War and Beauty

Reviewed by: sehseh

November 17, 2004

Rating: five

Maggie Cheung as Onn Sin
Charmaine Sheh as Yee Shun
Gigi Lai as Yuk Ying
Sheren Tang as Yu Yuet / Yu Fei
Bowie Lam as Suen Bak Yeung
Moses Chan as Houng Mou
Jade Leung as Fook Nga
Rebecca Chan as Empress
Yu Yeung as Emperor Jiaqing
Lo Hoi Pang as Eunuch Chui Man Tin
Wong Tak Bun as Siu Luk Chi
Chan Hung Lit as Suen Ching Wah
June Chan as Suk Ling
Chan Man Hei as Yun Kei
Wai Ka Hung as Chan Song
Maria Chan as Boh Sim

Episodes: 30 VCDs

Warning: Spoilers ahead! Be prepared for a LONG article!

"According to the Rites of Zhou, an emperor should have 121 concubines. This means, in addition to the empress, the emperor also has 3 consorts, 9 concubines, 27 hereditary consorts and 81 lesser wives. Not to forget, he has thousands upon thousands of untitled palace maidens. Of these concubines, however, only a tiny few had the honor of sleeping with the emperor. The imperial consorts, therefore, often plot against each other in the life-and-death struggle to win the emperor's good graces. Consequently, a spate of tragedies took place in this female world of wealth and dignity as many of the women lived out their disconsolate lives in the recess of the imperial palace."

-Tales of Empresses and Imperial Consorts in China" compiled by Shang Xizhi, translated and edited by Ling Lingxing, 1996.

15th year, Jiaqing reign. Intrigue, deception and romance are daily occurrences in the palace of the Qing Emperor, Jiaqing. While the country revels in peace, there were bloody and fierce struggle behind the imposing red walls of the Forbidden Palace.

Yu Yuet (Sheren) is the beloved concubine of emperor but she feared her reign will end soon. As triennial imperial concubine election approaches Yu Fei feels increasingly threatened by the three beautiful and manipulative women vying for the emperor's affections. Among the "Sau Nui" are Yuk Ying (Gigi); a beautiful girl from noble background, and Yee Shun (Charmaine), who has the secret support of the powerful Eunuch Chui Man Tin (Lo Hoi Pang).

There is also Onn Sin (Maggie); 25 years old palace maid who hopes to reunites with her grandmother. Onn Sin was well liked by maids and eunuchs for her kind and sympathetic personality.

Suen Bak Yeung (Bowie) and his father are royal physicians for three generations. Their relationship was strained because Suen blames his father for causing his mother's death. Suen is a sensitive person and understands the feelings of the women in the palace. He is aware of the dangers working in the forbidden palace.

Koung Mou (Moses); used to be a kind-hearted person, but the hardship of poverty molded him into a bitter person. Along with his cousin Chan Song (Wai Ka Hung), he fights his way to the top for power and wealth. After several misunderstandings, he forged a close bond with Bak Yeung.

Yu Fei tries to subdue the newcomers under her control as the emperor's affection for her began to wane. Among the "Sau Nui", Bak Yeung realizes that Yuk Ying is not as brainless as everyone perceived. Although Yuk Ying came from a noble family, she was not born of the formal wife hence her position in the household was very low. Yuk Ying hoped by gaining the emperor's love, nobody will ever look down on her and her mother again. She pretends to be meek so Yu Fei will loosen her guard on her. Still, she loses Yu Fei's trust after being foiled by Yee Shun.

During the selection period, Yee Shun sworned sisterhood with Yuk Ying but in reality, repeatedly schemed with her two adoptive sisters Suk Ling (June) and Yun Kei (Chan Man Hei) to get rid of her. Alas, before their plot succeeded, internal problems started to occur. Suk Ling, feeling jealous on the emperor's attention on Yun Kei, betrayed them, resulting in the Yun Kei's death. Yee Shun was dismayed with Suk Ling and retaliates to dispose her in return. At the same time, Yee Shun began to suffer severe asthma attack due to her depressed state. Bak Yeung treated her with care and attention; causing her to slowly fall in love with him...

The empress constantly finds faults with Yu Fei all these years. Yee Shun took this opportunity to cause Yu Fei to lose favor from the emperor. The emperor was entranced with Yee Shun and promoted her to the rank of kwai yan (worthy lady) soon after.

While Yuk Ying was forced to live in the sick palace by Yu Fei, she forged close relationships with Onn Sin who was always by her side. Seeing Yu Fei's power has weakened, Onn Sin regained hope to be reunited with her grandmother. Unfortunately, her grandmother suddenly died after visiting her. Onn Sin finds solace in Houng Mou as someone she can rely on for the rest of her life. Through Houng Mou and eunuch Siu Luk Chi's (Wong Tak Bun) help, Onn Sin assisted Yuk Ying to become a kwai yan. However, good times never last as Onn Sin discovers the truth behind her grandmother's death. Blinded with revenge against the empress, Onn Sin decided to abandon love and friendship. She successfully seduces the emperor and become a kwai yan herself.

After falling out of favor, Yu Fei experienced the mistreatment of the people around her, except Houng Mou, who treated her with care and respect. They went through hardships together and Houng Mou realizes that Yu Fei is not an evil person after all; she was just forced to protect herself for survival.

Yuk Ying felt discontented by Onn Sin's betrayal and tried to wrestle the emperor's love from her using all means possible, including manipulating Bak Yeung, who was secretly in love with her. On the other hand, Yee Shun has become disillusioned after Eunuch Chui suddenly passed away. Her only consolation was the companionship of Fook Nga (Jade Leung); an ailing concubine who treated her as a sister. Under the advice of Fook Nga, Yee Shun decided to escape the forbidden palace with Bak Yeung. Bak Yeung was torn between Yuk Ying and Yee Shun...

The Tin Lei Gau rebels attacked the palace while the emperor was away. The empress wanted to take this opportunity to kill Yu Fei, Onn Sin, Yee Shun, and Yuk Ying during the chaos. Bak Yeung and the funeral procession were nearing the palace exit when Houng Mou arrived to execute him on the emperor's order. In the chaos, the servant dropped the coffin and Yee Shun fell out. Seeing the rebels nearing on them, Houng Mou helped them escape. Bak Yeung went back to save Yuk Ying and placed Yee Shun in Houng Mou's care. However, Houng Mou was ambushed by Chan Song who threatened to kill him if he does not lead him to Yu Fei.

With Houng Mou taken hostage by Chan Song, Yee Shun was worried about Bak Yeung's safety and went back to look for him. She tried to convince Yuk Ying to escape with her but she refused to believe her until Bak Yeung explained that the emperor already discovered their affair. Chan Song realizes his mistake and died trying to save Houng Mou, Yu Fei, and Onn Sin from attacks. Houng Mou was heart broken. Yee Shun asked Bak Yeung and Yuk Ying to flee without her as she will be a burden to them. Bak Yeung convinced Yee Shun to run away with them using Fook Nga's last words. Hearing their conversation, Yuk Ying decided to go back to her palace. Bak Yeung resigned himself to fate and decided to go back with her and told Yee Shun that he was grateful for her love. He promised that they'll meet again...

On the other hand, Houng Mou, Yu Fei and Onn Sin were busy escaping from the empress and rebels' pursuit. Houng Mou doesn't want to abandon Yu Fei and asked her to run away with them. Yu Fei wished to but she was fated to spend the rest of her life here in the forbidden palace. Yu Fei asked Houng Mou to choose the woman he loved most; to which he responded by holding on both of Yu Fei and Onn Sin's hands firmly. Yu Fei was touched but rejected Houng Mou, telling them to escape while they still can.

Yuk Ying explained to Bak Yeung if she escaped with him, the emperor will be infuriated and harm her mother instead. Only by committing suicide the emperor's anger will be appeased. As Bak Yeung drags Yuk Ying to leave, they were trapped inside the room by Eunuch Wong. Eunuch Wong set fire on the room under the empress' order...­ Seeing that Yee Shun was wandering aimlessly amidst the raining arrows, Onn Sin stepped forward to rescue her. Houng Mou, Onn Sin, and Yee Shun managed to escape from the palace. Trapped in the blazing room, Bak Yeung asked if she really loved him. Yuk Ying replied with a tearful kiss and they both lock in embrace in their fiery death...

Yu Fei confronted the Empress of her evildoings and vowed to fight against her till the end of days. Yee Shun realizes Onn Sin was hit with an arrow but Onn Sin stopped her from telling Houng Mou. She tells Yee Shun to start a new life on behalf of her and Yu Fei. Onn Sin was content she can finally be with Houng Mou and died on his shoulder...

Maggie Cheung as Onn Sin

Yu Fei: "Perceiving your master's intention is not a talent, but doing it unnoticeably will allow you live longer"

Background: Bordered Yellow Banner (Upper Class) Her family served as servants for generations. Entered the palace as a servant at the age of 12.

Traits: Filial, sympathetic, highly moral and principled. Wise in survival skills in the treacherous palace, she conducts herself with caution. Blinded with revenge, schemes to become the most powerful concubine of all.

The only thing Onn Sin wished was to return to her village with her grandmother. With just a year before she leaves the Forbidden Palace, things seemed fine and bright. But her life turned dark and bleary as the triennial concubines election approaches. After serving in the palace for more than a decade, Onn Sin was familiar with the bloody and fierce struggle among the concubines. To ensure she can leave the palace safely, she has to make sure the candidates "Sau Nui" placed under her care caused no trouble. She was trapped between the "Sau Nuis" and pressure from Yue Fei. Later, she has to suffer the fact that the empress murdered her grandmother so that she'll stay in the palace and gives up love. Blinded with revenge, along with 'small' misguidance by Siu Luk Chi and Yu Fei, Onn Sin was determined to exact her revenge on the empress...

As usual, Maggie handles the acting very well, especially the crying scenes. However, she looks a bit too old, even for a 25 year old maid. I'm not quite convinced how she suddenly became the emperor's favorite; though I have to blame the writers for that. This is because aside for her intelligence and wit she has nothing outstanding, like Yu Fei's charisma, Yuk Ying's beauty, or Yee Shun's youth. And most of all, the emperor was shallow, I'm sure he'll get bored with her soon enough as Yuk Ying once mentioned. Anyway, thumbs up for Maggie's performance.

Performance rating: 5/5

Charmaine Sheh as Yee Shun

Yee Shun: "Won? In the end, all I get is a man I don't love!"

Background: Bordered Yellow Banner (Upper Class) Originally of Han origin. Eunuch Chui created a fake identity for her to enter the palace.

Traits: Calm in appearance, clever and resourceful. Filial to her god father and always keeps her word. Realized that in order to succeed in her goals, she has to be ruthless. Has a weakness towards relatives and loved ones.

Ten minutes into her appearance and the audience already noticed that she's calm yet cunning. Orphaned at a young age, Yee Shun was adopted by Eunuch Hoi to be trained as a future concubine. To repay her god father, she swore to become a powerful concubine along with her two adoptive sisters, Suk Ling and Yun Kei. The three of them were close like sister until jealousies corrupted Suk Ling. Yee Shun ruthlessly disposed of Suk Ling for revenge, but lived in regret thereafter. Though she is pretty capable of scheming and fending herself against her arch rival Yuk Ying, in reality, she despises the life she's living. She finds consolation in Fook Nga, a forgotten concubine who lives peacefully by herself. She also met and fell deeply in love with Bak Yeung, who genuinely treated her with care and respect regardless of her status. Unfortunately, of all the women, Bak Yeung fell in love with Yuk Ying...

Some people say that Charmaine's acting was "blank" here. I beg to differ. Unlike Yu Fei or Yuk Ying, her role is not as vocal as theirs. For young Yee Shun has been taught to appear calm and educated, thus she is always careful with what she does and says, carrying herself with great restraint. Charmaine's best scenes were also her crying scenes. My favorite is when she plays with Yun Kei's pebbles. The look in her eyes is so haunting -- ­She is definitely convincing as a cool villainess, especially when she taunts and threatens Gigi. I love her performance!

Performance ratings: 5/5

Gigi Lai as Yuk Ying

Yee Shun: "The most despicable people in the world were not those without feelings, but those who manipulate them!"

Background: Plain Yellow Banner (Upper Class) Her father is a powerful and rich gabenor.

Traits: Growing up in a complex family made her outwardly innocent and childish, but inwardly calculative and vindictive. Capable of manipulating other's feeling to achieve her goals, no matter what it takes.

Yuk Ying was born from a rich family. Though her life appeared glamorous, in reality, she and her mother have low position in the household. Tired of being bullied and looked down, Yuk Ying was determined to win the emperor's attention so that her mother will be proud. Knowing that the other girls envied her beauty, she pretended to be brainless and innocent to loosen their guard on her. Sensing that Yee Shun was resourceful, Yuk Ying befriends her and they became sworn sisters. In order to gain Yu Fei's trust, Yuk Ying betrays Onn Sin. When she tried to expose Yee Shun as well, her plan was foiled and revealed her true nature to Yu Fei. In her hardest time, Onn Sin and Bak Yeung supported her. Along with Houng Mou's assistance, she ultimately rose to become one of the emperor's favorite. But, life is not a fairy tale; as she suddenly discovers another rival in her best friend Onn Sin. Resentful, Yuk Ying plotted to regain the emperor's affection, even if it costs Bak Yeung's life...

Gigi garnered a lot of praise and criticism at the same time. Her character was really outstanding, so convincing it made me hate her when she's evil or even pretending to be innocent. However, I'm a bit disappointed that her crying skill has not improved. She tries too hard and I cringe whenever I watched her crying scenes. Her heavy breathing drew some criticism from the audience. The producer quickly jumps to her defense, saying that her "innocent and girlish" front needs it, and when her character develops it won't be there anymore. Excuse me, to be honest; the heavy breathing was still there -- even when Gigi is at her evil glory! Overall, I think Gigi's performance was over hyped; she did a good job but not 'great' like Sheren's.

Ratings performance: 4.5/5

Sheren Tang as Yu Yuet / Yu Fei

Yu Yuet: "Here has been my home for so many years - and also my grave in the future!"

Background: Entered the palace at the tender age of 15. Descendant of nobles. Plain White Banner (Upper Class)

Traits: Mature and elegant. Wise and ambitious, will do anything to get rid of the empress. However, she has a dominant and harsh attitude towards other women in the palace. Has a strong bond with her newborn daughter, willing to sacrifice herself to protect her from the empress.

Yu Fei was the emperor's long time favorite for many years among the concubines. She wields enormous influence in the forbidden palace, controlling both the eastern and western palace. With the triennial concubine election approaching and her beauty waning, Yu Fei fears that her position will be taken by the younger and more beautiful batch of "Sau Nui". Realizing that it's futile to get rid of them, Yu Fei decides to groom a protege out of them. First, she chose the youthful Yun Kei, but Suk Ling disposed her out of jealousy. Later, she picked the beautiful Yuk Ying, but found out she's not as brainless as she seem. Finally, she settles on the distinctive Yee Shun. This was the beginning of her downfall. The empress took advantage of rumors and the emperor loses trust in her; mainly because he got a newer and younger toy. Stripped of her influence and her infant daughter separated from her, Yu Fei loses her former glory but remained a dignified woman. When all her old alliances abandoned her, she met Houng Mou who still treats her with respect. Together, they build an odd relationship...

First, I would like to give Sheren a standing ovation. Bravo! Yu Fei commands your attention whenever she's onscreen as you simply cannot take your eyes off her. She's aggressive and evil, and she's even not apologetic about it. Puts us on the edge of our seat wondering what she'll do next. When she's grieving and remorseful, we will feel pained and moved by her. Most important of all, when she encounters hardships, she faces it courageously. That is how convincing her portrayal is, making us fall in love with Yu Fei (yes, even when she's at her utmost evil). Sheren certainly deserves the recognition. Double thumbs up!

Performance ratings: 6/5 As 5 is the full mark, but she's so terrific I decided to add one extra!

Bowie Lam as Suen Bak Yeung

Bak Yeung: "I have disappointed all the women who love me for one woman that never love me..."

Background: Han origin. 5th generation of royal physician in his family.

Traits: Meticulous, confident and genuine in affection. Filial to his mother, upright and keeps promises. However, in addition to being too stubborn in his beliefs, he also has a penchant for prostitutes. Probably commitment phobic.

Since his mother passed away, Bak Yeung moved to live in a prostitution parlor. He blames his mother's death on his father and refused to speak to him unless about work--for both were royal physicians. Bak Yeung was drawn into the concubines' fights after he helped Yu Fei save her unborn baby. From thereon, he was pressured by Yu Fei's influence in the palace. In addition, Eunuch Chui blackmailed him into curing Yee Shun's drug addiction. At first, Bak Yeung disliked Yee Shun but as time goes by, he genuinely cares for her. Perhaps he sees Fook Nga in her. He hopes that Yee Shun will not suffer the same fate as her sister does. He also felt sorry for Yuk Ying and understand her pains because she is filial to her mother. He slowly falls for her and was tortured by the fact that she is the emperor's woman. He was willing to be manipulated by Yuk Ying over and over again...

Why, on earth did five woman fall in love with him? What do they see in him? For a woman who loves herself more than she loves him, he kept a blind eye towards four wonderful woman. I can understand he cannot love Yee Shun and Fook Nga, as they're the emperor's wives. He ignored his patient and forgiving wife, Ho Shue, and also refused to acknowledge Hiong Fau, who was his companion and lover for 3 whole years! In the end, he finally realizes what a fool he has been. But he cannot undo the damage done, nor can he stop loving Yuk Ying. Bowie is not too convincing as a flirt, but rather appeared having a good sense of humor towards men and women alike. However, if given a chance to change him for a better looking actor, it would be a big no. His performance is enjoyable and adds a little relief towards the tension. His role here is eerily familiar as Henry in "Healings Hands", albeit the 'caring doctor' personality.

Performance ratings: 4/5

Moses Chan as Houng Mou

Houng Mou: "One day, you will recognize my name!"

Background: Han origin. Later bestowed as member of banner clan after saving the emperor.

Traits: Determined and straightforward. Originally generous and upright, but later willing to risk anything - or anyone - in his quest to climb the ladder of success. Strangely, he was also a romantic. He fell in love with the owner of the embroidered silk handkerchief - without meeting her!

Houng Mou and his cousin lived a poor and hard life. On their way in escorting mangoes to the imperial palace, they run into a bunch of Sau Nui who was being chased after by rebels. Discovering that one of them is a daughter of a powerful official, Houng Mou rescued them and escorts them to the imperial palace. In return, Yuk Ying wrote them a recommendation letter to her uncle who was an official in the capital. However, Houng Mou lost out on his luck and ends up penniless on streets. During a fight with Chan Song he found a silk handkerchief containing a poem in his second hand clothing. Houng Mou think that the handkerchief brings him good a luck as he found a new job working as construction worker in the forbidden palace. He soon found out it was not easy surviving in the forbidden palace and was embittered by how the officials and nobles treated them and the other servants. Thinking that the handkerchief belongs to Onn Sin, Houng did everything to win her affection. After he proposed to Onn Sin, he was shocked to be rejected by her the next morning. He misunderstands Onn Sin as being ambitious and materialistic. In his depressed state he met another person - Yu Fei, who sheer determination impressed him...

Moses did an okay job as Houng Mou, mainly because his role lacked development. It's the same Houng Mou from beginning till the ending. His role is a 2D character, nothing to explore. His scenes comprises of smug look, angry look, dull look and more angry look. How was I supposed to be impressed? I'm not sure whether it's his limited expression of the script's fault. Give him more role development! Surely Moses could do better than this.

Performance ratings: 3/5

Jade Leung as Fook Nga

Fook Nga: "It's destined that both of us sisters fall in love with you..."

Background: An earlier batch of Han origin who was adopted and trained by Eunuch Chui. In fact, she was purposely separated with her sister, Yee Shun.

Traits: Gentle and kind hearted. Once a favorite concubine, she has been forgotten and cast aside because of her heart conditions. Talented in cutting paper arts.

Eight years ago, Fook Nga was sent to the imperial palace by her god father. She gained the affection of the emperor and was raised to kwai yan in less than a year. Sadly, she has heart conditions and slowly the emperor shifted his attention to the other concubines. Only Bak Yeung continues to treat her with care. Similar to Yee Shun, she felt deeply in love with him and was willing to sacrifice her career for him - continuing to be sick by consuming poison. Yee Shun reminds her of her long lost sister, therefore, Fook Nga treated her like one, not knowing that she is her real sister. When she finally find out, she decided not to tell Yee Shun because she doesn't want Yee Shun to know she has been Eunuch Chui puppet for over ten years. In the end, to protect her little sister, Fook Nga committed suicide...

It's refreshing to see Jade as a soft spoken lady since I'm more familiar with her martial arts roles. Among all the ladies, her role was the most pure and genuine. However, it was hinted that she used to be scheming and calculative during her early years in the palace. The revelation that she took poison to keep herself sick came as a shock to me - I knew she'll commit suicide, but secretly consuming poison all these years? Hmm wonder why Bak Yeung couldn't realize that?

Performance ratings: 4/5

Rebecca Chan as Empress

Empress: "Haven't you heard of the term 'killing with other's people hand'?"

Background: Originate from a powerful clan. Promoted to empress after the first empress passed away.

Traits: Appear to be benevolent and congenial, but evil and calculative at heart. Will not hesitate to dispose anyone who threatens her authority and her prince future. However, she was truly loyal to the emperor.

When she first appeared, she really deceived the audience into thinking her as a genuine and caring woman. In fact, the empress has killed many, even when she's still a concubine. Among the women, she is the most shrewd and far-sighted one. She knows that the emperor will not genuinely love his concubines, therefore although she is jealous, she rarely does anything, except making sure that there are no second Yu Fei. Thus she arranged for Yuk Ying and Yee Shun to prevent each other from gaining power. The thing she cared most about is the future of her son. Every time a concubine gets pregnant, she will mysteriously miscarriage or the baby will die unborn. Rebecca did a fine job as the empress. I really hated her when she scars the baby's face. I don't know if anyone noticed this, but I tried to suppress my laughter at the scene when she knocked the incense burner and shouts 'Why? Why!' Her hand movement above her head was really weird and funny.

Performance ratings: 4/5

Yu Yeung as Emperor Jiaqing

Emperor: "I can only blame myself for greedy for new and forgetting the old."

Background: Heir and emperor after Emperor Qianlong. Qing dynasty starts to decline in his reign and many rebels faction arise. Hold a grudge towards Wo Shen; a trusted but corrupted minister of Emperor Qianlong.

Traits: Treasured his concubines but doesn't take them too seriously. He is aware of the fights among the concubines but prefers to be 'blind, deaf and dumb'. See no evil, hears no gossip, and make no comments.

A lot of people complained that Yu Yeung is not good looking enough as the emperor and they should change him for actors like Louis Koo, Kong Wah, etc. Others agued that an ugly old emperor highlight that the women are after his affections not because they truly love him, but because of power and survival. I agree with that but I wished they chose someone with a more regal air, like Lau Dan or Wong Wai. However, Jiaqing was not a competent ruler so choosing one with Yu Yeung's look might be a right decision after all!

Performance ratings: 3/5 It's not because he's terrible at acting, but his onscreen time is too little.

Lo Hoi Pang as Eunuch Chui Man Tin

Eunuch Chui: "In this situation, praising is better than scolding!"

Background: A powerful head eunuch of the Royal Physician department. Once an ally of Wo Shen in corruption.

Traits: Corrupted and power hungry. His past association with Wo Shen jeopardized him so he adopted and trained beautiful girls to enter the Forbidden Palace as means to save his life. Pretends to be kind hearted and loving to his adopted daughters, but does not hesitate to eliminate them when necessary.

Evil. Evil. Evil. Akin to the devil, Eunuch Chui has no conscience whatsoever. His adopted daughters serve as tools to him. He cared for them when they're useful, and tossed them aside when it's over. Or worse, kills them immediately so no one will ever discover the truth. Despite his evil heart, he appears to be pleasant and kind. I immediately felt relieved after his death. Perhaps he is too convincing as a villain.

Performance ratings: 5/5


Chan Hung Lit: I have to say, this actor rocks as good or bad characters. I'm more used to seeing him in villainous role, but his performance here is very convincing. I'm very moved by his speech, how he talks to Bowie; with tears glistening in his eyes - very real and touching.

Wong Tak Bun: A satisfactory performance. I don't like the tone of his voice - too boring.

Patricia Liu: Hiong Fau is a very mature and pleasant character in here. Nice job by the K-100 host, but there is plenty room for improvement.

June Chan: She really creeps me out as the insanely jealous and obsessive elder sister. Her eyes can kill when she's looking vicious.

Wai Ka Hung: Good job. I was touched by his final speech when he dies in Moses arms. "I trust you." Their friendship is certain and as simple as that.

My Verdict:
Favorite characters:

All the women were delightfully evil, and the men pitiful.
1. Yu Fei (evil with a conscience)
2. Yee Shun (she's not truly evil, but was manipulated and trapped into this situation)
3. Fook Nga (purest at heart, sacrificing for the people she loves)

Least Favorite characters:

1. Yuk Ying (for hurting so many people with her selfishness)
2. Empress (truly evil to the bones!)
3. Houng Mou (he's too reckless and irrational)

Best Chemistry:

The four leading ladies, obviously! As I mentioned, all the women in here were deliciously wicked and intelligent. You go, girl!

Memorable scenes:

1. The various body assessments the girls have to go through to become Sau Nui. Quite amusing.
2. Onn Sin giving poison to So Yin so that she can die a full corpse.
3. The incidents after Suk Ling betrayed Yun Kei. From Yee Shun pretending to be distraught to avenging Yun Kei by slowly poisoning Suk Ling to madness.
4. Bak Yeung exposing Yuk Ying true personality. The look on her face is priceless!
5. Bak Yeung was hurt while trying to rescue Yee Shun from Yu Fei's people. Yee Shun arising naked from her bathtub to intimidate Boh Sin.
6. Houng Mou trying to help Onn Sin escape from the palace after Yu Fei's people found Eunuch Ngok and nephew corpses in the well.
7. Yuk Ying falls into Yee Shun's trap and blew her cover in front of Yu Fei. The confrontation between Yuk Ying and Yee Shun was intense!
8. Yee Shun torturing Yuk Ying physically and mentally because she was jealous of Bak Yeung attention on Yuk Ying.
9. Onn Sin's anguish after her grandmother was killed. All her hopes of reuniting with her grandmother was ruined, just like the quilt she's making for her grandmother...
10. Yee Shun threatening to push Yuk Ying down the tower if she doesn't leave Bak Yeung alone. Alas, Bak Yeung only has eyes for Yuk Ying.
11. Bak Yeung helping Yuk Ying to get intimate with the emperor. You'll feel sorry for him because he gave his beloved woman to another man.
12. Houng Mou walking in the snow with Onn Sin. Very sweet!
13. Bak Yeung willingly eat the food given by Yuk Ying despite knowing that it was poisoned. His love for Yuk Ying exceeded his own life.
14. Yu Fei crying with her dead baby in her arms. Her sadness was genuine, but she also wants to exploit this opportunity to regain her status.
15. Fook Nga committing suicide to save Yee Shun. Bak Yeung finally discover that both Fook Nga and Yee Shun was in love him.
16. Yu Fei asking Houng Mou whom he loved most between Onn Sin and herself. She was touched by Houng Mou's reply...
17. Bak Yeung and Yuk Ying embrace each other in their fiery deaths. Very sad and touching...
18. Onn Sin dying on Houng Mou's shoulder. Finally they can be together, even if it was for a short time...

Fashion & Accessories:

With the production fees of over HK$10 million, it's no wonder that the costumes and accessories used in this filming are the best seen in television series nowadays. Most of the dresses were specially designed and tailored to specific characters and personality, along with impressive headgear and jewelleries. In addition, most of the scenes were filmed in the Forbidden Palace, giving audiences breathtaking scenery for added authenticity.

Interesting information about women and the Forbidden Palace:

1. In addition to a single Empress, the Emperor was entitled to secondary consorts and concubines. The titles enjoyed by these ladies were, in descending order:

a. 1st Rank
-Wong Kwai Fei: Imperial Honored Consort.

b. 2nd Rank
-Kwai Fei: Honored Secondary Consort, 1st rank.
-Sook Fei: Pure Secondary Consort, 2nd rank
-Tak Fei: Virtuous Secondary Consort, 3rd rank
-Han Fei: Worthy Secondary Consort, 4th rank.

c. 3rd Rank
-Fei: Consort-in-Ordinary. Sheren is in this rank.

d. 4th Rank
-Bun: Imperial Concubine.

e. 5th Rank
-Kwai Yan: Worthy Lady. Maggie, Charmaine and Gigi are promoted to this rank. Only this ranks and above was considered to be the emperor's formal wives.

f. 6th Rank
-Sheung Joi: Female Attendant.

g. 7th Rank
-Dap Ying: Female Attendant. Charmaine and Gigi initial rank.

h. Lowest
-Shih Nui: Serving Woman. Maggie initial rank.

2. The formal residence of the concubines was divided into two major sections. Each palace has its own courtyard, a front hall, a rear hall and annexes. They lived amid great wealth but they owned nothing - all the riches belonged to the Imperial Household Department. Emperor Jiaqing resides at Yangxindian, the Hall of Mental Cultivation.

The Six Eastern Palaces
1. Jingrengong (Palace of Great Benevolence)
2. Chengqiangong (Palace of Celestial Favor) - Charmaine and Gigi residence as Worthy Ladies.
3. Yonghegong (Palace of Eternal Harmony)
4. Jingyanggong (Palace of Great Brilliance)
5. Zhongcuigong (Palace of Purity) - The Sau Nui's residence.
6. Yanxigong (Palace of Lasting Happiness)

The Six Western Palaces
1. Yongshougong (Palace of Eternal Longevity) - Sheren residence
2. Yikungong (Palace of the Queen Consort) - Maggie residence as Worthy Lady
3. Chuxiugong (Palace for Gathering Elegance) - Rebecca Chan (empress) residence.
4. Taijidian (Hall of the Supreme Pole)
5. Changchungong (Palace of Eternal Spring)
6. Xianfugong (Palace of Universal Happiness)

3. The recruitment of women into the palace was done every three years through drafting of daughters of officials in the eighth banners. With the exception of specific individuals, every eligible girl had to appear in Beijing for the recruitment before her marriage, beginning from the age of 13 to 14 years old. Those who caught the emperor's eye would be promoted into the harem. Some were immediately chosen to be wives or consorts for the princes or Manchu nobles. In this series, those who were chosen to be "Sau Nui" came from the three upper banners: White, Yellow and Bordered Yellow.

4. Nightly, the Emperor would decide which concubine would visit him that evening. She would then be stripped, bathed and depilated before being carried to his chamber. The number of times a concubine was chosen secured her social standing. Motherhood usually brought promotion.

5. What's up with this Wo Shen? Let me start with the story of 'As You Wish' (Ruyi; a kind of auspicious ornament and popular method of bribe in those days) Emperor Jiaqing once issued a verdict forbidding court official to present ruyi as a gift. Why? After sitting on the throne for 60 years, Emperor Qianlong decided to pass the throne to his son. According to the rule, the successor was not to be announced publicly, but written in a will and placed behind the plague "Upright & Honest" until the time arrived. Although Qianlong has named Jiaqing his successor 3 decades ago, it has been kept secret other than Qianlong himself. The first person who knew Qianlong's decision was of course his favorite official, Wo Shen. Crafty and intelligent, Wo Shen sent a ruyi carved with a cloud pattern to Jiaqing, implying that he is the next successor and hoping that he will continue bestow favors on him. However, even though Jiaqing succeed the throne, his father was still alive so Jiaqing served as a puppet. Jiaqing has to humor not only his father but also Wo Shen as he wields enormous power. More importantly Qianlong started to become senile and Wo Shen could give any order in his name. Thus, Jiaqing nursed an intense hatred for Wo Shen in secret. After Qianlong demise he immediately stripped Wo Shen power and ordered him to commit suicide. The length of his hatred extended to ruyi, which reminded him of Wo Shen.

6. Eunuchs. A eunuch is a male who has been rendered sexually impotent by mutilation or removal of the external genitals. Males became eunuchs both voluntarily and involuntarily, as a desperate means of employment or from harsh punishment. The presence eunuchs lurking in the palace ensured that each child born by the concubines was sired by the emperor. Non-eunuch males, even relatives of the emperor or of his concubines, were barred from the vicinity of the women's dwelling on penalty of death. Sometimes eunuchs played upon the fierce female rivalries, jealousies, and raw ambitions prevalent in the harem. Many joined forces with a scheming empress or concubine in dark plots to dispose the heir apparent and place her own son or favorite in line for succession.

Final Comments:

There are some loopholes such as un-castrated men (physician and guards) were allowed to roam in the forbidden palace. In fact, the sight of them in the palace will cost them their heads. Another fact is those eunuchs were allowed to leave the palace at will. Yes, some high ranking eunuchs were allowed to own properties and wives like Eunuch Chui, but many were not allowed to step out of the palace like that. Still, audiences could afford to overlook the details: or else there will be no stories to tell about the men!

Unanswered questions:

1. Whom does the silk handkerchief belong to? I believe it belongs to Sheren. Maggie is not lying to Moses when she said it was not hers. It was not out of spite - you can see she was confused when Moses asked her about it. When Sheren found it, she was shocked that Moses owned it. The expression on her face is as if she was reminiscing the past. She also recites the poem at the end of the series.

2. Who killed Boh Sim (Yu Fei's maid)? Most probably the empress henchmen. I think originally the script meant for Gigi to murder her because the story summary at the official sites hinted so and later Maggie discovered it. The script has been cut short, therefore, alteration was made. Most probably the webmaster was too lazy to change the details. There were also a lot of 'lost' scenes in the series e.g. Gigi slapping Charmaine's maid Bak Lan. The scene where Maggie invites Gigi for an alliance was also supposed to feature Charmaine appearing later (fans have taken photos of this scene) etc.

In case someone is curious, some major characters in the storyline do exist. However, it was NOT based on the story of Empress Dowager Cixi. This is because the emperor in the story is Emperor Jiaqing, who is the grandfather of Cixi husband, Emperor Xianfeng. The real characters are:

1. Emperor and the empress: True to the history, Rebecca was Yu Yeung second queen. Emperor Jiaqing was struck death by lightning and the empress son eventually succeeds the crown and became Emperor Daoguang. The empress become Empress Dowager and was known for her stern and dominating behaviors.

2. Sheren: The original character was Jiaqing's favorite, mainly because she gave birth to his last princess. However, she also had a son and she was promoted to Wong Kwai Fei after Jiaqing abrupt demise.

3. Charmaine: Passed away as Shun Bun before the 15th year of Jiaqing reign (the story timeline). Does not have any children.

4. Gigi. Served the emperor when he was still the crown prince. Promoted as Ying Bun to Wah Fei, after giving birth to a princess. Died in the 24th year of Jiaqing reign.

5. Maggie: Originally a palace servant. Promoted to Sheung Joi (Female Attendant) during Jiaqing reign. After he passed away, she was promoted as Onn Bun. No children.

6. The 3 other concubines, Wing Bun, Tak Bun and Gut Bun also existed.

"War and Beauty" has the most original script and storyline TVB has produced in recent years. This series garnered a lot of attention from press and audiences alike, with many celebrities confessing to be avid fans, including Chow Yun Fatt and Miriam Yeung. "War and Beauty" definitely is a TVB classic so don't miss out on this great series! I wonder when I can get my hand of the WAB Special DVD release...

Official site at: http://tvcity.tvb.com/drama/war_n_beauty/story/index.html

Alternative site: http://ent.sina.com.cn/download/photo/jzyn.html
(containing exclusive and non-released/unseen pics and scenes)

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