Empresses in the Palace (2011) Review: A Political Cat Fight Tale at Its Finest

What a series. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience the full-blown story as the one on Amazon has been condensed and cut. There is a total of 76 episodes. Amazon Prime only has 6 episodes and they are 1:30 hours long per episode. That means I got to go hunt for the complete series if I want a detailed story.

(I found the series here for streaming on Youtube, but I’d like to get a DVD copy myself.)

Typically, I’m not too fond of Chinese political shows because historic fiction sounds pretty dry but this one took me by surprise. This show, based on a novel written by Liu Lianzi, and directed by Zheng Xiolong, involves a story about the politics among the concubines who vie for the emperor’s affection. The show slowly unravels the treacherous journey that one must undergo to obtain and protect power over others by following the eyes of Zhen Huan, an innocent young woman who wishes to marry the finest man and love him devotedly but found herself thrown into a destiny against her wish when she got selected to be one of the emperor’s concubines.

In this show, I watched the detailed rationality of each character’s motivation for power. They are all humans with their personalities and quirks. Everyone is fighting for the emperor’s affection in this seemingly harmonious palace which is far from peaceful. I don’t know which is better–live life as a hungry peasant or sleep in constant fear that someone would silently kill me in my comfortable chamber. I think I’d prefer to be the hungry peasant. Fighting a war with words can be mentally exhausting.

One thing I enjoyed about this show is that there are so many topics and points of view you can extract from this series–just the characters alone. One that stood out to me the most is the topic of loyalty and flattery how it works as a weapon and when it’s appropriate to deploy it as a means to protect oneself. The protagonist Zhen Huan demonstrated it well, although in the end it just shows how terrifying human beings can be even the utmost righteous ones. She won the favor of the emperor out of all the concubines where she acted out as self-preservation instead of love. After all, it’s the emperor who took the one thing she wanted most out of life and that is to love her husband devotedly. Hard to remain loyal when he can turn his back on his cherished concubines at the slightest slander which eventually will turn them into mad swine. You can argue that Zhen Huan is the type of female archetype that makes women look powerful but also sympathetically feminine. She is a benevolent leader but also a terrifying one and above all, realistically human.

Empresses in the Palace is a series worth watching because it explores human emotions even the darkest ones in a political setting. One always ends up alone in the pursuit of political security. After all, one can never know one’s true destiny until death is near and like the sand, the things we grasp would slip away from our hand. Overall, strong ending. Strong conclusion.


I might write a full essay on one of the topics in this series in the future for fun. I liked it that much.