武媚娘傳奇 (The Empress of China) is a big budget TV show from China, featuring Fan Binging. Inspired by historical events, this long drama turns the life of the empress into two love stories and conflicts with a lot of enemies – in this show except the emperors and the servants, almost everyone is an enemy. The show structure is simple. Enemies appear and harm the protagonist in all sorts of manner. Miraculously she is saved every time. Somehow the enemies then die. New enemies show up. Repeat.
So how is it? In terms of entertainment, really good – if one loves the type of drama about conflicts among concubines – apparently this type is really popular in Asia, especially for female audience. Although it has been criticized that as a relatively inferior clone of an earlier TV show of the same type, I have not watched the other one so I cannot compare. Anyway, this show is backed up by a deep love, and an uncountable number of exceptionally gorgeous clothes that I believe can rival Hollywood productions. I think that most of the supporting characters gave very good performances.
Pacing is slow before the protagonist becomes the empress. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why multiple cuts exist. The longest cut, I believe, has 96 episodes. During its broadcast, Chinese authority halted it because of cleavages. It was not resumed until the remaining episodes are zoomed in on the heads only, such that the cleavages are hidden from view.
The Taiwan cut retains the cleavages, but it has 82 episodes only. This is the version I watched. Unfortunately it suffers from editing issues at the end – a constantly appearing supporting character suddenly disappears. More importantly, it refers to an event that was not shown before, and since that event creates one of the final enemies, this is a significant omission.
The Hong Kong version is recut from the original down to 74 episodes, mixed with images of the palace from other documentary shows. Although I have not really watched this either, it at least includes some segments that are removed entirely from the Taiwan cut, so I guess this could potentially be a better cut to balance the story and pacing, but I cannot be sure. A huge sum of money is spent on digitally covering up the cleavages:
If anyone wonders whether this is historically accurate, based on my limited understanding I’d say this is simply a fiction inspired by historical characters and events. The innocent and kind personality of the protagonist in the show is unlikely to be real compared to the cruelty in history. A big evil enemy in the show is rated as very good in history. The deep love foundation in two thirds of the show is not in history at all – this is the real explanation of why the protagonist remains a lowest-ranked concubine for such a long time. The schemes in the show cannot be taken seriously, since some schemes would have required impossible luck in timing or position precision to be pulled off.