When I read the synopsis of Legend Of Zhuohua (灼灼风流), it strikes me as a drama about female empowerment. So, I expected it to be one woman’s struggle in her quest to establish herself in the face of discrimination given the ancient time setting. While this is indeed the major theme of the drama, the story has more to it than female discrimination. You can find out more in The Legend Of Zhuohua review below on what makes this drama tick and what drags it down.
My rating: 8/10
Type: Historical Romance
Aired: August 2023
Images Credit: WeTV Official Facebook
The Cast Of The Legend Of Zhuohua
- Jing Tian as Mu Zhuo Hua
- Feng Shao Feng as Liu Yan / Prince Ding
- Wang Li Kun as Rou Jia
- Zhou Yi Ran as Liu Chen
- Xu Hai Qiao as Shen Jing Hong
- Yang Zhi Wen as Guo Ju Li
- Zhan Yu as Zhi Mo
- Ye Sheng Jia as Zhi Jian
- Zheng Guo Lin as Liu Ju
- Shi Yue Ling as Empress Dowager Zhou
- Huang Hai Bing as Mu Rong
- Wang Zi Rui as Sun Yun Qian
- He Hong Shan as Sun Yun Yun
Mu Zhuo Hua
Zhuo Hua is a witty and quick-thinking young woman. She is articulate and ambitious with a dream to become an official so that she could be independent. Zhuo Hua is also knowledgeable and has medical skills. Her late mother was a courtesan while her father is a wealthy merchant with a large number of concubines.
Liu Yan / Prince Ding
Liu Yan is the royal uncle of Southern Chen. He was an army leader and feared for his ferocity in battles. He is a battle-scarred man and carries injuries from the past. Liu Yan is serious and unsmiling but sincere towards those working for him. He reads people well and is supportive of women’s participation in government affairs. His elder brother is the Emperor while his mother died when he was born.
Rou Jia is the princess of Southern Chen. She is the eldest child of the current Emperor and Liu Yan’s niece. Rou Jia is a benevolent princess who is dedicated in helping the less fortunate. She runs charitable houses in different cities and has no interest in politics. Rou Jia was betrothed to Great General Xue Xiao Tang and still misses him although he has died during a war 5 years earlier.
Liu Chen is the eldest prince of Southern Chen. His father is the current Emperor while Liu Yan is his uncle. He has 2 younger brothers, Liu Yu and Liu Jin, but they do not get along. Rou Jia is his elder sister. Liu Chen is young and impulsive but has the right heart as a prince. He has a close relationship with Liu Yan.
Shen Jing Hong
Jing Hong is the top scholar of Southern Chen. He is smart and knowledgeable. Jing Hong is also ambitious and has a goal of becoming a first rank official despite his humble background. He admires Rou Jia who encouraged him when he was young.
Guo Ju Li
Ju Li is Zhuo Hua’s maid. She is more like family to Zhuo Hua and is very loyal to her. Ju Li likes to eat and has great strength which she uses to protect Zhuo Hua. She is a simple-minded and cheerful girl.
Zhi Mo & Zhi Jian
Both of them are Liu Yan’s assistants. Zhi Mo has difficulty talking but can see things clearer than Zhi Jian who is more judgmental and hotheaded.
Liu Ju is the Emperor of Southern Chen. He is a fair and responsible ruler who takes care of his people. He has a close relationship with his younger brother, Liu Yan. Liu Ju has a daughter, Rou Jia, and 3 sons, Liu Chen, Liu Yu, and Liu Jin.
Empress Dowager Zhou
Empress Dowager Zhou is Liu Ju’s biological mother. She is also Liu Yan’s stepmother as his own mother died after giving birth to him. Empress Dowager Zhou is a scheming woman who is suspicious of those whom she sees as being a threat to her son as Emperor.
Mu Rong is Zhuo Hua’s father. He is a wealthy businessman in a provincial city and has a wife and a harem of concubines. He has a habit of marrying concubines but pays little attention to them and their children thereafter that he cannot even recognize everyone in the family. His official wife, First Madam Mu, is resigned to the fact that her husband is a philanderer.
Sun Yun Qian
Sun Yun Qian is the son of the Minister of War. His family has been a very wealthy and powerful noble family in the capital for a long time. Sun Yun Qian is a righteous and sincere man. He is also a good friend of Jing Hong.
Sun Yun Yun
Yun Yun is Sun Yun Qian’s younger sister. She is a little arrogant due to her family’s noble status. She is also in love with Liu Yan.
Zhuo Hua is a young woman who wants to have her own say in life. She is betrothed to the local magistrate against her will and escapes to the capital city to achieve her goal of becoming an official. She uses her wits and knowledge in medicine to chart a path for herself while in the city. At the same time, she is also trying to find out about her late mother’s origins.
Along the way, Zhuo Hua meets Liu Yan who is the brother of the Emperor. Liu Yan is investigating the people who were behind the death of his soldiers in a war with a neighboring state 5 years earlier. They were ambushed because of a betrayal and 30,000 lives were lost. Liu Yan is suspicious of Zhuo Hua initially whom he thinks has an ulterior motive in approaching him. But they become attracted to each other as they spend more time together.
However, both of them are aware that they have responsibilities to fulfill. Zhuo Hua cannot follow her heart if she wants to be a government official while Liu Yan knows he will only hold her back if he pursues her. Moreover, danger awaits him as he probes deeper into the betrayal of the state and this will put Zhuo Hua at risk.
The Legend Of Zhuohua Ending & Recap (Spoilers Alert!)
The Legend Of Zhuohua has a happy ending. Liu Chen arranges a surprise wedding for Zhuo Hua and Liu Yan. He also prepares for Zhuo Hua lavish wedding gifts. He included a box of ingots which he had wanted to give her earlier when he had thoughts of pursuing her. Leaving the box in the pile of gifts is his way of letting go of her.
Liu Chen also changes the marriage rule for women to give them a freedom of choice. The drama ends with Liu Chen appointing Zhuo Hua to be the Head of Secretariat to assist him in the state administration.
When Did The Leads Get Together?
Zhuo Hua and Liu Yan gradually become attracted to one another without realizing or admitting their feelings. A drunk Liu Yan kisses Zhuo Hua in Episode 15 but couldn’t recall it the next day. This scares Zhuo Hua who is afraid of falling for him and she tells him so in Episode 19 when he asks her about her feelings. But she admits to her ex-teacher, Shang Shou, that she is in love with Liu Yan. However, she has to bury her feelings as marriage means she will have to let go of her career which will undo all her previous efforts to get to where she is today.
Zhuo Hua admits to Liu Yan that she has feelings for him in Episode 23. Empress Dowager Zhou wants to pair him off with Yun Yun. Zhuo Hua feels that Yun Yun is a better match for him. Furthermore, she doesn’t want to be confined by marriage as she has her own dreams. But Liu Yan tells her that he has turned down Empress Dowager Zhou’s request with a promise that he will never marry anyone. He feels that not all relationships need to be tied by marriage. Given their circumstances, he wants her companionship without marriage which will suit both of them well. Zhuo Hua kisses him to signal her agreement to be with him.
The relationship is exposed in Episode 35 when Yun Yun reports it to the new Emperor, Liu Chen. Liu Yan openly defends Zhuo Hua and tells everyone that he has fallen for her and is her kept man out of wedlock. Zhuo Hua and Liu Yan then get engaged and consummated their relationship in Episode 36.
Is There Any Love Triangle?
Yun Yun is also in love with Liu Yan and has been carrying a torch for him for 7 years. She is from a noble family and has the support of Empress Dowager Zhou to marry Liu Yan. However, Liu Yan has no interest in her. Hence, she begins to get petty and jealous of Zhuo Hua. Yun Yun tries to cause trouble for Zhuo Hua at work but without much success.
Liu Yan rejects her advances in Episode 23 to be with Zhuo Hua instead. Yun Yun tries to get even by ratting on Zhuo Hua’s deception about her place of birth. Zhuo Hua has falsified her birth place when she took her imperial exam in order to hide her betrothal arrangement in her hometown. However, the Emperor already knew of her deception earlier through Liu Yan and understands her predicament. So, he is dissatisfied with Yun Yun instead. Her action causes her to lose any chance of being with Liu Yan as a result. Yun Yun becomes crazy in Episode 38 after she mistakenly thought Liu Yan has died.
Liu Chen also likes Zhuo Hua but he has never got the chance to tell her his feelings. His duty as the heir and later, as Emperor, makes it difficult to openly pursue her. Liu Chen learns from Zhuo Hua that she has fallen for someone else in Episode 35 when Rou Jia tries to trapped them together in a room to create a conflict between him and his uncle. He finds out the Zhuo Hua’s lover is Liu Yan after Yun Yun reported on them. So, Liu Chen never had a chance to confess his feelings. Instead, he let go of her and even arranges for a wedding for his uncle and Zhuo Hua in Episode 40.
Is There Any Breakup?
Liu Yan breaks up with Zhuo Hua in Episode 28 when he learns that he doesn’t have long to live because of a relapse of an old illness. He leaves her a farewell letter that doesn’t explain the reason of the breakup. He wants her to hate him as he thinks that would be easier for her when he dies. Liu Yan then leaves the capital to go to his favorite retreat to die.
When Zhuo Hua finds him at the retreat, he tries to force her to leave him at first by claiming that he is tired of a romantic relationship with her in Episode 29. However, Zhuo Hua realizes that Liu Yan is actually very sick and insists on staying with him. She tells him that the decision whether it is worth it or not for her to stay with a dying man lies with her and not him. They reconcile then and Zhuo Hua subsequently manages to cure Liu Yan by trialling new acupuncture treatments.
Zhuo Hua’s Maternal Grandfather
Zhuo Hua’s late mother was Fu Sheng Ru’s daughter. Fu Sheng Ru was the head of the Imperial Academy of Medicine. When Liu Yan’s mother died after giving birth, it was used as an excuse to kill Fu Sheng Ru for failing to save her. In actual fact, it was to silence him for knowing something he shouldn’t. Liu Yan tells Zhuo Hua about her grandfather in Episode 18 after some investigation. Fu Sheng Ru’s “wrongdoing” implicated the whole family which caused their downfall. That was why Zhuo Hua’s mother ended up as a courtesan in a pleasure house.
In Episode 25, Zhuo Hua and Liu Yan find her grandfather’s note about what happened. Fu Sheng Ru had tried to develop a prescription formula to revive patients but the effect was too strong. The formula was supposed to be destroyed but he found out that Empress Dowager Zhou had been used it on Liu Yan’s mother. That was why she died during childbirth and he was silenced. The note was left in a hurry and buried under a tree in the house compound when he knew he would be killed.
What Happened To Empress Dowager Zhou
Liu Yan confronts Empress Dowager Zhou in Episode 25 after learning what happened 5 years ago from General Xue. Their confrontation continues in Episode 26 in the presence of the Emperor. Empress Dowager Zhou admits that her husband’s beloved was Liu Yan’s mother. Hence, she was jealous and feared that Liu Ju’s position would be threatened if Liu Yan’s mother has a son. Her scheming eventually caused Liu Yan’s mother’s death during childbirth while Liu Yan survived.
Empress Dowager Zhou also asked General Xue to betray Liu Yan and take him down 5 years ago during the war with Northern Liang by branding Liu Yan as a traitor. She claims to be doing it for her son as Liu Yan is a threat. However, Liu Ju sent in his guards to silence General Xue and his team when he found out what his mother had done. He wanted his mother’s evil deeds to remain a secret so that he could keep the peace between his mother and Liu Yan.
With the confrontation between his mother and brother as well as his mother’s open admission on all the bad things that she has done, Liu Ju dies of an old illness and heartache. Rou Jia takes control and shows her real side to Empress Dowager Zhou after the Emperor’s death. She wants to exact revenge against her grandmother for killing her mother. Empress Dowager is confined and supposedly becomes mentally unstable and immobile after Liu Ju’s death. But she leaves a clue to Liu Yan about Rou Jia in Episode 31 and commits suicide in Episode 31.
Rou Jia’s Game Plan
Rou Jia is not as saintly as she appears. Her true intention is revealed in Episode 26. She kills General Xue in revenge when they meet again for colluding with Empress Dowager Zhou. Her plan all along is to target Empress Dowager Zhou as she saw the latter killed her mother when she was a kid. Empress Dowager Zhou wanted Liu Ju to marry a noble woman who could help him secure the Crown Prince position and Rou Jia’s mother was in the way.
Rou Jia’s charitable houses are also her intelligence network. She knew General Xue was colluding with her grandmother. So, she got betrothed to him and used him to try to bring down Empress Dowager Zhou. Rou Jia also knew that her grandmother was trying to get rid of Liu Yan. Thus, when she found out about a Northern Liang spy in Southern Chen, she did not report it but leaked it to Empress Dowager Zhou through General Xue.
The plan was to tempt Empress Dowager Zhou to order General Xue to obtain the army’s military map and leak it to the Northern Liang spy. Once Empress Dowager Zhou has taken the bait, General Xue would turn around and report on her for treason. However, the plan went awry after Liu Ju sent his men to silence everyone in the know about the treasonous act. General Xue went missing and Rou Jia had to lay low for 5 years without the evidence.
In Episode 27, Rou Jia further explains to Empress Dowager Zhou that she leaked various clues to Liu Yan to help him along as well as distracted him from investigating the Northern Liang spy which could implicate her. Hence, she was using Liu Yan to exact revenge on Empress Dowager Zhou.
Rou Jia’s Fate
Rou Jia commits suicide and dies sitting on the throne in Episode 40 after her effort to force Liu Chen to abdicate fails. After Liu Ju died and Liu Chen became the new Emperor, Rou Jia begins to plot to remove her brother. Liu Yan and Zhuo Hua figure out what Rou Jia has done in Episode 30.
Rou Jia first creates conflict between the nobles and Liu Chen. To ensure her plan succeeds, she sends people to kill Zhuo Hua’s tutor in Episode 32 and brought down the Sun family in Episode 33. While she spared Sun Yun Qian as requested by Jing Jong, the former still ends up committing suicide. She then plots to create animosity between Liu Chen and Liu Yan because the latter is her biggest stumbling block to the throne. Liu Yan is accused of being a traitor in Episode 37 and is ordered to die by drinking poisoned wine.
However, both uncle and nephew are just playing along to entrap Rou Jia. After Liu Yan’s “death”, Rou Jia thought Liu Chen has no more support and she can make a move for the throne. But Liu Yan returns with his soldiers on the the day she rebels in Episode 39. Rou Jia also finds out that Jing Hong has betrayed her along the way although she insists that he is just a pawn to her.
Rou Jia is also adamant that she did nothing wrong despite sacrificing others. She just wants a new order that look after the downtrodden and get rid of the nobles. She had a hard life after her mother was killed and that taught her the value of power. Since her plan to usurp the throne fails, she chooses to die by ingesting poison.
Jing Hong has had feelings for Rou Jia for a long time but their different status made him ambitious. He vows not to get married until he is a first rank official. Rou Jia uses that excuse to turn down her father’s suggestion to Jing Hong to marry her in Episode 9. She is indirectly rejecting him in a way. Rou Jia still seems attached to her betrothed, General Xue Xia Tong, even after he has been presumed dead for 5 years.
Jing Hong continues to be caring towards Rou Jia. But General Xue reappears briefly before falling off a cliff to save Rou Jia from assassins in Episode 19. She seems to be unable to forget General Xue which leaves Jing Hong disappointed in Episode 21. But Rou Jia’s true face is revealed in Episode 26. In fact, Jing Hong knows her real intention and has been helping her all along to establish a new order. This is revealed in Episode 27 after the Emperor’s death.
Rou Jia has never loved General Xue as he was just a pawn. But she also doesn’t want to start a relationship with Jing Hong who vows that he will never betray her. He wants her heart which she is unprepared to give. But Jing Hong begins to question Rou Jia’s actions after Sun Yun Qian’s suicide. His bottom line is crossed when he learns that Rou Jia had colluded with Northern Liang to cause the death of 30,000 soldiers 5 years earlier in Episode 36.
So, Jing Hong betrays Rou Jia and cooperates with Zhuo Hua to stop her from claiming the throne. He wants to save Rou Jia from going down the wrong path. Jing Hong dies in Episode 40 after he shields Liu Chen from being stabbed by Rou Jia.
The Legend Of Zhuohua Review – A More Matured Romance
At first glance, the romance in The Legend Of Zhuohua may not be too enticing. There is a big age gap between the male and female protagonists. The guy is a prince and seasoned general who is sickly. The girl is young and idealistic and running away from a marriage. He is much older than her and is the brother to the Emperor. So, you can imagine the male protagonist as someone mature, serious and stern. He is also very calm with a regal deportment. Consequently, there is no goofiness and silly tantrums in the romance. There is mutual respect and maturity instead.
Hence, I guess some viewers will find this story boring. It is a matured romance like One And Only but without the heartache. The misunderstandings are kept to a bare minimum. The skinship is also limited. The couple got together naturally as they start seeing more of each other due to circumstances. Unlike Romance Of A Twin Flower, there is not much drama to the romance. Instead, the story is driven largely by the palace power plays than the romance itself.
So, The Legend Of Zhuohua isn’t a sweet and fluffy kind of love. There is some playfulness and banter especially on the girl’s part as she breaks down the guy’s walls but it is far from being a rom-com. In fact, the story is more on female empowerment and power struggle to me.
A Female Protagonist With A Backbone
If you like watching a strong female character, The Legend Of Zhuohua is one of those dramas whereby the woman gets that spotlight. Zhuo Hua is smart, courageous, and independent. Just like the female lead in The Sword And The Brocade, Zhuo Hua knows what she wants and doesn’t like relying on a man. While female empowerment may seem unrealistic in that ancient time setting, the story is still not as exaggerated as New Life Begins. There is still discrimination and the start of the drama is where the female lead strives to excel against the odds.
However, the ending is a bit of letdown. I would have thought that the female protagonist would be the savior of the day or at the very least, plays a significant role in stopping the villain. But alas, the man still gets that limelight. So, the screenwriting is a bit off if the drama is supposed to have a woman as the brainier and wiser one. Instead, Zhuo Hua has to content to playing a subsidiary role in the greater scheme of things.
A Good Story
Generally, The Legend Of Zhuohua is a well-written story. There is a twist in the middle which steers the story in a different direction in the second half of the drama. The first half is more about Zhuo Hua’s efforts to become an official and her ambiguous romantic relationship with her man. The second half concentrates on political schemings and evil plots with some happenings in the romance thrown in.
With 40 episodes in total, I find that it is a tad too long. It could have been made more compact for a faster pace. Some people prefer the first half over the second and vice-versa. It really depends on whether you like watching the romance or politics more. Personally, I find the second half is more engrossing especially the last third when the villain starts to put plans into motion. But if you like the couple’s ambiguity before they get together, then the first half would be more enjoyable.
Acting & Chemistry
The Legend Of Zhuohua has a matured cast. So, you will have an actress that looks older than the character that she portrays. There is also a visible age gap between the male and female lead which is how it is supposed to be in the story. However, the acting of the cast is commendable. Jing Tian gives Zhuo Hua a witty and street-wise feel especially in the beginning. It feels comfortable watching her playing the role.
Feng Shao Feng has a more difficult role as his character is a very calm and serious man. If done right, he will appear as princely and elegant. Otherwise, he will end up being a bland character with a passive face and a monotonous way of talking. I think the actor manages to give the character that royal vibe with a commanding presence which is how it should be.
Both Jing Tian and Feng Shao Feng have pretty good chemistry going between them in the drama. There are not many kissing scenes but their interactions are natural and enjoyable to watch.
It is also great having Wang Li Kun as Rou Jia. The character has to appear as kind and saintly but with a hidden coldness. Wang Li Kun successfully depicts that contradiction to me. Hence, her eyes and body language do not reflect the kindness in her actions in some scenes and you can feel that evilness in her character.
My Verdict – Watch For The Story
The Legend Of Zhuohua is not only a well-executed romance drama but there is also a good story supporting it. It is unique in a way as there are 2 villains in the drama with the protagonists going against one villain in the first half and the other in the subsequent half. But the 2 villains and their evil schemes are connected so there is continuity to the story. So, I find it to be well-written and a rather immersive story although it also has its weaknesses.
While the ending is satisfying and it doesn’t feel rushed, it is also predictable. The female lead doesn’t have as much impact in stopping the villain towards the end which is a pity given the theme of female empowerment. The story is also draggy at certain points which you can choose to skip or watch at a faster speed. There are cliches as well with that typical cruel Empress Dowager and the usual jealous love rival. Therefore, the drama isn’t perfect but it is better executed than most in my opinion.
For this The Legend Of Zhuohua review, I would rate it 8/10. It has a more matured feel to it especially with an older cast. So, I’m not sure if this will resonate with the younger viewers. This is no idol drama but one that is plot driven. You don’t watch this for the cast but the story although the leads did do a good job in portraying their characters. The drama also balances the romance and palace politics well without overdoing either portion. Just don’t expect it to be a young and fluffy kind of love but one that is sensible and respectful.
==> The Legend Of Zhuohua is available on Amazon Prime (affiliate link)