Review: Curse of the Royal Harem (TVB, 2011)

Curse of the Royal Harem (萬凰之王)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 27 episodes in Hong Kong (29 Overseas)
Producer: Chong Wai Kin

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


Myolie Wu as “Yuen Yuen” aka Empress
Jessica Hsuan as “Yee Lan” aka Imperial Noble Consort Tsuen
Sunny Chan as Emperor Do-Kwong
Nancy Wu as “Choi Lam” aka Worthy Lady Ching
Gigi Wong as Empress Dowager
Cheung Kwok Keung as “Wai Fuk On”
Joel Chan as “Min Yan” aka Emperor’s younger brother

and Elena Kong, Ben Wong, Macy Chan, Ching Hor-Wai, Charmaine Li, Sire Ma, Jessie Shum, etc.

Synopsis in Brief

During the reign of Emperor Do-Kwong in the Qing Dynasty, beyond the political affairs is his inner harem of consorts and concubines competing aggressively and immaturely to win his favor. And of course, paranoid that her position as the Empress will be threatened, Yuen-Yuen attempts a series of ambushes to eliminate her strongest competitor Yee-Lan, whom the Emperor has just recently inducted into his harem 1) in an attempt to rescue her from death and 2) because he secretly crushes on her.

Before the Empress can even budge Yee-Lan, who soon rose to the position of Imperial Noble Consort (the second most prestigious position directly under the Empress), the maid that she has secretly placed beside her enemy, Choi-Lam, turned  her head on her and became known as the spoiled, arrogant, and despicable Worthy Lady Ching.

A series of events occurs, one after another, in which the Emperor’s position becomes threatened by her younger brother who threw a coup to overthrow him. Unknown to the Emperor, his favorite and most loyal consort does not turn out to be the weakling he thought (or wanted her to be) she was…

It’s Nothing New

A slightly different backdrop with the reign being Emperor Do-Kwong this time and new concubine and consort names aside, the series offers very little in terms of novelty. While the series can simply be dismissed under the category of many of TVB’s recent palatial dramas, the series does take a surprising course of events in which the Empress realizes her flaws, faults, and what is really important her. The theme of forgiveness which I have been enjoying in recent TVB series, including Steven’s mentally and emotionally letting-go of his revenge in The Life and Times of a Sentinel, was also seen in Myolie’s character. However, that aside, the turn of events also meant the turn from a plotting Empress back to the regular Myolie, who is known for her “nice” roles.

Is Jessica evil or not? I will leave that for you to decide although several of her actions toward the end are questionable. As the Emperor recites, “I cannot be like you; murdering the Empress Dowager with your left hand and writing Buddhist texts with your right!”, I thought more screen time could have been allocated to Jessica after she achieves her Empress position. Mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually strong inward, Jessica displays a weaker outer image… at first. And Jessica has played many of these psychologically determined characters in the past just in different shape and form and by a different name. Yes, the evil aspect is new, but I cannot sense a different acting style.

Applause for Her First Time

Their first time filming an ancient palatial drama, the three leading ladies (Myolie, Jessica, and Nancy) admitted that it was a difficult experience and that there were tremendous room for improvement in their portrayals of their respective characters. If I were to rate their overall performances, Myolie’s Empress, evil stares, and threatening speeches were nearly “laughable” in a very cute manner, Jessica’s Consort was fine, but Nancy’s Worthy Lady was “despicable” in the sense that even I wanted to slap her at the sight of her arrogance and several of her actions. That said, I wish Producer Jonathan Chik will reserve a spot for Nancy in his upcoming War and Beauty II, although I know the chances of that are little to none since she was never in any of his productions before.

The Emperor is Always Stupid

Why must the Emperor always be the useless, incompetent, and “indulging in women” type? If you know anything about history, Emperor Do-Kwong did not do anything groundbreaking in his reign. I was really fooled by TVB who decided to cast Sunny in this role; since it wasn’t an old ke-le-fe, maybe it was going to be something different? I guess not.

Wouldn’t it be more refreshing to see a smart Emperor deal with his inner harem of ladies? Show them who’s the boss! 😛

Overall Appraisal

Despite the repetitiveness of themes in recent TVB palatial dramas, this one actually has decent character development and is plot-driven at the same time. A few aspects still leaves me scratching my head, such as why the Empress Dowager seemingly loves the Emperor and tries to make up for stabbing his biological mother, but later encourages Min-Yan to overthrow him. I wish she was less ambiguous in her love for the Emperor and just took a side and stuck to it. Also, the built-up suspense in bringing out Elena’s confession of the Empress Dowager’s sins was too long and for nothing it seemed.

Curse was way, and let me repeat, way more enjoyable than the overrated Beyond the Realm of Conscience. (Producer Mui, you use to create decent series, what happened? Well, thank goodness you and your husband, Producer Lau Ka Ho, who is the creator of another overrated mega-drama, Heart of Greed, is leaving TVB next year.) And why? Simply because there are actually more than ONE concubine competing for the Emperor’s favor. And it’s not a real competition unless TWO signs up for it.

Final Verdict

I’m neither like or dislike palatial dramas, but this one went well with my dinner and that was all I cared about after a long day of professors’ lecturing and work. Give it a try if you’re free.



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