The story of power, desire, lust and love among people of different kingdoms in ancient China. No matter who you are, you have to rise from the mud to become The Great Phoenix.The story of power, desire, lust and love among people of different kingdoms in ancient China. No matter who you are, you have to rise from the mud to become The Great Phoenix.The story of power, desire, lust and love among people of different kingdoms in ancient China. No matter who you are, you have to rise from the mud to become The Great Phoenix.
It is an investment of time and energy if you choose to watch this. The plot is dense, not for the faint of heart or for those who do not like subtitles. Please don't let the botched attempt in the first few minutes to paint a historical backstory deter you. I almost stopped watching after those first few minutes. Fortunately I ignored it, hung in there, and waited to learn what was going on.
It is the complex plot and the acting which has my rapt attention. The intrigues at court are more convoluted and fascinating than any soap opera has ever been. Plots within plots, hidden motives and alliances. That said, the beautiful, ornate sets and fabulous costumes are superb and warrant an Emmy for that alone.
Great acting by the two main characters with marvelous support from other actors. The actor playing Ning Yi, the character who returns from banishment in the first episode, portrays him as complex, lovable, and relentless. The character reminds me of a historical character (described in the I Ching) that was caught like a fly in a complex, life-threatening web at court. He chose to dissemble, pretending to be insane in order to cloak his true purposes until it was safe to reveal his intentions. But Ning Yi is so clever and multilayered that I am not certain that he is ever clear on his own motives. The main female character, Feng Zhi Wei, who cross-dresses (new name Wei Zhi), so that she is able to become a scholar, an official, and eventually the Emperor's favorite advisor, was a joy. I was grateful to see a female character arising from modern Chinese culture who so much more intelligent and wily than her peers -- she ran circles around them and then enlisted them to help her. That made me smile.
My favorite secondary character is Xin Ziyan. He is head of the Qingming Academy, where young, capable, and ambitious men are trained scholastically, socially, and in the martial arts. He is subtle, nimbly jumping in and out of the centers of power. He never manages to bow quite as deeply as the others, and always enjoys himself with wine, wives and poetry. He is ambiguous. He admits the ferocity and importance of the political struggles but never takes it overly seriously. With bemused detachment he still manages to keep his prince Ning Yi focused on the important issues.
The character playing the Emperor Ning Shizheng does a great job of acting without acting. He uses a variety of techniques to portay an emperor -- an almost constant mask (a straight face), very occasional and careful explosions, showing how and what he chooses to attend to, and my favorite, placing and then watching the royal princes' behavior in various situations. He is able to suggest what it might have been like to be at the center of all those machinations. Seemingly the one with most power and yet the one most trapped in a role.
A brief sentence to note the performance of the Crown Prince , who is portrayed both diabolically and sympathetically. It is a rare thing for me to feel some empathy toward a character who is not above slaughtering 1/10 of the others. But he managed to show how his behavior arose not only out of unwanted ambition but misdirected desire to please this all-powerful father.
For those who want a little bit more history with their historical drama, or if you find this sort of thing to be enjoyable, I strongly suggest watching the Korean historical drama series Queen Seondeok. It has much greater attention to historical detail and recounts the story of the first reigning queen of Shila, one of the three kingdoms of Korea. Queen Seondeok was described as "generous, benevolent, wise, and smart." The story was interesting, but I particularly liked its superlative female acting. The actress playing Queen Seondeok was wonderful and showed exemplary character development abilities. But it was the villainess, lady Mishil, who still wins my vote for the most clever and nefarious female villain ever. Best of all, that series has the best bad boy, of all time Bidam -- innocent, complex, devoted and a superb martial artist. (Although Bidam doesn't come into the story until the end of the 21st episode!).
- Sep 30, 2018