So in this post I will be reviewing my most obsessed-over, fangirled and favourite period C-drama, Legend of Zhen Huan also known as Empresses in the Palace or Zhen Huan Zhuan in chinese.
The plot follows a 17-year-old Zhen Huan, innocent and naive as she reluctantly enters the palace to be (unfortunately) selected as one of the Emperor’s concubines.
One thing I loved about LZH is the way it holds your breath throughout and makes you worry about what was going to happen to your favourite characters, especially after seeing them die one after another. Every action or twist just seemed to grip you and leave you panting with worry for Zhen Huan and co. The times when Zhen Huan got pregnant I was feeling so bittersweet for her, on one hand being pregnant meant higher status and a rise in power to deal with enemies like Hua Fei but on the other you have Hua Fei (omg urgh) that will be plotting behind your back to torture you or cause a miscarriage. I swear the palace is soooooooooo scary. Makes you wish Zhen Huan could somehow escape and live the peaceful life she has always yearned for but of course that would mean the death of her entire family. Tsk. The pacing was smooth and not once did I cringe or frowned at the possibility of what was happening. I drank in every detail and every word that was spoken, digging deep into the underlying meaning of the action or speech. I love the way they insulted each other though. Not the insults but they way they did it. Words laced with poison beneath a coat of sweet sugar. Cat-fighting just became epic.
The transformation – wow
The character development was so awesome. I actually preferred the badass Zhen Huan later on as compared to the innocent and naive Zhen Huan in the beginning. But I was glad that despite being innocent and naive, she wasn’t a total pushover. Not at all. She’s one of those rare heroines that can intertwine insult and praise in one sentence and you won’t even know which is it. And she is soooooo smart. I am always left in awe at how with just a few (or many) words she managed to escape from various difficult situations unscathed.
Some of my other favourite characters include Mei Zhuang, the Empress, Jin Xi and maybe Ling Rong. In most blogs I’ve read I was pretty surprised that people liked Hua Fei though. Hua Fei was a pretty outstanding character in that she was the main enemy for the first half of the series and her desire for the Emperor’s love and attention was genuine which made her one of the most likable characters. But if I had to choose villains I would’ve preferred the Empress. In terms of schemes and intelligence, the Empress won hands-down. That was probably the main reason why she’s one of my favorite characters. She also has one of the best character developments in my opinion. At the start I thought, wow she’s a nice and impartial empress that’s surprising. But later on you realise that was all just a farce. Her schemes were well thought out and unlike Hua Fei, who was proud and showy, the Empress hid behind the scenes and work her fingers to move people around like chess pieces to do her dirty work. I thought the way she sowed discord between Ling Rong and Zhen Huan, while pretending to be Ling Rong’s support was pretty awesome. Twisted and low but awesome. Hua Fei was too proud and smug for me, despite the fact that she relied on others to think up schemes for her while she took all the benefits. And her cruelty is just beyond me. Okay the Empress is pretty ruthless as well but Hua Fei just pissed me off so much. I really pitied Cao Gui Ren though. She didn’t deserve the end that she got.
Can’t get over how pretty Ada Choi is
Jiang Xin did a good job with Hua Fei though
And of course, there is the romance. I’m glad the romance wasn’t all fluffy and fanservice though it got fluffier later on. I really liked the romance between the Emperor and Zhen Huan. It was sweet in that understated way that is not overly fluffy which was definitely not the kind of show LZH was. The relationship between the Emperor and Zhen Huan was definitely something special especially when we compare his treatment of Zhen Huan and his treatment of Hua Fei, whom he has favoured for many years. With Hua Fei, the Emperor seemed to see her as a form of relaxation and escape from the daily toils of being the emperor. Not to mention the fact that her brother, Nian Geng Yao was an important official in court at that time which leaves him an obligation to treat Hua Fei well. Yet, he sees Zhen Huan not only as a a companion but a confidant. There were instances when he was able to discuss literature and even politics with her (since Hua Fei was too dumb for any of that) and one instance when the Emperor referred to them both as husband and wife. It felt like Hua Fei was just the mistress while Zhen Huan was the real wife.
aww look at them
It was kinda sad when the relationship broke in the end when Zhen Huan realised that her husband was emperor first, husband second. That not only was he the emperor, but was also husband to several other concubines, most of them were directly related to the court. Not to mention the fact that Zhen Huan had an uncanny resemblance to his beloved late Empress Chun Yuan, whom he used as her replacement. But from the interactions they have, I truly believed that the Emperor loved Zhen Huan for her and not just as a replacement. It is after all impossible to totally replace one with another no matter how similar their looks. And the Emperor fell for not only her kindness and lack of greed for attention or power, but also her ability to discuss and provide solutions to difficult situations. From their first scene together with the outdoor swing, I can totally imagine how their life would be if he wasn’t the emperor and she the concubine.
Though she finds a new love interest in the younger and hotter Prince Guo, I still think the Emperor was a better match. Prince Guo felt more like romantic fling as compared the mature relationship she shared with the Emperor.
this totally defines the term “shoot daggers with her eyes”
Overall, LZH was a masterpiece that I can’t help but compare whenever i watch other period dramas and cry inwardly with disappointment. I have watched this show twice and a half and still I am in awe with their intense acting and beautifully-written script. I have heard that one of the flaws of this series is its soundtrack but I disagree. The simplistic soundtrack is to me, one of its greatest strength. It represents the whole treatment and style of the series, that is subtlety. In fact I thought it really intensifies certain scenes without making it too dramatic.
Legend of Zhen Huan is definitely a must-watch especially if you are a big fan of palace politics and intriguing plots. I can’t wait to catch the currently-airing Legend of Miyue from the same production team of LZH and the same cast, also starring Sun Li (screams!) and the upcoming LZH sequel, Legend of RuYi (not starring Sun Li, criesss).