Episodic Thoughts: “Beauty at War” (By Tony)
Beauty at War <金枝慾孽 (貳)>
TVB Series 2013
Cast: Sheren Tang, Ada Choi, Moses Chan, Christine Ng, Kenny Wong, Eddie Kwan, Alice Chan, and Christine Kuo.
Before I go onto my episode thoughts about Beauty at War, I first would like to mention that I have actually been waiting for this series to broadcast for 9 years! My childhood memories of War and Beauty are still stuck in my mind, as I can remember the classic scenes with Gigi Lai and Charmanie Sheh, Rebecca Chan, and Sheren Tang’s fighting scenes. The series was such a success because of its first approach on focusing on the concubines’ adventures in the palace and its majestic storyline was highly praised. The actors and actresses’ performances were stellar, and swept many of the award categories; Gigi Lai the Best Actress Award, Bowie Lam the Best Actor award, and the Best Drama award.
I had watched every single War and Beauty episode at least two times! And I got excited watching it all the way! So I was really thinking that Beauty at War was going to be the same as well, although the different cast gave me uncertainty.
Although nowadays it is hard to find a Jonathan Chik series that is widely accepted by the audience, I had confidence that Beauty at War would match the standards to War and Beauty. I have been anticipating and had high expectations for this series. I was initially disappointed when I heard the news that Bowie Lam, Gigi Lai, Charmanie Sheh and Maggie Cheung would not return for the sequel. Maggie Cheung was alleged to be kicked out by Jonathan Chik for her ‘diva attitude’. Gigi Lai obviously did not return as she has retired from the entertainment industry from 2008, so I wasn’t surprised that she didn’t come back to the sequel. Charmanie Sheh and Bowie Lam were invited for flashbacks by Jonathan Chik but they both refused due to schedule conflicts. This leaves us with Sheren Tang and Moses Chan who are the main characters left.
Ok… Here comes the actual episode thoughts of episode one. I had waited for 9:30 PM, where the first episode finally broadcast to Hong Kong viewers and it was on! I initially really liked the editing and the music of the theme song, where it looked elegant and ‘magical-like’. However, I was thrown back when the singing just popped out of nowhere. I didn’t particularly like the song, but it was adequate. I thought though that the original theme song from the first series was better with Bowie Lam singing, but I didn’t mind much.
The series started with the appearance of an official who knelt down waiting for Emperor Puyi to come. The cinematography showed the crows flying above the palace. The imagery was cool and mysterious. However, my first impression of the series immediately drowned when Emperor Puyi finally came and talked to the official. The Emperor talked about how the Qing dynasty was in no hope and that it would be gone soon, despite the official’s attempt to persuade the emperor that there was still hope. I have to be honest, but what the hell is with the official and the Emperor Puyi? Their voices were dubbed and were completely strange. No wonder the Hong Kong viewers thought it was confusing and weird.
Next, the scene came to a confusing jump to 100 years back in the past, during the reign of Emperor Jiaqing. The Kungqu leader, Cheung Kuk Sang spoke to the crowd about how Consort Yu forced a palace maid to marry a eunuch. I could immediately see the connection to War and Beauty, as it was referencing when palace maid On Sin (Maggie Cheung) was forced to marry a eunuch. I particularly found it to be weird on why did Jonathan Chik cast Cheung Kuk Sang. Although he isn’t an important character in the series, he is a complete stranger to Hong Kong viewers and has never been featured in any of previous TVB series. Nevertheless, his acting was good as he had good facial expressions and was convincing, just a bit new to me.
Later on, came the scene where Tracy Ip was introduced. The last time I saw Tracy Ip was when she was given a leading role at Jonathan Chik’s 4 in Love series back in 2012. Her acting has improved slightly as she has more facial impressions and spoke clearly, but it seemed that she was trying to read off an essay. It was because Jonathan Chik and the scriptwriter Chow Yuk Ming often made last-minute script changes, so I guess Tracy Ip didn’t do bad at all. Her conversation with her uncle who was also a eunuch was good as it an understanding of Tracy Ip’s intention to get rid of Ada Choi, who acts as Sheung Ling (the nanny of the 5th prince along with Tracy Ip).
The scene where Ada Choi appeared playing a game with the 5th Prince (Consort Yu’s son) was in my opinion a bit boring and pointless. Yes it did introduce to us the 5th prince and Ada, but I thought that it was an unnecessary scene. However, Ada Choi did do a good job trying to portray Sheung Ling and I would so far give her a 3.5 out of 5 stars. The 5th prince reminded me of Emperor Tongzhi from the The Confidant, but I think in this series he is more mature. He suits the role as the 5th prince!
This is the part where I got extremely disappointed with this series and at the same time really excited, as Katy Kung who acts as Muk-do-yee (a palace maid) comes storming with other palace maids and eunuchs to see Consort Yu (Sheren Tang) who was watching a Chinese opera performance, only to be stopped by Christine Kuo (who plays Consort Yu’s maid). Christine Kuo looked beautiful but her Cantonese was really unbearable. I was knocking my head through the scene when she was talking as her Cantonese has hardly improved and her facial expressions were poor. Why would Jonathan Chik cast such her as Consort Yu’s palace maid? I thought Jonathan Chik had quite a unique and wise choice at casting characters, but he definitely proved me wrong! I basically wanted to stop watching, but luckily the exciting scene where Sheren Tang appeared saved it all.
I liked the exciting background music as the camera moved slowly from showing the consorts and eventually stopped with Consort Yu. It further proved the cinematography in this series. Although Sheren Tang didn’t look as powerful looking and glamorous as from War and Beauty, she still looked really nice and shined a lot. If Sheren Tang was not in this series, I doubt there would be any motivation for Hong Kong viewers to watch this! The appearance of Rachel Kan in this series with the rumored palace maid and eunuch was a bit confusing for viewers as it talked about the rumors from the prequel On Sin (Maggie Cheung), which I can understand is a really obscure scene. Rachel Kan in the series really shined the most out of all the palace maids. Every word she spoke was clear, her facial expressions were appropriate and convincing, and her tone was just right. She is underrated but she doesn’t have much fanbase, which is why she never gets meatier roles.
Sheren Tang and Christine Ng equally stole the show as their appearances were the highlights of this episode. Christine Ng’s scene where she looks at herself in the mirror with an evil smile was excellent and the lighting of this scene was well done. I give 4 out of 5 stars for Christine Ng so far!
On the other hand, Moses Chan was introduced near the end as he performed as a Chinese opera performer (Ko Lau-Fei) and he did an adequate job. I can understand why people think this is a confusing and boring scene as the long scene with him in the opera place was kind of draggy and uninteresting, but Moses Chan nevertheless had alright expressions. I prefer his previous role as Hung-Mo instead because he was more ambitious and had more opportunities to shine then, but his opera artist role he spoke a bit femininely.
The first episode was nearly over as people in the palace and outside the palace could hear a flute song being played. I understood the connection from War and Beauty as On Sin (Maggie Cheung) played that flute after she was told she was told she would marry a eunuch. I think it is a bit ridiculous how Jonathan Chik would just use Ada Choi to replace Maggie Cheung’s character, being the lover with Moses Chan. The moon also looked a bit fake when it showed Moses and Ada both staring at it. It didn’t really capture any chemistry between the two yet as it is still the premiere, but I think it will eventually.
Overall, the first episode was a complete disappointment to me. Although the appearances of Sheren Tang and Christine Ng were highlights, the rest was draggy, confusing, unnecessary and the plot was so slow and boring compared to the first episode of War and Beauty, where a lot of things happened. There are too many weak casts I think like Christine Kuo and Katy Kung that might not save this series from achieving its previous successes. I know it is still early as it is the first episode and I have no right to judge things from just the premiere, I still have this feeling it’s not going to gain any high ratings for this series if it continues to be like this. I will watch the whole series no matter what happens but please Jonathan Chik, do not disappoint me again or I may celebrate that it is the last time watching your series!
This review is written by Tony, a Contributing Writer at JayneStars.com.