"It is not pure trashy entertainment nor is it an amazing feat of intellectual showcase of power struggles amongst women in the imperial palace as at the end of the day the women in this series are driven not by their ambition but by their personal feelings for a certain person or a certain matter."
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
Must Read Information
For more info on the title, the cast and episode summaries, check out my Episodic Thoughts on this series. Warning; complete spoilers complete with quotes that I could remember, but I am sure you already know who died and who survived. Very active discussion there like among like max 5 people but still very useful information contributed by fellow netizens like the history of the shoes worn by the females in the imperial palace, how come some Manchurian names have certain words and others didn't, history of revolving lanterns and much much more. Learned a lot actually because too lazy to research anymore.
No. of Episodes
30, which in my opinion is long enough due to several factors, none of which I feel like explaining here right now because shall be explained in full lurid details in the review below.
Thanks to Elizabeth, Kathy and Bridget Au for the following cast list.
Bowie Lam Bo Yee as Dr Suen Bak Yeung
Sheren Tang Sui Man as Yu Yuet/Yu Fei
Charmaine Sheh Sze Man as Yee Soon
Gigi Lai Chi as Yuk Ying
Maggie Cheung Hor Yee as Onn Sin
Moses Chan Ho as Hung Mo
Rebecca Chan Sau Chu as the Empress
Yu Yeung as the Emperor Jiaqing
Wai Ka Hung as Chan Song
Chan Hung Lit as Suen Ching Wah
Lo Hoi Pang as eunuch Tsui Man Tin
June Chan Kei as Sook Ling
Wong Tak Bun as Siu Luk Tzi
Priscilla Lau Cheuk Kei as Heung Fau
Jade Leung Jing as Fook Nga
Chan Man Kei as Yuen Kei
Irene Wong Lam as Hou Suet
Maria Chan Choi Ping as Po Shim
Iva Lo Wing Han as Chan Fei
Yu Tze Ming as Ngok Lo Lei
Law Kwan Jor was the cowardly nephew of the eunuch.
Chan Kar Yee as Mrs Tsui
Ngo Kar Nin as eunuch Worng Fuk Sau
2 young beautiful girls (Yuk Ying, Yee Soon) entered into the palace with the aim of rising to the highest rank for a concubine within the imperial palace during the later years of the reigh of Qing Emperor Jiaqing with their own specific agenda. In the forbidden palace as they went through scheming and deception they met a wise and experience palace maid (Onn Sin) who will later become the emperor's concubine for her own reasons alienating the friends she made and the man she truly loved. The 3 of them became embroiled in the ongoing battle between two of the palace's most powerful women, the empress who revealed herself as the most conniving of all and the emperor's most favouried concubine (Yu Fei) who revealed her humanity in the face of her often drastic and controversial decisions. As the 4 of them went through love, life, battle of wits and scheming to win the emperor's affection, 2 men, one an ambitious imperial doctor (Suen Bak Yeung) and the other an honourable but love sick palace guard (Hung Mo)became involved in their battles to heart wrenching results. Will the women find their one true love and be willing to let go of their position and escape the neverending chain of unhappiness, power struggle and loneliness of their fate as they are trapped within the high palace walls or will they rather stay in their position and face a lifetime of loneliness and bitter feuds between themselves?
Questions Asked And Answered
Funn, I am so confused as I have yet to see the series or read your episodic thoughts. Who is who?
Let's see, let me take a deep breath first...
Maggie Cheung is Onn Sin the palace maid who became Concubine Onn to avenge her grandma's death who was ordered to be killed by the empress played by Rebecca Chan so as to make Onn Sin stay in the palace to serve her to check on the other concubines as Onn Sin is very smart and experienced but Onn Sin is actually a person with one flaw and that is her kind heart.
Gigi Lai is the unfavoured daughter of an unfavoured concubine within a powerful Manchurian family who became a concubine for the sole purpose of hoping by her becoming a favoured concubine her mom's status in the household would be elevated but on her way to be the top concubine she stepped on a few toes but received the help from Onn Sin before she became a concubine and Suen Bak Yeung played by Bowie Lam, the imperial doctor (who is the only son of Suen Ching Wah, the chief imperial doctor) who is actually in love with Yuk Ying and she knows it and she uses him to no end thus we know that Yuk Ying is not as stupid or simple as she presented herself because quite frankly she is so much more stupid and simple than it seems.
Charmaine Sheh is Yee Soon, a Han disguised as a Manchurian (as only Manchurian girls can be imperial concubines) who is actually the favoured god daughter of a powerful eunuch, Tsui Man Tin played by Lo Hoi Pang who sent her in together with 2 other god daughters to win the heart of the emperor so that if in future the emperor ever prosecutes Tsui for corruption (as he was in the same gang as He Shen, not seen in the series but mentioned in history as the most corrupted eunuch during the reign of Qian Lung, father of Jiaqing whom later Jiaqing had Heshen executed but is now looking for his co-conspirators, Tsui being one of them but no proof yet), the beloved concubine can persuade the emperor otherwise; quite silly but take it as it is told but Yee Soon who one can say is a puppet of Tsui's ambition and who is morose and prone to depression fell in love with Suen Bak Yeung and turned her rivalry with Yuk Ying into a pesonal agenda and all along she never knew the older sister she lost as a young child was right beside her and that was Concubine Fook, the sickly and forgotten concubine of the emperor and god daughter of Tsui who also was in love with Suen Bak Yeung but Suen clearly loved neither both though I believe an affection between the parties exists.
Maggie Cheug is Onn Sin the palace maid who was about to leave the palace to be with her beloved grandma as palace maids at the end of their service not picked by the emperor can retire and marry but then she found out her grandma died and so since she no longer has a burden she dedicated herself to help Yuk Ying to rise to power as she thought Yee Soon was bullying the poor helpless Yuk Ying and on the way she fell in love with Hung Mo the palace guard who was ambitious until he found a handkerchief who he thought was sewn by Onn Sin who then did all he could to assist Onn Sin that is until Onn Sin realised her grandma died because of the empress' undoing and so she decided to become a concubine to fight the empress by winning the emperor's affection to disastrous results as Yuk Ying felt she was betrayed and did all she could to destroy Onn Sin whilst Yee Soon could not bring herself to trust Onn Sin anymore and Hung Mo felt betrayed and rejected and so ignored her most of the time and she realised she has made a mistake she could not rectify whilst the empress wants her dead.
Sheren Teng is Yu Fei, the emperor's most favoured concubine who herself was guilty of politicking, evil deeds and unreasonable behavious who gave birth to a daughter she did not care about but when she fell out of power thanks in part to the empress' scheming but mostly because of her own undoing, she realised how arrogant she was and although she wasn't sorry for what she did not was she in anyway superstitious at all so she didn't believe much in spirits and retribution she softened a bit in her fight against the empress and fell in love with Hung Mo who was the only stranger who helped her when she was really down and out and when she rose to power again as the emperor in the end do love her in his own special way she reluctantly became involved with Hung Mo's quest to save Onn Sin and she regrets not having met him earlier and lament that perhaps life could have been very different.
Rebecca Chan is the empress who looked like the most understanding woman as opposed to the arrogant Yu Fei but actually she did many bad deeds in her quest to secure her own and her children's position but mostly because she is a jealous wife.
Wai Kah Hung is Chan Song, who is like sworn brother of Hung Mo and became palace guards together with Hung Mo but sees Hung Mo as enemy when he thought Hung Mo rather spend his time helping Onn Sin than helping him thus causing him to be sacked from his job as he thought Hung Mo betrayed him and lied to him about the actual reason why the woman he loved, a fellow palace maid Po Shim died and later he returns to the palace as a rebel bent on killing Hung Mo.
Chan Hung Lit is Suen Ching Wah, Suen Bak Yeung's father and head of the imperial medical dept who himself was involved in a number of reluctant abortions and killing at the bidding of the evil empress and he did not want to see his son going down the same road but Bak Yeung refused to listen to him as he thought his father forsaken his dead mother 3 years before and their relationship is a volatile but in a way a very loving one.
Irene Wong is Hou Suet, wife of Suen Bak Yeung in name only who was married into the Suen family when Bak Yeung's mom was very sick and since her death Bak Yueng refused to even look at her as she was chosen by Suen Ching Wah and Bak Yeung despises everything his father says and do.
I think that's all really.
Frankly Funn, is this a love story, a power struggle story of epic proportion or simply a dramatic nonsense without anything much to say?
Frankly my friends, imagine this series can be divided into 10 parts. It is 4 parts love story, 3 parts power struggle, 1 part about friendship and alliance, 1 part about decisions and consequence thereof and 1 part utter nonsense. Never an epic though. The reason I emphasised on the love story because in the end, this series is a love story, or you can say a rectangular or triangular love story. Everything else that happens faciliates or destroys the love between the characters and there are most giving love, unrequited love, sacrificial love, sad love, happy love, stupid love, jealous love and the ending emphasised on love and how much one is willing to sacrifice for it. Although this series may show death may be the sacrifice of all sacrifice but really even by living itself may be the ultimate sacrifice as epitomised by powerful concubine Yu aka Yu Fei.
Which love is which pair?
Some quite muddy. Let's see...
Empress-Emperor : Jealous love
Yu Fei - Hung Mo : Sacrificial love (but I would argue Hung Mo never really loved Yu Fei, he is simply thankful and grateful for her help and he genuinely likes her)
Hung Mo - Onn Sin : sad/most giving love
Yuk Ying - Suen Bak Yeung : Stupid love
Yee Soon, Hou Suet, Fook Nga - Suen Bak Yeung : Unrequited love
Po Shim - Hung Mo, Po Shim - Chan Song : Where Got Love love
And if you're wondering what about the other women and the emperor, not love but from emperor to them is lust, from them to emperor is you can say useful love but not love in the strictest sense.
Can the uncastrated male doctor enter in and out of the concubine's room as he pleases?
In this series yes. In the beginning the series did show the male doctor taking the concubine's pulse by using a thread but this was shown I think probably once or twice and then this was abandoned since TV wise it doesn't work to have the male character so far away from the female character. I am sure in real life the thread is always used and the male doctor can't walk in and out of the woman's room.
What about the palace guard?
Same thing actually. I mean don't take TVB series at face value. Question it, research it and then see how wrong they could be I guess.
So what's the story?
Check my episodic thoughts, everything in detail.
And what's the ending?
Episode 30, read that one, very sad ending.
So is it a happy ending, sad ending or no ending?
Oh this one has an ending alright. A very conclusive ending if you ask me. Ultimately a very sad ending, nothing happy for all the characters, not even for the emperor.
Will I cry Funn?
Yes, maybe at different points for different characters but you will cry. Get your tissues ready.
One final question Funn. Is this series stupid? I mean compared to that other power struggle series about men, you know Kong Wah series which I heard is so much smarter?
I haven't seen that one. I did read how it was more superior plot wise since both dealt with power struggle. I tend to agree until I watched this series in it entirety, missing maybe 1 or 2 episodes. Truth is this is not the smartest or best scripted series nor was it the most original script ever or even the best acted or even with the most compelling characters. But in a way this series is in no way stupid or should ever be compared to Conquerer's Tale quite simply because they're so different. I see War And Beauty as a love story actually. See it that way and you may think it is actually a good production even if the acting as opined by myself may not be great. So no, it's not a stupid series though it has stupid plots.
My question to myself above, the last question that is basically my feeling of this series in summary.
Before I saw this series I have heard and read how popular it was and how great it was. I even saw Gigi Lai winning the Most Favourite Female Performance, the controversies that followed and how Sheren Teng was cheated of that award. It was all so gossipy then and 1 year later this series was shown on ASTRO Wah Lai Toi and I realised the controversies were real but the whole Sheren Teng issue was blown out of proportion. I actually do think someone else deserved the awards and not these 2 parties.
So ask me; in my opinion is this series good?
In one word I shall say yes. Yes it is good. It is addictive, it is compelling, it has memorable moments, it has significantly memorable moments and more importantly it has some great scripting moments with lines that were uttered that I never thought they would be uttered. More importantly, the brilliance of this series comes from its unconventional ending. No longer is TVB interested in cliff hangers and yet it didn't subject to popular demand to give the viewers' the ending they would want to see; I mean I would want to see a happy ending for at least one pair in this series but it was never to be and for that I respect the scriptwriter; this person dared to be different and it is a good thing. This series also boasts some nice scenery that is the forbidden palace and although I hated the cinematography that was shoddily planned with awful computer graphics, in the end what is most compelling about this series is not what the characters went through but the characters themselves. You can't find a more rich depiction of certain key characters than this series. I must say that certainly this series has moments of lapses into silliness, stupidity, nonsense and utter drama queen moments but putting those lapses aside, ask me again, is this series worth the hype? I would say yes. But I would qualify myself by saying this series could have been so much better if the casting decision were made carefully, some performance more controlled and tighter scripting.
So what is so good about this series?
Like I said the characters.
For one you feel like you're journeying with the characters throughout 30 episodes. Depending on who you prefer, you will feel like you knew them by the end of 30 episodes and perhaps shed a tear or two at their sad dismal ending. You see them enter into the palace or at the height of power, you see them gain power or fell from power, you see them going through phases of friendship, guilt, evil, deception, recognition, acceptance and finally sacrifice that somehow will make you feel for them. The success of this series is giving us at the minimum 4 characters with different personalities and different outlooks so you can say it is like a boyband or girlband; you're bound to like one of them, whoeever's personality suits you or this person's story is compelling enough for you. But more than 4 characters, there are other minor but equally as important characters that may pull you into their story, however short they may be, from eunuchs to concubines to ministers to officers to palace maids and ordinary folks whose appareance may be just mere minutes but somehow you will feel for them because their history is told through the actions of perhaps the 4 main characters. You have a love hate relationship with some characters although I basically hate one person throughout and that is mostly because she gave the worst performance in this series and one of the most overhyped performance ever. You will know who if you read my episodic thoughts every night.
With that I would like to reiterate my favourite characters in this series. Performance wise only a few I can rave and rave non stop but some did reasonably well that I feel it is nice for once I rave about them for what they did well instead of criticising them for what they didn't do well.
Chan Ho may not be the greatest or the best or even one of the better actors in TVB, but he is certainly one with loads of charisma and I like watching him. In this series I really like his Hung Mo although his performance is nothing to shout about. Hung Mo is a character that appeared to be way too ambitious, a risk taker and a desperate wannabe who had nothing and became something for himself in the palace. His actual rise to become the emperor's personal guard and the fact that he never really guarded the emperor at all are the series' missing puzzles and moments of stupid scripting. In fact many rises to power in this series is not given the emphasis and imagine if the series did; it would be longer but so much more satisfying. But I guess there is a valid reason for that; after all this is a series about girl power and guys are just wallpaper and vase so emphasis cannot be too much on Hung Mo. I wish for Hung Mo to be given more emphasis as he is such a compelling character though many fans disagreed. They see his character as boring. He is not. It is interesting how in a way he was desperate to get into the palace in part to earn a fortune and become a somebody after almost a lifetime as a nobody but if you watch carefully, he also entered the palace for the purpose of searching for the mystery owner of the handkerchief he found. That handkerchief contained a poem that inspired him and drove him to fulfil his destiny that he knew he had in him to become something for himself and when he thought he found that person in Onn Sin, he was willing to sacrifice all he had fought for because of love. It is not a blinded or stupid love. You must applaud Chan Ho for giving Hung Mo a sense of integrity and intensity in the way he felt for Onn Sin, so much so that I fell in love with Hung Mo because he could do so much for Onn Sin but never really sacrificing his dignity. When Onn Sin left him abruptly, he was angry at first but he learned to let go because it is undignified to run after a person who no longer wants you, as opposed to Suen Bak Yeung. But when he found out why Onn Sin did what she did, he regretted not trying to understand her and for abandoning her and he returned to her knowing she needed him although she may say she didn't. Onn Sin is such a good person that I kinda forgive her for abandoning Hung Mo and I applauded when they returned to be with one another and although their ending was very sad, at least for that brief moment they had each other. That is the beauty of Hung Mo's character; he is single minded but he never sacrificed his dignity; he is loving and giving but not 100% to the point of stupidity; he has good taste for falling for a good woman like Onn Sin.
Coming to Onn Sin, she is my undisputed most favourite character in this series from the 1st moment she appeared until the last. I am still very much surprised how come Onn Sin was never much talked about as everyone seems to talk about Yuk Ying or Yu Fei, mostly Yu Fei. For me Onn Sin is a gold mine of a character and wonderfully portrayed and brought to life by Maggie Cheung who gave one of her best performance ever. Perhaps her character is not as "out" as Yu Fei or Yuk Ying. When I started this series, Onn Sin was like the character I depend on for plot development. Because she didn't start right away as concubine and so the journey with her is more complete, if I am making any sense. I see her through her ups and downs, her happiness and sadness, her reluctance and her givingness and her lapses to deception and quite frankly, the most stupid scripting moment of this series was when she became a concubine. But all in all, it was such a great journey and Onn Sin was to me my most familiar character in this series. And the best of all, the most consistent thing about this character is her biggest flaw which is also her most beautiful feature; her kind heart. She got herself embroiled in the fight between the empress and Yu Fei, Yee Soon and Yuk Ying and everybody else because she has the integrity and the dignity not to succumb to the easy road that is to spy, to hurt, to harm others. She did in one scene tried to do harm to Yee Soon but she was so regretful she went to Yee Soon to apologise to her. She is a good person and I think such a strong presence in this series. A pity not many noticed her because she is a very understated subdued type of presence. She is not so in front but look carefully and she is always lurking behind and everything that happens she is involved in some ways. It helps Maggie Cheung was wonderful. I must say this of Maggie Cheung which I have stated before; I saw Lisa Wong giving an interview and she described her approach to a character that is to invent a history for the character although it is not shown in the series. That way the character would come with personality, a history, a sense of weight in character. I thought she was describing Maggie Cheung because I said this of her in some review of mine. Even her worst performance would seem to have some history behind it. There is a certain whole being with her performance. Some actresses do it like scene per scene and unconnected but Maggie Cheung's performance is consistent, in this series especially. I am glad to note she has less of those shaking her head movements that she had in her earlier series, and although she is much older and slimmer, I thought she looked so pretty and still glamarous enough. She has star looks but that is besides the point. Her performance, if there is a real Emmy Awards in HK should have earned her a nomination as Best Actress and if I may say, she should have won. Gigi Lai is nowhere in her league but then she won for Most Favourite Performance which is a popularity award and not an award based on merit. The problem with Maggie in this series is her lack of presence in the promotion and her character is not so emotionally transparent which I guess why she didn't get much recognition for this role. A pity if you ask me.
Another character which became more and more engaging as she had less and less to do is the character of Yee Soon, whose performance by Charmaine Sheh became better and better as the series went on and on. She wasn't good at first, in fact when she had to be emotional and do the dirty deeds I thought Charmaine didn't look despicable or ruthless enough. Her movements looked too deliberate instead of despicable type of calculative moves. She seems forever stuck in I am Charmaine Sheh mode and didn't quite fit into the character of Yee Soon. At that point if Yee Soon was portrayed by a better actress it would have been an excellent character to watch because Yee Soon is not evil; she is a mere puppet and often ruled by her heart. She hates Yuk Ying because Bak Yeung loves her but in the end she realises she must let go of her love for Bak Yeung to let go of her hatred of Yuk Ying. After all it isn't Yuk Ying's fault that Bak Yeung falls for her. Yee Soon's relationship with Onn Sin is also very interesting to watch as I kinda get this feeling that Yee Soon trusts Onn Sin and wants her as an ally and also as a friend but she feels very betrayed when Onn Sin helps Yuk Ying and even very hurt when Onn Sin is the one who instigated the plan to cause her downfall. There is a certain something between these two that is not fully explored by the writer and if he did explore it I am sure the script may shift towards their mutual recognition and friendship. A skip of a few episodes later in the last episode we will get to see that recognition and friendship that is moving, inspiring and sad as Onn Sin laid dying but assured Yee Soon about the future whilst Yee Soon learns to live for herself. It would have been great if greater emphasis was given on these two and their friendship instead of trivial stuff like Yee Soon getting unreasonably jealous and mean to Yuk Ying for like many many moments which was getting a bit boring. Charmaine Sheh did justice to this character when her character shifted gear as in from very out there to being very morose, subdued and often depressed looking. I see Yee Soon as someone wallowing in melancholy and she should be since she thought her sister died and the man she loved didn't love her back. All her life she lives on the one hope; that one day she could be reunited with her long lost sister. Even until the end she never knew Fook Nga was her sister but she treated Fook Nga as one, by some strange twist of fate. When that hope was grabbed from her by that mean evil Eunuch Tsui, she lived on the hope perhaps that Bak Yeung will one day return her love but that hope was dashed when she knew for sure he loved Yuk Ying enough to jeapordise his own future. Which was way in the last episode she was walking aimlessly as she thought she lost everything. In the greatest twist of irony, someone who hasn't a thing to live for has a chance to live her life and Onn Sin before her death told Yee Soon just that. It was a very touching and profound scene. Charmaine Sheh excels in those quiet moments when she simply in a low voice speak her lines without shouting nor high screeching voice. She sighed a lot and to me that is appropriate. Her eyes was always downcast, she looked very pale and sickly, as if without much hope and her eyes always brimming with tears. I am very satisfied with her performance in the later part and I hope she will get to play more of such characters or maybe she will realise her strength as an actress is not to overact but to just act. In fact this performance is somewhat akin to her performance in An Herbalist Affair, my most favourite peformance of hers.
My most favourite older character that is also my most favourite male character in this series (even more favourite than Hung Mo) is the character of Suen Ching Wah. I was very annoyed with Chan Hung Lit's accent but once I got used to it and became better at deciphering what the heck he was talking about, I began to appreciate the development of his character. His character is intriguing in the sense that you know he must have done something bad in the past and it has something to do with the empress but you will have to wait to know the answer. And after the knowing the answer you still like him because from day 1 until last episode he proves himself to be a man of integrity and honour, forced by his master to do her bidding, which was his one mistake in his career was to become ambitious. His best moment was when he refused to help the empress anymore, even chastising her. There were great moments like he apologised to Yu Fei for what he did in the past, the way he scolded his son everytime he sees him and yet you know he loves his son very very much. He could be a misunderstood father and when Bak Yeung finally realised how much his father loved him, it was such an emotional reunion that my tears kinda like you know...well you know lar! But it was the ending that made me take out my tissue paper. The ending for Bak Yeung may make many cry but to me it was like "Serves him well for being such a dumbo for falling for that trash" because it is true. But when Suen Ching Wah, whom in my thoughts I called him Senior Suen started crying on the ground, that max 1 min scene had me dabbing my tears on my cheek because so sad, just too sad. Suen Ching Wah is a bit like Onn Sin, the voice of reason in this series but Onn Sin got misdirected by her desire for revenge. Suen Ching Wah never faltered and he truly redeemed himself by doing what he could for Yu Fei and for his love for his family, daughter in law and especially his son. An excellent character that should have won Best Supporting Actor. Chan Hung Lit was horribly inadequate in Point of No Return because his character there was so poorly written that it was like a caricature. Here Suen Ching Wah is a character so well written and luckily so well portrayed that it has become a very memorable character for me and till now I can remember his ups and downs. A pity his Cantonese is way off the mark you know but from those words that I can understand and from his very expressive eyes, I can safely say Chan Hung Lit gave his best performance in this series thus far (but I haven't seen much of his series). Who with better Cantonese could have played this character well? On the top of my mind is Wong Wai but I want him as the emperor. Chun Pui may not be right for this role since he is so overexposed, you expect him to be great and when he is just good you might feel disappointed. Can't think of anybody. Anybody but Wu Fung or that monotone old man.
Rebecca Chan was another one I was very very impressed with. Her costume and make up is the best throughout this series and I am glad the producers did not change the fact; that she is the empress and so she must be best dressed. Not overdressed but best dressed. Some other series may see her shabily dressed whilst most famous actresses better dressed which would kill the effect of this series. The other better dressed one is Sheren Teng and still not as glamarous and empress-like as Rebecca Chan who looked stunningly beautiful. Anyway I thought her performance in here alone deserved the veteran award but since this is a popularity award, and not an award based solely on merit, a pity. She truly deserves Best Supporting Actress award if there is one. Her empress is calculative. She seems too agreeable at first, but towards the middle she showed her true colours and then in the end she became so frustrated and almost manic. Her best moments are those sparring with Yu Fei but after a while it does get tiring when they kept fighting and fighting. Whilst everybody hated the empress, I don't really hate this character. I know she is evil and she is evil but everybody hated her quite simply because they loved Yu Fei and I don't like Yu Fei at all, redeemed or otherwise in character because she did do what the Empress did to others save for abortions. I understand why the empress did what she did and I think the character Suen Ching Wah explained it well when he said she did all that to protect her position. It is understandable since the palace is such a cruel place. What I didn't like though is the sudden plot of killing Onn Sin's grandma to make her stay in the palace. This does not make sense. She is an empress, she is arrogant, she hates Yu Fei for usurping into her position because she thinks of herself as the highly exalted one, so why would someone who thinks so highly of herself and so ruthless would care whether an insignificant palace maid leaves or stays? My only explanation for this is deep down the empress is very insecure which is true if you watch the character from beginning till the end. Insecure in the sense that she is paranoid that everybody not on her side is on Yu Fei's side as Yu Fei is as paranoid that anyone not on her side is plotting her downfall by assisting the empress. But this is still a plot hole that I did not like. It is the writer's way of bringing Onn Sin into the fight but it is quite simply a stupid plot hole in terms of Onn Sin because watch this series and you will realise she didn't do anything as a concubine that she can't do as the palace maid.
The rest of the cast are either mediocre or good but became mediocre or quite simply really bad.
On top of my list is Gigi Lai who plays Yuk Ying. She is so bad and becoming more and more bad that in the end when she was quite ok, I was so annoyed with her I didn't quite bother whether her character lives or dies. Many times I felt like changing the channel because Gigi Lai was unbearably bad. Her character was also a bit psychotic as in schizophrenic. You see she started out like quite smart and conniving but then we will find out that she did all that for her mother and suddenly she seems nice and dumb but then when she felt betrayed by Onn Sin she became ruthless and unreasonable and even when she knew people did what they did for a reason, she became calculative and conniving and yet sometimes she acts as if she is not that bad but yet she seems that bad. Either the writer can't make up his mind what to do with this character or Gigi Lai didn't quite understand her character. There is no singular purpose or direction for this character that is at all times coherent, consistent and ...let me think of another word that starts with "C"...complete. Her character is like sometimes this, suddenly that, suddenly this again and suddenly that again that it is very frustrating to watch. I was hoping for a nice finale in the sense she confronts Onn Sin and Yee Soon and thus confronts her own inner demons and for better or for worse knew she was such a pain in the a** before but no such confrontation. She simply dies, leaving the possibilities open ended. Possibilities as in the relationship between the women. No closure which is a complete waste of time. Her character also slept with Bak Yeung, got pregnant and tried to pass off the pregnancy as the emperor's. She uses Bak Yeung but when he was about to leave she begs him not to go as if she loves him. Does she love him? Maybe. But by that time I don't really care if she loved him or not and I just wanted her dead. This in part because her character was not only ambigous (as in did she love him, was she genuinely nice to Onn Sin - one thing was clear, she loved her mother above all else, her only virtue) but also because Gigi Lai was perhaps the worst casting decision anyone could make. Yuk Ying is supposed to be drop dead gorgeous but for Gigi's performance, I agree on the drop dead but gorgeous? Oh please! There was this deliberate scene to highlight her beauty where he face was covered with I think mud or something and she was held hostage and the rain water I think cleaned out the mud and the camera slowly zoom into her face, to tell us of course that "SEE! SHE'S SO BEAUTIFUL! SO BEAUTIFUL!! LOOK! STARE!! ADMIRE!!!!!!!!!!" when all I could see was why on earth Gigi Lai overact so much in this scene. She looks great fo a woman her age but put it this way, her situation is the same as that actress that was chosen to play Helen of Troy in Troy, I think her name is Diane Kruger. A face that launched a thousand ship? Maybe a sampan or two but hardly a ship, more so a thousand. The difference between pretty and drop dead gorgeous is very very wide and Gigi Lai did not fit the description. And it doesn't help at all her performance was painful to watch, listen and even to concentrate on. She talks like she's forever having breathing problems, imagine Marilyn Monroe after she ran 100 laps without an oxygen tank by her side and truly it's not sexy at all. Her facial expressions may be well suited for theatre acting, because you sit like 100 rows away so you can't see much but on televisyen, that ladies and gentleman is called OVERACTING. Hers is worse than overacting, hers is over the mount everest type of acting, as in so over the overacting. She has moments of godzilla type of acting where to convey rage, instead of quiet malicious back stabbing that one would expect from someone of Yuk Ying's background, Gigi Lai preferred the more "seen" type of rage; she threw the chairs, she ripped the curtains, etc etc etc. Think Ma Jing Tao on an extremely aggressive day. I can't stop raging about her because she was horrible. I now truly believe that there is such thing as "boiling water" because people raved about her performance and when I watched it I was like "Is that it? Charmaine Sheh did way better man!". BUT to be fair she had good moments which you can count on your left hand, and still can't fill the 5 fingers. Let's see, like when she was more subdued in her acting when with her mother, her sparring of words with Yee Soon. The rest are bad, worse, worst and no medicine can help type of verdict. Even when she was shaking with fear when she was questioned by Yu Fei, ok the fear looked genuine as her eyes darted rapidly left right and her hands shaking more violently than a 100 year old man with Parkinson's Disease. This is her acting in here; so in your face and so annoying. The problem is her timing was all off. Yuk Ying didn't know why Yu Fei asked her there and already she was shaking like nobody's business, as if in aniticipation and knowing what Yu Fei was going to say when she didn't know. Gigi Lai wasn't always that overacting, but this has got to be her worst performance. I expected much more subdued actions for someone as conniving as Yuk Ying but this woman spoilt the show. Her worst scene? More on that later. Anyway shoot me if you want but I kinda fancy Anne Heung in this role. Similar in the way she talks like Gigi Lai but at least Anne Heung will look great in those Manchurian costume with her swan like neck although her beauty can hardly launch a kayak if you ask me.
Sheren Teng gave a credible performance but I wasn't quite taken by her Yu Fei as everybody was. I think I know why her Yu Fei is so popular because let's put it this way; people don't like a bully and we applaud those who fights back the bully. In this series everybody immediately identifies the empress as the bully and Yu Fei the person who fought back. So naturally people will favour Yu Fei rather than the empress, more so when we know about what Yu Fei went through. The mistake of this series in my opinion towards this character is to begin the series with her executing a concubine. So whatever the empress did to her is frankly to me fair game because she herself did those things to others. Maybe not as ruthless but she's really not that nice. She herself is a bully, as she bullied Yuk Ying and especially Onn Sin to get what she wanted. That was why I never liked her much because she is not very likeable. I even applaud the fact that the empress gave her some lessons in being a bit more humble in the empress' presence. It doesn't help that Sheren Teng has this perpetual arrogant I don't care what you think look. But as the series revealed her background, again it was a mistake in scripting. It was revealed much too late for her character to become likeable on her own merit, whatever that the empress did to her was only told in a few sentences when emphasis should have been given on that particular scene or perhaps a flashback or two. We have the essential "We must pity her" scenes like her concern for her daughter, the death of her daughter, the way she helped Hung Mo, the way she stayed back in the palace to divert attention and her ending scene with her standing all alone against the sunset, so lonely, so alone in the miserable cruel palace. But I still don't pity her because she did used her daughter, she never really cared for her daughter much until when she was down and out and the reason she refused to leave the palace was mainly because she can't cope with the outside world. Her character didn't quite feel remorseful for what she did in the past and in a way that is real and practical; after all what was done was done, nothing she can do to undo them. Whatever she did later on was mainly because of one man, not because she wanted to by her own accord. You can say she didn't have to help Onn Sin the way she did but she did because she couldn't bear to see Hung Mo hurt. She may be less arrogant, less ruthless, more subdued, more careful in what she was doing in later parts but in no way an angel or someone good that deserves to be applauded. Maybe the audiences may not applaud her but there is no denying they like her Yu Fei because they find Yu Fei likeable. I don't. I still don't, even now as I am typing this review. One way that could redeem this character is to fully explain that she was the one who sewn that handkerchief with poem that Hung Mo so treasured. We all know she was the lonely soul in that poem but this series simply glazed over that fact and ended with her reciting the poem. I want to see a recognition, that one scene that shows that truly she was once that pitiful lonely soul driven to extreme actions. Maybe she may still be unlikeable but at least there is a connection, a consistency in the plot and the correct emphasis. The guys didn't matter, the women did but somehow the glory was snatched away from the female characters and placed on the male characters. Again, a pity. Sheren Teng played this character like she portrayed all her other characters. I see no breakthrough. It is a good performance but nothing that should be deserving of such huge controversies over the awards. I guess in a way the reaction is like that because Gigi Lai was so inadequate, it just shows how good Sheren Teng was and to award mediocrity over a good performance is an outrage. If that is the reason, I agree. But between Sheren Teng and Rebecca Chan, two veteran and senior actressess, sorry to say for me Rebecca Chan was the more superior one because that was the Rebecca Chan I never quite seen before. Sheren Teng has one expression throughout this series; arrogant look. Her nose always pointing to the sky. I would think many actresses would be great in this character; from the retired Mariane Chen to Florence Kwok. But my personal preference is Hong Wah. A pity she is not famous enough to be given this coveted role or be involved in a big production.
Bowie Lam has always been a wonderful actor capable of a variety of roles, her best performance thus far for me is Vigilante Force where he managed to make me love his chauvinistic character. There is a certain consistency in all his performances and even when he had the same expression or voice throughout, his performance is always very much a joy to watch. In this series his character Suen Bak Yeung will swing in 2 extremes. One is ambitious, arrogant and sometimes preachy, the other end is love sick, stupid and always deserving of a kick in his face. A fly kick actually. I don't like how his character becoming so extreme in emotions that it seems like a black hole in the middle; like suddenly he's like that. Bowie didn't do too well in the beginning as he seems too uncomfortable with the speech and the words he had to used. He seems like reciting the sutra ("pui king") for the first few episodes that it was quite frustrating to watch. His expressions were all there but his manner of speech was inadequate. He got better when he didn't have to talk about medicine, when the script abandoned the pretentiousness of the classical language and incorporated some modern words. His best scenes are always those with Chan Hung Lit, full of emotion, acting and essentially the actors compliment one another. It helps he didn't talk much since Chan Hung Lit talked more. Towards the end when his character became a love sick idiot, that was when Bowie Lam faltered. His expression was still there, speech quite ok but somehow Bowie doesn't strike me as someone emotionally vulnerable. He couldn't potray the hurt and the rejection that Bak Yeung faced and the betrayal he had to endure at the hands of a selfish woman like Yuk Ying. Quite simply he didn't look dejected enough when his character was going through that melancholy depressed look kinda phase that the Korean actors could do so well. He didn't look like he lost all hope. And he didn't look like a changed man. Bak Yeung was supposed to be arrogant and full of confidence in the beginning but because of Yuk Ying, he became morose, subdued and more importantly no confidence. Bowie couldn't register that on his face and to me it was a poor performance that didn't quite deserve a best acting award but admittedly, he is popular so I must remind myself, it was a popularity award he won. I won't say Bowie was badly cast or even a miscast but I would think Kong Wah would have been perfect for this role since Kong Wah has this learned gentlemanly type of personality that fits very well with such ancient type of character. And he does have that the sky is going to fall down on my back look.
Irene Lam I must mention was quite convincing as the gentle and agreeable wife of Bak Yeung. Her role is small but the impact is there. I kept asking "Why can't Bak Yeung fall in love with this nice girl instead of that godzilla?". Een Heung Fau is better than that woman.
Jade Leung was a big surprise. She looked very pretty in here, and clearly costume drama suits her looks. She did well in her performance as the sickly Fook Nga but two things I didn't quite like about her performance; one she talks almost like Gigi Lai as in a breathless manner but not that breathless. She must try to just find a speech coach because I find it hard to understand her speech as she doesn't talk clearly. Secondly her death scene was far too long that it kills the suspense, kills the emotions and almost kills me as I was counting how long it takes for her to die. Another actress who could have given this role justice is Louisa So. Just a thought.
Wai Kah Hung's performance is ok marred by the fact that his character is wasted in here and his ending was pure scripting silliness and also because the writer just feels like killing someone.
The veterans all did reasonably well although Lo Hoi Pang faltered a bit because his character made no sense at the end of the day. Yu Yeung who plays the emperor was a complete miscast as he doesn't look like an Emperor, his acting was horrible (matched only by Gigi Lai) and he seems very uncomfortable in those bed scenes with the younger actressess.
Plenty for me to choose from. Which is why I didn't even try to name a most memorable scene. I like the confrontation between Bak Yeung and his father, Suen ChinG Wah with the empress, any scene of Onn Sin and Hung Mo, Onn Sin with everybody else, Yee Soon looking morose, etc etc. But a few stood out; the one where Senior Suen scolding Bak Yeung for getting involved in politics with Yu Fei, the meeting between Senior Suen with Yu Fei and him chastising the empress, the empress gloating in front of a downtrodden Yu Fei and the final scene between Onn Sin and Yee Soon. All very emotionally charged.
Most Romantic Scene
One scene for me and that is the scene I dubbed Winter Sonata scene. There are two in here. One was Onn Sin walking in the foot steps of Hung Mo and they confessing love to one another in not such a clear way and the other is Yu Fei walking in the foot steps of Hung Mo and subsequently he carried her on his back. I melted watching these two scenes. Minor scenes such as the love story between Hung Mo and Onn Sin deserves a mention.
The Most Unromantic Scene
The love story between Yuk Ying and Bak Yeung. Never liked them together. Bak Yeung should have fallen for Fook Nga, Yee Soon or even his own wife.
The Most Intriguing Pair
Pair can be between 2 women. The Empress and Yu Fei are intriguing. Onn Sin and Yee Soon are intriguing. Hung Mo and Onn Sin are intruguing, Yee Soon and Suen Bak Yeung also. For various reasons as explained above.
Most Memorable Individual Scenes
The good and the bad for each major character that I can remember.
Best : That scene where after she spent one night waiting for the emperor who never showed up and she ran into her room after being taunted by Yee Soon and with big tears in her eyes, looking desparately at the portrait of her mom and herself. One of her better scenes.
Worst : All other scenes, one stood out was very early in the series, she was sitting by the lake/river next to Yee Soon having a chat and her breathless voice was annoying to the hilt. Possibly her worst then.
Best : Very difficult to choose as too many. I guess the 1 minute scene where she laid in bed with the emperor's hand over her stomach after well you know..the ermm bedroom exercise thing. Anyway she looked blank and then quietly, gently but firmly whilst staring into space, she pushed the emperor's hands away. A very excellent scene so well done and the meaning so obvious.
Worst : That entire transition scene from palace maid to concubine, stupid scripting.
Best : Quite a few but the one which stood out was when she was telling tearfully to Suen Bak Yeung how much she was suffering and I guess if it went further she would tell him how much she loved him but she didn't as she noticed Suen Bak Yeung's eyes and heart was staring at Yuk Ying's room's door. Her eyes registered such hurt that you feel for her Yee Soon.
Worst : Also quite a few, like when she was bullying Yuk Ying, didn't quite look like a bully but the worst was that scene when she first met Fook Nga and playing kite. She looks pretentiously carefree and happy when she was supposed to be genuinely happy.
Best : All other scenes
Worst : Her dying scene. Too long.
Best : Hard to say but the one which stood out was when she confronted the empress at the end of this series. Very powerful confrontation. I didn't mention that baby dying-crying-praying for baby's soul thing because I missed that episode.
Worst : Hard to say since she's not that bad. Scene wise I can't think of any.
Best : Any scene with Maggie Cheung or Sheren Teng but one stood out which was very romantic although not the most romantic but is the best scene for Hung Mo was when Onn Sin was hanging out the clothes to dry, she turned to her back and he pushed aside the hanging wet blanket or something and stared at her with such intensity.
Worst : Scene wise can't think of one.
Best : Father and son quarrel, always the best.
Worst : Name any scene between him and Gigi Lai, but the worst had to be when he was escorting Fook Nga's coffin and Yuk Ying stopped him and whilst he was discreet when he was talking with her, that scene to me was the worst for Bowie because Gigi Lai was speaking so loud as if she wanted the entire palace to know they were having an affair. Awful performance and I pity Bowie having to act next to this woman.
aka Missing In Action.
Other concubines that are higher ranked than Yu Fei. Ministers. Princess and prince. More eunuchs, more guards. Where are they? I must remind myself, this is a series about that few concubines, very narrow focus so in a way the fight shouldn't involve the princess and prince I guess. But still where are they?
Some performances, most characters, the forbidden palace given much focus towards the end and some cinematography towards the end. But the best of the best has got to be 3 aspects;
1. the unexpected type of ending. I know who died and how they died but I didn't know it was going to end in such a way. Watch it to believe it.
2. the empress didn't die which is great scripting in my opinion and so very unexpected. In the end she was still the empress, and the emperor will continue to let her do what she wishes but he no longer respects her or gives her face. A fate far worse than death.
3. the costumes, especially the empress' and Yu Fei. The concubines seem to have colour coding that matches even the head gear and make up like Yee Soon is sometimes purple ish, Onn Sin is orange-ish, etc etc etc. Even the men's costume, as in Hung Mo looked great.
Some unexplained plots, some forgotten plots, some unnecessary characters, stupid plot developments, sometimes weak scripting saved only by some brilliant moments and horribly bad cinematography in the beginning of the series and even until the end never quite capture the granduer or the big lonely forbidden palace. The themesong and opening theme sequence is actually quite good BUT badly sung by Bowie Lam. A professional singer would have given this song justice instead of butchering it.
But Gigi Lai takes the cake for the worst aspect. And I shall gladly repeat this to anyone who wishes to read it; "Gigi Lai takes the cake for the worst aspect".
Shall I repeat it again? Ok, by popular demand...
Gigi Lai takes the cake for the worst aspect.
Come on, another encore shall we?
Gigi Lai takes the cake for the worst aspect.
Come on, everybody repeat after me and clap your hands whilst you're saying this...in one voice everyone...let me hear you!!
Gigi Lai takes the cake for the worst aspect.
One last time, just one last time, let me hear you in unison and scream like there's no tomorrow!!!
Gigi Lai takes the cake for the worst aspect!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thank you very much. I feel much better now.
Sometimes inconsistent, sometimes weak, sometimes boring, sometimes infuriating, sometimes frustrating, sometimes unintelligable, sometimes way off the mark and sometimes the script could have done well with some editing. But there is no denying that this series is at most times interesting, very engaging, boasts some powerful performances and well acted scenes and some very memorable characters, which one is for you to choose according to your preference.
I had a great time watching this series despite its obvious flaws in the technical sense, historical sense, plot sense and every sense and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I definitely recommend this to everyone who wants to see an entertaining and sometimes moving depiction of certain characters that you will learn to care about. But it is by no means a classic nor does it deserve to be named as a classic. The script is seriously flawed in many areas, some performances are just going to deter you from continuing the series and the ending may leave many fans angry. But continue you must, finish it you must because it is very satisfying.
It is not pure trashy entertainment nor is it an amazing feat of intellectual showcase of power struggles amongst women in the imperial palace as at the end of the day the women in this series are driven not by their ambition but by their personal feelings for a certain person or a certain matter.
At the end of the day this series is not going to provoke you into thinking or anything else but for a piece of entertainment to fill those boring hours, this is a must watch.
Funn Lim out!