Benny Chan- Na Lan Rong Ruo
Hao Lei- Kong Si Zhen
Gao Yuan Yuan- Shen Wan/ Zi Yan
Lu Xing- Emperor Kang Xi
Du Yu Lu- Na Lan Ming Zhu
Zhang Na- Yu Chan
Gui Ya Lei- Empress Dowager Xiao Zhuang
Zhang Feng Shu- Guan Ying Xing
Li Yu Ze- Suo La Wang
Zhang Cheng Guang- Sun Yan Ling
Lin Xiang Ping- Yi Wa
Du Zhi Guo- Ao Bai
Zhou Gui Yuan- Suo Er Tu
Total Episodes: 40
Plot (warning, spoilers ahead!)
Set in the early Qing dynasty, the story opens with the power struggle between a court official, Na Lan Ming Zhu (Du Yu Lu) and the powerful Prime Minister Ao Bai (Du Zhi Guo). The family of Ming Zhu's wife has committed a terrible offence and Ao Bai grabs the chance to sentence everyone related to them to death. Ming Zhu and his son, Rong Ruo (Benny Chan) escape death when Ming Zhu's wife kills herself, so as not to implicate her husband and son. More than ten years later, Rong Ruo grows up to be a talented but carefree poet who doesn't believe in social conventions. While out roaming in the outskirts of the imperial palace one day, he mistakenly enters the tomb of the late emperor Fu Luo and chances upon a ghostly young girl living in there. He finds out that she's concubine Kong Si Zhen (Hao Lei) who's supposed to be betrothed to the late emperor and she's awaiting the day to buried alive with him. Rong Ruo takes pity on her and helps her escape only to be discovered and imprisoned by Empress Dowager Xiao Zhuang (Gui Ya Lei).
Ao Bai is in glee as Ming Zhu has gotten into the Emperor and Dowager's bad books due to the inappropriate actions of his son. Kang Xi realizes that Si Zhen was the little princess who used to play with him when he was young and plans to allow Rong Ruo to escape with her. Ao Bai sends people after them and forces Ming Zhu to accept a planned marriage between his niece and Rong Ruo. Si Zhen and Rong Ruo fall in love after spending time together on the run and he brings her back home to hide from Ao Bai's men, only to be found out and separated a short while after. Ming Zhu becomes Kang Xi's favorite prime minister after he and Rong Ruo overthrow the tyrannical Ao Bai. Si Zhen later gives up on Rong Ruo and he's forced to marry Ao Bai's kind-hearted niece, Yu Chan (Zhang Na). To punish Si Zhen, the empress dowager marries Si Zhen off to General Sun Yan Ling in Guang Xi. The latter dotes on her very much but Si Zhen is indifferent towards him.
Meanwhile, Rong Ruo learns to accept Yu Chan and she gets pregnant. Kang Xi sends Rong Ruo and Suo La Wang (Li Yu Zhe) to Guang Xi when Wu San Gui, a previous Ming general, wants to persuade Sun Yan Ling to rebel against the Manchus. After much persuasion and due to the love he has towards his wife, Sun Yan Ling decides to battle his troops against Wu San Gui and dies as a result. Si Zhen kills herself out of guilt, leaving Rong Ruo heartbroken. He suffers another blow when he returns home and learns that the weak and sickly Yu Chan has passed away.
Rong Ruo lives life in a daze and drowns himself in sorrow for a year till he meets an unusual girl selling her tears in the streets so as to earn money for her late mother's burial. He sympathizes with her and buys her tears. Kang Xi, who likes Rong Ruo, suggests to La Wang that they bring the former to Jiang Nan for a trip to cheer him up. They reach Yang Zhou and keep their identities a secret. While Kang Xi falls hard for a songstress named Zi Yan (Gao Yuan Yuan) Rong Ruo chances upon an abandoned residence belonging to a well-known writer, Shen Yi Shi, and learns that the latter is imprisoned for slandering the imperial family. He reads some beautiful works by Yi Shi's daughter, Shen Wan, and falls for her even though he's never met her before. He later meets Zi Yan and finds out that she's the girl whom he bought tears from. La Wang's father, Suo Er Tu (Zhou Gui Yuan) is a rival of Ming Zhu and implores his son to spy on Guan Yun Heng, a wealthy man in Yang Zhou as Er Tu receives info that Ming Zhu has some dirty dealings with Yun Heng. La Wang disguises himself as a servant in the Guan residence and falls for Guan Yun Heng's spoilt daughter, Guan Ying Xing (Zhang Feng Shu) and is jealous when she only has eyes for Rong Ruo. His hatred for Rong Ruo intensifies.
Meanwhile, Zi Yan falls for Rong Ruo and he returns her love when he discovers that she's actually Shen Wan. She tells him that her father is framed and Rong Ruo promises to seek help from his father to help Shen Wan clear her father's name. While staying at Rong Ruo's place, Shen Wan discovers her father's personal diary hidden in Ming Zhu's room and learns that he and Guan Yun Heng set her father up as he knew about their corrupted dealings. However, she hesitates to present the evidence as she worries for Rong Ruo and later breaks up with him. Ying Xing asks her father to betroth her to Rong Ruo and Ming Zhu agrees to it, making La Wang furious as he plots to harm Rong Ruo. Shen Wan pleads to Kang Xi but he tells her he cannot release her father without evidence. Suo Er Tu wants his daughter to gain favor from Kang Xi and is afraid that he only cares about Shen Wan, so devises a plot for Kang Xi to pretend to execute a 'fake' Shen Yi Shi while helping the real one escape, so that the latter will live but never be cleared of his charges, therefore thwarting Kang Xi's plans on bestowing a royal title on Shen Wan since she'll always be a criminal's daughter.
Though Shen Wan is grateful to Kang Xi, she only loves Rong Ruo and leaves to live with her father in the countryside after being instigated by Suo Er Tu. Rong Ruo is furious when he finds out that his father framed Shen Yi Shi and leaves home in search of Shen Wan. She's devastated when her father is killed and the diary missing but Rong Ruo comforts her and they get married before he brings her back to the city in search of the culprit. They are hostile towards Ming Zhu as they suspect him but unknown to them, Suo Er Tu and son are the culprits.
They kill Guan Yun Heng and lie to Kang Xi that they found Shen Yi Shi's diary recording Ming Zhu's ill dealings in Yun Heng's room. Kang Xi is forced to strip Ming Zhu off his position and confiscate his wealth. Meanwhile, Ying Xing is maddened that Rong Ruo is staying outside with Shen Wan and forces her to leave when Rong Ruo is out. She injured Shen Wan and Kang Xi saves her, but in the confusion, several assassins turn up for Kang Xi and Shen Wan dies while shielding him. Rong Ruo loses all hope in life after Shen Wan dies and request to go to the front to fight in the ongoing war. Three months later, Ming Zhu is devastated when he receives news of his son's death in the war.
When I started watching the series, I thought it was going to be a very slow-paced and draggy one, with lots of talking and not much action but surprisingly, I started to like the series as it progressed, the plot is rather interesting with different twists regarding issues of politics, power, romance etc. It's not just another predictable and shallow Qing series. However, I found certain parts a little rushed (fault of the editors I suppose because a couple of scenes were cut rather abruptly. The ending, where Shen Wan was injured and Kang Xi came to save her, only to spring out somemore assassins was really rushed and messy. The romance was too heartbreaking though, it's depressing to see the women die one after another, which is too typical of those tragic Taiwanese melodramas. But I thought that the ending was especially touching, especially when Rong Ruo and his father finally had the chance to sit down and talk like family and we see that despite all the hostility, they still care for each other. It was particularly heart-wrenching the last part when Ming Zhu seemed to lose all hope in living after Rong Ruo left. The sad flute tunes Rong Ruo played, the sorrowful qin tunes played by Shen Wan and the ending theme piece were just all so beautiful.
Benny Chan- Na Lan Rong Ruo
I think Benny has improved a lot in this series; his expressions are natural and his emotions, real. He made me feel for his tragic role of the sorrowful poet and his depressing moods and heartbroken states after he loved ones died was convincing. He was also great with the dramatic and carefree side of his character, especially when he's at odds with his father. Out of all the women, he sparked most chemistry with Hao Lei.
Hao Lei- Kong Si Zhen
This is the first time I'm seeing Hao Lei onscreen and I must say she's really very beautiful in period costumes. She does that fragile and soft look very well, and looked so afraid and innocent when she first stepped out of the tomb that guys just want to rush over and protect her. I didn't really like her character much though after she was married off and thought she was better in the first part, but she was quite convincing with the stubborn attitude she displays in front of her husband.
Gao Yuan Yuan- Shen Wan
I like Yuan Yuan as an actress but I'm disappointed to say that she didn't really shine through her role in this series. Her role, Shen Wan, though talented in all areas, is rather bland and lacking in depth. Shen Wan was just all sad, weak and emotionless most of the time and I thought Yuan Yuan did not put in enough energy; her character becomes more likeable after she found her father. Like Hao Lei, she's beautiful, poignant and great in crying scenes. However, the role doesn't do much justice to her acting skills and she lacks chemistry with Benny, but looks very matching with Lu Xing.
Lu Xing- Kang Xi
Lu Xing did an average job as the young and ambitious Emperor Kang Xi, though he still needs to work more on his expressions, which is limited to furious and dazed ones. He also seems rather uncertain on what expressions to portray at certain scenes, and does nothing but frown. He has to improve more on his crying which was horrible during Shen Wan's dying scene. His forced sadness and obvious eye-drop tears just spoiled the whole atmosphere for me.
Du Yu Lu- Na Lan Ming Zhu
An above average job by him as the cunning Ming Zhu. He seemed a little out of breath in certain scenes, or was it the dubbing? As mentioned above, the ending scenes where he mourned for his son was very touching and the way he always acts helpless and frustrated with Rong Ruo is convincing.
Zhang Na- Yu Chan
Her role, like Yuan Yuan's is not outstanding and doesn't require a variety of expressions except soft and fragile ones when she's sick and vulnerable and sweet smiley ones when she's happy. Her character's impossible to dislike and Zhang Na is really sweet looking with average acting skills.
All in all, a good series with good casts, beautiful instrumental themes, touching scenes and a good plot. But if you're expecting a wuxia, action-packed, fast and somewhat modern script, this is not the series for you. You may also want to skip it if you're not into palace politics, power struggles and heartbreaking romance.