While trawling through my feeds yesterday morning, something about “Story of Yanxi Palace” being the no. 1 Googled show of 2018, caught my eye. Me ent know who send me, oui? But I am 15 (scratches it out), 20 eps in and hooked on the bacchanal.
Costumes are phenomenal. Makeup and hair incredible. Set design and camerawork very loving. Acting (well… I’m reading subtitles) but they’re not too bad at all… Lively indeed. Plus, it’s very Chinese in aesthetics, even it’s acting, and it’s better than a lot of stuff I’ve seen in the past.
(And for a Caribbean island Girl, I have watched a fair amount of Chinese language film… “Raise The Red Lantern” and “Farewell My Concubine” are a couple personal favourites from twenty years ago.)
Yanxi Palace is 70 episodes long, and while I am vividly remembering the ultimate disappointment that was Celia (another show with an epic episode count), from two winters ago, I also can’t look away from it’s gorgeous spectacle. This show is very good, and I doubt it’s going to fall apart in the middle…
For the uninitiated, the tale is set in 18th century China in the Qing Dynasty, and centers around Qianlong Emperor and his harem. A plucky heroine, who is decidedly not ‘well behaved’, enters the Forbidden Palace searching for her sister’s murderer, and she pretty much wiped the board with everybody who opposes her with rapier wit and cleverness. I already know she ends up as the de facto empress, but I am currently very fascinated to watch her climb.
The story is very Chinese in its characterisations, but also universal in its themes. And the heroine is almost counter intuitive in a Chinese films which stresses virtue above all. Wei Yingluo is not the type of character you would see in a big budget Chinese language TV show, but she is an exceptional character here.
This was the #1 Googled show on Earth in 2018, and while that boggled me when I read it, after about a quarter of the episodes I can see why.
My final note is about the opening titles and theme music: The opening titles are gorgeous, and I rarely see a crap show with lovely titles like this, and I wasn’t sure I liked the theme music at first… the opera bit towards the end seemed odd, but after 20 episodes I find it endearing as fuck.
All in all, if you haven’t seen this, suck in your breath and plunge… it’s worth it.