The Confidant

Reviewed by: juphelia

February 14, 2013

Rating: four-point-five

Of all the palace shows I have watched, this is the first one that feature eunuchs prominently. The main characters are a group of 5 eunuchs – Li Lianying (Wayne Lai), An Dehai (Raymond Cho), Peng Sam Shun (Power Chan), Yiu Sheung Hei (Raymond Wong), and Ling Tin Sau (Edwin Siu).

Li Lianying was the famous eunuch in history (a real person), who was Empress Dowager Cixi’s chief eunuch, and the one doing all the “dirty” work for her. An Dehai was his contemporary and served Cixi before him, but he was executed at a young age (in real history). Peng Sam Shun was the nephew of the chief eunuch. Yiu Sheung Hei came from a family of doctors, so he was an eunuch in the Imperial Pharmacy. Ling Tin Sau was Lianying’s protégé before becoming Dehai’s assistant. Except for Lianying and Dehai, there were no records of the other eunuchs in history, so one can speculate whether they did or did not ever existed.

Of course, being a palace show, the characters would centre on the Emperor and his family, as well as palace maids. The story is set during the Tongzhi Emperor’s time, where Cixi and Cian ruled as regents, together with the parliament consisting of princes and other high-ranking officials.

This show centred on the power struggle between the eunuchs, and that even between lowly servants like eunuchs, all had the ambition to serve the one that was in charge, and the unscrupulous ways they set out to achieve their means, by serving the most powerful person in the court, ie Cixi and to some, Cian.

In the show, Li Lianying was actually happy with his status. He tried to maintain peace and remained good friends to his best friend Dehai, as well as a good mentor to Tin Sau. When he saved Sheung Hei from Sam Shun’s bullying, they became good friends too. Later on, he and Sam Shun also became good friends. However, when he realised that he needed to make a firm stance in order to eradicate all the corruption and “bad people”, he asked Cixi to confer him the highest ranking eunuch, so he became the “big eunuch”, and managed to turn against the bad people and save the Qing dynasty, or so it seemed.

An Dehai and Lianying were trained by the same senior eunuch and they have been buddies since young. However, unlike Lianying, Dehai is more power hungry. Hence from a young age, he started serving Cixi. Later on, he betrayed the head eunuch, and he himself took the post of the “big eunuch”. Due to his power struggle, he ended up offending a lot of people, which led to his downfall and eventual demise.

Pang Sam Shun started off as a bully due to his uncle being the head eunuch. However, later on it was established that he is actually kind-hearted, and when he became friends with Lianying, he also became accepted by the rest of the eunuchs as friends. He was the only one that stood by Lianying throughout, without betraying him or any of his friends. I must say Power Chan really pulled off the role very well.

Yiu Sheung Hei also started off being kind-hearted, but when the love of his life was innocently betrayed and died, he became embittered and started to plot against everyone, including the Emperor and Empress Dowagers. It took Lianying a lot to save him from being executed.

Ling Ting Sau initially idolised both Lianying as his mentor and Dehai as his idol, but later on he was too embroiled in the power struggle, and betrayed both Dehai and Lianying. He even brought about the downfall of the Tongzhi Emperor. In the end, Lianying had him beaten up and expelled from the palace. When they met each other again, Lianying took pity on him and brought him back home, only to have Tin Sau kill Sin Yung, Lianying’s wife and a former palace maid. That was what triggered Lianying’s plot to bring down the “bad people”.

The royal family consisted of Michelle Yim as Empress Dowager Cixi, Maggie Siu as Empress Dowager Cian, Oscar Leung as the Tongzhi Emperor, and Natalie Tong as Empress Jiashun.

I am not sure how much of historical records is based on fact, but from what I have read, Cixi is supposed to be an iron lady. She would do everything and anything to stay in power, hence her son was just like a puppet. Nothing much is known of Cian except she was the co-regent with Cixi, but she let Cixi handle all the politics and administration.

Tongzhi Emperor was recorded as being a weak emperor who only wanted to have fun and let his mother handle everything. His wife the Empress Jiashun was recorded as being more capable, and helped him handle the Qing court, but she too was killed off shortly after Tongzhi died.

In this show, Cixi is portrayed as a kind and strong woman who wanted to bring her son up strictly so he could be worthy of being an emperor. Hence, people misunderstood and thought she was the cold-hearted and evil one. Cian is portrayed as the hypocrite, kind-hearted on the surface, but always behind the scenes trying to bring down Cixi, and she would stop at nothing to achieve her goals.

The Tongzhi Emperor was portrayed as an idealistic emperor who really wanted to rule the country well, but he was angry at his mother for controlling him, and so indulged in women and desires by visiting prostitutes. His Empress was portrayed as his perfect match in terms of education, intelligence and ideals, but when he was diagnosed with venereal disease and dying, she turned against him. In historical records, it was stated that Tongzhi did visit prostitutes, contracted venereal disease and died, but on record it was stated that he died of smallpox.

The end of the show featured Lianying carrying the young Emperor Guangxu to the throne, with Cixi being the regent again. Cian had died from her stomach cancer, Empress Jiashun collapsed and died one day, and all the “bad people” have been eliminated.

I would not say Wayne Lai is outstanding in this show. His acting is good as usual, but nothing really extraordinary. For a best actor win? Perhaps, in light of competition, he deserved that. But I have seen him better in other shows, like Rosy Business. Now for that show, his acting is really extraordinary. In “The Confidant”, he is a good character throughout, even though he helped Cixi to double cross some people, but his character is still good. There was not much conflict of emotions to really portray his acting skills and character development to the fullest.

Now Power Chan is a different story. His role from a big bully, to showing some conscience, to actually becoming good, and his look of betrayal when he thought everyone, including Lianying, turned against him, and his forgiving nature at the end, really got me impressed. For just this one role, Power Chan had a myriad of expressions and character development. I really hope he gets more recognition!

I am actually quite disappointed that this show did not win the Best Drama at the TVB Anniversary Awards. I would think of the 3 nominated, this would be the most outstanding. I have watched Hippocratic Crush and find it pretty good too, but this show would win hands down. I have not watched "When Heaven Burns" yet (the show that won), but I am still pretty impressed by The Confidant that I think it should have won! This is another one of the best dramas of 2012!

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