Browsing through Viki for what to watch next, I came across “Story of Yanxi Palace” and remembered that last year, while I was in my anti-drama funk, I had dinner with my old Mandarin teacher. She was always really fascinated by the fact that I watch Asian dramas, and even saw BBJX and NiF at my recommendation, and loved them. She asked me if I was watching “Yanxi Palace” because she said it was HUGE in China and Taiwan, like a major ratings blockbuster, articles about what was going on in this drama were in the newspaper every other day, they were talking about it on all the Chinese variety shows, she was very surprised that I wasn’t already all over it. At the time I googled it and there were only like 20 eps subtitled out of 70, so I told her I’d wait for it to be completely subbed before I watched (but really I wasn’t in the mood to watch shit), so lucky me.
Anyway, I decided to watch the first episode, and I gotta say I’m already pissed off and I already love the heroine, she’s SO fierce and smart and fearless, stands up for the weak, doesn’t take shit, refuses to apologize if she’s not wrong, fights fire with bigger fire and is an all around badass in one prim, petite, serene package. In reality, she has infiltrated the palace as a maid to find out who killed her sister, who worked there in the embroidery shop but was sent home in a casket. They said she died of “illness” but our girl saw bruising around her sister’s neck and called bullshit. All the cowardly men of her clan were like, just leave it alone, do what we say, and she’s like, get out of my way; I’m avenging.
OK, so like the reason I’m pissed off is that the episode opens with that horribly demeaning “picking of the concubines” ceremony, where all these teenage girls are lined up in their finest to be paraded in front of the emperor so he can get fresh meat to boink. Just, as a woman, I’m disgusted, even though I know this is back in the 15th century or whatever and this is consider a GREAT HONOR for them. The emperor, though he’s quite goodlooking, sounds like quite a misogynist already, ridicules the girls as too skinny or too fat or too dark, drags one out in shame, dishonoring her whole family, because he disagreed with her choice of footwear. Later, he calls his entire harem stupid, and sends them cryptic paintings for them to scratch their heads over trying to figure out what he means by it and how to please him, since that’s all they live for. Clearly a man crying out for an intelligent woman, which I suppose will be our girl. Except I already hate him for looking down on all his wives and concubines like they’re worthless toys, how dare he???
OK, some of them are total bitches (that harem is like WWIII in there), but he’s got some really nice, good-hearted women there too, come on now! Why the disrespect? They all gather like sheep to be picked for the night, and he sends the eunuch to tell them all he’d rather spend time looking over paperwork. Arrghhh! I’m just really angry and humiliated on their behalf. LOL.
So a great start to this drama, which is beautiful to look at while also being quite brutal in the same vein as BBJX. Love the heroine, hate the hero… if indeed he is the hero, because there’s another man also in the credits who I have not seen yet, but maybe after he shows up he’ll be the hero? I can’t tell you, since I’ve avoided seeing any synopses of this drama whatsoever. Maybe there won’t be any romance at all, that would be interesting! But so far so good!