Welcome to Chasing dramas
This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and Culture through historical chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. Today we are discussing episode 62 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. This episode is a little shorter today as we’re only going to be discussing the first ¾ of the episode as the rest of it will be discussed in the next episode.
In the last episode, the former friend of 甄嬛, 安陵容 was poisoned by her teammate so that she no longer has a voice. This was a huge blow to her because her singing voice was the key to her success in the imperial harem. It captured the attention of the emperor. With it gone, he is going to have no interest in her.
She needs to find an alternative way to win the emperor’s attention.
We start off episode 62 seeing that her maid is helping put some type of ointment on her person to lose weight but soon after she passes out. News travels fast to 甄嬛’s palace where she learns that 安陵容 fainted because she’s starving herself trying to lose weight. This surprises her. Why would 安陵容 need to lose weight? 槿汐，甄嬛’s head maid, tells 甄嬛 that 安陵容 has secretly been learning how to figure skate. This is how 安陵容 plans to gain her attention and position back with the Emperor.
甄嬛explains that yes, this is a good idea for 安陵容 as ice skating is a prized Manchu tradition. Manchu emperors look very favorably on those who excel at figure skating and every year there are figure skating performances. However, 甄嬛 doesn’t have to prepare for anything at all. 槿汐 is a little surprised to hear this. Why not?
甄嬛 tells us that skating requires extensive training and a strong foundation developed during childhood. How can 安陵容 have the physical ability to skate after being in the palace for so long? THat’s why she’s starving herself to improve her skating. But, starvation will impact her beauty so she’s probably very stressed at the moment. 甄嬛 then shares a medicine that could provide instant results for 安陵容. It’s called 肌息丸。And instead of preventing 安陵容 from learning about this medicine, 甄嬛 says it’s imperative to tell her.
That’s odd isn’t it? It’s because this 肌息丸 or this medicine contains large quantities of that all important item, 麝香 or musk. Sure, it’ll get you to be beautiful and thin, but it’ll harm your reproductive capabilities. After taking this medicine, you are most likely never going to become pregnant. Our favorite medicine is now back in action. What would this drama be without the all important 麝香 or musk?
Interestingly, 甄嬛 is not the only one to know about this medicine. At the Empress’s palace, we see that she has already sent this medicine over to 安陵容. 安陵容 doesn’t give a second thought and eats them. She hates that she’s being controlled in this way, that she doesn’t have power over her body but she has no choice. This is her best way out of her current predicament.
And sure enough, the day comes for a wonderful ice skating performance. It’s quite a grand scene with manchu soldiers and maids creating a beautiful show. After doing some basic research, the formations that the skaters go into actually seem to mimic some of the paintings that depict qing dynasty performances of that time. Of course, we don’t know what 冰嬉 or Qing dynasty figure skating really looked like but this is quite a unique scene that we really haven’t seen in many other Qing dynasty or indeed most historical Chinese dramas. I guess a key notable distinction from the historical paintings i’ve seen are the skates that the actors use which totally makes sense because our modern day skates are probably safer to use than the ones developed in the 1700s.
As the show progresses, maids appear holding beautiful red plum blossoms. This scene is reminiscent of 甄嬛“s initial excursion to the plum blossom garden way back when she entered the palace. We see flashbacks of this scene and it hits the Emperor right in the heartstrings. He even asks 甄嬛 if she remembers that they first met on a snowy night with these plum blossoms.
Now here is a very interesting scene. As the Emperor reminisces, the Empress recites a poem with the lines: 逆风如解意，容易莫催残. Does this sound familiar? These are the exact lines that 甄嬛 recited when she was in the plum blossom garden during that fateful night she met the Emperor and the 17th prince. We find out from the Empress that those lines were her sister’s, the deceased Empress 纯元’s favored lines when she was alive. She would recite that poem frequently.
Wow – what a surprise and probably another punch in the gut for 甄嬛。This reinforces that from the very beginning, the Emperor only cared for 甄嬛 because she recited lines that reminded him of his beloved 纯元. You can see the smug look on the Empress’s face where she believes she has hit a landing blow to 甄嬛. 甄嬛 is now at least wiser and less impacted by such revelations as she is even openly able to state the similarities between her and 纯元， thus not causing too much drama before the main scene arrives.
安陵容 skates out onto the stage and performs a beautiful show. I’m impressed by how the actress is able to skate and twirl around particularly with that heavy thing on her head! Some fun behind the scenes info for this scene – the actress for 安陵容 doesn’t actually know how to skate that well. They used a body double for the wider shots of her twirling around and then filmed 安陵容 separately for the closer shots where she generally used her arms to act out some of the dancing moves. You’ll see that most of the shots are filmed either of her upper body or of her feet and then wider shots.
Anyways, after this beautiful performance, the Emperor is enamored once again with her. He rushes out to see 安陵容 on the ice and gives her plenty of praise. With that, she is now back in his good graces and is a favored concubine once again. All it took was some ice skating and giving up the ability to have children. Pretty easy right? And if you couldn’t tell, I’m being sarcastic.
After this successful comeback, 甄嬛 is discussing this turn of events with her trusted maids, 槿汐 and 浣碧。 甄嬛 has taken out a prized jade bracelet with the intention on gifting this to 安陵容 to congratulate her for her newfound success. 浣碧 is not very happy to say the least about this turn of events and unfortunately, her disparaging comments are heard by the emperor who shows up unannounced. Luckily, 甄嬛 was able to turn the situation around by saying that they were worried about how the jade bracelet wouldn’t be a valuable enough gift to give to her dear friend and sister.
What I love in these conversations between 甄嬛 and the Emperor is just how guarded 甄嬛 has to be for everything he notices. For example, the Emperor says while yes, the jade bracelet looks nice, I recently noticed a new coral bracelet that you’re wearing. CUE warning bells in 甄嬛’s head. She knows he’s hoping she would gift that coral bracelet over to 安陵容. But we know that this bracelet was gifted by the 17th prince so no way 甄嬛 was going to give this up. So she skillfully changes the focus away from this coral bracelet to the fact the 安陵容 generally likes jade.
And the hilarious part here is that the Emperor says he is comforted by the strength of the sisterly bond between 甄嬛 and 安陵容, that 甄嬛 would give such an expensive gift to 安陵容。Little does he know the truth of their relationship.
The other main important piece of information from this conversation is that 甄嬛 requested for the emperor to re-examine her father’s case that resulted in him being exiled. However, the Emperor says that there isn’t any reason to re-examine the case just yet so 甄嬛 will just have to sit tight.
Alright – what else is going on in the rest of the episode?
Well, 甄嬛’s younger sister, 玉娆 runs into the 19th prince, one of the youngest brothers of the current Emperor. You will have seen him throughout the series but he never made much of an impact. He was more of a background character. This is true for the earlier episodes when he was supposed to be just a child. Now he’s a strapping young man. 玉娆 is also all grown up. She is a beautiful young woman but has a rather hardened attitude towards nobility and wealth. It’s probably due to her living in exile with her family these last few years but when she meets the 19th prince while out in the gardens with her sister, she is rather offended that the 19th prince would mistake her for another concubine. She says that she would prefer to marry a commoner than marry into nobility.
This greatly intrigues the 19th prince, who, out on a ride with his brother, the 17th prince, exclaims as such. The 17th prince sees things pretty clearly and actually agrees with 玉娆, saying that it’s not always that great being a prince. Look at all of the people who have lost their titles and their lives. We are nothing to be admired. I appreciate that he understands his current situation and that it’s not all that great. Sure you have wealth and power for now, but that comes with it’s own set of challenges.
Unfortunately, during this ride out, it turns out that the 17th prince accidentally fell off his horse which caused him to become very feverish. 苏培盛 came over to visit 甄嬛 to tell her this news, almost as a side note after discussing some other matters but 甄嬛 is very worried. Fortunately, 苏培盛 only can tell that 浣碧 really likes the 17th prince and said she would be worried if she found out, but he doesn’t know that 甄嬛 is equally worried. After hearing this news, she tells her friend, the imperial doctor 温实初 who was providing her a check up at that time, to take a look at the 17th prince’s health condition. After all, his frail health was due to him helping her back when she was sick. He agrees to go visit him.
When 浣碧 hears of this news, she is very worried for the 17th prince. 甄嬛 actually tells her that she should go and take care of him. 浣碧 should do the things that she, 甄嬛, cannot. And so, with the help of 苏培盛，浣碧 goes to care for the 17th prince.
She does a diligent job in helping him, but even after the 17th prince wakes up, he is rather cold towards her. I feel really bad for 浣碧. She clearly loves the 17th prince and understands that her sister and the 17th prince are the match made in heaven, but she still can’t help her emotions. The 17th prince, to his credit, doesn’t give 浣碧 any false hope that he could one day love her instead so there’s that. But this is a tragedy waiting to happen.
We’ll leave off this episode here. As I’m sure everyone knows, the remainder of this episode and the next episode are probably the most explosive and exciting episodes of the entire drama. We will discuss them in a longer episode for next time.
鼓上起舞 – Episode 8 – discussed these two concubines, some of the most famous in Chinese history for their beauty but also their diabolical nature that caused the downfall of a dynasty.
Let’s talk about 冰嬉 or as we see it, a version of figure skating that we see here. There are records of 冰嬉 all the way back in the Song dynasty so some 1000 years ago. By the Ming Dynasty, 冰嬉 was listed as an official palace sport. But ice skating or 冰嬉 reached the zenith of its popularity during the Qing Dynasty. It was actually known as a national pastime. During the winter, there would be skating and archery competitions between members of the eight banners. As shown in the tv show, the Emperor would enjoy the spectacle and members of the imperial family would also participate. Ice skating wasn’t just reserved for the elite but was popular amongst the common people.
According to records, there were two types of skates, one that’s somewhat similar to the current figure skates we see today, a single blade and another that actually had 2 blades on the bottom of the boot.
Some popular events included an early version of speed skating, a modification of hockey where there was a leather ball that was used for the game, figure skating, and ice soccer. It’s no wonder that 安陵容 used this opportunity to gain favor. This would have been a sure way to stand out amongst the crowd.
Obviously in the show, you see that they’re using modern ice skates and ice boots but they’re cleverly hidden.
I saw the behind the scenes of this scene. They really did film this in the winter and this was one of the last scenes filmed before the end of the shoot. The lake was already frozen so I dn’t think they needed to build an ice rink. Take a look at all of the cloaks and furs everyone’s wearing for this scene. They really needed every last bit of warmth because it was freezing. Everyone was joking that the actor for the Emperor was a trained figure skater. When asked, the director was like, nah no way, more like trained wrestler. The director then directly asks 陈建斌, the actor for the Emperor who then jokingly said, I’ll wear a pair of ice skates as soon as all the reporters leave. 陈建斌 portrays a character that’s really serious for the drama so it’s pretty jarring seeing him joking about with everyone but it looks like everyone had fun.