The Legend of Mi Yue (羋月傳) is a 2015 Chinese television series directed by Zheng Xiaolong and based on Jiang Shengnan’s eponymous historical novel. It stars Sun Li in the title role of Mi Yue.
This is the story of Mi Yue, the first stateswoman in the history of China. Mi Yue was a young princess who lived in the Kingdom of Chu during the Warring States period. Her childhood was not peaceful, after witnessing her mother falling into the schemes of the Queen of Chu. Yet, she was on good relations with her sister Mi Shu, and her father, King Wei. She was eventually sent to Qin as a concubine and part of her sister Mi Shu’s dowry, separating her from Huang Xie, her first love. Mi Yue gains the favor of King Ying Si and gives birth to a son named Ying Ji. This leads to the jealousy of her sister, Mi Shu, Wei Yan, the queen, and other concubines.
After King Ying Si (King Huiwen of Qin), passes away, Ying Dang (King Wu of Qin), becomes his successor. Mi Yue is sent as an ambassador (banishment) to Yan with her son Ying Ji (King Zhaoxiang of Qin). However, Ying Dang suddenly dies after lifting weights, leaving Qin in a state of chaos where King Ying Si’s sons are battling for the throne. Mi Yue enlists the help of the “barbarian” Yiqu army, successfully returning to Qin, suppressing political revolts and instates her son Ying Ji on the throne. Mi Yue goes on to become the first Empress Dowager (Empress Mother), in China’s history.
The series initially attracted attention due to its predecessor, Empresses in the Palace, which is also directed by Zheng Xiaolong and stars Sun Li. During its broadcast, it attained high ratings and over 20 billion views online. However, the series did not receive the same critical acclaim and only has a Douban score of 5.5/10. Viewers feel that the plot of Mi Yue, which involves court intrigue between queens and concubines, was no longer fresh. The series has also been criticized for historical inaccuracies, plot (inconsistency and slow pace) and production quality.
The production team of the series sued Jiang Shengnan, a scriptwriter on the show, for violating her contract. Jiang had published her novel, a 7,000-character section of The Legend of Mi Yue, online in August 2015 before the series aired. Jiang was dissatisfied with the production team for not recognizing her contributions to the show. The Beijing Chaoyang District Court ruled in favor of the production team. This sparked a discussion about authors writing scripts for adaptations on screen in China.
‘The Legend of Mi Yue’ garners overseas attention
The 81-episode series, based on the life of ancient China’s first female politician Mi Bazi, will be aired by Beijing Satellite TV and Shanghai-based Dragon TV from Nov 30.
Set in the pre-Qin period (the Qin Dynasty reigned from 221 BC to 206 BC), the tale chronicles the life of Mi－the great-grandmother of China’s first emperor Ying Zheng－who turns from being a simple girl into an iron-handed power behind the throne.
Mi’s reforms to weaken the power of hereditary aristocrats and develop the military led to the rise of the Qin Dynasty－China’s first one－which unified ancient China.
Bazi is Mi’s palace title and Yue is her first name.
Zheng, an award-winning director, says that the series’ overseas distributor is in discussions with at least a dozen companies, including California-based Netflix.
“Almost all the channels and video-streaming sites that released The Legend of Zhen Huan are showing strong interest in The Legend of Mi Yue,” he says.
The 56-year-old auteur says that Netflix wanted a English version with subtitles.
The Legend of Zhen Huan, retitled Empresses in the Palace in its condensed form, was streamed by Netflix in the United States earlier this year.
Since it premiered in 2011, the 76-episode series has topped ratings and has been broadcast around 120 times by domestic channels in China.
The series has also gained rave reviews in major Asian markets such as South Korea and Japan.
With the crew and lead actress of Zheng’s directorial work The Legend of Zhen Huan back at work in The Legend of Mi Yue, the new series is widely regarded as the spiritual successor of the 2011 hit, say industry watchers.
But Zheng says the new tale, set on a bigger political stage, does not have plots, scenarios or palace intrigues which resemble those from the earlier series.
“Mi’s semi-biographical tale is based on real history, while Zhen Huan’s story was from the namesake novel,” he says.
Screenwriter Wang Xiaoping, who leads a team of writers for the series, says idioms and literary quotations created after Mi’s rule are avoided in the lines.
The script, based on a Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) historical work and modern author Jiang Shengnan’s namesake novel, was revised a few times.
To be faithful to the history, the colors and the characters’ costumes have been devised based on suggestions from Chinese historians.
In the series, Mi has more than 80 heavily decorated suits, while the other major characters have around 50 on average.
Zheng says Mi can be seen as the Chinese answer to Elizabeth I, the queen of England and Ireland from 1558 to 1603.
“Mi is an upright and tolerant politician. She insists on being true to her heart until the end of her life,” Zheng says.
Actress Sun Li, the actress who plays the role of Zhen Huan, says Mi is a “bigger challenge”.
“She was a very smart woman. In a world dominated by male rulers, she uses her personal charm and wisdom to convince the aristocrats to follow the new policies … a pretty great achievement.”
Edited by staff