Who is the ultimate King Maker? Is it Wayne Lai, the tutor to the first prince, who later became the Crown Prince, who later became the Emperor? Or is it Kent Cheng, the former tutor to the first prince, who later became the tutor to the second prince, who later became the Crown Prince but who later fell from grace?
Confusing? This essentially sums up the show. Kent Cheng and Wayne Lai both play the left and right chancellors. Tung Chiu (Kent Cheng) used to be the tutor to the first prince (Chiu Kwai Shing, played by Pierre Ngo) before he was interred as Crown Prince, but when he was captured by the Jins and kept in the Jin camp for the next ten years, Tung Chiu then switched alliance to the second prince (Chiu Kwai Wo, played by Chris Lai) who became the next Crown Prince for the next ten years.
On the surface, it seemed that he switched his allegiance to the evil Imperial Concubine Wai (played by Florence Kwok) and her brother Yeung Chi San (played by Lee Kwok Lun), but later on it was found out that he was a double agent working for the Empress (played by Kingdom Yuen). Hence on the surface he was helping the second prince but he was actually waiting his time to plot against Consort Wai, Yeung Chi San and Prince Wo.
What about Wayne Lai? He is Yu Ching, eldest son of the former Grand Tutor, who is loyal to the Song court. Because eldest prince Shing was capturd by the Jin, Yu Ching was blamed and exiled to a prison island for the next ten years. Due to that, he had to break off the engagement with Tung Chiu's daughter Yuk Kiu (Elaine Yiu), and lost touch with his 2 younger siblings Yu Tsing (Patrick Tang) and Yu Jing (Natalie Tong). Yu Tsing later got conned to become an eunuch Sheung Hei and Yu Jing lost her memory and got adopted and taken care of by Pang Kwok Chu (Shek Sau) and Yim Sam Leung (Kristal Tin).
Why ten years? Prince Shing was tortured and abused for ten years, but somehow the Jins agreed to release Prince Shing after ten years, hence the Emperor (Samuel Kwok) granted an amnesty and pardoned all convicts who have served ten years, so Yu Ching was finally able to go home.
After many twists and turns, the evil trio of Yeung Chi San, Prince Wo and Consort Wai were finally defeated. Yeung Chi San was executed, and his son was exiled. Prince Wo was demoted to a commoner, and Consort Wai was relegated to the cold palace and fell out of the Emperor's favour.
This is where the show should end. The evil-doers had been punished, the Emperor's throne is secure, and the first prince got reinstated back as Crown Prince and he would be the next in line. Yu Ching had also gotten to know and reunited with his true siblings.
However, the show did not end here. The remaining eight episodes shifted its focus to Tung Chiu, and how instead of being loyal to the Empress, he wanted the throne for himself, hence he started turning against everyone else, and somehow it was always Yu Ching who thwarted his attempts. That was when the show started becoming draggy.
The first twenty episodes were captivating. But after the evil-doers got what they deserved, the rest of the show went downhill from there. It became too much plotting and backstabbing until to a certain extent I do not even know who is good and who is bad anymore.
All I know is at the end, Tung Chiu's attempts at a coup got found out and Prince Shing successfully inherited the throne after the Emperor died, and he became the Song Emperor Lizong. His real parentage remained a secret. He pledged to become a better Emperor than his father, and Yu Ching willingly helped him, as he thought as long as the Emperor was good, it did not matter whether he was of royal blood.
Although in real history, Emperor Lizong was nothing outstanding. He did not make much of a difference to the dynasty, and after him, the dynasty started failing even more. His successor (his nephew, supposedly the son of Chris Lai's character) did not do a good job either.
This show captivated me in the beginning, but it got rather draggy at certain parts. The show should just wrap up after the evil-doers were punished, but intsead it dragged on to uncover more plots and twists. It makes me wonder, can one person really plot and plan so much? And why is it Yu Ching always seems to know what Tung Chiu was up to and one step before him?
Despite the draggy plot, the actors played their roles well. Pierre Ngo is outstanding. I think he is really under rated and under utilised. He seems to be a much better actor than a lot of up and comers. His trauma when he was released by the Jin court and subsequent "madness" is really well played out that people actually believed he lost his wits! Although I thought his recovery was too sudden. One minute he was still mad, and all of a sudden he could get his senses back.
Chris Lai as the second prince was nothing outstanding. He always seemed to have the same expression throughout, be it angry or sad. But at least he reformed and did not turn against his brother in the end, and willingly left the palace to start life anew elsewhere as a commoner.
The stars of the show are of course Kent Cheng and Wayne Lai. Kent Cheng stole the show. How come he was not even nominated for Best Actor? He definitely deserves it for this show! It is really enjoyable to see how these 2 great actors fight it out! By the way, why did he keep calling his son (Eric Li) "Chu Sheng" (rascal / brat), and his son could respond as if nothing was wrong? I thought the son would be angry his father kept calling him that!
The most pitiable character would be Vivian Yeo, as wife to Prince Shing. She was pregnant with his child when he was captured by the Jins, then miscarried due to a scheme by evil Concubine Wai, and then she had to wait ten years for his return. Upon his return she took care of him despite how he was. And then when he got back his senses, all of a sudden he said he was in love with Natalie Tong, a girl of "dubious" background? Which wife can take that? Natalie Tong also started being nasty to her, yet when she started fighting back, the prince had her taken away and never wanted to see her again, making Natalie Tong the new Empress instead. Who can then blame her for what she did? She wasted her life away because of her husband.
The other pitiable character would be Elaine Yiu's Tung Yuk Kiu. It was already pitiful that Yu Ching broke up with her due to his exile, then her father used her, and then she reluctantly married Yeung Chi San, and suffered his philandering, torture and abuse for the next ten years. When Yu Ching finally returned, she thought she could start over with him and took the risk to run away from the Yeung household, yet Yu Ching rejected her outfront. Small wonder she turned so bitter, yet her love for him never faltered.
For Yu Ching, I wonder if he felt guilty that everyone died for him? His girlfriend Sam Leung, his brother Sheung Hei / Yu Tsing, even his ex-girlfriend Yuk Kiu. Seemes that anyone connected to him started dying because of him.
Even though this show has too many twists and turns, it is overall not a bad show. The drama achieved its objectives on showing who the ultimate King Maker is. And that even though the Emperor is supposed to be the most important person in the world, he cannot do without his advisor - the King Maker, to run the country effectively.
I believe this is the first time TVB attempted a show like this, instead of imperial concubines fighting with each other, so this is a pretty refreshing take on a period drama. Plus it was set in the Song Dynasty, an era that TVB seldom touch on. It is a pretty good effort on the producers to come up with a show like this.