Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace: Eps 1-3 Review

Chinese DramasDrama ReviewsRuyi's Royal Love in the Palace

I got my head up in the clouds lately with my mind full of Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace (RRL).  I’m just so darn happy that the drama can finally see the light of day and I can finally watch it.  I’m gleefully gazing at the beautiful Wallace, Zhou Xun, and pretty much all of the supporting cast on my screen.  I’m basking in the cast’s superb acting chops.   And of course, I’m so glad that my all-time favorite c-drama, Legend of Zhen Huan (LZH; the prequel) now has a “sequel” in RRL.   RRL is not a perfect drama but I am by all means appreciating it.

Just a heads up:  I will be making a lot of references to LZH throughout my review.  I’ve also watched up to episode 18, so my good impressions of the show are not based on eps1-3 alone.

*Spoilers ahead*

left: Vivian Wu / Wu Jun Mei in RRL right: Sun Li in Legend of Zhen Huan

RRL is supposed to be a “sequel” but it’s really…not.  There is barely any continuity from LZH.  The backstory, characters, and actors have all changed.  Zhen Huan, now portrayed by Vivian Wu, is no longer a protagonist.  She’s a villain who plays a central role in instigating conflict in RRL.  Wuuuut?

There are few similarities between the old and new Zhen Huan.  New Zhen Huan has a completely different personality and ethos.  She is controlling, merciless, and lacks empathy for her opponents.  Old Zhen Huan had mercy on her enemies. Also, she wouldn’t have punished her enemies’ family members for their crimes.  New Zhen Huan takes her vengeance to the next level by going after the Empress’ innocent niece even after the Empress’ death.  What the heck.

I feel like RRL has pretty much ended all hopes of ever seeing old Zhen Huan again and finding out how she fared in the rest of her life.  We saw her in some short scenes in the abridged version of Empresses in the Palace, but not much was revealed about her after-story.   I would’ve liked to see old Zhen Huan come back in RRL, even if she were portrayed by a different actress.  It would’ve been interesting to see how old Zhen Huan approaches her role as Empress Dowager.  Would she assert her influence and try to make the harem a peaceful place?  Would she let go of the reigns and retire to live a carefree life?

Then again, I can see why such a bold move was made to change Zhen Huan’s character….

  • increase the age difference between Zhen Huan and the new Emperor–Age is a huge complaint that people have with this drama.  Just imagine the uproar that would result if Zhen Huan looked too close in age to Wallace’s character.
  • add conflict between the emperor and empress dowager
  • add a major antagonist whose authority is much higher in the harem
  • add another power dynamic
  • interesting perspective in that the villain in one story can be the hero in another.  Our main character Ruyi is the heroine here, but in other dramas she was the antagonist!
Empress (Joan Chen/Chen Chong)

The Empress (Joan Chen), who was the final villain in LZH, is now a sympathetic character in RRL.  She is a doting aunt and is fiercely loyal to her family line.  New Zhen Huan makes some allusions to the Empress’ wrongdoings, so I don’t think she’s entirely innocent though.

The RRL Empress is pretty similar to her character in LZH.  She’s still crazily obsessed with the emperor.  I love the scene when her niece points out that she was abandoned by the emperor.  The Empress gets a crazy look in her eyes and refuses to give up on him…even though he sentenced her to house arrest for life…Props to Cheng Chong for nailing the role of the Empress.  She captured the Empress’ obsession to the T.

Qingying (Zhou Xun)

I’m loving our heroine, Qingying (Zhou Xun).  Qingying is the niece of the Empress and is part of the prestigious Ulanara clan.  For eps 1-3, I would describe Qingying as someone who has an unwavering gaze in the face of hardships, no matter how scared she is.  She has a quiet strength to her and is very level-headed.  The thing I like about Qingying is she feels like a real person.   She’s not an untouchable super genius who goes around kicking butt all the time.  Qingying has her vulnerabilities and many instances in which she can only acquiesce when an injustice is being done against her.  I’ve been enjoying seeing the growth of her character throughout the drama.

Zhou Xun is doing great in her role.  I am soaking up EVERY scene with Zhou Xun in it! 😀  Her performance is understated and subtle, really suiting the cool personality of her character.  I cried while watching her moving portrayal of Qingying in episode 3.  It is an adjustment hearing Zhou Xun’s voice (she’s not dubbed!) at first, because I’ve gotten so used to hearing completely dubbed cdramas.  I’m glad that there’s finally a heroine with a deeper, unique voice.

There has been a lot of hullabaloo over Zhou Xun’s age and how she doesn’t look or sound young enough to play a 16-17 year old in the beginning of the drama.  I find it ridiculous that people are attacking Zhou Xun for things that are totally out of her control.  Is it that mind-boggling for a teenager or young adult to have a deep voice?!   Is it that much of a crime for a 43 year old to not look like a 17 year old?     Zhou Xun is doing the best she can within the limitations of her age.  She shows the young spirit of Qingying, and also has the maturity to portray her character in her later years.

The scene that really got to me is the death scene in episode 3.  Zhen Huan gives the Empress and Qingying an ultimatum: one of them must commit suicide so that the remaining person’s life can be spared.   Here we discover that Qingying is truly a good person.  She prepares to sacrifice herself so that her aunt can be spared, and even bargains to fulfill her aunt’s wish.   ARGHHHH!!!  The Empress beats Qingying to it, drinking the poison and DYING RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER.  ARGHHH!!!  The Empress instructs Qingying to watch so that she can be an eyewitness.  This scene is what made me describe Qingying as a person with an unwavering gaze.  Although she is in shock as she watches her aunt die, she doesn’t look away.  I found it unrealistic that the Empress was able to have an entire conversation while being poisoned to death….but wow.   The Empress’ line “you don’t even have to hate” was great.  What a powerful scene.  Moved me to tears.

By the way, after the Empress’ suicide, Zhen Huan (now Empress Dowager) says the same words that LZH Zhen Huan said to the new harem:

“I don’t want to see any dirty things.”

The context is so different now.  LZH Zhen Huan said this because she experienced the effects of such schemes and truly didn’t want to see it in the new harem.  RRL Zhen Huan said it as part of her duty as the Empress Dowager.  Yet her words ring empty because she just dirtied her own hands by forcing the Empress to commit suicide.  Love the side eye and look of disbelief that Qingying shoots at the Empress Dowager.  LOL.

Top picture: Love the expression on Hongli’s face as he watches Qingying arrive at his marriage selection ceremony!

I love having Wallace in a Qing period drama.  He is holding his own with a charming portrayal of the 4th prince Hongli, who later becomes the Qianlong Emperor.  Wallace’s expressions are spot-on in so many scenes!  I loveee his expressions in his scenes with Qingying! And of course, while there are many beauties in the harem, Wallace is also one of the most beautiful ones in the drama!  😀

Hongli’s burden is that his position as emperor makes him the most powerful person, yet it also constrains many of his actions.  He cannot act freely even though he holds the world in his hand.  One of the interesting dynamics with his character is his relationship to Zhen Huan.  Her support is essential especially in the early days of his reign.  Yet she also asserts too much power over him and continuously hurts Qingying.  I wonder if there’s gonna be a mother son showdown later on?

Hongli is in love with Qingying, who is his childhood friend and confidante.  We didn’t get to see many scenes of the early stages of their relationship, possibly because of the scene cuts from the drama.  Prior to their marriage they already trusted each other completely and shared many memories together.  It seems that their relationship naturally got to the point where it just made sense for them to marry and accompany each other through the ups and downs.  I’m relieved that the two of them have someone they can trust and confide in and that they actually have good communication!  All of the OTP’s scenes together are too precious!  I’m not ready for Qingying and Hongli’s relationship to go sour.  NOT READY!

Overall

In my opinion, only watching the first 3 episodes of RRL is not enough to get a full feel of the drama.  It took me many episodes to adjust and get into the groove of the story.  The first episodes feel rushed with some awkward transitions (especially with the 6 year time skip in ep3!).  I think it may be because the drama had to cut a lot of scenes in order to air, so maybe the 6 year time skip was the omitted part.  T_T

I’d recommend the drama if you….

  • like ANY of the cast members.  You won’t be disappointed by them.  The cast is rock solid.
  • like the Qing period
  • like harem dramas with schemes galore
  • are ok with super long slow burn dramas.  RRL has very gradual build-up and is full of details.
  • are prepared to watch a sad ending
  • are ok with the drama being very different from LZH
  • can overlook the costumes being meh in some instances

The set in RRL is exquisite.  However, the costumes are a hit and miss….with many misses.  The costumes are my biggest disappointment in RRL.  I am seriously bewildered by some of the styling choices.  It’s not to say that the costumes are poor quality.  The textiles are especially gorgeous and higher quality than in LZH.  The clothes have intricate embroidery and luminous patterns.  It feels like the RRL put all of its effort into the set and fabrics and totally neglected the hairstyles & makeup.  Sometimes it seems like the stylist struggled to style some characters (even main characters) whereas other characters lucked out with better costumes.  It feels like such a shame that many characters were not styled in the most flattering outfits.  T_T”

There is a lot more to say about RRL–I couldn’t fit everything that happened in eps 1-3 in my review–but I can’t fit everything in here.  I hope that some people are enjoying the drama as much as I am.  I’m off to watch more RRL.  😀

heisui

I'm heisui, an Asian drama blogger and the creator of My Drama Tea. I love stories and writing, so I watch dramas and blog. I especially have a penchant for Japanese and Chinese dramas, and those hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered. Oh, and I'm Legend of Zhen Huan-obsessed!
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  • Yesss thank you for your review!!! Like you I’ve been waiting for so long (mainly because YOU have been waiting for so long and talking about it forever haha). At first I think I got a jolt because of the story/narrative differentiation from LZH and I was instantly prepared to hate it. “HOW DARE THE BEST HEROINE EVER SUDDENLY BECOME A VILLAIN!” but after a couple days I sobered up and cleared my mind and came back to it. Now I’m very glad I did so. I’ve got about 10 eps down and have comfortably fallen into the drama. I love its pacing and I’m intrigued by all the characters, especially the side ones. It’s long dramas like this that allow those side characters their moments that really build up a drama. And ahhh it’s just very satisfying to see these arcs begin to take effect. I hope you will keep blogging it, again, thank you so much!

    • Hello Rosie!!! Glad to read your comment. It’s great to hear your thoughts about the drama. It also took me a while to adjust to the differences in RRL. Now it’s hard to imagine what the drama would’ve been like if old ZH were in it because so many events are influenced by the new version of ZH. I agree that the pacing is good and actually I think some of the schemes are faster paced than in LZH. I’m also enjoying the side stories, especially of Li Yu, Suo Xin, and Lian Xin.

      I’m not sure how long I can keep up writing about RRL because it took me FOREVER to write just this one review. I really wanted to get this review right. But I got a lot to say about the future episodes. We’ll see…

  • I loooove this drama and thank god I don’t need to wait for English subtitles.

    Anyways I also noticed how the costumes are meh, but realistically speaking, these costume sets are more historically-accurate as the women back then didn’t dress up lavishly every day. On usual days they just dressed very simply, like dark/plain colours with simple hair ornaments. I had been to the Forbidden City before and yes, the palace setting was depicted more accurately than LZH. Dark wood furniture in smaller dimly-lit rooms. That’s why I love this drama! 🙂

    • Hmm, I think the costumes are luxurious and very high quality. It’s not that they’re not lavish enough, it’s that they don’t flatter the actresses as well as they could’ve. I got more used to the costumes as I watched more episodes, but sometimes there are still some wardrobe decisions that puzzle me. I also enjoy the palace sets in RRL a lot. So many ornate details.

  • Hi Heisui – thanks for this awesome review! I know it takes a lot of time to write these, so I want to let you know that it is really appreciated.

    I have only watched the first episode of RRL so far, but I liked it. Zhou Xun’s voice didn’t bother me at all – her voice isn’t beautiful, but does it have to be? Was every court member’s voice beautiful? Of course not, so I don’t get why some people are criticizing her for it.

    My first impression of Wallace Huo is that he is going to be excellent, as he almost always is. The rest of the cast seems to be really good as well, especially Zhou Xun. I will definitely watch all of this drama, if for no other reason than to see where the story takes us after the LZH story. (But I expect that it will be really good). I can’t say that I like Zhen Huan being a villain, because I liked her so much in LZH, but as you said, RRL is really a completely different story.

    • Hi Peter, good to hear from you. It’s been a while since I’ve watched a Wallace drama, so I’m impressed by Wallace’s acting here. He’s even better than I remember. He suits the role of a young emperor IMO. Other cast members have also surprised me (in a good way) and are shining as their characters. Dong Jie (Fuca; di’fujin; later the Empress) in particular is brilliant in her role. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts after you watch more episodes!

  • Thanks for your blog / review! I have been watching the episodes as fast as they get English subs.. and yes, i was bothered at the changes in main characers. Both stories are from the pen by the same author, but for some reason, Zhen Huan is now the villain.. not that it really surprises me, but she also seems to love cats now (and was scared of them before!)
    Will be following the series with interest…

  • Thank you. I am watching raw up to 20 insofar. I find it a bit slowly initially but as I understand each character, it gets interesting. I love the costumes. The embroidery and colours are gorgeous. The acting is excellent. What they is well.scripted.

  • So glad to finally read about your thoughts on RRL! I was actually quite bummed that RRL doesn’t follow after the original LZH story but now I think it’s interesting to see how the story is inverted and the protagonists become the antagonists and vice versa. It’s like RRL is happening in an alternate universe and we’re watching what Zhen Huan would’ve been like if she were evil. Haven’t seen any of the episodes yet since I’m currently on Story of Yanxi Palace but I’m excited!!

  • I was a little disappointed with the lack of continuity but oh well. It’s interesting to compare Zhen Huan (from the first series) and Ruyi, they both have that ‘sweet’ or honeymoon phase with their respective emperor but later become disillusioned. Though it seems unlike Zhen Huan, Ruyi will ultimately ‘fall’ since perhaps she cannot endure that sort of life anymore (from the trailers & synopsis). Additionally, another interesting note is the conversation that takes place when Empress Dowager Zhen Huan renames Ruyi. Ruyi is a little bit idealistic in regards that she wants to always have a loving relationship with Hongli…then Empress Dowager Dowager Zhen Huan gives her this look like that’s wishful thinking. I really like that the emperor is smart too :’) with his scheming though his suspicious nature will ruin his relationship with Ruyi 🙁 Also, a lovely review! I was excited to see someone do a review for RRL! 🙂

  • This New Zhen Huan is the closet depiction to the original character of Zhen Huan in the novels. In the novels, Zhen Huan was more ruthless than Sun Li’s Zhen Huan and have a larger body counts. Some of An Lingrong and the Emperor’s evil deeds are originally belonged to Zhen Huan in the books.

    • Thanks for your comment. I haven’t read the novels so I don’t know much about the differences between the drama ZH and the novel ZH. I’m curious, which of An Lingrong/the Emperor’s bad doings were done by ZH in the novels?

      • List of Zhen Huan’s original evil deeds in the novels:

        – Zhen Huan did using and exploiting An Lingrong, she helped Linggrong for her own purposes in the future. In the novels, Zhen Huan has a handsome brother whom Lingrong falling in love with, this one-sided love become an opportunity in Zhen Huan’s eyes.

        – She was sadistic, cheerfully taunts Hua Fei with the truth of her miscarriage and infertility while smiley and giggle on Hua Fei’s suffering.

        – She poisoned Lady Cao, the scheming next-in-command concubine of Hua Fei, so the sickly concubine (don’t remember her name) could take her child. This was done by the Emperor and the Empress Dowager in the TV adaptation.

        – She is the one who personally ordered the eunuchs to strangled Yu to dead. This was done by An Lingrong on the TV adaptation.

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