Ran Review (1985)

I have a love-hate relationship with the historical fiction genre. It might be because they are full of wisdom but can be quite too serious for entertainment purposes. Instead of being overjoyed and excited, I found myself more contemplative and even angry at times to learn that certain events could have been prevented if only we had the wisdom beforehand to prevent a character from walking into a tragic fate. Much of human history goes through a cycle of birth and death-all in the name of conquest, ideologies, and fighting for resources. So am I supposed to sympathize with the protagonist Hidetora Ichimonji, who ruled for 50 years, brutally cutting down families and conquering lands?

The make up in this film is really good…

This film, Ran, directed by Akira Kurosawa, is inspired by Shakespeare’s play called King Lear, which is also one of my favorite tragedies from Shakespeare. If you are familiar with the play, you can see the influence. There is a hard lesson to learn about flattery words. They can elevate one’s being, but it can also bring someone down to his or her knees. Sometimes, the honest truth is not the most pleasant thing to hear but it’s the sincerest. Avoiding it can be a tragedy just like in this film. Hidetora, who is like an old boar at age 70, realizes that his hunting days are becoming a distant glory. He begins to show affection towards his three sons after having a terrible nightmare about being alone in a foreign land. Hidetora thinks it’s wise to give over his dominion to the eldest son while his other two sons would act as the eldest son’s support. But we all know this is a recipe for disaster. What sort of world do we live in? We live in “a world barren of feelings and loyalty,” as the youngest son, Saburo stated. Even family members backstab one another to obtain power.

As an audience, I begin to sympathize with Hidetora’s old age, knowing the fact that is the fate of all mortality. But at the same time, we see karma at play: His eldest son’s wife, like a hen, “peck the cock and [turn her husband into] a crow.” What goes around comes around. She seeks revenge to reclaim her father’s castle by playing a big part in her husband’s political decisions to remove her father-in-law (Hidetora) from authority. Throughout the film, we see a spiral of unfortunate events reducing Hidetora into an eccentric madman. It made me wonder, if only he listened to his youngest son who happens to be the most loyal but the bluntest, would his fate be saved? No, the lessons are hard. The lessons are just. By his own weight and glory; and the many lives he has taken, he falls. He falls hard. He must fall because no mortal man can stand forever tall.

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.