Have you ever wondered why there are so many TV series about Emperors who excelled in war and conquest but so few about those in times of peace? It’s easy to feel the burst of adrenaline in conquest and the suffering caused by war, but how do you get the audience to feel peace or economic prosperity? There’s no moment to declare “victory” in peace nor “winning” in the economy (unless you have a five-year plan).
This is perhaps why the ruler of one of the most economically and culturally prosperous reigns in Chinese history- – the Emperor Renzong of Song – has never been depicted as a main character before. Director Zhang Kaizhou and scriptwriter Zhu Zhu tackle this difficult subject with varying success in Serenade of Peaceful Joy (formerly Held in the Closed Castle).
The series has two main focuses – there’s the palace drama with plenty of creative liberties, and then the court drama that feels like a dramatized documentary. The family of the narrator for the original story, the eunuch Huaiji, connects the two to the outside world to occasionally show how small choices in the palace can have huge ripple effects in the real world.
What a well-written opening scene that begs for better directing and editing. Even in this short opening, scriptwriter Zhu Zhu shows her ambitions to create dramatic effects while trying to showcase the uniqueness of the rule of reason that marked Emperor Renzong’s rule in what’s essentially a bioepic of the emperor. Unfortunately, Zhu Zhu’s epic is constrained by Zhang Kaizhou’s directing (or lack thereof). I have no idea what is going in his mind in some of the creative decisions.
The drama opens with the frazzled wet nurse of the Emperor Renzong hurrying through the Palace. Immediately we get that something is up. The scene cuts to the emperor finishing up a calligraphy piece of the “Classic of Filial Piety“, and then asking her to come in. We see that the wet nurse is scared by this meeting, and the Emperor Renzong turns abruptly. What’s this meeting about and why is she so scared while he so calm? The tension builds and both the nurse and the audience expects anger or blame, but all we hear is a soft-spoken question: “What do you think of my calligraphy?”
Director Zhang Kaizhou (The Story of Ming Lan) returns to the Song Dynasty in Serenade of Peaceful Joy (formerly Held in the Lonely Castle) in this tale of the court and harem of the Emperor Renzong of Song (Wang Kai). The series focuses on the attempts of the leads to try to balance their responsibilities and personal lives and stars Wang Kai, Jiang Shuying, Ren Min, Bian Cheng, Yang Le, Wang Churan, Ye Zuxin, Yu En’tai, Xu Lingyue, and Zhang Tian’ai.
Here’s a compilation of the much more enticing TV spots for Serenade of Peaceful Joy (formerly Held in the Lonely Castle), focusing on the relationships between the Emperor (Wang Kai) and his Empress (Jiang Shuying), favorite concubine (Wang Churan), daughter (Ren Min), and first love (Crystal Zhang Tian’ai), as well as that between the Princess and her first crush (Ding Jiawen), husband, eunuch (Bian Cheng), and father.
The drama has been moved back to April 7th due to a national day of mourning for victims of the coronavirus on April 4th.
So SARFT has decided to give Held in the Lonely Castle a new name, and the historical drama is now going by the name Serenade of Peaceful Joy 清平乐. The new name is the title of a popular song during the Song Dynasty commonly used by poets to pen lyrics of common life, a reference to the peaceful and prosperous reign under the Emperor Renzong, in part perhaps due to the high and lonely standards the Emperor held for himself and his family. Wang Kai plays the emperor stuck between a rock and hard place, while Jiang Shuying costars as his empress.
The 69 episode drama airs daily on Hunan TV beginningApril 6 April 7.
Despite the name change, there is definitely not an iota of joy in the new trailer below.