Funn’s Thoughts: The Eunuchs of “The Confidant”
Funn’s Note: The following are not episode recaps but are ramblings and torrents of disbelief for The Confidant <大太監>. All merely personal opinion.
Watched until episode … 16? Didn’t check! Too busy watching to check!
I want to talk about the more important feature of The Confidant, the half men or the right word is eunuch but that is not accurate enough to describe any of them. All the following rambling is based on viewing of this series up until episode 16. I may update on them later on.
There are many things I disagree about The Confidant but there is one thing I do agree on, that is the portrayal of the eunuchs as not mere sissies but rather as men, just lacking in a certain “tool”. Therefore here you will find all sorts of eunuchs’ personalities; the sissies one, the kepochi ones, the cowardly ones, the Lau Sam Ho ones and of course the manly ones. The only ever manly eunuch we see in popular culture from the Chinese dynasties is Admiral Cheng Ho. He is also the only one I can think of that has a high official rank.
In this series we see eunuchs of 6th rank, 7th rank, 9th rank or rank less for most. My biggest problem with this series’ portrayal of eunuchs is their lives are too easy. Of course they’re beaten, they do have fear but deep down I feel everything was too simple, too fluffy. There was not enough fear, not enough hush hush. Life seems so peachy in this version of The Confidant where being friends is enough to settle all animosity. Kinda too simplistic.
I also don’t like how this simplicity extends to their masters. One concept about eunuchs and their master is, they’re essentially slaves. Paid slaves, but slaves nonetheless. Of course officially they’re civil servants in today’s context but essentially they’re slaves. Why slaves? The master can beat them, kill them, deal with them as they wish. This is not just a servant’s life, this is a slave’s life. So they fear their master, as much as they may respect, love or honour them. But the class difference is obvious. It is not master and lesser master, superior and subordinate. It is master and slave. Some don’t even notice the face of the eunuchs, they don’t even notice the eunuchs’ existence. That is the reality.
Some masters have very close relationships with their personal eunuch that they grew up with, like how Tongzhi will be with his own eunuch or Cixi with An De Hai but at the end of the day, these eunuchs can be cast aside as much as daughters can be married off for political ties to some foreign barbarian. That is the reality of things. This is not present in this series. That is why I say I do not feel the urgency and life is peachy. At episode … 16 I believe, this is how things are. Will it change over time? I doubt it because the main one, Cixi is the same. She may learn to wisen up, but become bad? Evil? Not the intention of this series.
AN DE HAI (ONN DAK HOI)
Of all the eunuchs, my favourite eunuch and the one I know will turn real bad and will probably die a terrible death is An De Hai. I suppose my emotional connection to him arise from the fact that when I was in Beijing I stayed 1 night at his former residence, now a terribly upscale and rather pricey hotel, The Bamboo Garden Hotel. The bamboo garden was gorgeous and very tastefully done. Did An De Hai have taste? I wouldn’t know but he was definitely corrupted and rich and fell from grace thanks to Cian and Prince Gong.
An De Hai was the original big eunuch, before he was replaced by Li Lianying. As I read their bio, you can say they both followed orders or you can say they definitely reaped rewards from following orders. My suspicion is both probably had their fair share in bullying subordinates and assisting Cixi in doing her dirty work as well as being her favourite “confidant”.
Raymond Cho excels as the handsome masculine An De Hai. He is decisive, he is strong, he is cunning and he knows his place within the structure; that his success is dependant on the success of Cixi. In some ways he is not as open or as faithful as the gentler more trustworthy Linying but he is at this time, at episode 16 still loyal to his master. In truth it is An De Hai that captures my interest in this rather mundane series. He makes things complicated as it should be, he uses means that are questionable so as to achieve a result that benefits not only him but his master. You can say he is loyal, yet you can say he may be digging his own grave. At this moment he is not yet arrogant but he certainly shows his capability as a trusted and cunning right hand man. At times I feel he is even more Cixi than Cixi herself. Except of course Cixi never dirties her hands, and in this series, she is not one to ever dirty her hand because she has a good heart, so the villain is An De Hai. I fear for his fall from grace but I suspect the series will justify it as him being too smart for his own good. There is a reason why his “rule” of the 3000 eunuchs as Chief Eunuch is by fear, because then we can juxtapose it with Lianying’s Chief Eunuch which is by benevolence and example. In other words, An De Hai is doomed from the beginning.
Real Person: Yes, here at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empress_Dowager_Ci%27an. Even worse reputation. Being compared to Rasputin is no small feat but then even some may dispute if Rasputin was that terrible.
PANG SAM SHUN
My second most favourite eunuch is the surprisingly multi-layered Pang Sam Shun who calls himself the Phoenix rising from the ashes. This in itself is very funny description! He was awful at first, cruel, a bully and greedy. But as the series progresses, you see deep down he is someone who has no friends, he is where he is because of his powerful uncle, Sir Fuk. He saved Lianying’s life when he really didn’t have to, and when his uncle fell, he did not betray his uncle but begged for his uncle’s life. He refuses to suck up to An De Hai and since he didn’t do any big wrong, there isn’t much An De Hai can do since Pang Sam Shun did help them get rid of the many obstacles. Pang Sam Shum is a nice guy, deep down in that heart of his that has a conscience. I love watching how he tried not to let people know he is kind hearted, he feared his fearsome reputation will be destroyed and nothing is worse for him than to be known as the nice guy. He is also very strange; he can tell the truth to both Lianying about his uncle and to his uncle about Lianying without being stuck in the middle. He is very honest with them both; he even told Lianying his uncle’s misdeeds, knowing full well Lianying’s sworn brother is An De Hai, his uncle’s sworn enemy! I suppose this is to show how simple minded he is and I suppose in his simple mindedness is his adorableness.
Power Chan deserves a nomination and I believe he and Koo Ming Wah both have a fair chance to the Best Supporting Actor award at the upcoming TVB Drama Awards and either one winning is ok to me because they were both deserving. I have seen Power Chan act for the longest time and he has improved tremendously over the years. There was a time he was always the educated bespectacled white collar criminal but now he is back at what he is great at; dramedy as in drama with dose of comedy. His Pang Sam Shun is considered this show’s comic relief but to define him as that is plain wrong. He is to me one of the reasons why this series is wonderful to watch, one of the more reasonably fleshed out character that is surprisingly, like An De Hai, unpretentious and logical. And yet both men are at the spectrum of each end, both very different.
Real Person: At this moment, no.
YIU SEUNG HEI
Yiu Seung Hei is not one of my favourite eunuch because I find his story the most unrelated story in this series, much like Sin Yau’s story. If I were to be honest, I find his story a waste of time in this series because it is doomed from the very beginning. It was a silly love story that would never have happened. One a eunuch, the other a princess. Doomed. One a eunuch, the other a maid, maybe but still doomed. One a small ranking doctor, the other a princes, probably not doomed, still got chance. So I don’t get why make him an eunuch? The eunuch does not run the medical department. That is stretching a lot. Why must TVB compartmentalise every character so clearly? If this is a series about eunuch, every major character is a eunuch. Why not make him a small time doctor? Can’t eunuchs have friendly relationships with ministers? Since obviously we see they have friendly relationships with their masters. So why not make his story a bit possible, more reasonably heart wrenching rather than just plain silly? Why not make him not an eunuch who ends up powerful and helps Lianying and friends? Wouldn’t that give this series a more rounded perspective?
But one thing I can’t deny; Raymond Wong can act. He is a fantastic actor, even if he looks sickly, more so in this look. His tearful scenes begging the princess to let him be, to not love him, to let him go was a great performance, except it wasn’t convincing not because of his acting or Aimee’s too controlled performance or the dialogue, but within the context, the entire scene was just plain drama for drama sake. I do not feel for their love because it was an impossibility and an illogical one. What do they expect? Cixi allows for their marriage? Well this Cixi might but not before they step over Cian’s dead body so to speak.
Real Person: At this moment, no.
Lianying surprisingly is not my favourite eunuch nor is Wayne’s performance my favourite in here. At times I find him OTT, especially with the eyebrow thing. I know he is playing a different Lianying and I respect his interpretation. It is that I find his Lianying boring as opposed to the more dynamic ones we see in abundance in here. Wayne still gives a credible performance but seriously though, best actor for this role? No, not for this one. But obviously this series will probably end with Lianying “ruling” over the 3000 eunuchs because he is a good man and they all unanimously approve and respect him. I hope not. No one ever got unanimous approval, even if he is terribly nice. But do expect the Lianying good guy vs An De Hai bad guy repertoire.
Real Person: Yes, Li Lianying is his name. Executed I believe from what I read. You can even see his photos. Read his bio here at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_Lianying
LING TIM SAU
Tim Sau to me is set to be the head honcho of An De Hai, doing his bad deeds, from afraid to do so to willingly do so. He has the greed mark written all over him, his only hindrance is deep down he is a coward. The many times he could so easily want to abandon his sifu, Lianying shows to me he is not trustworthy.
Edwin Siu has that sort of “I am going to betray you” look and as Tim Sau he is well cast. Right now his Tim Sau is still silly but there is a sense of malice deep down in the way he follows An De Hai around. Lianying is keeping him in his place but I suppose when the war brews between An De Hai and Lianying, Tim Sau will no doubt side with the one giving him the most benefit in terms of money and power.
Real Person: At this moment, no.
Chan Fook aka Sir Fook is to me one of the worst written characters in here. The fact that he sits on his high chair of morality when he bemoans how An De Hai is evil and will betray everyone is just stupid, and good that a simpleton like Sam Shun puts his uncle into perspective when he says to his uncle “Uncle, you have money. Why don’t you just stop meddling into his affairs and just retire in richness?” True. And until now I still don’t get why he wanted to pull down Cixi at the beginning since there is no indication Cixi wants to destroy him. Not this Cixi. This Cixi is kind, this Cixi is nice. So why? Why do all those small gestures and end up being thrown out? I can tell you why. Illogical drama so that we can see the brutality of An De Hai and the kindness of Li Lianying. And yet I agree with what An De Hai did. He has to control 3000 unruly bunch who still answers to this retired Sir Fook. All I know is whatever Sir Fook does, he digs his own grave, pushes himself into it, and even buries himself in it. In other words, it is his own fault.
Elliot Yue is weird with his very weird look, but he does portray well the “ng kam sum” sort of man. However I find his Sir Fook silly without reason. He is in the best supporting actor list by the way, but to me Raymond Cho deserves the coveted spot more than him. His Sir Fook is one note stupid villain, unlike Raymond Cho’s An De Hai who is multi layered and deservedly controversial.
Real Person: At this moment, no
LAU DOR SANG
Lau Dor Sang used to serve the Emperor Ham Fung/Xian Feng (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xianfeng_Emperor), father of Tongzhi. I was just told Chinese loves to say “Ham fung lin doi dik si” aka oh those stories from the age of ham fung which to me means “oh shut up about the olden days” sort of expression. Correct me if I am wrong. Anyway he is a sort of a retired eunuch, sifu to An De Hai and Lianying and doesn’t do anything except eat, gives advice and be jolly happy guy. Oh and he keeps the secret edict of the dead emperor with regards to Cixi which he then promptly told Cixi the entire contents. Tell me, does this look like an act of a loyal eunuch to his master, dead or alive? Everybody blabs about everything to everyone in this series! Chung King Fai is ok. Never liked him much, never disliked him much. I still chuckle at his monotone (or baritone?) voice which Wong Cho Nam perfected.
Real Person: At this moment, no
LEE WING NING
There are many eunuchs in here but one notable one is played by Fred Cheng as Lee Wing Ning. I am not sure what is the significance of this character but there must be some significance that special spotlight is on him. Fred Cheng is a good actor. Why not give him Edwin’s role who is obviously a young man?
Real Person: Suspected to be one
For more info
You can read more about these characters as in this series and more in a link I found here at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_Confidant_characters, which is devoid of any spoiler. Also on the influence of eunuchs in various Chinese dynasties, here is a simple writeup at http://www.china.org.cn/english/travel/234811.htm. Interesting read.
As for the rankings of eunuchs, let me find out before I post them later. I think I know more about rankings of concubines in Qing Dynasty than the eunuchs. Which is the highest rank they can be bestowed? Ahh a must research point. If you’re curious about the concubines, it is as follows:-
Daying > Chang zai > Gui Ren > Pin (Selena’s Yuen Bun/Pin is this rank) > Fei > Gui Fei > Huang Guifei > Empress
Confirmed here at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranks_of_imperial_consorts_in_China#Qing. Only in Qing dynasty. Interestingly Cixi was never empress, Cian was. But she was the Empress Dowager by reason of her son taking the throne. Since the empress proper still alive by then, I suppose it necessitates for the 2 ranks we see in this series but Cian is in effect higher ranked.
So far, I am impressed with the general characterisation of the eunuchs of those time. I like the fact they’re portrayed as ordinary sort of men in personality, not like those lipstick wearing mascara laden sort of half men. I also like the attention to small details; notice each and every eunuch in this series, their eyebrows are perfectly “manicured” and all that. Each very well groomed and the costume does look like those Qing Dynasty era. My only problem is why is it still winter?!
The eunuchs maketh this series; thank goodness since it is The Confidant formerly known as The Big Eunuch. I rather it is called The Big Eunuch because the main point is the rise to power for an eunuch. Cixi is an important feature; whoever she favours shall gain that position. Like in my previous post where I wrote how bland this Cixi is, I stand by my choice of words. Michelle Yim is not terribly exciting but the problem is the writing is terribly bland for the most important person in this series that maketh and breaketh the half men so to speak. By portraying her as some stubborn nice misunderstood woman in effect shows to me how simpleminded she is. The way she handles things is half way ruining things.
The eunuchs however did better in portraying the power struggle which has a bit of intelligence in their actions. But they’re not perfectly portrayed or written. The entire notion “We are friends!! We stick together!!” is the foundation to a true epic tragic of love lost, friendships betrayed and enemies vanquished. In the context of eunuchs in the Forbidden Palace, I find that concept a bit hard to accept. It is a place of every man for himself, even if half man.
Related Commentaries on “The Confidant”
- Funn’s Thoughts: Raymond Cho Steals the Show in “The Confidant”
- Funn’s Thoughts: Michelle Yim is a Bland Empress Cixi
This commentary is written by Funn Lim and was originally posted at www.point2e.com.