Review: Curse of the Royal Harem (By Hayes)

Curse of the Royal Harem <萬凰之王>
TVB 2011
Producer: Chong Wai Kin
Genre: Historical Fiction
Number of episodes: 27 in Hong Kong (29 Overseas)


Cast of Characters

Jessica Hsuan as “Yee Lan”
Myolie Wu as “Yuen Yuen”
Nancy Wu as “Choi Lam”
Sunny Chan as “Emperor Do Kwong”
Joel Chan as “Min Yan”
Gigi Wong as “Empress Dowager”
Cheung Kwok Keung as “Wai Fuk On”

Synopsis: Curse of the Royal Harem is set in the Qing Dynasty under the rule of the Do Kwong Emperor (Sunny Chan). Yee Lan (Jessica Hsuan), the Consort of Emperor Do Kwong’s elder brother, who was missing in battle, is grieving over the loss of her husband. The Empress Dowager (Gigi Wong) instructs that Yee Lan be buried alive in the Emperor’s tomb. However, the current Do Kwong Emperor saves her because he had feelings for her from a long time ago. The Emperor makes her one of his Consorts and the Empress (Myolie Wu), becomes jealous and plots Yee Lan’s demise. Along the way, Yee Lan uncovers a treacherous plot that could potentially endanger the Emperor! Will she be able to stop it in time?  

First Impression: YES! I love these types of dramas! The theme song is really good too! 

I was extremely excited for this drama because ancient ones like these interest me a lot. To be honest, I didn’t even see one trailer for this drama and just decided I was going to watch it, regardless of the cast and plot. It was a disappointment in the first 10 episodes, but it picked up afterwards. The overall drama was slightly draggy though. Let’s go over the main points:

Plot: Running Out of Ideas?

I watched another Qing Dynasty drama, The Life and Times of A Sentinel, in the summer and I couldn’t help but think that Curse of the Royal Harem was copying off some ideas from the first drama. First of all, in Curse of the Royal Harem, Joel Chan, the Prince Sui, is revealed to have a past secret relationship with Myolie, the Empress. Similarly, in The Life and Times of a Sentinel, Kenneth Ma (who was also the Emperor’s brother) had a secret relationship with Elaine Yiu (the Imperial Noble Consort.) And the thing is, both females of the story want to forget the past and continue being the present Emperor’s wives whereas the men can never forget about his true love. 

Another thing is, why is the Grand Empress Dowager/ Empress Dowager always the main villain? I’m tired of seeing an elderly woman plotting everyone’s demise. I know it’s true that they are treacherous and “evil” but maybe someone else? Maybe an eunuch or a palace maid? 

Enough of that though. So let’s skip over the first half of the drama now since nothing much happens anyway. As we get near episode 20, things pick up and there are dramatic changes to the characters. The action is significantly increases in pace and the drama is preparing itself for the climax (after pregnancies, giving birth, death, sacrifice, unveiled plots, secret relationships, etc.).

After the climax, you would think that the drama would end there. But no, it keeps going. Then you realize that the climax you thought WAS the climax was in fact NOT the climax. And then you wonder, “Is there really a true climax in this drama?” There were a lot of unnecessary scenes. 

Characters and Acting: The acting was mediocre. I was watching this drama with my mom and I agreed with her about some things: 

a) Myolie’s acting was not very outstanding (at least in the beginning). She doesn’t fit the role of an Empress. But it looks like she tried really hard to deliver this performance.

b) Jessica didn’t really deliver a mind-blowing act. But rather it was the same, plain and nothing really new. The last few episodes allowed us to see an evil, wicked side to her and that was what stood out for her. 

c) Sunny Chan was a terrible Emperor. His acting convinced us. 

d) Joel Chan did a wonderful job. He should have deserved more recognition. Actually, he should deserve more recognition on all the dramas he acts in. 

e) Gigi Wong did have the looks of a convincing Empress Dowager. 

f) Nancy Wu is always a villain. A well-portrayed villain though. Why can’t she get some protagonist roles and how in the world does her character in this drama survive so long? 

Basically those six points sum up the main cast and their acting. 

Everything Else: Compared to some other dramas where the plot is rushed, this drama, although draggy, gave a more “artistic” feel. It felt like a slow roller coaster, with ups and downs and some really dull moments. 

Another point is that I thought that Jessica had way too much make-up on. Also, the music was repeated WAY too often and some parts of the drama gave me a “deja-vu” feeling, like I’ve watched it in another drama before. OH, I have another example of that. I remember in the Beyond the Realm of Conscience,” when Tavia got slapped in the face by another Consort and her response was that she would one day “return that slap.” And just so happens, in Curse of the Royal Harem, when Myolie slaps Jessica in the face, she said, “One day, I will return that slap.” 


Overall: I hope I’m not biased but I enjoyed the drama 🙂 Although acting and plot wasn’t the best, I liked how the characters developed: how someone so bad could suddenly become so good and vice-versa. I thought the costumes weren’t bad either.  


This review was written by Hayes, a Contributing Writer at

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  1. Some minor corrections.

    “Yee Lan (Jessica Hsuan), the Consort of the previous Emperor (Do Kwong’s elder brother) who was missing in battle, is grieving over the loss of her husband. “

    Yee Lan’s husband was not the previous Emperor. He died while still a prince.

    The Empress Dowager (Gigi Wong) sees Yee Lan as a person of bad fortune because of this and instructs that she be buried alive in the Emperor’s tomb.

    The Empress Dowager did see Yee Lan as a person of bad fortune, but, that’s not the reason she instructed Yee Lan to be buried alive. She did so because Yun Yun’s father told her that in order to locate the whereabouts of her son (or located his corpse), she has to sacrifice the person most dear to him i.e. his wife.

    1. AND the empress dowager hates her for being a person of bad fortune, so it was easy for her to make the decision of burying her alive.

      And I hate this series. The worst ever in term of greetings, ettiquettes, stories, acting, costumes, everything!

  2. with your mistakes, I’m thinking about you really saw this series carefully and wrote the review with 100% honest?

    1. They are just mistakes in the small details. Viewers who are unfamiliar with Chinese history or not very good in Cantonese can make these mistakes since these details are given in the dialogue.

      So, I believe Hayes did see the series carefully and review with 100% honestly.

  3. I am still wondering if I should see this series since I hear so many mixed reviews. I have noticed that series that get over praised usually aren’t that good, while the ones that are criticized actually end up being pretty good. Strange.. I guess my taste does not match everyone else’s…

    1. Don’t watch. Save your eyes, your brain cells and more importantly your time.

      1. I don’t see why you hate it so much. :\
        The acting isn’t the greatest but it was bearable, the costumes weren’t the best but they weren’t bad and the plot didn’t pick up until about episode 10 but after that, it was quite good. I enjoyed this series. Not the best, but good. Better than a lot of series in 2011.

      2. It’s been poor for quite a few years, I guess. IMO, I found Only You, TOT, GJ, TLATS, BP and Relic as the better series. I’m starting to really like Amy Wong’s series. :3

      3. Ok, Funn I think I will listen to you since your taste seems to really match mine…

    2. Depends on what kind of drama you like.. or what you what dramas for. This isn’t one for historical retelling nor wonderful plot. The main draw for me was watching the characters develop and unraveling their motives, how they became who they are etc.

  4. I do not see this series as running out of idea. Frankly the idea has been recycled for many many times, whether modern day drama or in this regards, an older setting. My problem is the lack of attention to the details. This is an era of ettiquette and decorum but everyone from top till bottom did not observe that simple courtesy. It makes a mockery of the efforts of the stars when the writer or perhaps the director thinks they can just put the same recycled story into this setting without observing the rules of that settings. This was a difficult historical time for the emperor,and yet the historical aspect is given almost zero emphasis and it was as if this emperor, who was very very real was too self absorbed in the matters of his concubine. Politics meant very little, everybody meant very little. Too much emphasis on those 3 women and various women, and I find it not only utterly unrealistic (and since realism is sometimes overemphasised I will forgive the writers for that) but frankly way too melodramatic. The man may be called an emperor, he may wear yellow robes, he may have the Qing hairstyle, he may even sit at the throne and says “Jam” or whatever, and all that explanation of the amount of research done to the word “Lou Choi” uttered by the empress to the emperor which I still refused to believe, no other aspect of this series and anything in its remotely resembles that of a palace, more so a Qing dynasty palace in the middle of a very strenous time. All I can see is a bunch of actors wearing costumes playing pretend game, much like BTROC was, where it was more like rehearsal scenes within a drama than the final editing of acting, this cursed series has chose to emphasise on the petty stuff. Like I said for all the supposed amount of research the producer said he has done on the disputed word “Lou choi”, I wish he had spent more time researching on everything else.

    Costume wise, yes TVB looks like they spent more but somehow the colour clashes spectacularly and everything looks too new, too modern, too bright. Not much cinematography was considered.

    The set itself looks big but on closer inspection looks fake. But this is not the producer’s fault. But an observation.

    The script as I have mentioned is a total absolute fail big time. Take away the whole melodrama whatever, nothing makes sense. It wants to show tragedy, how bad becomes good, good forced to be bad, but it was so badly done, so cliche, when everyone dies, there was no emotion involved. It was just an act following another act, devoid of any emotional ties. I pity none of the characters, I supported none.

    The acting was almost as terrible as the script but this probably is the fault of the director and producer. Of the many, Sunny Chan fared the most decent but his character is simply so badly written he just came out as a wimp.

    Joel Chan was fine at first until almost end where he overacts and his character became just silly.

    Myolie I have said many times; she can act but this series shows, there are certain characters, however much she loves or lobbied for it, she just can’t do. Her empress looks like someone plucked out of the street or as I called it, an uneducated daughter of the local butcher. There is no grace, no elegance, nothing to suggest why this girl fits to be empress other than perhaps an assumption that her character must have been so great in bed, the emperor made her his favourite and thus his empress. Other than that, she was silly, stupid, and way too modern. Myolie failed to capture the essence of her character, even later on as her son repeatedly got sick and waited for such a long to finally die (and thus by that time whatever pity I have for the baby is gone) and her aftermath, I feel absolutely nothing. For one, her makeup was distracting. Second, her character was distracting. Third and worst of all, her performance was laughable and amateurish and hard to see this role won her an award, a recognition she clearly does not deserve for a mockery of a performance she gave.

    Jess in my opinion has always been a weak actress but she fares well in modern professional independent woman roles. So why was she cast in an ancient drama of a soft spoken gentle much troubled woman? Beats me! First of, she looks too old. Second, she isn’t beautiful enough. Third, she isn’t naturally graceful or elegant or even ladylike. Her soft tones was frustrating to hear, as it was so put on, so fake, and she never ever ever ever raised a voice, not even when she became so called evil. Her make up was terrible. Evil? Really red lipstick. Misunderstood and bullied? Pale pink lipstick. There was a time lip gloss will define the age of the character, not colour of a lipstick will define the virtue of a character. And I don’t buy her ending. The emperor should have chopped off her head.

    Gigi Wong was ok, unfortunately her character was annoying. It took her too long to die.

    Joel Chan was at first ok until he got very emotional and that was when he shouted so loud, his voice broke. His character was just stupid. The way he blamed the emperor about his own illegitimate son’s death was to me the highlight of stupidity of the script which shows inconsistency with the era and the settings this series is set in.

    Nancy Wu is just the same character forever in the same mode whose only claim to a dramatic moment is being killed so pitifully by Jess. Other than that her character was pointless.

    In short, this is not War & Beauty which in retrospect had more subtlety and a certain gracefulness in its script, spoilt only by the Godzilla acting that is Gigi Lai.

    This cursed series is the reason why we must petition to whoever to ban TVB from ever making a costume series based on real life characters, if I wasn’t so much into freedom of speech. I can tell you, between Gong which screws up the history even more and this which screws up everything else as well, I’d rather watch Gong.

    My conclusion is avoid this series like a plague. I would not even give it half a stars.

    1. Hi, Funn Lim:
      I support most of your comments re scriptwriting, characters, and acting of Myolie and Jessica (two lead actresses) in this drama series.

      Though I don’t particularly like Sunny Chan, but I think he can’t do much with his character written. I don’t think Gigi Wong is okay. I don’t see anything from her as a convincing Empress Dowager. She is a veteran actress, and should act a lot better (another Nancy Sit). She is never good in ancient drama series.

      I like Joel Chan and Nancy Wu. I think they do well, in terms of acting, in this drama, compared to other artistes.

      On the whole, I agree with you, in particular on the poorly written script, makeup done on female artistes, and the inappropriate choice of two female artistes.

      Your Review is a lot better written than the one written by Hayes!

      1. Hayes:

        Sorry about my comments. Perhaps Funn Lim and I have the same “taste” towards drama series and acting skills.

      2. @Sandcherry,

        To me I like both their write ups. I think Hayes has tried her best and it’s reasonable that she made slight mistakes in her 1st article.

        I agree that jessica is a bad choice for that role and the best person who can really act convincingly is nancy, although most of her roles are evil.

    2. if you google up the words “lo choi” in chinese, there’s something there about significant royal subjects and consorts referring themselves by that to “tum” the emperor or show their loyalty or whatever. just not sure what period of qing history it was.

      i found “curse” quite watchable. it was never amazing, but i knuckled through it without being really bored at any point. it’s not something i’d watch again though as none of the leads are my favourites.

      when i first watched it, i didn’t think much or the costumes or make up. but now i’ve seen a couple of mainland imperial qing series recently, i don’t think i can watch it again without seeing the garish, unrealistic costumes and props in a completely different light. also, i wish they had not messed around with the history so much. the two empresses were over 20 years apart supposedly, and myolie is almost 10 years younger than jessica. that’s just wrong.

      1. I read about the responses on that and so far frankly I found nothing. Maybe chinese text referred to in some memoirs but my belief is it is not right. It would bring them to same level as the mere servants and to me for such a hierarchical society, an empress even if to an emperor would refer to herself like how a eunuch would refer to himself is not possible. Can I time travel back? Wanna grab the emperor and ask “IS IT TRUE?!??!”

    3. Off topic, but when I read this in my head I read it super fast in a very irritated tone.

      Personally, not the best series. Many flaws. I guess the main thing that kept me going are characters and Joel and Myolie (I’m a romantic).

    4. Myolie can not act. Her facial expressions are the same in every series.

  5. haha if Jessica is a weak actress, so that she couldnt be top fadan in 90s, agian, top fadan not just “fadan” nowadys, can’t act haha =)))

    1. What has acting talents have to do with being top fadan? That is popularity. Her fans of course will say she is fantastic.

      1. Agree, too. Jessica is only good in certain characters, such as professionals, or someone with determined and strong personalities. Her voice is too monotonous if she has to speak softly and gracefully.

      2. Jess can’t do ancient series, even though she has been in several. She can only do modern professionals, which is unfortunate, especially since she pretty much acts the same in all of those roles.

        I however have always had a soft spot for her because I loved her Quin in DIF IV.

    2. The faults belong to the scriptwriter, not Jessica, for sure. So many outstanding actors and actresses having come back TVB never never receive good flashback, the main reason is the script. They wanna make Yee Lan being a bad woman but the way they make is stupid, not too high.

      1. One more thing is all of you here have a bad first impresssion when u see about the custome and make-up. It controls your mind and forget all these things, I think this series is really good among TVB series which be aired a few years ago.

      2. I never forgot how bad the acting and the story was. In fact my opinion of the costume came later. In fact some may even say the costume was so bad/good that it controls your mind and make you forget about a very small factor; like how silly the story was, how over the top the acting was and what era it was in.

      3. Ancient dramas are not Jess’ forte. She herself rated her performance only 50%. Cmon, can you compare her performance in Curse with her DIF series?

      4. for sure cannot compare with DIF IV but how can you makr yourself 100% points in publicity? eventually, her performnace in Curse is not bad at all, it’s okay.

  6. after watching great ones like Mei ren xin ji, bu bu jing xin, and qing shi huang fei, TVB series lost its appeal to
    me! beyond realm of conscience was bad/lame. this one seems to be almost the same so i prob wont watch it.

    1. ^ agree that these 3 series are better than Txb’s productions, but also not too great :P.

      1. Frankly, I’ve grown sick of the palace rivalry dramas. Too dramatic, negative… Actors find it hard to transport them back to those times, sets are meh. And evilness cannot be well portrayed by a lot of actors.

      2. haha I totally agree with Fox’c commnent. They are better not the best, in fact, they cannot be in comparison to the 90’s TVB series in anyway. We havent seen the high quality TVB series for a long time, so we think they’re the best, but not.

      3. of course they aren’t the best dramas around, but they are recent ones that i really enjoyed. the only recent tvb drama i liked was Forensic Heroes 3, just finished Bottled Passion and what a waste of time it was!!!! I miss old tvb series like A Step Into the Past.

    2. I am appalled that you found Qing Shi Huang Fei a better drama. It was crap. Ridiculous. I guess if you’re more into pretty people, pretty scenery, and pretty costumes, then you may find it better.

  7. I guess liking a series or not is still down to a matter of opinion, however, I think if a series is considered good then the majority will like it and the minority will not.

  8. I’m sorry for the mistakes you guys!!! I’m just a teen who has a passion for writing!!!

    Living in Canada my entire life, I think already knowing how to understand most of this drama without English subtitles is pretty impressive in itself.

    1. Hi Hayes:

      I admire your courage to write this “Review” as you were brought up in Canada. Without any Chinese language and history background, it is very hard to write a good review on ancient drama series, particularly one with a palace-setting in Ching Dynasty. Good try!

    2. I myself really appreciate your review about this series. We’ve seen TV series for entertainment and your review in some cases will be the best place for our peaceful discussion. Thanks again for your effort. See you next review.

    3. Hayes,
      Don’t worry about the minor mistakes, which really did not distract from the contents of your review. I have made the noted corrections in the synopsis portion of your review. I did not watch “Curse of the Royal Harem” thus these errors did not jump out to me.

      Thanks for your contribution!

    4. Hello from a fellow Canadian, Hayes! No worries, keep writing and reviewing, it’s always fun to read reviews. 🙂

  9. I agree is not the best series and the storyline isnt great either. However, i do enjoy watching it just some ep was boring. Yep i’m MYOLIE’s Fan so that is reason i’m watching it lol

  10. I avoided this series right after I saw the cast. Sunny Chan as emperor? Myolie?? To me, they have always been the “comedic” type. How can they ever pull off a heavy palace drama?

    1. Myolie Wu can only act those characters with no in-depth expressions, like a silly woman in comedies. She can never act those serious ones.

      Jessica Hsuan is no good in ancient dramas. She is okay in those professional ones in modern dramas.

      1. I liked Jessica in modern dramas such as Dicey Business or Gun metal Grey.

      2. I liked Jessica in “Dicey Business” as well, a drama which overall was quite underrated by the media. She was very much in character as a gambling addict, perhaps due to having good chemistry with Bobby Au Yeung, a very close friend in real life.

      3. @Jayne

        Yeah, I don’t really understand why Dicey Business was so underrated. It was a really good series! And most of the cast seems to highly recommend it to everyone too!

      4. Sure-lee,
        Maybe too many gambling series and films done in the past. But the cast gave very good performances in “Dicey Business.” I like the series more for the acting than the plot, which started off good but did not conclude well.

        Six years later and impossible to assemble such a caliber in the cast anymore!

      5. @Jayne

        Yeah, quite a few breakthrough roles! Jessica was awesome at portraying a gambling addict, Tavia’s performance was great with her “lisp”, Bosco was memorable as the “guy hiding under the covers”, and Bobby’s life was really touching. Michael Miu was pretty convincing as the villain too.

      6. It’s clearly that Jessica always plays well if her co-star is her favor, like Bobby, Gallen, and Louis. Unless she surely acts with normal skill, like her work, not her passsion.

    2. I actually liked Sunny Chan as the emperor. He was suppose to be a rather weak emperor anyways…

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