Chinese Drama review: The Rebel Princess (Mid-Series Review)

It’s been quite a while since I last found a nice Chinese palace drama to watch and glad that I finally caught the highly-anticipated The Rebel Princess, starring none other than Hollywood star Zhang Ziyi, which really isn’t that bad in light of the negative reviews it has been receiving.

The Rebel Princess actually received a lot of flak for not meeting expectations, highly in part due to many comments about Zhang Ziyi being really unsuitable and old-looking in a 15-year-old role. I even saw articles writing about the male leads in The Rebel Princess all being really ugly. LOL.

The Rebel Princess basically chronicles the life of this Ah Wu, officially known as Wang Xuan (acted by Zhang Ziyi) who is the apple of everyone’s eye as the niece of the emperor and the daughter of the Prime Minister. However, she was caught in the battle for the throne among her uncle, aunt and father, and later her husband. This is in short one of those female-lead driven epic drama which shows how an originally naive and young female lead grows and develops as she plays a part in leading a troubled country out of turmoil and internal strife.

Zhang Ziyi as a 15-year-old Ah Wu: Is She really That Bad?

Media and netizens have gone into a frenzy over the unsuitability of Zhang Ziyi acting as a 15-year-old during the first part of The Rebel Princess.

Are the comments fair?

Well, although I am not a fan nor a detractor of Zhang Ziyi, I don’t find her suitable either to be portraying a 15-year-old. However in my opinion it is not a make-or-break whereby you would stop watching the drama simply because you cannot accept it.

The Rebel Princess started off chronicling the life of Ah Wu from youth, probably to portray the original naivety of this character, before she was forced into the whole turmoil and had her gilded life thrown into disarray. Therefore I guess it is necessary to first start off with her 15-year-old self to show the contrast with the later part of the show.

However I guess the problem is that there were quite many episodes dedicated to her 15-year-old self, instead of those usual 1-2 episodes showing the lead’s youth.

Zhang Ziyi Classically Beautiful, Not “Cute” enough to pass off as 15 Years Old

To be fair, I think Zhang Ziyi is already extremely well-maintained for someone in her 40s. Slim, fair and classically beautiful, in fact I quite swooon at her beauty when I see her on screen.

However the issue is just that she has those classical mature features, not those roundish chubby faces with round eyes that could look more convincing as a young girl, which isn’t her fault.

As a result of her exterior mature appearance, it therefore appears a bit cringe-worthy when we see Zhang Ziyi pouting or appearing “cute” on screen. (Frankly I think the Wan Ru who also acts as a young girl looks even more unconvincing but no one criticises her cos she is not that famous)

Thankfully, after the youthful scenes are over, I think Zhang Ziyi is really suitable as the dignified and strong wife Yu Zhang Wang Fei. (dont even know how to translate this to English?)

Plot is Interesting enough to Keep My Attention

If you are someone who enjoys palace schemings, the jostle for throne plus those character arcs of female empowerment, I think you will enjoy The Rebel Princess as it is for me.

There are plotlines of how the empress and prime ministers etc try to gain power and scheme for the throne, how they try to remove their enemies etc. I’ve seen some reviews mentioning about the schemes being amateurish and all, but I think it is good enough for me to want to continue watching on. Thankfully the drama is quite fast-paced.

It helps that the female and male lead, Ah Wu and Yu Zhang Wang are quite likeable too and easy to root for.

Likeable Leads with Good Character Arcs

Yu Zhang Wang, a brave general who looks after his subordinates and has high integrity is the husband of Ah Wu. He is of a lowly background, however with an honourable character, and unfortunately attracts a lot of enemies due to his unyielding personality.

While Zhou Yiwei who acts as Yu Zhang Wang is not typically handsome (not a flower boy for sure), I find that he is really suitable for this gruff and strong character.

I feel that Zhou Yi Wei really brings out the strong and unyielding personality of Yu Zhang Wang, someone who bears all the hardship on his own and is always doing the right things, even if it attracts enemies or misunderstandings.

He acts as a loving husband to Ah Wu, and frankly both Zhang Ziyi and Zhou Yiwei looks really compatible. Their love is quite convincing and there was even a scene where Yu Zhang Wang announced to everyone that he will only accept 1 wife in his life, and that is Ah Wu. (considered a big deal in historical times where a man can have other concubines too) This statement of love really brought tears to my eyes when I watched haha.

A Worthy Watch for Period Drama Lovers

In summary, I gauge The Rebel Princess a worthy watch. There are loopholes here and there at times, and the plot sometimes jumps and I wonder if I am missing something. However acting is generally good from all actors and actresses, and the pace of The Rebel Princess is fast.

In spite of the good acting, I don’t find myself savouring each scene of the drama as is the case for classic favourites like Nirvana Fire or Legend of Zhen Huan. However The Rebel Princess is still engaging enough to make me want to watch on. I think The Rebel Princess holds a lot of potential which was unfortunately not fully developed, but it is still a good-enough watch for period drama lovers.