A popular folk rhyme has it that the daughter of Fu family will be the next Empress, and the court officials are busy weighing their benefits to have their hands in marriage. The series chronicles the path taken by the Fu sisters, Fu Yu Zhan and Fu Jin Zhan, whose personalities are like the sun and the moon. Yu Zhan, the eldest, is calm, intelligent & meticulous while the Jin Zhan, the youngest is lively, mischievous & reckless.
Yu Zhan falls in love with Xue Rong, emperor-designate while Jin Zhan falls in love with Jiang Shao, the emperor’s biological son who is not aware of his own identity. The series focuses on mostly relationships between the 2 couples, sprinkled with side love stories of other supporting casts, of Princess Shou-An & Zhang Yong Yao, Li Huai Jin and his one-sided love for Jin Zhan, Chai Zhen Zhen and her one-sided love for Jiang Shao.
The series attempts to focus on too many things, trying to focus on romance, detective-style investigations into mysteries, political plots, revenge plans, benevolence of royal family. Unfortunately, the series is unable to pin down its focus. The storyline & plots are a little chaotic and sometimes repetitive.
The romance of the main lead Yu Zhan (Meng Zi Yi) and Xue Rong (Aarif Rahman) seems to be a bit far-fetched – restrained & tragically self-made angst. I am maintaining my views that Aarif Rahman can’t act (although I watched quite a number of series with him as the lead, rolling eyes…). Meng Zi Yi’s Yu Zhan is too perfect which obviously does not endear her. Meng Zi Yi is also the actress portraying Li Si (Han De Rang’s wife), and is quite different in both roles, an actress with potential.
The romance of the 2nd lead Jin Zhan (Li Yi Tong) and Jiang Shao (Wang Zhuo Cheng) is more vivacious. Li Yi Tong is also in Royal Nirvana portraying the main lead, Lu Wen Xi. She looks so different, and I could not recognise her at all! Her role in Royal Nirvana reflects her as thin & pallid-looking while in this series, she looks so bubbly with rosy cheeks. Again, both roles totally different, definitely an actress with potential. I recognised Wang Zhuo Cheng in Untamed, portraying Jiang Cheng but felt that the acting can probably improve a little.
The ending is mixed. Such a tragic ending for Xue Rong and Yu Zhan. Salvation comes in the form of a good ending for Jiang Shao and Jin Zhan. Overall with 40 episodes, the series can definitely reduce its angst and make it more concise. Perhaps it is time for the Chinese series to take on a shorter & more concise views of series – helping them to focus on quality & important aspects of a drama.
Side muse – when I was younger, I simply love tragic endings as it feels heart-wrenching with very deep impression. As I grow older, I actually prefer happy but realistic endings.
Throughout watching the series, I am actually invested more in the comparison of the series against the actual documented history. The series is actually based on actual historical characters of the Later Zhou ~ 951 to 960 AC. Some comparisons are made of the actual historical characters vs series characters:
|Emperor Xue Wei is deemed to have ruled for a number of years as Emperor.||Guo Wei fought his way as a military general for many years before rebelling & setting the Later Zhou dynasty, installing himself as Emperor Guo Wei. He was reigning officially as emperor only for 3 years before his death.|
|The Emperor Xue Wei does not have any biological son in the palace, only a daughter Princess Shou-An. Xue Wei has a lover, who gives birth to his only son, Jiang Shao, who lives freely in the “jianghu”.||Emperor Guo Wei had a few sons & daughters, who were all assassinated by Emperor of Later Han – Liu Cheng You while he was in military battles.|
|Xue Rong (original name Chai Rong) is the adopted son of Xue Wei, the reigning emperor of the series||Guo Rong (original name Chai Rong) is the adopted son of Guo Wei, the first emperor of Later Zhou|
|Xue Rong marries Fu Jin Zhan when he is still Prince Jin in a swap of identities between the sisters, whereby Jin Zhan fakes her death in the palace fire. Subsequently, Xue Rong remarries Fu Yu Zhan as his Empress.||Before his reign as emperor, Guo Rong’s wife is a Lady Liu. His whole family, including Lady Liu and 3 infant sons, were assassinated by Emperor of Later Han – Liu Cheng You. Upon Guo Wei’s ascend as Emperor of Later Zhou, Guo Rong married elder Fu daughter when she was 21 at Guo Wei’s suggestion.|
|Fu Yu Zhan is ordered by Emperor Xue Wei to marry Duke Liu Cheng Fu in a bid to assassinate the Duke. Xue Rong @ Prince Jin sends the bride to the vassal city to execute the assassination.||Elder Fu daughter was married to Li Chong Xun, a military man. The Li family rebelled against Later Han Kingdom, but was defeated & Li Chong Xun committed suicide. Elder Fu daughter hid herself and was rescued by Guo Wei’s soldiers.|
|Fu Yu Zhan is portrayed as elegant, restrained, intelligent & able.||Elder Fu daughter was able to save her own life by hiding herself when the Li family committed suicide. She was also able to ensure her own safety from Guo Wei’s soldiers.|
|Xue Rong & Fu Yu Zhan’s ages are not specifically stated but both seems to be of the same age.||Elder Fu daughter was 10 years younger than Guo Rong.|
|Fu Yu Zhan is poisoned, and the ending shows her leaving Xue Rong presumably to die on her own.||Elder Fu daughter passed away 4 years after marrying Guo Rong.|
|Series end with Yu Zhan leaving Xue Rong, without any child.||Elder Fu daughter had a son Guo/ Chai Zhong Xun with Guo Rong, who succeeded Guo Rong as a young emperor.|
|Princess Shou-An marries Minister of Justice, Zhang Yong Yao.||Guo Wei’s daughter married one Zhang YongDe.|
|Fu Yan Xin is a military general, who is also the father of Fu Yu Zhan and Fu Jin Zhan. In the series, he has one wife & is committed to her even in her death. Later, he takes in Chai Zhen Zhen (Chai Rong’s biological sister) as his adopted daughter.||Fu Yan Qing is a celebrated military general who serves during the 5-dynasties 10-kingdoms chaotic period. He has many sons & daughters on record. 3 of his daughters went on to be Empresses, 2 of which as Guo Rong’s wives and 1 to Zhao Guang Yi (future Song Emperor).|
|Chai Zhen Zhen is shown to go on her own adventures freely at the ending, with indication that she is going to the kingdom’s borders.||A younger Fu daughter was married to Zhao Guang Yi, who went on to be Emperor Taizong of Song. She was interred as Empress Yide of Song Dynasty.|
|Fu Yan Xin is also known as Prince of Wei.||Fu Yan Qing was designated as Prince of Huai Yang by Guo Wei, Emperor of Later Zhou.|
Sources on documented history : wikipedia
After comparing notes on the historical characters & the series characters, it is so clear that many of the series are romanticised . Options are not available for the real characters. Many of the steps taken are supposedly beneficial for their families. Look at how Fu Yang Qing pawned off all his daughters who became empresses in this series. Look at how Xiao Xi Wen married off his three daughters to the Yelu families in Legend of Xiao Chuo. Being women (and men) in ancient China is really quite depressing. 😦