Directed by Wendeguang, adapted from the novel "Ceng Feng Liu," starring Jing Tian and Feng Shaofeng, with Wang Likun, Zhou Yiran, Xu Haiqiao, and others in leading roles, the historical inspirational & romance drama "The Legend of Zhuohua" is currently airing.
The story revolves around Mu Zhuohua, an ambitious female aspiring for success and fame. She crosses paths with Liu Yan, a warrior determined to seek justice on the battlefield and protect their comrades-in-arms. Their journey intertwines redemption and love as they unite to defend their homeland.
The show has received relatively positive feedback for several reasons. Firstly, the popularity of Feng Shaofeng and Jing Tian as lead actors generated considerable anticipation among viewers when they were cast as a couple in this production. Secondly, the drama centers around female inspirational topics which have always resonated well with female audiences.
Particularly noteworthy is Jing Tian's portrayal of Mu Zhuohua's character that has gained a loyal following due to her memorable lines and strong personality traits. Although set against a historical backdrop, these characters express contemporary women's aspirations.
Women's empowerment dramas have always been an essential genre in Chinese drama productions - whether featuring strong female leads or ensemble casts centered around women - all aiming to depict how women rise above societal norms dominated by men and ultimately become influential figures in society. This struggle becomes even more significant within historical dramas where gender inequality was prevalent; thus creating natural conflicts within the narrative.
Such is the case with "The Legend of Zhuohua." Set during an era when women were allowed entry into imperial examinations again; the protagonist Mu Qi comes from a wealthy family in Jiangnan region who holds ambitions of becoming a successful female scholar-official. Escaping from an arranged marriage situation at home under false pretenses of studying literature intensively before her father remarries multiple wives; she adopts the name Mu Zhuohua and participates in the imperial examinations.
In this fictional dynasty of Nanchen, a rule exists that if women pass the imperial examinations and become officials, they are forbidden from marrying for life. This sets up various plot twists as viewers speculate about Mu Zhuohua's destiny and her complicated relationship with Liu Yan's offspring. However, based on current audience feedback, opinions on the show are polarized. The reception varies regarding aspects such as the script, production quality, and actor performances. Therefore, it remains to be seen how this drama will ultimately fare.
Presenting Women's Empowerment through Contemporary Perspectives
Empowering female lead characters have always been likable; especially in "The Legend of Zhuohua," where historical events have been altered to incorporate contemporary thinking into Mu Zhuohua's character development. She becomes a spokesperson embodying modern women's concerns and effectively resonates with their struggles.
For ancient women, marriage was often regarded as their ultimate fate in society’s eyes. In the first episode of "The Legend of Zhuohua," we see Mu Zhuohua pretending to study diligently in her room while secretly planning her escape during her father’s lively engagement ceremony with another woman.
Prior to escaping home, she had already been promised by her family to marry a powerful local magistrate but refuses to become a concubine within an influential household instead of following her mother's teachings: studying hard and understanding worldly affairs as means for changing one’s own destiny. Recognizing how education can alter one’s fate was indeed remarkably advanced thinking at that time.
In the character of Mu Zhuohua, there is a strong presence of awakened female consciousness, which is closely related to her background. It is well known that she comes from a wealthy family in Jiangnan, but her awakening as a woman is not solely attributed to her illustrious lineage.
This is because within the Mu family, patriarchal values are deeply ingrained, with her father constantly taking new wives and holding strong biases. Mu Zhuohua's love for learning can be traced back to her humble mother who have been a concubine in the Mu household but came from an intellectual background. In subsequent plot developments, the audience discovers that Mu Zhuohua's maternal grandfather may have been a royal physician.
This also explains why from an early age, Mu Zhuohua's mother encouraged her to study and after the reinstatement of women's education, urged her to pursue academic achievements. Not only did Mu Zhuohua immerse herself in literature and knowledge but she also excelled in medical skills surpassing even accomplished physicians.
As for the origin of the name "Mu Zhuohua (慕灼华)," it embodies feminine charm and derives from the line "逃之夭夭，灼灼其华" found in "Classic of Poetry." This name perfectly complements Mu Zhuohua's charismatic personality.
Embarking on the path of pursuing scholarly achievement as a woman proved much more challenging than marrying into wealth. She had to not only study and take exams like men but also endure societal judgment and criticism. Without maintaining equanimity, it would have been difficult for Mu Zhuohua to achieve what she has.
The drama does not deliberately create an aura around its female protagonist or present her as an exceptional individual; rather it objectively portrays the arduous journey women face when participating in imperial examinations. In the provincial examination, Mu Zhuohua only achieved the seventeenth place, but this was already an extraordinary feat as she was the sole female among all successful candidates.
Although the emperor approved of reinstating women join imperial examination, there were still criticisms against women holding official positions in court. Mu Zhuohua faced similar scrutiny from her fellow scholars. During the palace examination, she even experienced Prince Ding's additional test, which nearly caused her to lose composure before the emperor.
However, Mu Zhuohua remained calm and composed and managed to provide concise answers on a mere half sheet of paper that showcased her true abilities. Shen Jinghong initially wanted to console Mu Zhuohua with sympathy but unexpectedly found her unperturbed response claiming to have done well; such a mindset truly exemplified her name.
Mu Zhuohua's journey towards scholarly achievement has been fraught with obstacles. Even after achieving third place in exam, she continued facing discontentment from others, and ridiculed by colleagues on registration day. Yet throughout it all, Mu Zhuohua maintained a poised demeanor and skillfully responded to all rumors and slander.
Although set within historical context, these events subtly reflect contemporary challenges faced by women today who seem to encounter various forms of discrimination in both professional settings and daily life. By calmly responding to criticism without showing agitation or distress, Mu Zhuohua not only protected her own rights but also advocated for modern-day women.
Poetic and Picturesque Aesthetics Convey Elegance
As a costume romance drama series, meticulous attention is given to costume design and scenery production which must strike a balance between historical accuracy and aesthetic appeal. Although "The Legend of Zhuohua" is set in an alternative history timeline, its costumes are inspired by Ming Dynasty attire based on their appearance in the show.
Furthermore, during the Ming Dynasty era itself, the system of Chinese female officials was perfected, forming a comprehensive and systematic framework. Therefore, it is evident that the show's costume design draws inspiration from Ming Dynasty fashion. The production team also demonstrates great care in creating the scenic backgrounds, ensuring that courtyard architectures adhere to principles of harmony between heaven and earth. Long shots often capture scenes with an ethereal quality akin to poetic imagery.
As a series centered around women, "The Legend of Zhuohua" exudes femininity both internally and externally. Through cinematography techniques such as soft focus on character contours and misty atmospheres in scenery, the director deliberately injects a sense of gentle beauty into each frame by employing lens filters for a softer aesthetic effect.
The drama focuses on the emotional relationships between two groups of characters, and the director uses different techniques to create different atmospheres for each relationship. In the handling of the love story between Mu Zhuohua and Liu Yan, warm colors and low color temperature are used to highlight a romantic atmosphere. When Princess Rou Jia and Shen Jinghong appear, high saturation blue tones are used to emphasize the princess's cold yet noble demeanor, as well as their melancholic love affair.
In addition, in order to achieve better effects, the drama also incorporates numerous special effects shots. It is reported that there are 14,076 special effects shots in total with a duration of 825 minutes. The production period for these special effects lasted 210 days and involved more than 30 special effects companies. This demonstrates the meticulousness and sincerity of the creative team behind this drama.
The Romantic Plotline in "The Legend of Zhuohua"
Every love drama inevitably includes numerous romantic plotlines, even dramas like "The Legend of Zhuohua" which aim to promote female empowerment. In the first few episodes of this drama, Mu Zhuohua is an ambitious woman who dreams of passing imperial examinations while Liu Yan is a royal relative who has experienced battles on distant battlefields.
These two individuals should not have any connection at all initially; however, through natural circumstances depicted by this drama's plotlines rather than relying on cliched scenes during their first encounter. They find themselves intertwined together due to Liu Yan's constant pursuit for truth about betrayal he experienced during his military expedition years ago while Mu Zhuohua inadvertently gets entangled in court disputes.
Indeed, Mu Zhuohua herself is not entirely innocent because her maternal grandfather had suffered tragic consequences when he failed to cure an illness afflicting Prince Ding's mother back then. This historical incident intricately links with what Liu Yan wants to uncover regarding what truly happened during the Battle of Juma River.
If this drama solely focused on career development and depicted the protagonists working together to uncover the truth, while also narrating a story where Mu Zhuohua seeks justice for her grandfather with Prince Ding's help, it would undoubtedly be more appealing to the audience.
However, since Mu Zhuohua achieved third honor in imperial examinations, the tone of this drama has taken an odd turn. In order to find the courtyard where her mother once resided, Mu Zhuohua accidentally enters Liu Yan's residence and is discovered by him. In a moment of desperation, she lies and claims that she admires Liu Yan. This statement surprises him but clearly indicates that he has begun contemplating whether this young lady genuinely likes him or not, as he pays even closer attention to her.
And the subsequent plotline falls into cliched patterns as well: due to Prince Ding previously grabbing Mu Zhuohua's neck and leaving a red mark on it - which was noticed by other colleagues during a gathering where Mu Zhuohua appeared close with Shen Jinghong - rumors spread about their secret meetings. Although Liu Yan chooses to believe in Mu Zhuohua despite these rumors, she anxiously wants to inform him of the truth.
Although it is stated in the drama that Mu Zhuohua is worried about being caught lying by Liu Yan and tries multiple times to explain herself for self-protection, both his reaction and her demeanor convey a message to viewers: they have developed mutual feelings without realizing it themselves.
The beginning of this drama establishes that women who participate in imperial examinations cannot marry; however, preview trailers for future episodes seem to suggest that there may be a grand wedding between Mu Zhuohua and Liu Yan later on - raising anticipation for how the storyline will unfold next.