War and Beauty
|War and Beauty|
|Opening theme||Sons and Daughters (兒女) by Bowie Lam|
|Ending theme||Arsenic (砒霜) by Bowie Lam and Gigi Lai|
|Country of origin||Hong Kong|
|No. of episodes||30|
|Running time||45 minutes (each)|
|Original channel||TVB Jade|
|Original run||23 August 2004 – 2 October 2004|
|Followed by||War and Beauty II (2013)|
|War and Beauty|
War and Beauty is a Hong Kong television period drama serial that originally aired on TVB Jade from 23 August to 2 October 2004, consisting of 30 episodes. It starred TVB Anniversary Awards Best Actress winners Gigi Lai, Sheren Tang, Maggie Cheung, and Charmaine Sheh, and Best Actor winners Bowie Lam and Moses Chan.
Meaning of title
Phonetically, at least in Cantonese, the title sounds exactly like the Chinese phrase "金枝玉葉" (literally translates to "[A tree with] golden branches and jade leaves"). This is a classical Chinese proverb used to describe aristocratic but unmarried women in feudal Chinese society. The proverb is also used to describe a lady from a privileged or aristocratic background.
The title itself is effectively a pun on the original phrase, with the third and fourth ideogram being replaced by two other characters which described the main themes of the entire series. The characters "玉" (jade) and "葉" (leaf) were replaced by the phonetically equivalent "慾" (lust / desire) and "孽" (evilness, nemesis). Thus, the title itself describes the entire plot, which roughly translates to "women from prestigious backgrounds with lusts / desire for power and evilness".
Owing to the prolific use of the character "慾" (lust) in pornographic films and productions, some people believed in the beginning that the show was pornographic in nature. While the show does focus on the workings of Forbidden City's inner harem (which, in turn, invariably deals with sex), the show does not have any elements of pornography.
- Note: Some of the characters' names are in Cantonese romanisation.
|Yu Yang||Aisin-Gioro Yong Yan
|The Emperor of China. He plays a very minor role in the series.|
|Rebecca Chan||Niuhuru Yi-suet
|She was initially out of favor, but regained it after winning a power struggle with Yu-Yuet.|
|Sheren Tang||Niuhuru Yu-Yuet
|Loves Kong Wu
An initially favoured concubine who eventually fell out of favor with the Emperor after losing a power struggle with the Empress. She is also initially known for her rather bullying demeanours.
|Gigi Lai||Hougiya Yuk-ying
|Loves Sun Bak-yeung
Yu-Ying was treated quite badly by her father before entering the palace. Her mother is the fourth (and neglected) concubine of her father.
Died in episode 30
|Charmaine Sheh||Dongiya Yi-Sun
|Loves Sun Bak-yeung
A Han Chinese posing as a Manchurian in order to get into the palace and save her adoptive father (who committed treason) from death. Yi-Sun and Fuk Nga's story were spread as rumors by Concubine Yu in episode 11 of Beauty at War.
|Maggie Cheung Ho Yee||Guwalgiya On-Seen
|Loves Kong Wu
A palace maid who, after knowing that her grandmother was killed by the Empress, actively gained the Emperor's favor to take revenge. On-Seen's arranged marriage to a eunuch and her relationship with Hong Mo was the focus in the first few episodes of Beauty at War.
Died in episode 30
|Jade Leung||Nalan Fuk Nga
|A kind concubine in the Imperial Court who fell out of favor because of her illness. She is the biological sister to Concubine Chun. Near the end, it is revealed that she had been poisoning herself, sacrificing her future, so that Sun Bak Yeung would continually take care of her. In Beauty at War, her relationship with Yi-Sun was revealed to be a rumor spread by Concubine Yu in an effort to reach out to her own sister, Concubine Shun.|
|Bowie Lam||Sun Bak Yeung
A palace doctor who caters to the need of all concubines. He was romantically involved with Yuk-Ying, who bore his child and posed it as the Emperor's child. His relationship with his father was explored in episode 5 of Beauty at War.
Died in episode 30
|Chan Hung Lit||Sun Ching Wah
|Father of Sun Bak-Yeung. He and his son share a rather cool relationship, with the father disapproving of the son's actions within the Inner Harem of the Palace.|
A palace guard who gained the favor of the Emperor after saving his life. Was responsible for the safety of Yi-Sun and Yuk-Ying on their way to Beijing.
|Wai Kar Hung||Chan Song
|Fraternal brother of Kung-Wu. He was expelled from the Palace after he was caught stealing, and was discovered to have joined the rebel forces at the end of the series when they attacked the Palace. Dies at the end of the series defending his fraternal brother.|
|Lo Hoi Pang||Chui Man Tin
|He is the master behind a plot to train Erchun to become a formidable, beautiful woman and send her into the Palace to actively gain the favour of the Emperor for the sake of his own life. He is murdered by his wife near the end of the series.|
|Ngo Ka-nin||Wong Fuk-sau
This show was set in the Forbidden City, in Qing Dynasty China in the late years of Emperor Jiaqing's rule. It focused on the power struggle between various royal concubines trying to secure the Emperor's favor, with corruption, intrigue and outright deceit being the weapons of choice. These women were willing to manipulate, betray and even kill just about anyone in order to get what they wanted.
Throughout the later parts of the series, the inevitable results of this corruption become increasingly apparent. The main characters start to lose everything they care for, while being forced to conclude that they have only themselves to blame. In the meantime, corruption takes its toll on the outside world as well: the entire empire is destabilizing.
But none of that is a deterrent to the scheming women. On the contrary: even when the rebels make their way into the Forbidden City, the manipulators' first thoughts are as to how this situation may be used to their advantage. In the end, corruption itself is the only clear winner and many of those involved die or are forced to flee the City forever.
Ending of main characters
At the end of the series, many things come to a head. As the corruption of Qing politics became all the more prevalent, the people of the country organize an armed rebellion. The rebellion was led by Kong-Wu's fraternal brother, Chen Shuang, who felt wronged during his time in the Palace and is seeking revenge. The rebel invasion of the Palace opened up some interesting opportunities, especially for the Empress, who tried to kill off her opposition and blame it on the rebels.
Sun Bak-Yeung made an attempt to use the situation to escape with Yi-Sun and Yuk-Ying. However, Yuk-Ying was unwilling to go with them, and Sun Bak-Yeung made Kong-Wu promise that he will take Yi-Sun out of the Forbidden Palace. After dealing with that, Sun Baiyang went to Yuk-Ying residence to confront her. However the Empress was already aware of their affair, and while the two were in Yuk-Ying's residence, the Empress' guards boarded up the entrances and set it on fire, causing both to be burned alive. Sun Bak-Yeung's father, Sun Qinghwa, found out about his son's death when a raven carried his son's jade band and dropped it right in front of him as he waited for his son in the wilderness.
On-Seen, whose plan to exact revenge on the Empress for her grandmother's death was scuppered, hatched plans to leave the Palace with Kong-Wu and Yi-Sun, who had lost all will to live in the Palace after her adoptive father, Xu Wan Tian, died. At the same time, The Consort Yu (Yu-Yuet) was also invited to leave by the trio, but she refused to because she entered the Palace at the age of 16, and was unaccustomed to normal civilian life. Having survived an attack by several guards dressed up as rebels and having realized the true fate of Sun Bak-Yeung and Yuk-Ying, she went on to confront the Empress directly in her residence and appeared to regain her superior political position.
All was not over for the ones who successfully left. As the trio left the palace, On-seen was shot by a stray arrow, the wound from which she would die of soon afterward. Both sadly and romantically fitting, she died on Kong-Wu's shoulder while escaping in a horse cart. In the end, only Kong-Wu and Yi-Sun successfully left the palace and, as hinted by the film, started a new life.
Popularity and criticism
Amongst Hong Kong's office workers, the feuding and shifting alliances of the Imperial women, with greater issues being sacrificed for personal piques and gains was taken as a metaphor for the office politics familiar to many. The exploits of their characters were followed in minute detail in online forums, with each betrayal or stab in the back leading to flaming, denunciations, accusations and denials amongst the rival factions. It created a high rating just below War of the Genders.
However, this is just a narrow interpretation of the themes present in the serial. In a broader sense, the theme of the serial, especially apparent toward the end, is that of oppressed femininity under the feudal hierarchy. For example, a plot line involves Kong-Wu finding a silk handkerchief with a poem embroidered on it. That poem, expressing the frustration of being trapped in the Forbidden City and the longing for life outside the palace, is later revealed to be written by Consort Yu. Even though Consort Yu has been characterized as power-thirsty and ruthless, the audience gets a glimpse into her deeper, more sincere sentiments. Given these sentiments, the fact that she still eventually chooses to stay behind in the palace shows the extent the Forbidden City, the epitome of the rigorous Chinese feudal system, shackles the women that live within it. There are many preconceptions and even myths about a place as exclusive as the Forbidden City. It is possible that the women in the serial are just behaving what they think they are supposed to behave--cunning, cruel, betraying-- in order to secure their imperial status in such a place filled with taboos and restrictions. Feminine roles in feudal times are restricted, and they are even more so on the pinnacle of Chinese feudal hierarchy which is the Forbidden City.
The show was not without its critics. Many sociologists, psychologists, and academics have criticized the show as promoting hatred and backstabbing as a "natural" matter in society, and fears that the drama will twist the youth's perception of social relationships in general. However, many ordinary citizens simply believe the show was a reflection of the real world.
When one such psychologist was asked about his views concerning the series, he stated "I think we must remind ourselves that even if the intentions of this [War and Beauty] are represented as merely fictitious harm, we should still focus on this harm nonetheless, especially when its in respect to our youth"
However the creators and fans alike strongly deny such existence of 'harm', and that there are no such subliminal connotations behind the series.
Awards and nominations
My Favorite Actress in a Leading Role award went to Gigi Lai for her role as Yuk Ying
My Favorite Actor in a Leading Role award went to Bowie Lam for his role as Suen Bak Yeung
My Favorite Powerhouse Actor award went to Chan Hung Lit for his role as Suen Ching Wah.
My Favorite Powerhouse Actress Award went to Sheren Tang for her role as Yu Yuet.
This drama is considered the best drama in TVB production in year 2004.
This drama also won the Most Favourite Drama in Astro Wah Lai Toi Drama Awards 2005.
Charmaine Sheh acting as Yee Shun in War and Beauty won the Most Favourite Actress in Astro Wah Lai Toi Drama Awards 2005.
After Sheren Tang won the TVB Best Actress award in 2009 and 2010, War and Beauty became the TVB drama with the most Best Actress winners. Others TVB Best Actress winners in the series are Maggie Cheung Ho-Yee, Gigi Lai, and Charmaine Sheh who won their respective Best Actress awards in 2003, 2004 and 2006.
Home video releases
War and Beauty was released on DVD and VCD a few months after its finale, and was a bestseller. It also became the first TVB drama to receive a DVD release, albeit a limited one. The DVD box was made of shiny gold cloth, with the drama's title woven on it with gold thread.
- Forbidden City
- Ranks of Imperial Consorts in China
- Beyond the Realm of Conscience
- Dae Jang Geum
- The Queen of All