Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Virtuous Queen of Han Episode 1 Recap

Episode 1.
(Flashbacks to childhood will be in italics for this recap)

The ceremony begins with the Emperor Wu/Liu Che (Raymond Lam) taking his place at his throne as the drums and instruments are being played. Princess Pingyang (Niki Chow), the sister of Liu Che, is seen to be in the palace's main hall. As Wei Zifu (Wang Luo Dan) is being carried to her coronation ceremony, she flashes back to her childhood which reflect the hardship she endured as a child.

In the flashback, Zifu's stepfather hits her and refuse to acknowledge her as part of the family. Her mother remorsefully tells Zifu that as a mother she is powerless because she is a slave for life and hence what Zifu's future will be like is dependent on her own efforts.

Zifu's mother runs through the door on a rainy day to hug her children. She thanks them for all being there as she had feared that she would never see them again. Zifu's brother asks for the reason for their mother to be saying that. Zifu's mother had heard that this rainstorm was unusually strong and had hurried home. On her way back she had seen many collapsed buildings and homes and witnessed many lives lost. She feels distressed at the fact that she must leave her children on their own to earn money to support the family, evident as she expresses that if anything happened to them she wouldn't want to live either. Zifu wipes her mother's tears and quotes her teacher's saying that 'to live is the best gift of all', whether in wealth or poverty, they will be happy. Her sisters joins in to say that days get by easier if we laugh more, in bitter or sweet they will be happy, they will suffer through bitter and sweet and happiness, as a family they are strong, have a kind heart and strong will. These words are soon turned into their family melody. 

The rain is seeping through the roof and the children instantly place pots and vases to catch the incoming raindrops. As the raindrops hit the vases they create musical notes which amuses Zifu who uses the vases as instruments whilst singing a song about experiencing life's ups and downs together. The family joins in, but the momentary happiness is cut short when the thunderstorm rumbles, the house becomes unstable and the family hurry out. 

Zifu steps off her carriage back in present times as voiceover reads the qualities that make her a virtuous queen and the roles and responsibilities now bestowed upon her. She walks past her brother, Wei Qing, who has become a general and her childhood best friend Duan Hong, whom she treats as a brother. We see in the past how they were separated. She is handed her royal seal as the entire court welcomes her as their new queen. Zifu and Liuche look at each with endearing eyes.

Flashback continues. The villagers are forced into leaving their homes due to the harsh rain which has caused extensive damage. Zifu calls out to Duan Hong as they see them walking behind their makeshift carriage. Zifu stepfather tells them to stop shouting or to get off the carriage. Duan Hong runs after them and questions where they're going, to which Zifu replies that she has no idea. Duan Hong runs up to hand her a handkerchief that he promised her before falling onto the ground and held back by his parents. Zifu's stepfather (who appears to be a horrible man) hurriedly continues on the journey as the Duan Hong and Zifu are separated. She promises that she will never forget this best friend. Zifu unwraps the handkerchief to find a wooden comb wrapped within. 

Zifu is in the marketplace with her younger brother as a vendor calls out for people to buy his grass slippers and a seer offers to read people's futures. Zifu tugs on the corner of her stepfather's shirt asking if he is to have his future read, suggesting that he buy a pair of grass slippers instead of spending his money at the seer's. He abruptly refuses with a poke at her head, criticising her for appearing to help and wanting him to buy slippers as a reward for her help. Zifu says that the slippers aren't for her but rather her brother, whose slippers have broken. She says that her teacher told her that seers will only say things that are pleasant to the ear to trick money. The seer appears to be annoyed at Zifu for badmouthing him, hence says that he will read her stepfather's future and won't accept payment for it. This proves to be an act of revenge as the seer tells her stepfather that Zifu is an unlucky figure in his life and will stop him from success and luck in the future. Being the horrid man he is, the stepfather decides to abandon Zifu. 

Zifu's mother pleads with him to let her stay with them, questioning how he could possibly believe a seer's words. Her stepfather refuses and says that she isn't his real daughter anyway, he only has one child and that's it. Zifu's mother is on her knees begging. Her stepfather threatens to leave everyone else behind and only taking his son with him if she doesn't agree to leave Zifu behind. Her mother cries whilst pleading that Zifu's only a child but her mother is ignored and helpless and finally decides to concede to his decision. 

Zifu cries having witnessed the whole conversation and leaves to repair her brother's slippers. Her family is leaving Zifu and they are all crying and heartbroken to have to abandon Zifu. Abandoned and alone, Zifu continues walking with the rest of the impoverished villagers. 

When she opens the package her mother left her, she has the biscuits inside snatched from her by the hungry villagers who flock like hungry vultures at the sight of food. She backs away from the crowd to a grass tent where she sees a half-unconscious man who she begins to feed with the biscuits she has left. She quotes her mother in saying that no matter if one is sick, hurt or hungry, as long as one isn't dead, one must eat, once we're full and have energy, then we can have hope. She tells him to eat and we see that she is an optimistic and selfless and kind-hearted person. She encourages the man by saying there's light at the end of the tunnel. The man bursts out and snatches the rest of the biscuits until he apologises for frightening her. Zifu replies that her tears are not because of fear but rather he's eaten all of the biscuits her mother left for her and that she's also hungry. He apologises for eating all her biscuit and thanks her for her kindness by repaying her with six words. He scratches the words in the characters in the mud and says that they are similar to what her teacher has taught her and will be useful for her entire life -Don't argue, don't show, don't reveal? (I don't quite get this but alright, I'll think this will make more sense later). Her mother and siblings comes back finding her hurt and injured from running away from violent villagers who have resorted to thieving. 

(Flash forward to a few years, but still the past relative to the coronation ceremony.) Her brother Wei Qing is hunting with Princess Pingyang's husband, the Marquess of Pingyang, Cao Shi. The Emperor is successful in hunting a deer and appears to be powerful but we will find that he is actually powerless. He wishes to propose and realise his new political policies however his grandmother the Grand Empress Dowager Dou, wife of Emperor Wen of Han, holds a different view on his policies. His subjects try to convince him to proceed with his policies.

[On a side note Empress Dou is known to have supported her husband and son through one of Golden Ages of Chinese History - Her story is dramatised in 'Schemes of a Beauty' - 美人心计 -played by the beautiful Ruby Lin.]

Cut to a political battle at court, where we see that the ones who truly control the court are really his grandmother. His aunt, who is also his mother-in-law (i.e. mother of the current queen), Grand Princess Guantao, also holds considerable political influence. The court officials who supported the Emperor's policies are punished for their support as an exhibit of the consequence of those who oppose the Grand Empress Dowager's wishes. The Emperor is obviously angered at this result and promises to be a good emperor to the subjects who have sacrificed themselves so that the Grand Empress Dowager is no longer angry.

The emperor is releasing his frustration by sword dancing when the news of the death of his loyal subjects is delivered to the Emperor by one of his close subjects, Han Yan. We see that Han Yan is actually working for Grand Princess Guantao who we will discover is the main antagonist in the series, propagating most of the jealousy and hatred and evil schemes towards Zifu in the name of her daughter the current queen, Empress Chen Ah Jiao.

Zifu, now as an adult, is a dancer and servant at Princess Pingyang's household. Duanhong as an adult still remembers Zifu, his childhood crush, and is now an imperial bodyguard.

Han Yan is roaming through the streets, teasing the citizens by throwing out gold pellets and finding entertainment out of watching them scrambling at the gold. In trying to save a child who has stumbled into the path of Han Yan's carriage, Zifu's brother knocks over the carriage as Zifu protects the child. They run to hide from the soldiers who are there to chase them under Han Yan's orders. Zifu runs into a room which coincidently is where Duan Hong is dining with the Prime Minister and another official. Zifu's literary knowledge gains the Prime Minister's admiration and help in warding off the chase of the soldiers who instantly back away after knowing that she is in the presence of the Prime Minister. As a repayment for his help, she writes him six characters to thank him - '苦饥寒 逐金丸' -literally meaning: bitter, hunger, cold, throwing gold pellets. Here Zifu juxtaposes the uncaring rich who carelessly flaunt their wealth with the everyday citizens who suffer through bitter, hunger and the cold, hence providing an adequate portrayal of the condition of the state and social class and commenting on the corruption of the government officials.

The Prime Minister and the official marvel at her phrase, admiring its simplicity laced with depth in meaning. The official criticises Han Yan who is the direct person this phrase applies to, however the Prime Minister believes that this phrases applies to people well beyond Han Yan. It encapsulates the message of the rich and powerful suppressing the poor citizens and neglecting the issues and worries of the public.

Having given her thanks, Zifu takes her leave.

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