Despite being three years since Legend of Zhen Huan was aired, I found myself constantly comparing to this masterpiece whenever I watch a new period c-drama which only leaves me with sky-high expectations and tears of disappointment. Of course, not every series can be compared when there are so many different genres and styles. Yet I can’t help but find myself thinking “they should’ve done it this way like in LZH” or “is that how it works? LZH wasn’t like that” sigh. I have some serious post-LZH syndrome that I am hoping to get over with Legend of Mi Yue.
Meanwhile I’ve decided to rewatch the later part of LZH which was also the part I loved the most, beginning from the part when Zhen Huan decided to seduce the emperor and return to the palace. I remember watching that scene with so much dread for Zhen Huan. She has finally left this hell-hole and found happiness but now for the sake of her sickly father and vengeance for Prince Guo, she returns to emperor’s side in order to leverage on his power and save her father. And this time she returns as Niuhulu Zhen Huan, a.k.a badass Zhen Huan. Rather than staying on the defensive like before, this time she takes on the an offensive stance and pays back anyone who had tried to hurt her before. Even her costumes and makeup are different.
Zhen Huan when she returns as Niuhulu Zhen Huan
the amount of confidence she has as compared to before
I can’t imagine Zhen Huan having to sleep with the man she now dislikes and increasingly hates. And how she forgave Jing Ping even when she tried to hog Long Yue to herself and rat on Jin Xi’s and Su Pei Sheng’s relationship. Woah. It shows that despite how much she’s changed, Zhen Huan still retains the essence of the old Zhen Huan. I wouldn’t be able to forgive so easily though. But Jing Ping ended up one of her biggest allies so it was definitely worth it.
Zhen Huan has long lost any form of affection towards the Emperor in this part of the series. No longer does she reveal her true feelings and instead hides them behind an ever-smiling mask. There are even scenes when in the first cut, Zhen Huan was upset about something then she switched to the ever-smiling Xi Gui Fei when the Emperor comes in. It must be so tiring having to keep acting all the time. After Mei Zhuang’s death, Zhen Huan had no one to share her true feelings with. Sure there was Duan Fei and Jing Fei but there is a limit to how much she can share with them, especially when it comes to her hatred for the Emperor.
The Emperor’s over-suspicious nature reaches its peak in this arc. He agreed to the blood test for Hong Yan and Dr Wen when Zhen Huan was accused of having an affair with him as he claimed that it will be definite proof that Zhen Huan is innocent. But when the test showed that their blood matched, the Emperor immediately believed Zhen Huan to be an adulteress. Lol talk about trust. Zhen Huan realised that the water had been tampered with and another blood test was done which proved Zhen Huan’s innocence. The Emperor’s attitude took a 180 degrees turn and treated Zhen Huan like before. Wow. Then there was the arc when Prince Guo dropped his paper statuette of Zhen Huan. But why did the Emperor even pick up the pouch and open it in the first place? In front of everyone?! It’s either he has no respect for the privacy of even his own brothers or he might have suspected that Prince Guo was hiding something. Huan Bi took this opportunity to claim that the statuette was her instead of Zhen Huan and got her wish when the Emperor insisted they married. Later on, it was revealed that the Emperor had suspected something between Prince Guo and Zhen Huan, and sent his secret intelligence to check up on it. I kind of empathise with the Emperor here though. Despite being surrounded by people, few are sincere. Most are either after his throne or merely putting on a facade in order to please him. I realised that he tend to prefer women who are straight-forward and spoke their minds, like Yu-Rao, Ning Ping and Zhen Huan before she was banished. I always wondered why he tolerated Ning Ping even when she was unbelievably rude to everyone, including the Empress. But now that I thought about it, this was probably what the Emperor liked so much about her. Even Hua Fei, despite being annoyingly evil and abusive with her power, she was genuinely sincere towards the Emperor. Although it turns out his suspicions were true, it was the fact that he acted upon it that ultimately killed him. I guess the old idiom, “ignorance is bliss” rings true.
I thought one of the best scenes in this part was Ling Rong’s final words to the Emperor. She knew her title was named after the huangli bird (a joke on Zhen Huan’s part) and said that she was merely a bird kept by the Emperor to sing and entertain. It hit me that the concubines in the harem are like birds kept in this large cage, to entertain the Emperor. Throughout her life in the harem Ling Rong chased after status and affections to ease the insecurities she had inside. But in the end, she ended up merely a pawn to be used and thrown around by the Empress and even the Emperor himself. Yet, unlike many others who went before her, she stopped blaming Zhen Huan and merely accepted her fate of being used as a pawn. That she was the one who let Zhen Huan down. She probably knew long ago that her betraying Zhen Huan was the one big mistake that spiraled her down this path. Several times she tried getting Zhen Huan’s help but was rejected in the end which only fueled her jealousy and hatred. At least Ling Rong finally made the right choice at the end when she requested Zhen Huan (not the Empress) for a plate of bitter almonds and to speak to her one last time.
And of course the scene of Zhen Huan walking out of the room after the Emperor dies gave me chills. It was unclear what exactly Zhen Huan must be feeling since so many emotions were portrayed. Sun Li’s performance was truly amazing in this scene though. It felt as if she had finally won the battle and let out all of the pain and hatred she had been holding on to, avenged the death of Prince Guo, Mei Zhuang and even Ling Rong. As if finally, everything has come to an end. This was also the only time she had genuinely cried for the Emperor since returning to the palace.
The last scene with Zhen Huan telling Jin Xi that she’s tired and going to nap, really shows how tired she really is. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally. She has fought her entire way up to where she is but lost the people she loved along the way. I guess the main message of the entire series is how power and status can never truly give you happiness.