_Filmthe sweet poster, which I equally love as well!

REVIEW: 4 DURIANS OUT OF 5 (Because it made me believed in love, for like… 10 minutes)

PLOT SUMMARY

The Palace is essentially a love story set during the reign of Kangxi Emperor of Qing Dynasty between the 13th Prince Yinxiang and a palace maid by the name of Chen Xiang. If you guys remember, quite a number of dramas was based during this era ie Bu Bu Jingxin, Gong I and also Gong II. But I can definitely understand why drama writers seem to be super obsessed with the era of Kangxi Emperor. He sired many princes who would fight and compete for the throne. In the movies and dramas, they always make the princes handsome and extremely charming. Amongst the instrumental princes who contended for the throne was the 4th Prince, the 8th Prince and the 14th Prince. Other princes who didn’t really want to be emperors had to choose sides in order to survive the game.

Liu Li and Chen Xiang
Liu Li and Chen Xiang

This film, however, doesn’t really revolve around the political crisis. It did touch a little, but yeah, only very little. It is mainly about Chen Xiang (Zhou Dongyu), an innocent palace maid who had been best friends with Liu Li (Zhao Li Ying), a vivacious naughty maid as well. As they grew up, the palace maids dreamed of entering the palace ranks by being taken as wives or concubines by the princes. Therefore, they often bribed the eunuchs to provide them information about the location of the princes so that they could meet them ‘coincidentally’ and tried to capture their hearts. Liu Li was one of the more ambitious girls amongst the lot. One night, she threw herself at the 9th Prince, hoping to be accepted by his wife. Little did she know that the 9th Prince was only using her and had no intention to do as such.

lifPkK90Xk3QAt the same time, Liu Li asked Chen Xiang to replace her for a duty or something. Chen Xiang, who covered her face with a handkerchief (cause that’s how the ancient ladies did it, people, to appear more… I don’t know, mysteriously pretty?), had a sweet encountered with the 13th Prince(Chen Xiao). They caught butterflies together in the middle of the night, had some sweet chit-chatting and generally fell in love with each other ever since. However, the 13th Prince had no idea what Chen Xiang looked like and had a clue only in the form of the handkerchief she dropped. A few days later,  a manhunt for that ‘mysterious girl’ was conducted. Liu Li came forward and claimed that she was the one as the handkerchief that Chen Xiang used to cover her face was actually hers.

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Liu Li and the 13th Prince. Chen Xiang was standing behind Liu Li, becoming her personal maid

Thus, the role reversed and the ambitious Liu Li finally got what she wanted. She was trained to become the 13th Prince’s wife and won his affections overnight. Which still baffled me. I mean, even if the ‘mysterious girl’ covered half her face, couldn’t the 13th Prince tell that their facial symmetries were COMPLETELY different? Chen Xiang’s eyes were small and pretty, Liu Li’s eyes were round and bright. But then, what are fictional historical films without the baffling illogical twists… I’ve somehow grown accustomed to expecting no explanation at all arising from unreasonable plots.

Thus, Chen Xiang accepted her fate of the lost opportunity to marry the 13th Prince, whom she began to fall in love with. She became Liu Li’s maid. However, the 13th Prince and her started to get close as the Prince was always bothering her for help in finding out Liu Li’s likes and dislikes. For such purpose, he cooked for Chen Xiang and took her horse-riding. Tell me, people, who wouldn’t fall in love with a man like that?!! If it was me… damn it, I would just scream to the Prince and confessed who I really was.

Misfortune struck the 13th Prince due to his failed rebellion against his Emperor father to save the 4th Prince, whom he admired. He ended up blind and was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life, to be visited by no one and to live his remaining days in isolation. His soon-to-be wife, Liu Li abandoned him and joined the 9th Prince household – whom she was having a love affair with – as his concubine. Literally, at this time, 13th Prince had no one to rely on. Blind and alone, his world was full of darkness and misery (over-dramatic alert! )

20130807-a6ae21a06d2cc429The only person who cared for him was Chen Xiang. Thus, she tried everything to get into that guarded section of the palace he was locked in. She sought the help of Liu Li, who forced her to walk on burning coals (which she did in the name of love). Upon meeting the Prince, she was again mistaken for Liu Li. I literally banged my head in frustration – you stupid bastard, not again! But then, who could blame the Prince? He barely knew his former fiancee. He barely talked to her yet he fell for her already. Therefore, when a young lady came to visit him in his chamber, he instantly thought that was Liu Li whom he had been waiting for. Chen Xiang did not deny it. Maybe because she wanted to spare him the misery of being abandoned by the woman he loved. To gain continuous access to the Prince’s chamber, Chen Xiang became an experimental guinea pig to the royal physician. She suffered and suffered, all due to her devotion to the 13th Prince, who did not even know who she was. She gave himself to him, she comforted him and became his only hope to live.

201308170309329cb38It was so sweet I almost cried. It would be perfect if only the Prince realized that the lady was actually Chen Xiang and not Liu Li.

As the 4th Prince ascended the throne, the 13th Prince was freed. By that time, he had heard about Liu Li’s affair with the 9th Prince and told Chen Xiang (whom he still thought as Liu Li) to leave him as he supposedly stopped loving her. Chen Xiang did exactly that, thinking that it was over between them.

I don’t fucking get it, Chen Xiang. Just tell him the fucking truth. What is with all this super innocent suffering-loving passive heroines in ancient China? Why do they love this kind of characters so much?

Of course, in the end, the 13th Prince finally learned the truth. Liu Li passed away and Chen Xiang reunited with her lover. The film ended sweetly, like a caramel candy that melts in your mouth.

REVIEW:

I have to be completely honest with you. Despite the grand scale of the film – it being a luscious costume piece – the story is really not about an epic political commentary or even about two different women living in the period of Qing Dynasty. It is, simply, a love story. A simple sweet one, I must say. Our main two characters are simple-minded people who believed in love and naive at hearts. What made the film a little better than your usual romantic piece are the complex supporting characters, especially Liu Li.

The first thing that I love is the innocence of the love story between the 13th Prince and Chen Xiang.

Img378499290You can’t help but to go… awwww. Awwwww. *Cries* and then, awwwww again. The 13th Prince initiated a friendship with Chen Xiang, whom he thought was instrumental in helping him develop a connection with his future wife. Chen Xiang, already in love with him, asked nothing in return. Her feelings for the Prince was pure and selfless. When they were together, you cannot help but to smile. When you see Chen Xiang suffering for the Prince’s sake, you can’t help but to cry along with her. It is just too…. sweet. Arghhhhh!!!!!!!

714236f3jw1e6t97idjofj218g0t0k40The second thing I love is, of course, Liu Li.

20130720091927492She is essentially an evil ungrateful bitch in this film. From a palace maid, she evolved into a prince’s fiancee and a royal concubine. Without her, the film would inevitably walk the dull path. Unlike Chen Xiang who was all innocent and passive, Liu Li was aware of her desires. If she saw an opportunity, she took it. If there was anything she desired, she grabbed it. One misgiving I have about the film was how it displayed an unbalanced portrayal of two types of women in that era. Somehow, I feel that the film stereotypes women who are aggressive as manipulative and cruel whilst the soft–spoken women are kindhearted and sincere.

The third thing I love is the costume, the set designs – basically everything visual in this film. The costumes are crazily detailed and so so so pretty!!!!!! Somehow, the great regal visuals in the film elevated it to more than just a romance film – it gave the film its epic kick!

The fourth thing is undoubtedly….. the 13th Prince.

urlkkkmOMG, each time he appears on the screen, I freaking blush! How can he be so cute and charming and handsome and charismatic at the same time?!!! OMG!! HIS SMILE IS TO DIE FOR!! *swoon* This is not healthy, this is not healthy. Okay, I don’t give a damn. The actor who played him, Chen Xiao is 20 times more good looking in modern attires. He is now officially my favourite mainland actor, second only to Liu Ye.

Him in real life. OMG, how can someone be so good-looking?
Him in real life. OMG, how can someone be so good-looking?

The film is not a great epic historical piece, that’s for sure. However, it is a good entertaining film that would be able to touch your heart in certain scenes. It has a sweet love story as its focal point and the sumptuous designs to accessorize the whole film. Trust me, it will make you delusional and started fantasizing about finding a prince of your own, which will never happen. So, that kind of sucks. But who cares when you have films like this to satisfy your never-ending desires? Hahaha

Empresses In The Palace /Hou Gong Zhen Huan Zhuan – The Ultimate Chinese Historical Drama!

By Ruby Chingu

*WARNING! THIS DRAMA HAS 76 EPISODES. THEREFORE, THE REVIEW BELOW IS GOING TO BE SUPER LONG!!! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!*

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I came across this 2011 C-drama whilst browsing around the internet for a good Chinese drama. Even though internationally, C-drama is not as well-spread as the (overrated) South Korean dramas nowadays, I think very highly of them due to their superior productions values and more developed plotlines. And my childhood had always been filled with memories of watching a great many C-drama and Hong Kong dramas, especially the historical and wuxia ones. Naturally, as I grow older, I try to reconnect with my childhood passion once more.

Huo Gong Zhen Huan Zhuan or The Legend of Zhen Huan or officially known in English as Empresses In The Palace is a no-joke drama. It may seem all glittery and glamorous with its many concubine-related settings but trust me, this drama involves a great deal of bitterness, revenge, blood and pure satanic evil. The concubines might be donning themselves with make-up and were all smiles throughout the episodes but the slogan that generally was echoed through my head was “Kill or Either Get Killed”.

Which is kind of true.

8331997Like all concubine-centered drama, this drama’s main concubine is a young noble lady by the name of Zhen Huan. In the beginnings of the series, she was an okay girl – pretty, not that talkative, generally polite and rational. Unlike all typical concubine heroines, she did not have a boyfriend prior to entering the palace. Indeed, she was not that sad or that happy about her selection. She was kind of okay with it. She was initially hesitant because being a concubine in the Imperial Harem would mean that she would lose her freedom but she also desired the honour that comes with the title she was to receive. Thus, she, along with her friends, embraced their fate quite easily. All the young ladies dreamed about being concubines. They trained to enter the palace since they were young. They took special classes in walking, gracefulness, literature and many more in order to impress the officials during their selection processes. So why would one say no if one got selected?

She was quite wary of spending time with the Emperor, who was technically her husband, not because he was kinda old but because of the stiff competition she witnessed amongst the concubines in gaining his attention. There were two main ladies in court who were involved in this battle of wits – the Empress and Hua Fei.

The Empress and Her Husband
The Empress and Her Husband
Hua Fei, The Emperor's Favourite
Hua Fei, The Emperor’s Favourite

Before I continue, it is vital that I list down all the concubines’ titles in order from the lowest ranking to the highest. FYI, titles, for concubines, were super duper importance. It signified her superiority, her importance and the Emperor’s love for her. The rank starts from Daying, Changzai, Guiren, Pin, Fei, Gui Fei, Wang Gui Fei and Huang Hao (Empress). Only the Empress Dowager ranked higher than the Empress. Fei indicated the rank of a Consort, which means that once a concubine gained the title of Fei, she was pretty much settled for life and everyone in court had a valid reason to be scared shit of her, like our fabulously vicious Hua Fei. 1333728604591

Zhen Huan entered the palace with the rank of Changzai, which was pretty low. So, people did not notice her much and bullied her at times, though she was smart enough to ignore them and make herself invisible. She was cautious to be known at first because of the tension in the harem anyway and managed to avoid ‘serving’ the Emperor on the pretext of being ill. (Serving here means having sex and spending time with him). However, a number of ever-so-famous-and-fortunate coincidences occurred and she met with the Emperor anyway, not knowing that he was an Emperor and ended up falling for him. Once she knew his identity, her invisibility and non-importance immediately vanished and in a short time, she became his favourite concubine. When her importance increased, so did her rank. From Changzai, she became Guiren and then, Pin. Her looks also changed to that of a more mature woman.

The Emperor loved her sooooo much and had made it quite obvious. However, unlike other historical dramas, delusional romance/love story did not have a place in this story. The Emperor duly served his duty to his other wives as well and spent his time with them, though he did spoil Zhen Huan a little bit more than the rest. After living in such happiness as a favourite concubine for some time, Zhen Huan was knocked over by a huge reality check after she miscarried her baby due to Hua Fei’s evil undoing. When that happened, she naturally expected her beloved husband to punish the bitch. Instead, the Emperor looked at her lovingly and said he could not do such a thing because the bitch was the sister of the empire’s most powerful general. Zhen Huan pleaded with him, telling him that “she killed our baby.” All the Emperor could do was look down in regret.

At that moment, I think, Zhen Huan stopped loving her husband and she could never be as happy as she was again. Crimes went unpunished and no one would avenge the fate of her innocent unborn child.

Since then, the romantic side of Zhen Huan faded radically. Instead of a devoted wife and lover, she focused more on becoming the concubine – albeit a powerful one – she was meant to be – intelligent and always a step ahead from her enemies. The greatest thing about our heroine is that she refused to trust anyone completely except for her soul sister, a fellow concubine, Shen Mei Zhuang. When everyone else was kissing the Empress’s or Hua Fei’s asses, Zhen Huan did no such thing and focused solely on concentrating her source of power from the Emperor’s affection, which worked wonders because the Emperor’s guilt made him more attached to Zhen Huan.

As the competition unraveled and many people died including servants, concubines and fellow innocent and not-so-innocent victims, Zhen Huan grew tired of it all. By then, her relationship with the Emperor was already strained, for she had always made it clear that she could not forgive the Emperor for not punishing Hua Fei for her baby’s death. Also, Zhen Huan was also severely punished by the Emperor after wearing a dress which once belonged to the Emperor’s first love, the late Empress Chun Yuan (due to a trick by the Empress. Smart smart bitch!). She was locked in her palace for many weeks and when she fell ill, her servant sacrificed her life so that the guards would allow the doctors to see her. All of these dramatic events in the palace sickened Zhen Huan physically and emotionally to the point of no return.

She told the Emperor she wished to be a concubine no more – and she meant it. Note that by now, she was already a Fei (Consort), meaning that her rank was second only to the Empress. However, she hated the palace and a concubine’s life so much that she was willing to leave her newborn baby girl under the care of a fellow trusted concubine. Seriously, who could blame her? She wanted only some peace and she deserved it. However, after a love affair with the 17th Prince resulted in her pregnancy, she knew she had to do whatever it takes to protect her unborn twins. Thus, she seduced the Emperor once more (though she had stopped loving him ages ago) and returned to the palace as the transformed, more powerful and ambitious version of Zhen Huan. Say bye bye to the naive endearing Zhen Huan that we knew.

3d4fa683jw1dfvjbp69bgjAnd hello, Zhen Huan with a far luxurious costume set!

Since her return to the palace, the only thing that mattered for her was survival as she needed to secure a good future for her children. Royal children’s future lives often correlated to that of their mothers. If their mothers were high-ranked, their future would be more secure. She also wanted to beat the hell out of the Empress, whose cruelty increased after Hua Fei’s death. With one bitch’s death, come another bitch and another and another. The cycle of blood never ends.

The ending was quite a realistic one for me. No happiness, no sadness. Just a reality of life in the Palace. Those who worked hard and worked smart stayed in power, those who did not were defeated.

NOW!!!!! TIME FOR MY FAVOURITE ELEMENTS OF THE DRAMA!

God, there are so many! One great thing about the drama is that it has so many interesting female characters. From Zhen Huan to Hua Fei to the Empress and also tons of other concubines with interesting characters. The storylines also never really falters halfaway and stayed solid. And the costume! Need I say more? The costumes are fucking gorgeous, goddamnit that I feel like crying each time I lay my eyes on those beautiful dresses.

1 – THE CHARACTER OF SHEN MEI ZHUANG, OR HUI PIN AND HER STEADFAST SISTERHOOD WITH ZHEN HUAN

744436LegendofHuanZhen8My favourite character in this drama is not Zhen Huan but her soul sister, Shen Mei Zhuang. I think many fans of this drama have the same thought as me. Shen Mei Zhuan, or later known as Hui Pin, was the most consistent character in the series. She was the only concubine whose personality remained untainted with the immorality of the palace, only that she grew more pessimistic. She entered the palace as an intellectual graceful lady with a kind heart and a mountainous patience and elegance. Despite the evils people had committed against her, she remained that person she once was. From the Emperor’s early favourite, she fell from grace due to a heinous plan by our fabulous Hua Fei and was accused of faking her pregnancy. Since then, she had a reality check and realized the true value of a concubine and how temporary and uncertain the Emperor’s love could be.

As Zhen Huan was rising in ranks, our Shen Mei Zhuang contented herself by being the unimportant lady in the shadow. Due to Zhen Huan’s immense grace, Shen Mei Zhuang was somehow protected from further harm and never really escaped the notice of the Emperor, who was still quite fond of her. However, Shen Mei Zhuang resisted his affections, her heart never really forgiving him for believing the accusation thrown at her. For her, he had failed at his duty as her husband (poor Emperor, so many wives’s expectations to meet. Hahaha!) As the Emperor began to let her to herself, Shen Mei Zhuang lived quite a peaceful life, accompanied by her servants. She had more time for herself, engrossing herself in her intellectuality and also serving the Empress Dowager. At the same time, she began harboring feelings for her personal doctor, the only court official who treated her kindly as others ostracized her during the fake pregnancy scandal. She had a baby girl with him and died after the childbirth.

Dear Shen Mei Zhuang, you deserve so much more! I pray to God that your character can be reborn into another drama as an Empress, for an intellectual mind like you deserves to be on top!!

Another great aspect about Shen Mei Zhuang’s character is the sisterhood between her and Zhen Huan, which is actually the core part of who Zhen Huan was.

lzhe1-3It was also the only relationship in the drama to stand the test of time. They met as young girls and Zhen Huan addressed Shen Mei Zhuang as ‘jie jie’ or older sister from the beginning to the end. Indeed, they were truly sisters in life and death. Nothing could come between them and when the rest of the world was against any of them, they always knew that they could rely and support each other. As an audience, I was always looking forward for an initially kind character to betray Zhen Huan sooner or later, like An Lin Rong, who was in their close-knit circle but later switched sides to serve the Empress . But when I saw Zhen Huan with Shen Mei Zhuang, I always knew that the they would never betray each other. Is it just me or their chemistry as sisters and best friends are so much better than the ones with their respective lovers?

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The breakdown scene of Zhen Huan crying over Shen Mei Zhuang’s death has to be best scene in the drama. She did not grieve that much for the Emperor or even her lover, the 17th prince. But for Shen Mei Zhuang, she felt as if her life had been taken away from her. Maybe because she finally realized that she was left alone in this world, no one else she could rely on. Even though Zhen Huan had already amassed herself support from many concubines, nobody was able to fill in the void Shen Mei Zhuang left. Nobody could become her best friend, sister and trusted advisor as well as she did.

*cries* SISTERHOOD FOREVER!!

2 – THE REALISTIC PORTRAYAL OF ZHEN HUAN’S MARRIAGE TO THE EMPEROR

8332429 Zhen Huan’s relationship with the Emperor could be described in one word – rocky! In the beginning, it was a sweet happy marriage like any other newlyweds. Zhen Huan genuinely fell in love with the Emperor. How could she not? He was a gentleman, a patience wise man who never really got angry. When he loved her, he expressed it clearly. And he was a supporting and attentive husband, too. For a brief while, their love was the only thing that kept her happy. However, do keep in mind that this is an Emperor we are talking about, with more than ten wives living together in a big fat palace.

The main event that transformed their relationship was of course when the Emperor failed to punish his former favourite, Hua Fei for being the cause behind Zhen Huan’s miscarriage. It was her first pregnancy and she was very heartbroken to lose the baby. When the baby died, a part of her died as well. Seeing how her husband remained silent over the cruelty of Hua Fei only added salt to her wounds. Who could forget the disbelief look on her face when the Emperor told her to “let it go and move on”?

From then on, their relationship deteriorated greatly. Zhen Huan’s distance from the Emperor allowed more space for other concubines to step in, such as An Lin Rong. However, Zhen Huan always knew that she had a special place in the Emperor’s heart. The sad thing was, however, that the reason the Emperor was attracted to her in the first place was because she looked a lot like his first love. Nevertheless, I do believe that the Emperor also genuinely loved Zhen Huan. Their relationship might have its ups and downs but Zhen Huan had the great and revered status that she had due to the Emperor’s love for her. Whatever Zhen Huan wanted, she got them. Her each desires were fulfilled by the Emperor even when she asked to leave the palace. Ever since the Emperor raised her rank to that of a consort, I think the whole palace kind of knew that Zhen Huan was to be the most powerful woman in the palace below the Empress Dowager and the Empress. lzhn2By the second half of the drama, it was obvious that their marriage involved the pair more as a ruler and his consort rather than lovers. The passion and romance had faded away completely by the time Zhen Huan returned to the palace as Fei after her stint at the monastery. Their love, at least on Zhen Huan’s part, had completely broken down. She had no feelings left for the man she used to love so greatly. The marriage was a necessity for her survival, a representation of her status and the key to her glory.

Therefore, she remained loyal to the Emperor though she did not love him. Even though the 17th Prince returned to the palace, she did not elope and resumed their affair. She stayed at the Emperor’s side as a devoted wife and advisor, being there for him so long as he needed it. She performed the duty of an Imperial Consort impeccably, which speaks volumes to any long-term marriage, modern or otherwise. We all know why people get married in the first place – love, family arrangements etc etc. But when all love and passion is gone, why do people stay married? Image? Power? Money? Security? Or just the fear of being lonely? 

The marriage of Zhen Huan and the Emperor were symbolic to the institution of marriage in so many ways. She did not love the Emperor but she needed him. Whether she liked it or not, her identity and whole status relied on his grace. By the end of the series, it was not him that she wanted, but the life he could give her.

THINGS THAT I THINK COULD’VE BEEN BETTER BUT WAS NOT PRESENTED THAT WELL

1 – ZHEN HUAN’S LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE 17TH PRINCE

Forgive me for saying as such because I know there are so many of you fans of this couple here. This is only my personal view. Even though Zhen Huan and the 17th Prince knew each other for a long time, it was only after Zhen Huan left the palace for the temple that she began to love the Prince and vice versa.

0014224750740e6195f447Okay, let me just put it out there – THE PRINCE IS INCREDIBLY HOT!! Our prince was a hot emotional mess of a sentimental lover. A man fated for a doomed end. A man who fell in love with one of his brother’s wives and that brother was not just any brother – that brother was the Emperor. But he did not care, he gave his all to Zhen Huan. He knew he could die for treason but he loved Zhen Huan anyway without an inch of regret. Now tell me how can one not fall in love with this stupid bastard???!! I mean, my prince, I will love you forever!!

So, with this devoted and dreamy of a character, why the hell don’t I feel for their love?

8448e20fjw1dl5ztc5103jWell, because our 17th Prince himself. He was a man you’d meet in your dreams – a devoted handsome man who would die for you. Now, prince baby, you don’t fit in this bloodthirsty drama. The drama does not deserve your grace. Our Prince’s general goodness was often drowned by the awesomeness of the concubines in the series. He was not the main lead and was obviously so, though I suspected several efforts by the writer who tried to represent his character as something bigger than he was. No, he was not that vital, in my opinion. More than often, I do think that he seemed out of place amidst the competition for the Emperor’s attention. So many times I thought his character was merely an accessory to develop Zhen Huan’s storyline and the Prince never really stood out to own his own story as well, unlike Hua Fei, the Empress and Shen Mei Zhuan.

Yes, he was, of course, Zhen Huan’s lover. But at that point of time, any good kind man could appear in Zhen Huan’s life and became her lover. Also, I would not go as far as to declare that he was Zhen Huan’s true love. I do not believe as such. I do think that the Emperor was the love of her life and when he betrayed her, she slowly transformed into another woman. The 17th Prince, however, succeeded in offering Zhen Huan an alternate life that she could never dream of – a life of simple happiness, purity and joy. A life without the glory she was used to. I think that is why Zhen Huan fell for him – aside from the fact that he was practically available EACH TIME Zhen Huan needed him.

I mean, my dear prince, don’t you have a fucking job other than to chase after your brother’s exiled concubine?

However, the end to their love affair pained me a little even if I’m not a fan of this couple. Zhen Huan, who was already pregnant with the Prince’s children, thought that the Prince had died in war. She had no other choice but to return to her life as a concubine by serving the Emperor once again and making him believe that the children belonged to him to save their lives – or else they would be executed along with their mother. By the time the imperial decree had came out for Zhen Huan to return to the palace, THEN THE PRINCE CAME HOME. FUCK YOU, WHY DIDN’T YOU COME BACK EARLIER, YOU BASTARD?!! It all seemed to cliche of a plot, does it not? But it worked quite well with Zhen Huan’s struggles.

Which is basically what I’m trying to say. Everything that the Prince was in the drama was too reliant on Zhen Huan. His existence in the series depended on Zhen Huan’s storyline. I do wish that the Prince was a less-than-perfect character. Make him a bit evil, bad-boyish and competitive. Or mischiveous. Not the heavenly prince that he was presented to be. If only he was a bad-boy prince, then, damn!!!! It would spice up the drama real nice, haha.

Other photos of the drama….

8448e20fjw1dl764eg1gfj 4b5c18ef3ee1232f5e887639dfea45a2 U3349P28T3D3516162F326DT20111223210238Overall, this drama is a must watch drama for you drama lovers out there. It is, by far, the best costume drama EVERRRRR!!! EVEN INTERNATIONAL-WISE!!! Where else can you get a myriad of characters and the storylines so unpredictable? Where the women control the show by their intelligence, patience and manipulative traits? I won’t say that this drama is an ode to feminism, because it is not but it is a great realistic drama about flawed human characters. No one is perfectly nice and kind and happy all the time. If he or she is, most likely he or she ended up dead or living life very miserably like our 17th Prince and Shen Mei Zhuang, two of our most morally upright characters in the show.