The Legend of Zhen Huan: Eps 1-3
The Legend of Concubine Zhen Huan rivals Bu Bu Jing Xin in quality. This drama takes place in the Qing Dynasty, during Emperor Yong Zheng’s reign, so of course people will obviously compare it to BBJX at first. The thing with BBJX is that although it had high quality costumes and sets, there was still a very glossy, polished feel to it. While it looked more realistic in contrast to other period c-dramas that didn’t pay so much attention to detail, it still felt pretty surreal.
Zhen Huan has a totally different atmosphere. IMO it’s way more realistic than BBJX. Its costumes are exquisite, the setting is beautiful, but it doesn’t feel like the producer is even TRYING to go, “Look at how beautiful this is! You know you want to time travel back to the Qing Dynasty!” It just IS beautiful in its own way. The cinematography is quietly beautiful and simplistic. In BBJX you felt like you were in a fairy tale, but in Zhen Huan you feel like you’re getting a secret glimpse into the lives of the people who lived in the Forbidden City.
Zhen Huan, our main heroine, is an innocent and cheerful girl who doesn’t even want to be selected as one of the emperor’s concubines. Buuut of course she passes the concubine auditions when the emperor notices her beauty (and her resemblance to the former empress) and her calm composure. Zhen Huan lights up the screen with her carefree attitude, which makes me feel kinda sad because I wonder how she’ll change once she enters the palace. Zhen Huan is already friends with Shen Mei Zhuang who also passes the auditions.
Already we have a conflict between the current Empress (played by Ada Choi) and the lofty Hua Fei. Hua Fei is basically next in command because she’s related to the great general Nian Geng Yao and she has the emperor tied around her finger. She flaunts around her power since the Empress has little control over her.
I love that the Legend of Zhen Huan pays close attention to ranks, titles, customs, etc. of the time period. The Emperor awards each new concubine a certain title, each of which denotes their rank.
Zhen Huan is granted a sorta-good rank of “Laughing” or smiling (forgot what it was). Each concubine is shown to their new residence in the Forbidden City. Zhen Huan brings along her two servants with her and settles into her new palace. It’s the former residence of the former empress (who’s deceased). HINT HINT. HINT HINT HINT .
We see the wonder and excitement in exploring the Forbidden City through Zhen Huan’s eyes. I love this episode because it really feels like you’re right there with her, experiencing this for the first time.
Zhen Huan is a benevolent and kind mistress, both to her long time childhood servants and to her new eunuch’s/maids. As she settles into her new home, we get to see how the Inner Palace works as the Empress and Hua Fei send out presents to the new concubines and as all the other concubines settle in.
Shen Mei Zhang is my favorite character so far. She’s of higher status than Zhen Huan, but is still quite humble and kind. Mei Zhang is basically the epitome of “a lady” of that time–graceful and refined and composed. And to top it off, she’s nice. It was kinda funny to see the obvious difference in the way Mei Zhang and Zhen Huan handled their new situations. When Zhen Huan had her maids give the eunuchs a gift of money, it wasn’t as subtle as the way Mei Zhang had her maid do the same thing.
Ling Rong is the last of our threesome of new concubines (that are main characters). She’s of the lowest status amongst the three of them. Because of her low status, at first she wasn’t even given a second glance by the Emperor. However because of a fresh flower in her hair, a butterfly lingered by her head, thus catching the emperor’s attention. Obviously she passed the audition.
Ling Rong is quite the sad character; although she became a concubine and thus brought honor to her family, she’s not very happy in the Forbidden City. Although she’s a concubine, her title is one of the lowest ones. Because of her low status and family background, another wealthy concubine looks down on her and always makes snide remarks.
Again we see more of the ways of the palace, as Ling Rong hardly receives any gifts from anyone. All because of her status.
Zhen Huan, Ling Rong, and Mei Zhang group together and become good friends. Since Ling Rong does not have very fortunate circumstances, Mei Zhang and Zhen Huan take her under their wing and help her out. It’s the beginning of a friendship that will hopefully last through all of the trials and drama in the emperor’s harem.
All the costumes are gorgeous. Every single concubine has such beautiful hairstyles and gowns. AUGHHHHH!!! They must’ve had a huge budget to make everything look so exquisite. Anyway, several scenes like this one shown above demonstrate the customs and social expectations of the time. Zhen Huan & Mei Zhang prove to be very smooth talkers and quick thinkers.
By the 3rd episode we already discover the true cruelty of the Inner Palace, and how important it is to survive. A high status will not necessarily spare you from punishment, as shown when an arrogant high-ranking new concubine is punished severely for acting out of place. Also one of the servants is found dead after she offended the Hua Fei. Yeah..don’t mess with her…
Our threesome is frightened by the harsh conditions of the palace after receiving such a wake up call. It’ll be interesting to see how they adapt to their circumstances in order to stay on the good side of the higher ups.
I anticipate that this will be the best court drama I’ve seen. The quality is great on all levels–the script, acting, costumes, etc. I read on spcnet that its only weakness might be its soundtrack. Also the endings to the episodes are rather abrupt but that’s kinda common in c-dramas.
I think this is the kind of drama that will receive a loyal following of fans, but it won’t experience a huge overwhelming success like BBJX. Probably because this drama feels so raw and realistic. I really think that those who aren’t watching it are missing out though. This is not the drama for everyone…but if you want to see a more realistic side of the Forbidden City, then this just might be for you. Obviously this is a period c-drama which means that there is much angst and suffering to come in the future.
Don’t be expecting lots of romance and cutesy shippy scenes. Sure they’re concubines and there’s the emperor, but this is really a drama about the complexity of the Inner Palace and the struggles between the concubines as they vie for power. The emperor is not handsome and young, but it doesn’t really matter. I mean, do you really think that all the emperors and princes back in the day were hot?