I’ve got so much to say about Royal Nirvana I just couldn’t wait until the halfway mark, so here I am with a first impressions post (Episodes 1-11).
Royal Nirvana is a poignant drama that is anchored by a group of wonderful actors and an equally good screenwriter in Liangman Xueyuan, who is also the original author. The tragic relationship between the emperor (Huang Zhizhong) and his estranged son the crown prince Xiao Dingquan (Luo Jin) forms the core of the story, and sets the tone for the entire drama.
So far I have found the political manoeuvres to be quite engaging because the plot twists come so frequently there is hardly enough time to react. This is aided by the fact that the writer purposely left out key hints to up the surprise factor, which initially led to some pretty sloppy last-minute reveals. Nonetheless, the politicking in this drama is the best I’ve seen in years and the execution of each reversal followed by an equally exciting revelation has me on the edge of my seat the entire time.
The first few episodes focused on the crown prince Xiao Dingquan’s coming of age ceremony, and it took viewers on one heck of a rollercoaster ride. It was painful to watch, because Xiao Dingquan clearly had the upper hand, yet ended up taking responsibility for older half-brother Xiao Dingtang’s (Jin Han in his best role yet) mistakes. Xiao Dingquan knew how biased the emperor is towards his eldest son, yet his desire for his father’s recognition and affection meant he was unwilling to go down without a fight. Unfortunately, it was a fight he was destined to lose from the very beginning, because the emperor saw Xiao Dingquan first as a political rival who had the backing of a powerful and ambitious clan and then as his son.
If the emperor’s actions towards the crown prince are out of conflicting feelings of fear and desire to groom a proper heir, then the incorruptible Lu Shiyu (Wang Jinsong) truly treats the crown prince as a beloved student, warning him of the dangers of getting too involved in the murky waters of coercive diplomacy:
“If you listen to my advice, your road ahead will be very difficult. If you don’t, only death awaits you. The day you can strike a balance between the two is the day when you are ready to rule.”
One thing I have noticed is that Xiao Dingquan cries a lot, and when I mean a lot, I mean almost every episode. However, I don’t see them as childish tantrums, because it just felt so natural for the sensitive character to be driven to tears given what was happening. Luo Jin may not be the right age or fit the aesthetic descriptions given to Xiao Dingquan in the novel, but there is no doubt that he is a very good actor who knows how to tug at viewers’ heartstrings.
For a person in his position, Xiao Dingquan is too naive and innocent, but his sincerity is what makes the character so endearing to me. He hasn’t even seen Lu Wenxi (Li Yitong), yet believes her to be his soulmate just based on her artwork and beliefs. I don’t think Xiao Dingquan fully understands why his and Lu Wenxi’s union is frowned upon by Lu Ying (Qiu Xinzhi). It’s not only an upright and honest scholar’s desire for political freedom, but also a reflection of a father’s love for his daughter and unwillingness to watch her get mired down in political scheming. Being the intelligent young maiden she is, Lu Wenxi clearly understands where her father is coming from, and her acceptance of this outcome is what makes their relationship so beautiful (and depressing). Personally, I find Xiao Dingquan and Lu Wenxi’s bittersweet relationship to be more touching than a lot of the love stories that value romantic love above everything else.
Last but not least, the instrumentals by Ah Kun is the cherry on top. His music is beautifully woven throughout the drama, and the orchestral pieces play a crucial role in evoking all the right emotions at the right scenes. You can listen to the full album here. (He also composed the soundtrack for City of Hopeless Love, which was the best thing about the show after Bao Jianfeng and Guo Zhenni’s Thirteenth Moon segment).
The drama is perfect so far, and it’s too good to pass on even with Youku’s irregular streaming schedule. Catch the series English-subbed on Youtube here.