War and Beauty

Reviewed by: kailor

November 20, 2008

Rating: four-point-five

Fifteen years after the Qing Emperor Jiaqing was crowned, the country appears to be in harmony. However, fights between the Imperial concubines escalate. Beauty never lasts. All the imperial concubines, including the Emperor's beloved and most favored Yu Fei (SHEREN TANG) knows this and becomes nervous when triennial concubine election approaches. Yu Fei's position is soon threatened by an imperial descendant Yuk Ying (GIGI LAI), an eunuch's adopted daughter Yee Shun (CHARMAINE SHEH), and an imperial servant maid Onn Sinn (MAGGIE CHEUNG). They are both friends and enemies at war for the Emperor's favor. Yee Shun later falls for Sun Bak Yeung (BOWIE LAM) who also stole the hearts of a courtesan named Houng Fou (PATRICIA LEUNG), Lady Fuk (JADE LEUNG), and his lonely wife (Irene Wong) although he only have eyes for Yuk Ying who loves him the least of the 5 women. As a palace maid, Onn Sinn initially falls for Hung Mo (MOSES CHAN), but later chooses revenge over romance when she becomes the Emperor's lady (a royal concubine), in order to avenge her grandma's death in which the Empress (REBECCA CHAN) was responsible for. As Hung Mo soon keeps his distance from Onn Sinn, he soon finds solace & companionship the once powerful and lonely Yu Fei who has now lost favor from the Emperor and has fallen out of power...

Sheren Tang as Yu Fei
Maggie Cheung as Onn Sinn
Gigi Lai as Yuk Ying
Charmaine Sheh as Yee Shun
Bowie Lam as Su Bak Yeung
Moses Chan as Hung Mo
Rebecca Chan as the Empress
Jade Leung as Fook Nga

Story/Script (5/5)
Gone are the days, where TVB dramas were the undisputed cream of the crop. TVB now spends the majority of the year releasing drama serials with repeated plot lines and starring unqualified pageant winners who think they are actors. Thankfully, War & Beauty does not possess any of it. In fact, War & Beauty is truly a gem. Trust me; you have never seen a series like WAB before. The storytelling is unique in that you have a series where the attention is on the ladies and yet they are heroines and villains at the same time. You will hate and feel for them at the same time. The characters are well written, complex, and real on paper. The script is smart, bold, and original. War & Beauty is a series that is not to be missed!

Casting (4/5)
With an A-List cast of Sheren Tang, Maggie Cheung, Charmaine Sheh, & Gigi Lai, you are probably wondering why I gave it a 4/5. My only problem is the male castings of Moses Chan, & Kenny Wong which at times seem to be out of sorts with their characters/roles. However, their female counterparts stole the show and portrayed their characters with such viciousness and humanity at the same time and more than made up for their male counterpart's lackluster performances (excluding Bowie Lam as he turned in a solid performance.)It is interesting to note that Sheren Tang, Gigi Lai were nominated for TVB's 2004 Best Actress which Gigi won and Bowie Lam & Mose Chan were nominated for Best Actor in which Bowie won. Rebecca Chan also were nominated for Best Supporting Actress that year. Overall, a strong ensemble cast for a beautiful and smart TVB Drama serial.

Lead Characters' Description

Yu Fei (Sheren Tang)
Sheren starts out as the Emperor's favorite concubine and grows wary of Gigi and Charmaine. Although, she is initially evil, she is evil with a conscience. She later befriends Gigi only to find out Gigi's motives thanks to Charmaine. Shortly afterwards, she brings Charmaine into her close circle which shortly spirals and contribute to her inevitable downfall. Now after losing a power struggle with the Empress, Yu Fei is all alone only to develop a close friendship with Moses Chan. In the end, she gives up Moses to Maggie, and survives the turmoil only to defeat the Empress and expose the Empress's devious schemes as Sheren reigns supreme over the palace among the concubines.

Onn Sinn (Maggie Cheung)
Maggie starts out as a modest palace maid who only longs for the day when she returns home and reunites with her grandma. She soon meets Charmaine and Gigi and instantly recognizes the intent of Charmaine. Time after time, she secretly helps Gigi out and gradually becomes friends with her. She falls in love with Moses, but later gives up romance for revenge (the Empress killed her grandma). She also later betrays Gigi by going in her place and seducing the Emperor. In the end, she leaves the palace with Moses & Charmaine but is shot by an arrow due to the rebels breaking in. She then tells Charmaine to not tell Moses as it will jeopardize the safety of the three. In the end, she dies peacefully resting on Moses' shoulders with Moses thinking she had just fallen asleep.

Yuk Ying (Gigi Lai)
Gigi appears to be just another spoiled and innocent bimbo at first glance. However, Gigi is actually quite the manipulator. However, all her evil deeds are for a better life for her ill-fated mother (a low ranked new wife of an government official). After going through hard times with Charmaine, they soon become friends and sworn sisters. However in reality, while acting cordial and innocent to one another, Gigi & Charmaine are secretly plotting against one another. Soon Charmaine falls for Bowie Lam who only has eyes for Gigi although Gigi insists she has no feelings towards. Furthermore, Charmaine exposes Gigi's motives in front of Sheren and that causes Gigi to be exiled. Fortunately, Gigi is brought back to the palace by Maggie and she soon becomes a royal concubine like Sheren & Charmaine. Gigi however is then betrayed Maggie as Maggie takes her place and thus also becomes a concubine. Shortly afterwards, Maggie, Gigi, Charmaine, and the Empress becomes embroiled in a battle of manipulation, schemes, and wits. While the emperor is away, Charmaine helps Gigi seduce Bowie as she realizes Bowie will never love her. Gigi is soon pregnant with Bowie's child. In the end, Bowie chooses Gigi but Gigi refuses to leave the palace as rebels are rolling into the palace and laying siege. Due to the Empress' scheming, Gigi & Bowie are trapped in a burning room and Gigi confesses her love to Bowie. In the end Gigi & Bowie end up together both tragically burned alive TOGETHER.

Yee Shun (Charmaine Sheh)
Charmaine is the adopted daughter of an eunuch who entered the palace with her other 2 adopted sisters to help their adopted father stabilize his own position with the palace. She soon becomes sworn sisters with Gigi and the three begin to plot against Gigi. However, internal conflict begin to break the trio apart and in the end Charmaine is the only one remaining. She is successful of ridding herself of both Sheren & Gigi by aligning herself with the Empress. However, Gigi is able to make a comeback with Maggie's aid. Things get complicated when Charmaine falls for Bowie though Bowie only loves Gigi. Maggie later becomes a concubine herself and the trio along with the Empress finds themselves in a pwer struggle. In the end, Charmaine leaves the palace with Moses & Maggie as Bowie chose Gigi. Charmaine finds out that Maggie is injured but Maggie refuses to let Moses know. Maggie dies without Moses' knowledge on Moses' shoulders, and Charmaine & Sheren are the only ones to survive along with Moses.

Su Bak Yeung (Bowie Lam)
Bowie is the son of the Empress' doctor and also an imperial physician in his own right. He is the honest person in the palace. She first becomes friends with Charmaine but falls for Gigi. He helps deliver Sheren's baby which causes him to be enemies with the Empress. Bowie also has a 3 year relationship with a prostitute, a close bond with Lady Fuk (Jade Leung) & has a wife who he has no romantic feelings for. Charmaine in the end helps Bowie & Gigi come together and they soon consummate their love. Gigi soon becomes pregnant and covers up that the baby is the Emperor's which infuriates Bowie. In the end, he chooses Gigi over Charmaine although he was going to leave the palace with Charmaine and promised her that he would meet her again.

Hung Mo (Moses Chan)
Moses was a poor guy who encountered Charmaine , Gigi, and a bunch of concubine candidates early in the drama and rescued them from bandits. He then entered the palace and worked as a palace guard alongside his best friend. He later falls in love with Onn Sinn but is dumped when she want revenge and not love. He later befriends Sheren who has now fallen out of favor who he initially detest but slowly begins to love. In the end, Moses & Maggie & Charmaine leaves the palace though Moses never knew that Maggie was injured (Charmaine had promised Maggie to not tell Moses) nor did he know that the silk handkerchief belong to Sheren & not Maggie. In the end, Maggie dies in Moses' shoulder though Moses thought she had fallen asleep. In the closing moments of the final episodes, it revealed that Sheren was the owner of the handkerchief as she recited the poem on the handkerchief.

Cast Performance

Sheren Tang's Performance (5/5)
Sheren Tang stole the show as the favored concubine turned outsider YU FEI. From the moment she appears onscreen, she demands your attention and was able to stand out from such a strong female cast. You will hate her for her early actions, but I guarantee that you will sympathize with her later on. Her scene in which her daughter dies is heart-wrenching and will break your heart. I was mildly surprised at the chemistry onscreen between Moses Chan & Sheren Tang. However, the chemistry among the 4 female leads overshadowed among all others. Sheren Tang soon shot to fame after this performance and I firmly believe that she was robbed of Best Actress in 2004 (Gigi Lai won for War & Beauty) and also in 2006 for her performance in La Femme Desperado (Charmaine Sheh won for Maiden's Vow.)

Maggie Cheung Ho-Yee's Performance (4/5)
As the smart palace maid turned royal concubine, Maggie Cheung was once again solid. I felt that her character's downfall was that although she was smart, she was just too smart for her own good. Maggie portrayed her character's initial unwillingness to be involved in palace politics effortlessly though she truly shined when her character's thirst for revenge catapults her into the battle of wits with Yuk Ying, Yee Shun, & The Empress. The only drawback to her performance is her dragging romantic scenes with Moses Chan's Hung Mo which was just boring. Of the four female leads, Maggie was the only one to not be nominated for Best Actress.

Gigi Lai's Performance (4/5)
As the spoiled rich girl with a hidden agenda, Gigi Lai played her role of Yuk Ying brilliantly although she seemed to overact at times (especially when she is acting innocent) although I hated her character. Her chemistry with Charmaine Sheh was terrific as I really enjoyed watching their character's fierce rivalry onscreen. Her relationship with Bowie Lam's Bak Yeung was a bore at first although their relationship eventually grew on me. I have to say that while Gigi Lai did a great job, she is one of the ugliest criers in TVB. Although I felt that Sheren Tang deserved Best Actress, Gigi Lai was not a bad choice. It is a shame that Gigi Lai retired earlier this year.

Charmaine Sheh's Performance (4.5/5)
As the filial undercover concubine, Charmaine delivered a pitied and strong performance. Unlike her 3 female costars, her role did not consist of chewing up the scenery acting. Charmaine did a great job on conveying her emotions with her eyes. She had to be subtle while suffering at the same time. Also, I have to say that unlike Gigi Lai, Charmaine is a great crier. Her tears seem to flow so effortlessly and they seem so genuine. In my opinion, she and Tavia Yeung are probably the best criers onscreen. Overall, a strong performance. It is a shame that with all the overpromotion that TVB gives her these days, Charmaine seems to not be improving and resting on her laurels as I feel her acting peak were from 2000-2004 (A Country Spirit, WAB, Point of No Return, Herbalist Manual, Perish in The Name of Love & Return of the Cuckoo).

Bowie Lam's Performance as Su Bak Yeung (4.5/5)
Of all the scheming and backstabbing that goes on in the palace, Bowie's character is probably the only honest one who has integrity. In my opinion, he delivered a stellar performance and was deserving of his 2004 TVB Best Actor win. My only complaint is that he should have picked Charmaine or Jade or Patricia or at least his lonely wife instead of Gigi but I guess that is the script's fault.

Moses Chan's Performance as Hung Mo (2/5)
I hate his character and loathed his performance. Moses was wooden and stiff as Hung Mo. His character was frustratingly annoying. His onscreen chemistry with Maggie Cheung was boring. I always believed that Moses Chan was better suited for comedy. Watch out for his breakthrough performance in Heart of Greed I (2007) in which he won Best Actor as “Quite Ok/Dak Dak Kei” and also his hilarious performance in Moonlight Resonance (2008) starring alongside Tavia Yeung.

Others' Performances
Rebecca Chan (4.5/5) was fantastic as usual as the villainess Empress. Her onscreen duels with Sheren Tang were a delight to watch. Jade Leung (4/5) was surprisingly enjoyable to watch as the outcast concubine. Her story with Charmaine was very touching and memorable. Kenny Wong (1/5) was a disappointment as he can not act and was totally undeserving of his 2005 Most Improved Actor win. The Emperor (3/5) was lackluster in comparison to others although Patricia was solid in terms of what little screen time she was allowed as Bowie Lam's concubine.

Overall Impressions
Overall, War & Beauty is a simply a CLASSIC. It aired to rave reviews and captivated the hearts of Hong Kong viewers and also swept the awards season. It is one to not be missed and a true original masterpiece that will stand the test of time.

Favorite Characters
1. Yu Fei
2. Yee Shun
3. Jade Leung
4. Onn Sinn
5. Bak Yeung

Least Favorite/Hated Characters
1. Yuk Ying
2. Hung Mo
3. The Empress
4. The Emperor
5. Kenny Wong's character

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