Mainland China's first big idol drama of the year, Palace (宫, pinyin: Gōng) has been a major hit for its producers, Hunan TV. It gained an impressive ratings figure of 1.99 for its opening episode on January 31, which translates into 8.24 percent of the viewing audience. This figure betters the ratings for the premiere of another smash hit idol drama, Meteor Shower in 2009.
Palace combines the soap opera elements (and storylines) of Taiwan-Korea idol dramas with the costume dramas so beloved by Hong Kong TV, and also throws a bit of time travel into the mix. The heroine of the story, played by 24 year old Yang Mi (杨幂), is a simple-hearted modern girl (as they so often are in these idol dramas) who by accident is thrown back into 18th century Imperial China where she winds up in the court of Emperor Kangzi. Much palace intrigue then ensues with our heroine using her knowledge of the future to her advantage. There are also several romantic twists and turns as she first rebuffs one of the Emperor's sons (Zhong Fengyan), falls in love with another son, played by Mickey He (何晟铭, pinyin: Hé Shèngmíng) before discovering his true (evil) nature, and makes an enemy of a third son, played by Feng Shaofeng (冯绍峰), before discovering his true (good-hearted) nature and falling in love.
The two leads, Yang Mi and Feng Shaofeng, were already well-known TV stars in China, though this series has lifted their stardom to another level. Yang came to prominence in the 2006 TV series Return of the Condor Heroes, and appeared in recent blockbuster shows Chinese Paladin 3, Dream of the Red Chamber and Schemes of a Beauty. The 32 year old Feng gained fame in the Mainland-Hong Kong co-production The Drive of Life in 2007, and also starred in Schemes of a Beauty. Palace also stars well-known Hong Kong TV stars Maggie Shiu and Sonija Kwok.
The series has continued to build on its strong ratings debut, climbing episode by episode. By episode 16 of the 39 episode series, it had a rating of 3.23 or 11.2 percent. Although the nationwide ratings for the remainder of the series are yet to be published at the time of writing, ratings figures for 27 capital cities have been released. They show it had a phenomenal 16.75 percent audience share for the final episode screened on 21 February. (Ratings figures have been taken from Wikipedia's Chinese-language entry for Palace, which I can't link to unfortunately).