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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

(aka "Zhen Huan Zhuan" )

 

directed by Xiaolong Zheng, Yi-jun Gao, Mengmeng Zheng, and Tao Zhong
China 2012

 

A soapy but visually striking and engrossing look at the inner workings of the imperial harem in The Forbidden City of eighteenth century China, EMPRESSES IN THE PALACE finds the Yongzheng Emperor (Jianbin Chen, CONFUCIUS) ascending to the throne in 1722. The constant threat of upheaval that allowed for his ascension causes the Empress Dowager (Hsueh-Hua Liu, BASTARD SWORDSMAN) fearful that the Empress (Ada Choi, FIST OF LEGEND) will not be enough sons to guarantee one of their line as a successor. With that in mind, the kingdom starts holding auditions for the imperial harem every three years. While most of the eligible girls are eager to be accepted in order to enhance the fortunes and reknown of their own families, Zhen Huan (Li Sun, JET LI'S FEARLESS) want in principal to marry for love – although she has not yet returned the affections of young imperial doctor Wen (Xiaolong Zhang, RED CLIFF) – prays to be passed over for service. Although Huan takes care not to adorn herself as ornately as the other candidates and remains neutral in manner, her intelligence and simple elegance shows through and she is selected alongside her childhood friend Shen Mei-zhuang (Xi Lan), meek An Ling-rong (Xin-ran Tao), arrogant and flashy Xia Dongchun (Yinger), and the like-mannered Yu (Manli Cui). The Emperor's decision to appoint Huan as First Attendant has bold Consort Hua (Xin Jiang) feeling threatened as the Emperor's favorite (ranking only below the Empress even though she has yet to produce an heir). The Empress (whose own son by the Emperor has died), however, continually attempting to curry favor with her husband, understands that his attraction to Huan has to do with her resemblance to a long lost love. Huan is determined not to give herself to the Emperor, so Wen fabricates an illness that has her confined to her palace for months.

When the Emperor stumbles upon Huan and discovers that she embodies the spirit of his lost love in more than just appearance, he courts her under the guise of his cousin and she reveals more headstrong traits that she would not have to the Emperor and only reveals his true identity when he intercedes in a conflict between Huan and another attendant. When the Emperor goes against custom and promotes Huan to a noble lady even though she has not serviced him, Consort Hua – who exerts her influence over the harem through the dispensation of gifts and punishments – attempts to sew discontent among the other attendants, including Shen (who has fallen out of favor with the Emperor since he started courting Huan) and An who has remained untouched since her fear got the best of her on the night he was called into the Emperor's chambers along with Xia who has already been subjected to excessive punishment and Yu who has been demoted. When someone attempts to kill Shen, Huan suspects that Hua is threatened by the alliance formed between herself, Shen, and An. Huan cannot help but make more enemies no matter how magnanimous she remains while maneuvering her way through the various harem intrigues with the belief that the Emperor is indeed her true love and will one day be her husband.

Based on a novel by Liu Lianzi, EMPRESSES IN THE PALACE has been condensed into six ninety-minute episodes from seventy-six forty-five minute episodes (nine hours vs fifty-seven), and it is difficult to determine how much of the missing footage relates to fully excised subplots, entire characters, additional scenes, or padding. Some of the transitions are abrupt but the narratives of each episode are generally coherent. The characters, performances (not to mention the beauty of the actresses), and the overall production value help to keep the show watchable even as it becomes harder to keep track of the large cast (including various other consorts, concubines, eunuchs, and faithful maids) and the passage of time. The framing footage (which may or may not have been shot solely for these condensed versions) does give away the protagonist's survival into old age and prosperity no matter what dangers she faces in the episodes themselves. The HD videography lacks the "filmlook" type filtration and grading of other period series, lending the show more of a soap opera feel; but this becomes less distracting once the plot is set in motion and performances take command of the frame.

Eric Cotenas

Theatrical Release: 26 March 2012 - 2 May 2012

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DVD Review: Simply Media - Region 2 - PAL

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

DVD Box Cover

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Distribution

Simply Media

Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 9:02:30 (4% PAL speedup)
Video

1.78:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.6 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
Subtitles English, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Simply Media

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.78:1

Edition Details:
� Disc One:
� Episodes (with 'Play All' option; 2:59:54):
� - 1 (16:9; 1:29:57)
� - 2 (16:9; 1:29:57)

� Disc Two:
� Episodes (with 'Play All' option; 3:01:24):
� - 3 (16:9; 1:31:00)
� - 4 (16:9; 1:30:21)

� Disc Three:
� Episodes (with 'Play All' option; 3:01:12):
� - 5 (16:9; 1:30:36)
� - 6 (16:9; 1:30:33)

DVD Release Date: 15 August 2016
Amaray

Chapters 60

 

 

 

Comments

Simply Media spreads the six ninety-minute episodes over three dual-layer DVDs with sufficient mid-range bitrates. The image is interlaced but the conversion is not inordinately distracting. The sole audio option is a Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix that suits the subdued dialogue-heavy sound design. The optional English subtitles dialogue and onscreen text, which is helpful since all of the character are introduced onscreen with captions in their first close-ups. There are no extras.

The US DVD release is listed as a two-disc set and as DVD-R media. Amazon also lists a PAL 19 disc set of the complete series with English subtitles, although we cannot confirm if this is an authorized release.

  - Eric Cotenas

 


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DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Distribution

Simply Media

Region 2 - PAL

 



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