Deep In The Realm Of Conscience

Hello everyone!Today we’re going to be writing a review on Deep in the Realm of Conscience, one of TVB’s most anticipated dramas of the year which was produced in cooperation with Tencent Penguin Pictures.

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With its big budget for new costumes and set designs, producer Mui Siu-ching’s return, along with new ‘big name’ actresses Annie Liu and Chrissie Chau, this was supposed to wow audiences.

We’re gonna give some general thoughts and then move into the performances of the cast. Warning that there are spoilers ahead!General thoughts:As expected, the sequel was not as good as the first series, Beyond the Realm of Conscience, but it was not a terrible series that made us want to shut off the tv right away. If anything, it was not at all associated with BTROC and would have been better if it was made a separate entity so there would be no need to meet the expectations created by the success of BTROC. The main problem of the show was it tried to emulate bits and pieces of BTROC and was so reliant on the what they perceived the audience used to enjoy watching that it could not be labelled anything better than its prequel’s mere “replicate”.The first episode had us pretty confused because usually in historical dramas, the name and title of the character are provided as they appear in the drama, like in Succession War. This was not the case for DITROC and because we were out of touch with our Chinese history, we were left pretty confused. As the drama progressed and with aid of Wikipedia, we soon learnt the role everyone played.As well, for a drama focused on selling its grandeur to the audience, we found the small amount of characters and lack of extras as palace maids and guards made the drama seem much less impressive. It was dry seeing only 10 or so characters in an episode including Steven, Kenneth, Edwin, Nancy, Annie, Alice, and whoever else like the Emperor, Chrissie in the last half, Jacqueline Wong, or the 4 department heads. Near the end of its airing when Succession War was starting to air, the juxtaposition of the two ancient dramas proved Succession War to be altogether more serious with plenty of extras and more intense pacing of events, as opposed to the repetitive and rather sluggish scenes in DITROC.DITROC focused too much on extravagant costumes and sets that consequently led to an under-developed plot and use of characters. In fact, the costumes and accessories felt too excessive - though they were undeniably beautiful - that it detracted the audience’s focus at times. We expected some great, deep schemes as it was called 深宮計, but we didn’t feel there was too much plotting against one another within the palace, and it was mainly Wang Zhen (Nancy Wu) who had a few schemes, but none of them were too brilliant and people could guess right away that it was her doing. With the main villain of the drama being Princess Taiping (Alice Chan), in the end it got quite boring between her competition with the Emperor.An issue we had with this drama was the Emperor/ Li Longji(Steven Ma) only had two buddies: Yum Sam-shu (Kenneth Ma) and Ho Lei (Edwin Siu) who acted as the Emperor’s best friends, confidants, personal assistants, etc. Really, Kenneth playing this all-inclusive role would have sufficed, and instead, we would have liked to seen Ho Lei acting as a foil to Sam-shu’s loyal part by continuing in his revenge plot against the royal family. That would have added an interesting element, seeing that it was quite drab with the repeated brotherly scenes working together to solve mysteries or fight against Taiping’s plots against the Emperor. It would have been better if other noblemen were included in the running of the country.The same sisterly triangle was paralleled on the female side with Yuen Yuet (Annie Liu), Concubine Zheng Chunxi (Chrissie Chau), and Kam Yeuk-chin (Jacqueline Wong) and hence, the same unrelieved friendship scenes were frequent. Not to mention, Annie was paired with Edwin, Chrissie with Steven (as his concubine), and Jacqueline with Kenneth, so what mainly dominated the screen were romantic scenes of these pairs as long as Steven and Nancy’s initial lovey-dovey scenes which soon become quite cheesy and greatly degraded the maturity of the drama as a whole. If that isn’t enough, the heads of the Imperial Household Bureau had very tedious lines with the rhyming and petty arguing that slowed down the pace even more, and those scenes can hardly be considered as comic relief. Upon reflection of the drama, it felt like nothing really happened: the mystery cases were unimaginative and did little to add suspense to the story and the plot fell into a cycle of failed attempts to overthrow the Emperor. The plot was poorly balanced with 2 sudden deaths of Chrissie and Jacqueline at the end in one episode. These deaths did not hold much significance either, and the fact that we were not too bothered by them shows that the characters were not well-written enough to stir distraught in the viewers.Something that we wish we saw were the designs of the 4 departments for the Empress, Concubine and when Annie Liu became Princess Ling Long. We remember the last one showed the actual drawings. This is just picky but it would have added more depth to the departments. Whereas BTROC got into the details of the bureau’s inner workings such as their duties and how people rose to different ranks, we did not see it here with all these details being skimmed over. At times, Jay forgot whose department represented what (jewelry, attire, furnishing, food) because the heads mainly quarreled about their personal issues or gossiped about the palace rumours. We got so confused with Jacqueline because we thought she belonged in the Department of Furnishings but she kept making meat buns, so we were like: “Wait she"s’ in Department of Food?” which just shows how dissociated the palace maid characters were from their departments. We remember clearly in BTROC that Charmaine Sheh’s character was placed in the Department of Attire but really skilled at making jewelry. The same small traits which made characters more rich were absent here. Apologies for always bringing up BTROC, but if TVB decides to make a sequel to a show, they should be prepared for side-by-side comparisons of the two.Generally, the characters were in considerable need of depth; we felt that we could describe most of the characters with one word adjectives. Kenneth and Edwin were unyieldingly loyal, Annie, Chrissie, and Jacqueline were kind-hearted and innocent. These repeated qualities in not one, but several characters were monotonous and a waste of the actors at hand.With all those criticisms, you might ask us why we continued watching all 36 episodes of it. Well, we admit we are more prone to pick out faults mainly because of our preconception that the drama would be lesser than BTROC. That being said, we should be fair by mentioning some of its good qualities. As mentioned, the costumes, makeup, accessories, and set were fabulous and exquisite, and we should appreciate time and effort that the background artists and designers took to ensure the palace women looked stunning.

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There was a good degree of historical accuracy to the drama of events that took place like Princess Taiping’s conflict with Li Longji and her own suicide, and her being 48 years old when she died (so Alice was a suitable cast for the role). There was no one in particular that did a terrible job in acting their parts because it is understandably harder than modern dramas with the incredibly long scripts since palace dramas are so discussion-heavy. DITROC was a great improvement from ancient dramas that have aired these recent years as most of them were utterly horrible.Performances:
Steven Ma as Emperor Xuanzong/Li Long-ji - Steven has always been a solid actor and in recent years, he’s been focusing on other projects. With the big-budget, mainland China support and producer Mui Siu-Ching, he decided to return to TVB. In all honesty, we didn’t see amazing acting from him and it was kinda lacklustre for us. We blame this mostly on the lack of character development. The backstory of him being imprisoned by Wu Zetian after his mother was captured and died was briefly mentioned. The impact would’ve been greater if they showed him going through tough times trapped alone growing into an adult. Because we missed this important element, and were brought in the story in media res where he killed Empress Dowager Wei, the audience was led to believe that Li Longji was always a righteous and fair prince. We also felt that he was fully in love with his only partner, Wang Zhen. But it turns out, once he had Chrissie’s character Chunxi and saw her goodness, he was just as happy. He didn’t really show particular favouritism either because the next morning, Wang Zhen would visit him and he’d be all smiles too. He knew Wang Zhen had already been the mastermind behind some incidents against Chunxi and still trusted her fully to take care of Concubine Chunxi when she was pregnant. That made no sense. Like you can’t blame anyone when you single handedly allowed your own kid to be killed. Steven was adequate but it felt like he would just deliver for the scene, if he was supposed to be angry then he was angry. It felt disjointed because one minute, he knew about Wang Zhen who planned the fire at this building while Concubine Chunxi was inside. The next minute, he would still visit her. Also didn’t know why he only had two wives when Li Longji was known to have the most concubines in history keeping thousands of them in the palace. The end scene where it was revealed that he killed Yuen Yuet’s older sister was perhaps aimed to reveal that he was not that “righteous” and had an evil side, but we thought it was a poor choice to achieve this goal. It was not really baffling to see him kill a palace maid. Since he already killed Empress Dowager Wei in a coup in the first scene, it was already established that he had the capacity of evil, and thus, the reintroduction of this quality wasn’t effective at all.Nancy Wu as Wang Zhen - The double TV Queen was also alright in the drama. She didn’t really steal the spotlight or anything though. To us, Nancy failed to have that “evil cunning look” that Tavia in BTROC portrayed so well and fell short in making a memorable character. Her schemes were so easy to see through and they were overused as well. Like climbing on a faulty ladder and falling to lead to a miscarriage is so overdone. We were not surprised with anything and if the story writers had spent more time developing intricate schemes, it would be more fun to watch. The thing that everyone was most excited about were her costumes, we thought the best one was the one below because of the green background paired with the peonies. Some of the other ones were too extravagant with a lot of colours. We definitely see the difference between her early costumes and the ones as an Empress. The earlier ones were lighter in colour and more feminine, it made her look softer and less menacing. The high and erect necklines of the Empress costumes were more harsh to us. Perhaps this helped with her growing hatred and love for drama in order to get what she wanted. It seems like Nancy has yet to find another role for a breakthrough because we didn’t think this did it for her.