"Tai Zu Mi Shi – Nu Er Ha Chi"
"The Secret History of the Great Grand King:
Nu Er Ha Chi"
Ma Jing Tao as Nu Er Ha Chi
Zhao Hong Fei as Shu Er Ha Gi
Liu Guan Xiang as Jin Tai Ju
Chen De Rong as Dong Ge
Jin Qiao Qiao as Na Qi Ya
Wu Qian Qian as Qing Ya
Shi Xiao Qun as Mong Ge
Cheng Li Sha as Abahai
In historical dramas/novels, the forging of a dynasty must always be a long, strenuous road filled with bloodshed, sufferings, and sacrifices. Human lives are brutally used as an instrument to pave the way for a new ruler to conquer his rivals and reign supremely. Is the exhilarating feeling of being on top with millions of people bowing down to one a justification for all the deaths and destructions? Is having the ultimate power in the land worth risking one’s own life? In the fictional historical drama "Tai Zu Mi Shi – Nu Er Ha Chi,” the indirect answers to these cliché questions are “………….”
The literal translation of the title was "The Secret History of the Great Grand King: Nu Er Ha Chi.” It was the 3rd installment of a trilogy directed by You Xiao Gang and depicted the founder of the Qing Dynasty, Nu Er Ha Chi. His dynamic life was chronicled from the time of his youth as a lowly soldier to becoming a Grand Khan of the unified Jurchen tribes. This story was about the hopes, aspirations, and dreams of one man to unify all the Jurchen tribes and eventually conquer the Ming Dynasty, which was regarded as the universe during his time. Nu Er Ha Chi’s strengths and ambitions ultimately gained him a mighty empire, but he consequently realized the price he had to pay was extremely high. In other words, if Nu Er Ha Chi was given a second chance, then he would certainly make a genuine effort to find better alternatives to complicated predicaments in order to create a possible happy ending for his loved ones.
The recurring themes of betrayal, hatred, revenge, redemption, loyalty, friendship, and love were fully explored and intertwined in a fascinating tale. Amidst all the chaos and power struggles, viewers were shown not just the intense love between a man and a woman, but also the tender feelings one had for parents, children, siblings, friends, and even enemies to a certain extent. What was quite amazing about this series was the lack of true villains. No one was seen as purely evil as everyone was fighting/surrendering for his/her own reasons and objectives. There was a sufficient amount of character developments to allow viewers the chance to understand and sympathize with the historical/fictional figures, which would help make their sacrifices feel more tragic and realistic. All characters were portrayed with great flaws; however, there were also redeeming qualities that would make one unable to truly hate them or even criticize them too harshly.
The series not only focused on historical events, but also laid out the softer sides of the battle-worn warriors, which were often very subtle. Political strategies were quite well-planned and the war scenes were staged in a pretty heroic fashion. Despite bearing historical inaccuracies, special note should be taken for the gorgeous costumes and ornate headgears. The actors and actresses were beautifully garbed to look very regal, very fitting for such a grand production. There were various changes of colorful attires, which appropriately displayed the characters’ presence and status. The natural settings contributed greatly to the general credibility of the story. The theme song was about Nu Er Ha Chi and his exploits, providing a gusto and epic feeling. The fast-paced melody and deep voice of the singer created an appropriate atmosphere of grandeur. The overall flow of the plot went pretty smoothly; while not a short series, there were adequate suspense and intrigues to effectively capture the viewers’ interests.
One of the main reasons for watching "Tai Zu Mi Shi" would have to be the stellar performances by the cast members. If it was not for the outstanding chemistry displayed among the leads, the story would not have been so convincing or engaging. The actors and actresses had morphed into the characters so well that by the end, it was hard not to be touched by them in one way or another. Their tumultuous lives did deserve to be pitied and thoroughly understood. This was evidently not a one-man show, but a collaboration of many skilled artists.
Ma Jing Tao as Nu Er Ha Chi
Nu Er Ha Chi was an exceptionally talented and resourceful general, but also a flawed hero like other dynastic founders. He spent his entire life pursuing his ambitions at the expense of losing or hurting everyone around him. He even admitted that aside from the empire, he could not find success anywhere else, particularly in love affairs. However, he was frequently comforted by the fact that he had united millions of people under one rule, which was a necessary milestone towards providing Jurchen civilians with a peaceful life. His nation had become a prevailing force to be reckoned with, and he willingly paid the price for his own glory and the commoners’ welfare. The famous Machiavellian theme of ‘the ends justify the means’ became absolutely applicable in Nu Er Ha Chi’s case. Although he killed countless people and exterminated many tribes, he did make a good effort to be as benevolent as possible. In reality, there should be no right or wrong when nations are engaged in war. The winning party prevails while the losing party gets conquered.
This had to be one of Ma Jing Tao’s most enthralling performances. The fact that Nu Er Ha Chi was such a complex man with a wild range of emotions made it much more commendable that Ma was able to clearly bring the character to life. He had to vividly depict the warrior’s arrogance, suspicion, ambition, and volatile emotions while appearing like an authoritative emperor on the outside; coupled by the fact that he must also be sensitive, caring, and compassionate at specific times. What was described above could never be viewed as an easy task. Of course, Ma’s acting was not absolutely perfect as he had developed a reputation for overacting and exaggerating his roles, especially the romantic ones. There were a few scenes where Nu Er Ha Chi was made to appear too lovesick and unreasonably wavering in his decisions. His annoying habit of glaring too much also contributed to the overly dramatized actions. Perhaps the script was written with the intention of fully displaying his vulnerable side. Whether it was the script-writing or his overzealous acting, Ma had improved immensely for this given role. It was also a nice bonus that he still managed to look so youthful despite being in his forties.
Zhao Hong Fei as Shu Er Ha Gi
As Nu Er Ha Chi’s younger brother, Shu Er Ha Gi also inherited the great talents of a fearless Jurchen warrior. Together, the two brothers fought side by side to establish their own kingdom. As second in command of the army, he was a formidable fighter and only trailed behind Nu Er Ha Chi in wit and strength. He was valiantly loyal to his older brother, even to the extent of possibly risking his own life. Although kind and gentle by nature, he was often too weak to effectively make a final decision at some of the most crucial times. In politics and love, his wavering judgments ultimately cost him the two women he cherished the most, Dong Ge (the love of his life) and Na Qi Ya (his beloved wife). He was inevitably torn between his older brother and the women in his life. In spite of also aspiring to be emperor, he was never ruthless and determined enough to actively fight for his ambitions. His indecisiveness would eventually lead to his brutal death as a victim of political feuds.
Zhao Hong Fei excelled in the role of a handsome, sentimental general. The imperfections of the character were skillfully brought out, and it can be quite frustrating, even depressing, to see him failing at the last minute. Zhao’s teary expressions alone were sufficient in conveying his torment and despair. It was sad to observe his hard efforts not being adequately reciprocated. The scenes with him and Ma Jing Tao were always very touching as they have the chemistry of two devoted brothers with major conflicting views. He also appeared really dashing in bulky armor attires. Despite all his mistakes and shortcomings, Zhao made it quite easy for most spectators to greatly sympathize for Shu Er Ha Gi. In this sense, he clearly delivered a solid performance of a man unwillingly caught up in the deadly struggles for power.
Liu Guan Xiang as Jin Tai Ju
Jin Tai Ju was the second older brother of both Dong Ge and Mong Ge. He was crowned chief of the Yehe Nala tribe after his older brother passed away in a battle against Nu Er Ha Chi. He firmly developed a close bond with all his siblings, but adored Dong Ge the most. After their parents’ deaths, he frequently stayed by her side to protect and look after her. He indulged her wishes and constantly thought/spoke on her behalf, which made him very likeable as a doting and responsible brother. Nevertheless, initially lenient and forgiving, the thirst for vengeance combined with his personal ambition gradually altered him into a ruthless/heartless person. He did not hesitate to go to extreme lengths to beat Nu Er Ha Chi, even to the point of sacrificing Dong Ge’s happiness, a “crime” which he had previously condemned his older brother of. Jin Tai Ju was considered to be a prime example of the negative effects absolute power and unrestrained ambitions can have on an originally kind-hearted individual. He never lost hope even when facing dead-ends as he tried with all his abilities to protect his clan from being totally exterminated. His tenacity and stubbornness would more appropriately be evaluated as a double-edged dagger since people would both applaud and criticize these traits.
Liu did a marvelous job in the supporting role of an affectionate brother suddenly burdened with the position of Yehe’s chief. Good-looking with a touch of fierceness in his eyes, Liu convincingly demonstrated the plight of a dynamic general. In the scene where he finally realized Yehe will eventually be conquered, there was such a painful sense of complete devastation apart from his usual demeanor. Whether playing the role of a quiet prince or a fierce general, he invariably succeeded in capturing the viewers’ undivided attention. This actor actually has full of potentials to take on lead roles in future series, and hopefully, his performance in them will achieve a whole new level of excellence.
Nu Er Ha Chi’s Love Interests
There were altogether five main romantic interests in Nu Er Ha Chi’s life affecting him both emotionally and politically. They were mostly ladies of noble backgrounds and through peculiar twists of fate, became involved with him in one form or another. He sincerely cared for each of the women in distinctive ways, but ultimately ended up hurting all of them. Thankful for everything they had sacrificed for him, he had always regretted the fact that he was unable to sufficiently repay them in his lifetime. One common factor these women could not dispute on was that Nu Er Ha Chi was a man very worthy of their nearly unconditional love. Luckily for viewers, Ma Jing Tao more often than not had touching chemistries with all his leading ladies, so it became quite enjoyable to watch the relatively romantic scenes.
Chen De Rong as Dong Ge
Officially declared to be the most beautiful woman of all the Jurchen tribes, Dong Ge was forever the great love of Nu Er Ha Chi’s life. She was highly educated, very intelligent, pretty kind, and quite understanding. In short, she was chiefly described by numerous people to be the perfect woman. In her mind, Nu Er Ha Chi represented supreme strength and power while Shu Er Ha Gi served as a symbol of gentle warmth and compassion. Due to their ambitions and conflicts with her brothers, it was impossible for her to marry either of them. Dong Ge was definitely not the typical damsel in distress who would just sit around and patiently wait for people to conveniently rescue her or to take the slightest command of her situations. She was so intelligent in fully figuring out Nu Er Ha Chi’s real intentions and cleverly came up with her own plans to successfully counter his tough actions. Deep down in her heart, she really did sympathize and actually identify with his aspirations to unify the people; nevertheless, she was honestly unable to consciously bring herself to truly forgive the man who heartlessly annihilated her family and clan.
Chen De Rong was rather suitable to play this role. Although hardly drop-dead gorgeous, she still managed to bring out some of Dong Ge’s charms. She had previously played self-sacrificing characters; therefore, this role would naturally not pose as a challenge to her. Aside from being able to capture Dong Ge’s quiet, pining looks, she continuously displayed the steady determination and ultimate pride of a Yehe woman. She could carry out the strength of the character with the outer appearance of a fragile beauty. The powerful link and unbreakable chemistry between Ma and Chen matched up perfectly with their characters’ affections. Although their love in the beginning was rather weak due to the limited scenes they shared, it steadily improved towards the middle and end of the series.
Jin Qiao Qiao as Na Qi Ya
Another unfortunate victim in the men’s war against each other was indeed Na Qi Ya. Beautiful, clever, soft-spoken and courageous, she was perhaps the most tragic character among the outstanding women. It was quite heartbreaking to witness the men in her life treating her as a pawn to be shuffled back and forth for their own lust for power. Her father initially sent her to Lee Ru Bo, a Ming general, as a special gift. He merely ordered her to spy on the Lee family and gather important information back to him. She actually loved Nu Er Ha Chi the most, but was later forced to marry Shu Er Ha Gi under very complicated situations; nevertheless, later circumstances led to her returning back to Lee Ru Bo. All she desired for was to have a simple home with a caring, loyal husband to hold and comfort her on a fairly daily basis. She truly understood the men in her life really well, and even risked her own life to save theirs. She cared deeply for everyone around her and always attempted to prevent any potential arguments. Sadly, they continued to demand more and more from her until everything was completely drained inside her heart. In the end, she had to forfeit her loyalty, self-respect, and family all for the sake of a rising centralized empire.
Jin Qiao Qiao appeared extremely lovely with her adorable, watery eyes and delicate features. The character must undergo many difficulties and Jin Qiao Qiao handled those situations with proper grace and humility as she elegantly suited the face of an ill-fated woman. The way she silently cried and conveyed the sorrow of her character would tearfully move the audiences’ hearts. It was impossible to imagine anyone being able to turn away from her pleading, beautiful eyes. With such desirable qualities, it would make perfect sense how she managed to capture the hearts of three heroic generals! Despite also looking compatible with the other two generals, she shared the best chemistry with Zhao Hong Fei. Their scenes together were often characterized by sweetness and poignant dialogues. They did create an attractive onscreen pair since they collaboratively brought out the best of each other, which must be included as one of the highlights of the show.
Wu Qian Qian as Qing Ya
Qing Ya was the first woman Nu Er Ha Chi married and was indirectly portrayed as the perfect wife. Not only did she give Nu Er Ha Chi all her heart, she was also always supportive, tolerant, and sympathetic towards the people surrounding her. She constantly partook in her husband’s ambitions and consistently worked to assist him in achieving his goals. Her wise and perceptive nature invariably served as a valuable asset to Nu Er Ha Chi on countless instances. She was undoubtedly by his side from the beginning not only as a wife, but also as an astute advisor. Marrying such an extraordinary wife must have been a great fortunate for all aggressive men! Unfortunately, such an ideal woman also suffered from a few unredeemable flaws. In spite of his admiration and respect for her, Nu Er Ha Chi was simultaneously resentful and suspicious of her close relations with his sworn brothers because all his men thought highly of her advices and were willing to follow her orders, coupled with his strained relationship with their oldest son, he became relatively distrustful of her actual intentions. Consequently, she could never gain his complete love/whole heart, which was also the target she yearned for most.
Wu Qian Qian was very convincing as Nu Er Ha Chi’s acclaimed wife. When in front of all the men, she emitted the charisma of a leader with great ease. Even though she was mere woman, she successfully proved to be worthy of being in command. Her spectacular display of calm and wit was brilliantly done in the scenes where she was forced to maintain control of Nu Er Ha Chi’s followers during his various absences. As a wife, mother, sister-in-law and friend, she carried out those distinctive roles with great tenderness and warmness. Her gentle presence was necessarily comforting amidst all the scheming plots and cruel fighting.
Shi Xiao Qun as Mong Ge
Mong Ge was Nu Er Ha Chi’s second wife, and the one with the most intense love-hate relationship with him. She was initially a trusting, thoughtful, innocent young woman. Her carefree days were suddenly disrupted when she willingly forced herself to marry Nu Er Ha Chi on behalf of her older sister. Although against her will, she slowly found herself falling helplessly in love with him. Subsequently, they did enjoy several months of happiness together shortly after the marriage ceremony. Unfortunately, even her forgiving nature would not allow her to continue loving the man who violently caused the total destruction of her tribe. The major decisions in her life were constantly made for the sake of her loved ones. Being torn between the passion for her husband and the love for her family, she could not possibly live true to herself.
Shi Xiao Qun only did an adequate job in this role. Her acting did not seem too impressive when compared to the other actresses given the fact that she easily got outshined by them. Perhaps if provided with a stronger, more complex character, she might fare better. Nevertheless, the minor bloopers mentioned above may not have been her own shortcomings. Her character was much more interesting and jubilant at the beginning; nevertheless, the later stages in contrast painted an image of a moderately mature and elegant concubine/mother.
Cheng Li Sha as Abahai
As Nu Er Ha Chi’s most favored concubine in his later years, Abahai was originally presented to him as a peace offering from the modest Wula tribe. Based on Abahai’s deeds, one could conclude that she was probably the most realistic character among all the women. While possessing some attractive characteristics, she unquestionably lacked the various outstanding qualities exhibited by each of the other women. She was quite simple by nature and only wished to live a safe and comfortable life away from all the troubles of society. She eventually met and fell mutually in love with Wula’s chief, a man perceived to be a spineless coward by everyone else. She was seriously the only one who did not think lowly of him for being so weak. Surprisingly, their romance was rather touching due to the two parties’ sincerity. She actually matched up pretty well with him in terms of personality; this was adequate in making them an eye-pleasing couple. She would have most likely lived a much better life with her true lover than with Nu Er Ha Chi.
This role was not too difficult to play as the character was not known to be complex and also did not occupy as much screen time. Cheng Li Sha obviously still has a lot of room for improvement. Her movements were sometimes exaggerated, and she should definitely work on making more realistic expressions. In general, she was not very successful in convincing the audiences why she deserved to be Nurhachi’s favorite concubine other than giving birth to a son who most resembled his father. Her round-eyed surprised look often made her quite emotionless. Her performance seemed rather stiff and could not stand out in front of a variety of experienced, exuberant characters/actresses. Luckily, the good-nature of this character was an acceptable factor in compensating for her flaws in order to hold one’s attention. Overall, she was not absolutely horrible, but not the very best either.
Even though there are several positive qualities in this series, it was not freed from any imperfections. As a long drama, there were instances of boring scenes with complicated but often unnecessary dialogues. The political discussions and war strategies could even baffle the spectators despite being clearly exposed to all the different sides. The first 2/3 of the series was arguably a lot more interesting as major characters were introduced with numerous twisted plots; their motives were unveiled, and it became truly exciting to see how their plans would be slowly executed. The latter 1/3 gradually began to drag with the plot shifting focus to Nu Er Ha Chi’s sons’ contentions for the throne. The actors chosen for the younger roles paled in comparisons to other veteran actors. Among the contenders for the throne stood Qing Ya’s oldest son (Chu Ying) and Mong Ge’s son (Huang Taiji); however, they did not bear the required look and presence of capable princes, especially when standing next to Ma Jing Tao. It did not create a better storyline to observe the supposedly intelligent princes carefully scheming their ways to the one and only crown..
Towards the end, Nu Er Ha Chi somewhat became a lonely and depressed old man, and it was very disheartening to visualize a protagonist who was once a mighty warrior appearing so weak; mostly due to old age and partly because of family struggles. He also frequently wore this ugly gray robe with black fur trimming that did not display his status as an emperor at all! The costumer designers should have at least given him imperial standard robes to wear in his private quarters. Most reviewers actually deemed the appearance of a Dong Ge look-alike as an uninteresting surprise as it was not uncommon to have an actress take on double roles, but in this case, it was rather unnecessary. Perhaps the scriptwriters wished to provide closure for Nu Er Ha Chi, but it was evidently tiring to see this theme overused in so many series. Nevertheless, I must offer my alternative viewpoint. I surmise the existence of the Dong Ge look-alike served as a testimony to Huang Taiji’s unwavering determination to ascend the throne and be responsible for creating an unprecedented era of prosperity. It ultimately showed that no matter how much Huang Taiji might have loved a woman, the empire will always be his number one priority. In this sense, Huang Taiji valued the throne even more than his father did.
Attributing the positive aspects and negative flaws of "Tai Zu Mi Shi – Nu Er Ha Chi", it was still vastly entertaining and definitely worth watching for the most part. The finale was not too difficult to predict because of the faithfulness to history, but the process/procedure rather than the result was more noteworthy. Taken as a whole, the plot, cinematography, acting, and costumes were all top-notch. On a grading scale, it accurately deserved four out of five stars, a highly recommendable series for spectators who are usually fond of political struggles mixed with romantic, mushy relationships.