So good! The fact that I inhaled the first five episodes in one sitting is telling enough. Unlike many other palace dramas, The Confidant focuses on the struggles of eunuchs – nothing too melodramatic or draggy for now, and less backstabbing and screaming from the consorts. I didn’t sense familial warmth and humor in the released trailers, but the first story arc added these two factors in seamlessly. The writer was able to turn daily routines into interesting character interactions, and before I knew it, I wanted to watch more. It’s a keeper! This one!
SPOILERS! You’ve been warned.
Episode 1-5 Summary:
The Confidant takes place during the Manchu Qing Dynasty, under the reign of West Empress Dowager Cixi (Michelle Yim) and East Express Dowager Ci’An (Maggie Siu). Cixi became empress because she gave birth to a son (future Emperor Tongzhi). So far, Tvb’s adaptation of Cixi is sympathetic and benevolent. Charismatic and intelligent, she doesn’t come off as cruel…..
We open the episode with a guest role from Selena Li as Imperial Consort Yuen. She’s a crucial character in the first five episodes as the story revolves around her pitiful life. Being the late king’s favorite consort, she doesn’t receive respect after he died, as she’s locked in Jing Ren palace, an isolated and farther out section of the palace, being lectured by the Empress Dowagers for her offense. What we don’t know what yet. I thought Selena did very well in this role. There’s something terribly sad in her overall demeanor. While her eyes stare at you ruefully, her smile sad, her walk lifeless. She’s living her days just to see it end.
In Jing Ren palace, Consort Yuen’s favorite servants are Eunuch Li Lian Ying (Wayne Lai) and Sin Yung (Nancy Wu). Lian Ying’s everyone favorite person because he’s humble, he knows his place, he knows how to cheer up a lonely soul, how to lower his head when the event calls for it. He doesn’t like gossiping and will do anything to protect his master. Sin Yung is the opposite. She’s loyal, playful, and outspoken. But why!? When is Nancy going to get leading roles, Tvb? She has been consistent and versatile in all crappy roles you directors handed out. Let the girl shine in a well-earned lead role, okay?
Along with them, we have a band of loyal servants played by various actors; the prominent one is Ling Tim Sou (Edwin Siu), who is flighty and calls Lian Ying his mentor in the palace.
They seem like a happy group of folks, often bullied by the other servants for serving under an unfavorable consort. However, the bullying rarely drags down their positive spirits for extended period, as long as they have each other’s support. In the scene above, they’re having dinner together and when one eunuch, Xiao Ling (Fred Cheng, adorable!), cries about his non-existent family (having sold him), Sin Yung volunteers to be the dad, Lian Ying offers to be his mom; and eventually, everyone joins his family. It’s heart-warming scenes like this that keeps me coming back for more. It’s not pretentious; they want to have a family, they want to love. In this secluded area, they’re allowed to be loud and happy. Their basic needs to survive in the palace when everyone ignores their existence.
Except for one person. our obnoxious eunuch of the bunch, Pang Sam Shun (Power Chan). Petty, hot-headed, reckless, he’s the Attending Office’s Manager’s nephew, so it’s not hard to imagine how his ego grow to an unmanageable size. He sees the whole Jing Ren Palace as a pest and never back down from a chance to insult them. Power’s highlight is his vast expressions as the despicable Sam Shun. His every sneer, smirk, arched eyebrows adds to his grounded performance. He’s a versatile actor, can do humor, and manage serious role just as well. Sometimes, I have an unhealthy desire to slap him silly. I do hope that we see a conflicted side of him soon, something that makes him less immoral than he is right now. I loved that scene where Sin Yung purposely takes up the bathroom stall, leading to his public humiliation of pooping in front of everyone. Take that, you jerk!!
Rounding out the fourth eunuch is On Tak Hoi (Raymond Cho). Tak Hoi is Lian Ying’s best friend and both entered the palace at a young age to support their family. They’ve been through many obstacles and still remain as good friends. Before they split up to work for different masters, both were under the guidance of an experienced eunuch (and still occasionally eat hotpot with him), Lau Dor Sang (Chung King Fai); he’s almost like a know-it-all walking treasure, having served the late emperor. In contrast to Lian Ying’s laid-back personality, Tak Hoi is ambitious, focused, and driven. Fortunately for him, he’s caught the attention of West Empress and is her favored servant.
The last eunuch in the story is Yiu Sheung Hei (Raymond Wong). Out of the five males, he can be said to be the most upright about maintaining moral duties. In episode 1, he crosses path with Sam Shun and the two quickly becomes enemies. Sam Shun locks up Sheung Hei after the latter says he has no money to afford a pass (to leave the palace), and this prevents Sheung Hei from visiting his sick mother, who dies a few days later. Coming from a generation of doctors, Sheung Hei aspires to save the sick and is reassigned to the Imperial Pharmacy. To his mild disappointment, he’s only allowed to carry out frivolous chores.
That is until he encounters Princess Shou Xi (Aimee Chan), who is the daughter of East Empress. At first, she pretends to be sick and befriends him. In due time, she figures that he wants to officially learn from the imperial doctors and helps him become a disciple. With her upcoming arranged marriage, Shou Xi pretends to be sick, hoping that she can delay the fateful day for as long as possible. Maybe befriending Sheung Hei is a bad idea after all? Because he honestly relays the message to the empress, which makes her eagerly plan for the two strangers to meet. She thinks this can ease her daughter’s mind. Let’s hope. I don’t remember seeing Aimee Chan in a drama. I did see E.U but I don’t really remember much of her. She’s chatty in here, sometimes a bit too hyper for someone growing up in the palace.
At the end of episode 5, what happened to Consort Yuen? Remember when I said, she’s living her days simply to see it end? Those days end when Sam Chun’s uncle, Chan Fuk (Elliot Ngok), decides to stir trouble after finding out that Empress Cixi has murdered her son years ago. Of course, he is far from noble and selfless, he’s helping because he isn’t favored by either empresses and needs a strong supporter. Unfortunately, the story offers a twist. Consort Yuen’s son was indeed murdered by Empress Cixi but the baby was not of royal blood. This is where Tvb turned Cixi into a sympathetic person. She could easily behead Consort Yuen but she didn’t. Instead, she hides the adultery and allows Consort Yuen to live her days in the palace. Some would say it’s eternal hell and I’d agree. Living in this case is worst than dying.
Stubborn as she is, Consort Yuen foolishly thinks that no one knew about her infidelity. She confronts both empresses and is slapped in the face with a letter from her dead lover. While he’s in prison, he hoped his death would save her and their child. Tragic. Even after learning about the truth, Empress Cixi, upon hearing Lian Ying’s pleas, agrees to spare Consort Yuen’s life. Instead, she’s exiled to the border.
I knew she wouldn’t leave the palace alive. Knowing that her loved ones died in the palace, Consort Yuen downs a glass of poison while listening to Lian Ying’s singing her favorite song, “Phoenix Hairpin.” Not Purple?
I loved that everything ties back to episode 1. The song provides solace to her because it’s the song she shared with her dead lover. In the beginning, one would think she’s reminiscing the times she had spent with the late emperor. Good story-telling lays out the details and ties it together – not into a neat bow, but a coherent, unexpected flow. This is it.
She dies in Sin Yung’s arm, whispering, “Life is too much for me. I just want relief. Poon Yuk Tsun and my son are waiting for me…” This scene resonates profoundly with Sin Yung because she’s carrying a baby too. When they say parents will go to the ends of earth for their children, it’s not a lie.
So far, I like that all five eunuchs have distinct personalities and it would be interesting to see how their dynamics and loyalties are challenged and divided as they join different camps in the future. One thing I was relieved to find out is the romance isn’t happening saliently between master and servant. That would be predictable. Here’s hoping this one won’t disappoint!
The theme song: “Mutual Help in Humble Circumstances” – Shirley Kwan
The ending theme: “Sun and Moon” – Wayne Lai & Nancy Wu
I like both songs but Wayne should stick to acting. Nancy’s voice is decent and I actually want a solo version of the ending theme for her. 😛