The Emperor's Harem


Reviewed by: sukting

December 29, 2013

Rating: three

Foreword
Ming Emperor Xian Zong had yet to produce a male heir. The worried court officials pressured the Emperor to take on new consorts. Thus, the door to the Royal Harem opened to four women who would later cause havoc in the palace. Will he get a heir in the end? How did Yeung Yee fare in this mainland production?

Story/Introduction on characters
1. An Yi Xuan as Shao Chun Hua / Li Zi Yun Her real name is Zi Yun. She is intellectual, gentle and helpful. She has great musical talent. She doesn't want to have a rocky life but in order to repay the debt owed to Marquis Shao who saves her after she becomes an orphan, she takes up Chun Hua's name. But she is too smart to offend every woman – the empress dowager and the consorts. Even though she is a musician, she gets promoted fast.

She helps her sisters and nearly gets killed. Luckily, Zhi comes to the rescue. She goes through lots of hardship before she can marry Yong. There isn't much change from her usual long suffering roles. More focus seem to be on Yee than on her.

2. Feng Shao Feng as Yang Yong
He is a gentle but reckless scholar. He is also musically inclined and wants to seek revenge for his elder brother who is killed by Zhi. Zhen'er has framed his brother of killing Cheng Hua's uncle.

He becomes a palace musician through his servant's advice and falls for Chun Hua. He is helpless to see her getting ‘married' to Zhi as he has no other way to save her life. His planned assassination to kill Zhi fails and has to get help from her to escape. They finally end up together after escaping from the palace. His role can be seen as insignificant and his acting is boring. Sad but I feel Chun Hua deserves someone better.

I can't believe that he is the male lead as Yiu Mun steals the show from him. I will have to ask other friends to watch ‘Lan Ling Wang' first as I have doubts on how he will handle it before I start.

3. Yeung Yee as Wan Zhen'er (Imperial Consort Wan)
She is formerly a low palace maid and is older than Cheng Hua. She takes care of him when he is young. She is a very cruel person although she looks elegant. She fawns on her success and looks down on others. She kills Cheng Hua's empress to consolidate her position. She isolates the other consorts. She likes to deal with the two empress dowagers. Her own son dies at the age of two and she gets upset when she finds it hard to conceive again. Thus, she forces the other consorts to abort their foetus and cause them to become insane.

Empress Dowager Zhou dislikes her for forbidding Cheng Hua to visit other consorts so she keeps going against her. Yee presents the same way she acts in ‘Beyond the realm of conscience'. I find no different from her Yiu Kum Ling role there.

4. Tam Yim Mun as Wang Zhi
He is in charge of the west factory – an agency which he abuses his authority to get wealth through his wits. He gets Zhen'er's help by pretending to be a eunuch. He is only gentle to one person – Chun Hua. Chun Hua has given him money when he is a young beggar but he causes her parents' deaths by reporting them to court.

He is already greedy with money then. He helps her to survive in the palace out of guilt and also love. Brilliant performance from Yim Mun in this role and I don't know why I can't bring myself to hate this villain as he also shows his kind side. This is so unexpected – he is able to come up with the best idea to save the woman and keep her by his side within the shortest time with his wisdom as she is going to get killed. Not just once but numerous times while Yong only waits for her to be saved. I select him to get the best acting award here.

5. Lv Yi as Shao Qing Zi (Imperial Consort Shao)
Her real name is Chun Hua. She is kind but stubborn and impulse. She escapes the fate of getting into the palace when young but can't run away again when her family becomes poor. She then becomes Pan Hong's foster daughter to become a consort. She likes Fang but cuts ties with him after this.

Qi Qiao helps to provoke misunderstanding between her and Chun Hua. Later Zhen'er works with Qi Qiao to force her to drink abortion medicine when she is pregnant. Luckily, Chun Hua rescues her and she manages to give birth to her son. So she patches up with Chun Hua.

6. Jiang Yi as Zhu Jian Shen (Emperor Cheng Hua)
He is imprisoned by the enemy when young. He is gentle and overly sensitive. Only Zhen'er treats him well so he repays her. He keeps doubting others and lacks security. He pampers Zhen're and keeps listening to her. Thus, she becomes evil to set up the west factory to check on loyal officials to kill innocent people.

He is filial to Empress Dowager Qian although he is not born by her. But he is useless not to control his consorts properly. He is young and good looking but sadly, all his other wives are picked by his mothers and he only has the power to pick Han Xiang.

7. He Sai Fei as Empress Dowager Zhou
She is Cheng Hua's mother and is at logger heads with Empress Dowager Qian as she is formerly her maid. She keeps stressing her importance as his biological mother but can't overwrite it due to the late emperor's decree. She is very narrow-minded and doesn't want Empress Dowager Qian's tomb to be linked to the late emperor's tomb. She is unhappy that Zhen'er gets the attention and reminds Cheng Hua to give love to the other consorts.

8. Chen Sha Li as Empress Dowager Qian
She is gentle and treats Cheng Hua as her own. She feels threatened as she is childless. Thus, she gets Zhen'er's support. That proves to be the wrong choice when she creates havoc for the harem. She neglects Qing Zi when she isn't useful to get Cheng Hua's affections. When Qing Zi finally gets the Emperor, she tried to win her over but it is too late. Qing Zhi has seen through her motive and doesn't want to be her pawn anymore. She will always remember how she neglects her.

9. Liu Ting Yu as Bai Han Xiang (Imperial Consort Bai)
She is gentle and weak to always think of the worst. She is nice to everyone. She is also musically inclined and becomes a clothes washing maid with Chun Hua as her father is on exile as a soldier. She becomes Chun Hua's good friend. She plays the pipa well and gets favouritism from Cheng Hua to become his consort. Her real life is Yong. Her illness start after she has a miscarriage and she dies in Yong's arms in the end, having her last wish fulfilled.

10. Liu Na Ping as Ling Qi Qiao
She is scheming and also vindictive. She is jealous of the consorts but she fails to be one as she is unattractive to attract Cheng Hua. She fails to get Yong's adoration too. She is arrogant due to her aunt's post although she is Qing Zi's maid. She is sore over Chun Hua's talents and often tries to harm her. She is successful in creating discord between the three women. Her wits backfires and Zhen're kills her finally.

11. Lu Yu Lin as Yuan Fang
He is righteous and likes helping others. He is a friend of Qing Zi's foster father. He is a good buddy of Yong. He is a former court official but quits upon seeing how corrupt the court is. He then decides to seek justice for the innocent. He becomes the iron mask man to gather Zhis' evidence. It is love at first sight for him towards Qing Zi. He is helpless over her fate and later gets killed by the court guards when he tries to sneak into the palace to see her.

12. Li Ying as Ling Jing Yun
She is Qi Qiao's aunt who works as the head of culinary. She is smart but not her niece. She shakes her head at her folly. Doesn't this reminds you of Tam Yim-suen in ‘Beyond the Realm of Conscience' to be reliant on her aunt, Choi Jong-ping, Head of Palace Proceedings for survival too?

13. Pan Hong – Wang Gang
He is Empress Dowager Qian's uncle. He keeps Qing Zi as his foster daughter so as to help his niece to make a comeback. He trains her so that she can win the attention and affections of the Emperor when she is sent into the palace. He is Fang's father's friend and knows him well.

14. Yuan Yuan – Fang Shang Yi
She discovers Chun Hua's talents and brings her into the musical department.

15. Lu Zhong as Imperial physician Zhang
Both he and Fang Shang Yi are in love when young but they are trapped in the palace. He cheers Yong up when he is down. He is the only person who takes care of Qing Zi when she is harmed.

Interesting facts
Chun Hua seems to be a small character who doesn't have colourful clothes but this doesn't hide her beauty to attract two men. Yi Xuan is also pretty with two deep dimples but it was a challenge for her to play a young lady. Actually, she is quite similar to the character. Both are pretty and preferred to be in a low profile.

However, she is also strong and unwilling to admit defeat to setbacks. While shooting this drama in Heng Dian, she became seriously ill. She kept having a fever, headaches and also diarrhoea in the cold weather. She still persisted to the end and did not want to delay the shoot. No matter how bad it was, other still saw her smiling. The scriptwriter confessed that the dressing in the drama was according to history. Although, it was on power struggles, it also included hardship to seek success in the end.

In early 2011, with less than two months of rest, Yee was presented with this role and chance that she could not turn down from mainland China. She cut short her leave to participate in this drama. As soon as Yeung returned to Hong Kong from mainland china, she was presented with role after role, only taking a break from filming in October. Four of her series were released in 2011, three of which made it into the top five highest rated series in the first half of 2011. Her luck finally came after many years of hard work.

Awards won in 2011 : best film-Dragon TV reputation, douban received the highest popular support, mother and child share community fruit shopping street receive a monthly MOM's best loved drama.

When this drama was shown in Singapore, ‘Tang Gong Mei Ren Tian Xia' was shown in the afternoon, 'Beyond the Realm of Conscience' was shown at 10pm while this drama was shown at 11pm at night. Some viewers became confused with Yee playing evil consorts although in different roles. For those who were not working, it was an overdose as they watched three power struggles drama for 5 days a week.

Most favourite character
None, I will not choose Chun Hua as she is too perfect. This is like Lau Sam Ho in ‘Beyond the Realm of Conscience'. Neither will I choose Fang as he wallows in self-pity easily. There is simply no one in my liking.

Most hated character
Yong, he creates so much trouble for everyone. His servant worries for him when he is down after his brother's death. Chun Hua worries for him when he is tortured by Zhi after failing to kill him. All have to find ways to rescue him. Isn't he a burden to others – can't he use his brains wisely? I don't expect him to protect his lover but can't he at least protect himself?

Songs
The theme song ‘no regrets' is sung by Liu Ting Yu and Lu Yu Lin. The ending theme' the habit of loneliness' is by One plus one duet. Why don't they give Yiu Mun a chance to sing as we know that he sings well? And… there are only 3 music pieces played throughout for the emperor. Poor him to listen to them repeatedly all the time – he must be terribly bored but he isn't given much choice.

Conclusion
It seems that inner court dramas are never ending after ‘empresses in the palace' and ‘War and beauty'. This drama is no different from other dramas on the harem. I feel immune too although the setting here is Ming dynasty instead of Tang dynasty or Qing dynasty. Aren't the women doing the same thing of getting the emperor's attention? The bad thing is I watched ‘empresses in the palace' in the palace before watching this drama so the luring power is less.

Without thick make-up, Yee looks and acts less vicious too. The schemes here are nothing as compared to the strategies used by the various consorts in ‘empresses in the palace'. The actresses are pretty – they have the periodic look. But Lv Yi isn't as graceful in her dances as expected to be. Sometimes I ask myself – am I too demanding as I watched the more complicated Sun Li's jing hong dance before this?

Many dramas show evil eunuchs doing things behind their masters' back. Their masters are blind indeed – no wonder Ming dynasty fall into the hands of the Qing invaders. They can blame no one but themselves. What I am puzzled over is how Cheng Hua listens to Zhen'er – is he treating her like a nanny, mother, elder sister or wife? It is more like a child listening to an adult.

It is a pity the leads are overshadowed by the villains. What to do – they have done a better job. Nevertheless, the setting is impressive and some characters are found in the history texts. The story is quite close to the truth – except the real part that Zhen'er is 17 years older than Chun Hua and Chun Xiang lived till to the 70s.

Sukting's ratings :
On acting : *** (Scale of 5)
On story : **1/2 (Scale of 5)


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