The Young Warriors (or Shao Nian Yang Jia Jiang) is the story about the legendary Yang family. Although the Yangs did exist in the Song dynasty and did fight against the Liaos, most of their stories in the drama are fictional. That doesn’t mean that the story is pure rubbish. Their stories are mostly folktales circulated by the people and embodied in operas until now. [Conspiracy theorists may argue that their heroic acts are downplayed or mostly erased from the Song history, hence the dismissal of their stories as folklore, but that’s up to you to judge.] Personally, I am already familiar with the story of the Yang family, having watched the Heroines of the Yang Clan (with Carmen Lee and Cheng Pei Pei). Although that production wasn’t much to shout about and Carmen Lee was as solid as a wood throughout, I enjoyed the spirit of the show, having all these heroines and heroes. Even though all the men were dead in the series, I could still feel their patriotism live on in their wives.
Alright, back to the Young Warriors. This is somewhat a prequel to the series I mentioned earlier in the sense that it depicts the stories of the Yang men back when they were not dead. It was a fresh watch for me, in the sense that I never really knew the other male characters apart from Liu Lang and Si Lang. This drama is a Mainland China production with actors and actresses mostly from China and with some from Taiwan and Hong Kong too.
The series takes place in the Song dynasty. Yang Ye is a well respected general who has won many battles for Song, but his loyalty is often questioned by the evil prime minister Pan Ren Mei. Yang Ye and his family were not natives of the Song force; Yang Ye surrendered his service and his men to the Song emperor, after he realised that his own emperor was a useless bastard, and wished to fight for a better man. Of course, being the great man he is, he wanted to fight under the Song emperor, whom he believes can unite the Han people and bring an end to war. (He’s a bit idealistic.)
Given a choice, Yang Ye is not the kind of man to pick a war, but when it is required of him, he will give his all for his country/state. Although Yang Ye has given his full loyalty to the Song Emperor, he’s still somewhat like an adopted son, and no matter how hard he works, it’s impossible to change that so Evil PM uses that to his advantage (since he’s the useless biological son of Song.) Anyway, the Song Emperor at the beginning does seem to trust Yang Ye, and often has him lead his force against the Liao empire.
Alright, now on to the family. He has a huge clan of 7 sons and I daughter, who is the youngest. His sons are all conveniently named Yi Lang, Er Lang, San Lang and so forth. They obviously have real names la, just that it’s less confusing (for them and for us) and they’re sort of like nicknames…sort of like how you call a Nicholas Nick instead. So 1lang, 2lang, 3lang and 5lang (to my convenience, that’s how I’ll name them from here forth XD) are all grown men who fight alongside their dad.
5lang is outstanding in particular, since he has exceptionally good fighting skills and courage. Don’t ask me why the eldest three seem almost useless; they aren’t useless, just not as outstanding. Somehow most of the focus are on the younger brothers, so the elder trio feel like they are just there to make up the numbers and to provide an overall family feel. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easier to watch them die or anything. 6lang and 7lang are the young ones of the family. They are relatively immature compared to their brothers, who are full grown men (the elder trio are married with wives already).
6lang is a fun guy; they sort of made him into a little inventor who tinkers with his sometimes-useless inventions and always up for an adventure, like going on a treasure hunt with the princess.
7lang is even more immature, since he’s probably very very young, say 16-18? He’s quite a mummy’s boy still but he’s kind and helpful, all thanks to mummy.
Speaking of mummy, she’s a great lady in her own right. It’s hard to enough to raise 8 children, but to do so with her husband away at war half the time? Yet she does so willingly and she just seems sincerely glad when they all come home from war. When needed, even she can put on her battlegear and strike a few blows herself. She’s not some weak little housewife. She’s a wonder woman whose loyalty to the country is comparable to that of her husband’s. She also always seems to know what’s going on in the heads of her young ones, and know how to communicate with them and teach them the ways of good men. She holds her youngest, Ba Mei (8Mei) closest to her, and so is particularly ticked off when the enemy kidnaps her.
8Mei herself is a heroine in the making. Although only 8, she is as brave as her brothers. Even when she was kidnapped by Ye Lu Xie (I’ll get to him in a moment), she was smart enough to realise that he would not kill or hurt her, because she knew he was trying to get to her father. She is also the secret weapon of 6lang (and later 5lang) when it comes to impressing girls. She knows just the right moment to disappear and give personal space to her brothers and their girls. Awww, so sweet. Although she does not get old enough in this series to fight for her country, we do see signs that show what a heroine she is, even at a young age. There was a point when she learns about patriotism, when her father chose to save the emperor before her when she was kidnapped. She gets angry with her father for a bit, but in the end (after many failed attempts by her brothers to explain the situation) her mother helps her understand why her father did what he did. These are the little stories that fit around the story so well that it felt heartwarming to see them as a family, and to see how Sai Hua (mummy) loves and raises her children.
Since the brothers are all numerically numbered, it’s hard to miss the fact that I haven’t mentioned 4lang. 4lang is the lost brother of the family, literally. When he was a child, his parents brought him along during one of their battles (don’t ask me why they were so silly, I myself kept wondering why they didn’t bring along the other kids for a family trip), and they lost him during the fight. Daddy and Mummy tried to look for him, but the enemy soldiers were catching up, and they had to flee. Poor little 4lang was abandoned there, but he was saved by a man who took him in and raised him well. That man happens to be Saihua’s shige, which meant that they were both under the same teacher. Chui shifu always held a torch for Saihua, who obviously only treats him as an elder brother. But he does raise her son for him. (I dunno why he wouldn’t just give him back to her, since he knew who 4lang was all the while…maybe he was a bit wacko after all and wanted to keep a piece of Saihua close to him.) 4lang comes back for a visit with great hatred for his parents, who he thinks abandoned him. (Again, I dunno what this shifu teaches 4lang…) He uses the name of Chou Mu Yi, which literally means enemy of the Yangs, and is drafted into the Yang army together with 6lang and 7lang. He deals some serious butt-kicking to 6lang in a duel during the eligibility exam.
4lang’s story is one of the major plotlines in the series, in my opinion. Before his identity was known to the family, he was very cold to his brothers and his father, especially. 7lang tried to befriend him and even Saihua tried to take care of him, but he pushed them away. He befriends the gentle and kind Ms Luo instead after protecting her from the Evil PM’s son, Pan Bao.
Ms Luo is a little bit shy (and wooden, because the actress isn’t all that great) and I never did get to know her real name, because Shi Nv isn’t really a name? Anyway she’s also a medic for the Yang army. She is the one who acts as a bridge between 4lang and his family, because she finds out about his identity first. After that, 4lang slowly starts to accept his family again. He opens himself up to his mother at first, predictably, and is also awfully nice to 8Mei (seriously, no one can resist her, not even 4lang with all that hatred within him could be mean to her). He also bonds with 7lang more, as they often practice together. If you are into the whole brotherly love thing, you’ll be happy to know that there are some lovey dovey fanvids made by 4lang/7lang shippers.
Now on to 7lang himself. Like I said before, he’s more of a mummy’s boy, so getting married without telling his family is so totally not his thing. In the earlier part of the story, he befriends a girl, Xiao Lin who works in a brothel (which has deep underground operations, think SD-6, fake bank, Alias). Anyway, being the kind, trusting person he is, he sincerely treats her nicely, resulting in her falling for him. So when he chances across the deep underground operation, he is held hostage by them. Xiao Lin is then forced to hypnotise him to steal weapons from the Yang army. However, later on when she is caught by mummy and 6lang, she refuses to betray her accomplices. She also spared 7lang’s life and lifted the spell she cast on him. (A bit silly considering it was in the ancient times) However, because she was torn between both sides, the Yang family managed to seek out and capture her accomplices and killed them all. Actually, the Evil PM was the one who suggested the killing, Yang Ye is too noble to do that. So Xiao Lin kills herself after realising that she has nothing to live for. A bit of a tragic side story which reminded me of Yi Shun in War and Beauty in the end, where she too had nothing to live for.
7lang’s story is getting a bit dragged out here, oops. I had to tell Xiao Lin’s story because I thought of War and Beauty immediately when I watched Xiao Lin die. And I’m such a sucker for tragic stories. Later on, 7lang meets Du Jin Er, who later on becomes 7niang.
The silly thing was that she was the daughter of a bandit, so she’s not womanly and gentle at all. It was a bit of a joke to see 7lang teaching her how to be a lady. The odd thing was that 7niang was played by the exact same actress who played Xiao Lin, so it was kind of convenient for the crew, save on hiring another actress. They did write it into the script though, because 7lang did say she reminded him of Xiao Lin. But oh well. 7lang ended up marrying 7niang in front of her father without consulting his own parents. Ah, to be young. The next day after they got married he left her to go back to fight the war with his family (not knowing it would be his last battle). Another silly thing was the fact that he didn’t bother to bring 7niang back with him. He could have, but his procrastination was really a bad bad choice. He definitely had the time to, since he attended his brothers’ wedding before they went off to the battle. Just like a man boy.
Moving on now to the enemy. Since the story is set in times of war, the enemy has to be strong enough to warrant such heroic acts from the Yangs. Their very formidable opponents is the Liao empire, which is headed by an empress. She’s a very superstitious person, and in her captivity is Tian Ling, a supposed prophet/fortune teller who helps come up with dirty tricks to fight the Yangs. Her general who is pitted against the Yangs is YeLu Xie (YLX).
Despite all the facial hair and the furry thing he wears as a hat, he is a very dashing young man indeed. Like Yang Ye, he is also a hero of times. If given a choice, he would rather spend his life chasing after cattle. He is a master at martial arts, and it is said that only 5lang has skills that match his. Despite being on opposite ends of the sword, the Yang family is often civil to YLX when not on the battlefield (and when YLX is not busy kidnapping their daughter). YLX would rather duke it out in a battle with 5lang and Yang Ye, but his empress does make him use some underhanded tactics against the Yangs to save on the army power. I dunno if it was his or her idea to kidnap 8Mei and plant those secret operatives in the brothel, but I’d say those were pretty low tactics that Yang Ye would not employ. So, on one hand, YLX does want to prove he can beat the Yang family fair and square, but on another hand, he knows that he can’t really do that because his army isn’t as strong, so he has to use these nasty tricks to get to the Song army. While plotting to kidnap 8Mei, he runs into Guan Hong, whom he immediately sniffs out as a pawn to use to execute his plan. He’s that smart.
Guan Hong is a money-minded young swordmaker with a very short temper. 5lang takes a liking to her and tries to get on her good side by buying swords from her. The way to a woman’s heart can definitely be paved by cash. At least, for Guan Hong’s case. YLX finds out and uses her to get into the Yang residence to capture 8Mei. After that, he spares Guan Hong’s life, because he really isn’t that evil and she really isn’t much of a threat to him. Later when he asks 8Mei if she was afraid of him, she told him no, because he spared Guan Hong, so he is a hero. And according to her daddy, heroes don’t kill people who are weaker than them. Awww, so young but so wise. Even YLX is impressed.
Anyway, YLX is the mastermind behind the spy brothel, which he uses as a cover for getting information from Song officials. His ladies has practically all the officials under their spell, so YLX gets in on their government secrets and news. Of course, since the Yangs so noble, they’d hardly be associated with the brothel ladies. (Except 7lang, who is a special case.) While YLX was messing around with Song affairs, he continued to live in Guan Hong’s little hut, probably to annoy her, and to hide out from the Yangs. She does get pretty annoyed and keeps saying she wants to kill him, but eventually his charm does get to her and they form a special bond. This leads to the love triangle with 5lang and his nemesis and Guan Hong. Well eventually Guan Hong does become 5niang, but in my opinion that was more of a circumstancial choice. If YLX weren’t a Liao general, she would’ve definitely chosen him. Sigh, I guess inter-racial marriages were also rather taboo back then. XD However, the Young Warriors isn’t really a love story to begin with, so all those sweet YLX-Guan Hong moments can only be left in my memory and imagination.
I realised that I haven’t really talked much about 6lang. Maybe I feel less attached to him because he lived on, but he is one of the main characters of the story. His character grows throughout the series from a carefree boy to a man who carries the weight of his family on his shoulders. During the beginning he was a lot more rebellious, but then he learns the value of patriotism and begins to understand why his father fights for an emperor who doesn’t fully appreciate him. He then takes over and fights his father’s battles and leads the Yang women and the army against the Liaos. His love interest comes in the form of Princess Chai, the useless emperor’s adopted daughter (sort of). He and the princess uncovers a huge conspiracy involving the emperor and how he came to his position as the emperor. He committed treachery by killing his brother (by accident), who was the emperor then, and claiming his spot. He then killed the princess’s father, who held the evidence of his crime bladibla. The involvement of Yang Ye and his son in this matter sort of led to the build-up of the mistrust of the emperor towards Yang Ye. 6lang’s rejection of Pan Ying, the daughter of the Evil PM, coupled with 7lang’s accidental murder of the Evil PM’s son further drives the hatred of the Evil PM. The Evil PM then proceeds to gain revenge against the Yangs by instigating the useless emperor, and finally leading him to believe that Yang Ye has turned against him.
These events lead to the climax of the series, and the all-time awaited Jin Sha Tan (literally the Golden Sands Beach) negotiation. It was a trick employed by the Liao Empress to lure the Song Emperor to Jin Sha Tan so that her people can kill him. She proposed that they sign a peace treaty at Jin Sha Tan, which I assume is a sort of border between the Song and Liao Empires. Although everyone on the Song side knew it was a trick, they still went. Due to much of the instigation by the evil PM, the emperor sends Yang Ye and his army (with 1lang disguised as the emperor) to test his loyalty. Despite knowing that the emperor is sending him to his death, Yang Ye was prepared to fight till the end. The Jin Sha Tan battle was one of the most emotional and heartbreaking episodes ever.
When the Yang family were leaving for the battle, all the wives went out and sent them off. It was particularly heartbreaking to watch them wave their (final) goodbyes, and Saihua sending her husband off knowing it was going to be a dangerous battle. Even this scene brought me to tears. So when the actual battle was on, I was weeping bucketloads of tears. Watching 1lang fight to his very last breath, and seeing 2lang and 3lang going down to the enemies first was so painful. The way the Liao army left their bodies there was insulting, and the fact that they poisoned 2lang and 3lang’s body was so horrible. The devastation of 5lang and 6lang when they saw the dead bodies of their brothers. The two of them broke down and wept in the rain, which was one of the most powerful yet sad scenes I watched.
Upon being cornered by the massive Liao army, Yang Ye sent 7lang to get help from the Song camp, since 7lang has the strongest, fastest legs. But 7lang was betrayed by the Evil PM, who sent him to his death. The young but brave 7lang never stopped fighting even as arrows pierced through his body. It was so heartwrenching to see that he refused to bow down to his enemy even when he knew he was going to die. He propped himself up on his spear and took out 7niang’s scarf and died with the memory of her running through his head. The emotions that run through me just remembering the scene is immense. 4lang was pretty unlucky too. He got poisoned when he and 6lang were trying to salvage 2lang and 3lang’s bodies. The enemy spread poison over the dead bodies. 6lang, who wasn’t thinking straight, sent the unconscious 4lang off into the unknown on a horse. And thus, 4lang becomes the lost brother once again. He was eventually saved by the Liao princess but he lost his memory of his past, so she marrys him and the empress allowed him to stay on there, thus making him a truly lost Yang brother.
The most difficult and upsetting death had to be Yang Ye’s. He and his men were cornered by the enemy soldiers and they took them on. But there were so many of them, and his men fell, one after another till only Yang Ye was left standing. As he saw thousands of soldiers charging towards him to capture him, Yang Ye turned and rans towards a stone monument, ending his life. Knowing that his own emperor has given up on him, he’d rather die than to be a captive of the Liao army. He didn’t want to face the possibility that the Liaos would force him to turn against his emperor. He was loyal to the end, even though he knew that the emperor sent him to his death. His body was never returned to the Yang family, but YLX and the empress did honour him and his body in their land as a hero. YLX genuinely felt sorry over Yang Ye’s death, although I’m not sure if it’s because of guilt, or because he’s lost a respected opponent.
Much more emotional scenes to come in the last few episodes, when 5lang and 6lang returned home, with the bodies of the 4 brothers who perished. The devastation on the faces of the women was so difficult to watch. The scene where mummy cleans and dresses her dead sons was very emotional too. Even 8Mei was mature enough to know what was going on, and the breakdown of Saihua later on was also truly heartbreaking. Seeing such a strong woman come to terms with the loss of her husbands and sons all at one go was incredibly sad. Amy Chan is a great actress for bringing all those emotions to her character and truly connected with the viewers.
As for 7niang, she does join the Yang clan eventually, after 6lang finds her weeping at 7lang’s grave. Thankfully there isn’t much drama to go with it, as they were all so devastated already by the deaths. The useless emperor does come to his senses after 6lang and 5lang confronts him, and he turned to the Yang family once again when the Liao army attacks their city.
On 5lang’s story, 5lang’s involvement in the Jin Sha Tan battle was limited to finding the dead bodies of his brothers. This was because 5niang, who was worried for his safety, refused to let him go with his father. She knocked him unconscious, and saved him from death. However, she still lost him ultimately, as he was consumed by the guilt of letting his brothers and his father die before him, and he left to be a monk after fighting the last battle with 6lang against YLX. In this final battle, the women of the Yang family suited up to join the battle as well, to avenge the loss of their husbands and continue their battle against the Liao.
Even before their final battle, YLX seemed to have grown exhausted by war, telling the Liao Empress that the battle with the 5lang and 6lang would be his last. I think the battle at Jin Sha Tan really affected him, as the fall of these great men coupled by the rejection of Guan Hong made him realise that both sides would be much better off without war. That was probably why he called off the final battle midway. He truly admired Yang Ye and his sons for being so brave and loyal, and if they were not standing on different sides, it would be easier to see that they are really rather similar men indeed.
The Young Warriors is a great epic drama about men with courage and loyalty. Loyalty is one of the most important values that is passed on by stories like this, and it is something that everyone, not just the Chinese, can learn from this show.
Images taken from sina.com.cn and dramawiki.