It feels pretty good to take a breather from all the Olympic action and get down to writing about some serie-ous stuff, now that my favourite events are more or less over.
Legend of Condor Heroes (LOCH) is a classic wuxia novel by Louis Cha (aka Jin Yong, I don’t actually knew where Louis Cha came from, or whether Cha is his actual surname). It’s also one of those stories which have been remade many times, but people still flock to watch it. LOCH is obviously more fictional compared to the Yang legend, but the magic of Jin Yong is that he weaves such an amazing story about a common man and his journey to greatness. He adds in lots of colourful characters, and there are lots of action to go with everything, too. It’s somewhat like the intricate world of Harry Potter that JK Rowling created.
Well, in the series we are not immediately introduced to the ‘common man’. We’re first introduced to his parents, Guo Xiaotian and Li Ping. Guo is also the sworn brother of Yang Tiexin. The two men live together in the Niu Village with their pregnant wives. Because they are both righteous and brave men, they get to know a Taoist priest Qiu, whom they come across in their village. It’s in the silly but righteous spirit that they pick a fight with Qiu, but then later realise that he is not a bad man, and so they became friends. It is also then that the two brothers decide that if their children were both males or sisters, they’d be sworn brothers or sisters; if they were of opposite sex, then they were to marry each other. In my opinion it was kind of a silly agreement, but Qiu bore witness to that promise and gifted both of them daggers with the names of their children, Guo Jing (GJ) and Yang Kang (YK), engraved on them. So the Yangs take the dagger with Guo Jing’s name on it, and the Guos take the other dagger. Shortly after that, both families are met with rebel soldiers out to kill the two men. Guo dies fighting off the soldiers, and Yang is separated from his wife, Bao Xiruo while trying to look for Li Ping amidst the chaos.
Meanwhile, Qiu finds out what happened to the two families after he left, and felt responsible for what had happened. He sets off to find them, but runs into the 7 Weirdos of Jiang Nan (and I say that with utmost endearment). It’s a complicated situation, but they end up making a deal where the Weirdos were to go search for Guo Jing’s mother, and Qiu will search for Xiruo. Once found, they were to protect the ladies and teach their children their kungfu. Then when the children turn 18, they were to battle it off in a duel. I guess they didn’t really take into account that if one of them were a girl, then the future husband and wife would have to fight each other. Oh well.
The weirdos found Li Ping and they settled in the Mongol desert where they raise Guo Jing, who is a bit daff. Or pure, if you look at it from a different point of view. This trait earns him the praise of Genghis Khan, who gives him his daughter’s hand in marriage. Meanwhile, Xiruo is taken in by Wanyan Hong Lie, a prince of Jin. Wanyan is a bit of a schemer; he’s had his eyes on Xiruo ever since she nursed him while he was injured. He was behind the brutal killing of Guo Xiaotian, and when Xiruo was separated from Yang Tiexin, he took her in and helped raise Yang Kang, who took on his surname Wanyan. When Qiu finally found them, this slick guy challenged Qiu to a duel, using the weapon that Qiu was weakest at. Due to his pride and overconfidence, Qiu lost to Wanyan, and although he was allowed to teach Yang Kang kungfu, he was forced to keep Yang Kang’s identity a secret from him.
From the start it is pretty obvious that both boys were raised very differently. Li Ping is very strict with her son, and rarely shows affection for him. Bao XIruo spends most of her 18 years moping over the death of Yang Tiexin instead of raising her son to be a good man like his real father. YK turns out to be a spoilt brat with no regards for anyone, even his shifu, the Taoist guy. Li Ping is a great example of a single mother who manages to raise her son with a steady head above his shoulders, even if that head is a little hollow. Xiruo, on the other hand, is such a whiner an moper that I don’t feel sorry nor happy for her when she reunites with her husband.
Anyway, if the points above are not clear enough to show which one of the two actually achieves greatness, refer below.
Yeah it’s Guo Jing who achieves greatness in the end. Thanks to his innocence and lack of suspicion, he meets Huang Rong (Ronger) when he comes back to Jiang Nan for the duel. Huang Rong is a crafty and smart little chick, who is very mischievous. She strikes up a fast friendship with GJ, probably because she thinks he’s too dense to walk the streets alone. He gives her all his money and belongings when they first meet, because he thought she was pitiful (she fed him some sob story about how her parents are both dead, bladibla). Along the way, they fall for each other in the whole opposites-attract, you-complete-me sort of way.
Ronger is the daughter of one of the wulin greats, Huang Yao Shi (HYS). Her father is known for his eccentric behaviour and lives away from civilisation on his own island, which is an ever-changing maze, much like the staircases and doors in Hogwarts. Ronger inherits her dad’s eccentricity and her mother’s intelligence, which includes a photographic memory.
Although HYS is eccentric, he did not take an immediate liking to GJ. It’s hard to blame him though, since GJ is kind of retarded compared to Ronger. Ronger tries to help GJ learn kungfu from great masters like Hong Qigong (more on that later), so that GJ becomes better husband material in the eyes of her father. HYS does look down on him a little when they first meet, because GJ’s denseness shines through (it isn’t very easy to hide actually, plus GJ has no idea how to anyway).
Ronger and GJ’s devotion to each other is very pure and sweet, and is a huge contrast to the relationship between Yang Kang and Mu Nianci. Nianci is the adopted daughter of Tiexin, somewhere along after he is separated from his wife. She is in some areas, the female counterpart of GJ. In the sense that she has a strong head above her shoulders, and maybe not as dense. She is also pretty stubborn (pretty and stubborn), and very brave too. She would’ve been a great Yang heroine, but her only weakness is her love for YK.
Nianci and Yang Kang’s story is basically a tragedy in waiting. Although he loves her dearly and was initially willing to settle down and become a small-town man for her, his pride soon fails him as he realises that he is unable to protect himself and Nianci. He then returns to Wanyan Hong Lie, despite him being the killer of YK’s parents. His excuse for doing so was to gain revenge over Wanyan, but YK’s greed for power soon corrupts him, and he turns against everyone. Even GJ, who has been nothing but good to him. YK becomes increasingly jealous of GJ, because GJ keeps learning kungfu from the greats, and due to GJ’s obligation to them, GJ did not teach those skills to YK. YK, being the petty man that he is, is offended by GJ’s refusal, and all this resentment builds up his hatred for GJ, to the point where he backstabs GJ (literally). Although he does redeem himself towards the end (in this version anyway), he still doesn’t have a happy ending. Aww.
Looking through the pictures, I should really mention that this series and The Young Warriors are of the same production, and many of the actors in the Young Warriors also appear in here. Of the four main leads, three of them except Ariel Lin were part of the Young Warriors cast. Weng Jiaming who played Yang Ye is also a Yang in this series, and an interesting note is that the villain in Young Warrriors is his son in LOCH. Plus, Yang Tiexin and YK are supposedly descendants of the Yang clan (historically untrue but fictionally possible), and there were some flashbacks showing scenes from the Young Warriors when Yang Tiexin tells YK of his ancestors. Li Jie, Liu Shishi, Hu Ge, Song Yang and some others whose names I can’t recall were also part of the Young Warriors cast. The casting for this series is pretty stellar for a Mainland China production. They had really good actors like Anthony Wong, Kathy Chow, Tsui Kam Kong, Leung Kar Yan (from HK), Guo Liang from Singapore, Ariel and Jiaming from Taiwan, and pretty solid Chinese actors like Hu Ge and Yuan Hong.
At first, I didn’t think Hu Ge could pull off a convincing GJ, not after he was so crafty as 6lang in The Young Warriors. He did pretty well to impress me, and he was rather believable as GJ. My only minor rant is his hair, which was absolutely horrible in the first 30 or so episodes. It was the Mongolian sort of hairstyle, which didn’t really suit him. Towards the end he has some bangs and everything and was easier on the eyes. (Mine anyway.) He had really good chemistry with Ariel too, which is another plus point. Ariel was chirpy and lively as Huang Rong. She pulled off a wonderfully mischievous Ronger, but in my opinion she struggled a bit when portraying the smart side of Ronger. [I don’t think she can beat Zhou Xun (the Ronger of the 2003 version) in terms of looking smart, because Zhou Xun looks naturally wise and sage-like. XD] In everything else, Ariel was quite fun to watch, and perfectly amusing in her banters with her father and also Hong Qigong.
Yuan Hong was another reason (apart from Ariel) that drove me to watch this series in the first place. After his amazing performance which stole my heart in Young Warriors, he did not disappoint me here. He portrayed another side of Yang Kang with more depth and passion. Although YK is essentially the villain of the series (much like Yeluxie), I could not bring myself to hating YK at all, no matter what he does to the people around him. Outraged, maybe. A part of me understands why he’s turned out like he did, because he never really had love from his mother. If only his mother bothered to knock some sense into his head instead of allowing Wanyan Hong Lie to spoil and corrupt her son. Liu Shishi was a bit dull as Nianci. She could have been more headstrong and passionate, because Nianci is such a great character. It’s intriguing that a good woman like her could be driven to love YK, but I should say that it’s the good side of YK that she saw and loved.
Of course, a good series should never be short on their supporting cast. That’s Qigong above, whom I’ve mentioned in passing. He is one of the great masters of the wulin, and also the leader of the Beggar clan. That should explain his sloppy appearance. (Even though he claims he’s dressed like he’s from the cleaner sect of the clan. Lol) He’s one of the most endearing characters in the novel and in the series. He is also a brave and righteous guy who has his heart in the right place but he’d rather sit and enjoy a feast if given a choice. His weakness for food is exploited by Ronger, who tricks persuades him into teaching GJ his Xiang Long 18 Palms. wouldn’t say trick actually, because Qigong obviously knows that Ronger wanted something from him, but just couldn’t resist the temptation of all the glorious food. He is also pretty fatherly and helps GJ ask for Ronger’s hand in marriage from her daddy (who is his old friend). This character is one of my favourites, and he is played with relish by Leung Kar Yan, a veteran actor from HK.
Another character worth mentioning is Ouyang Ke. OYK is sort of this metrosexual man (of that period in time) who is most delightfully evil. From his smirks to his little winks at Ronger, he reminded me a lot of Malfoy. He is very graceful when he fights and walks and talks, and he always seems to know what people’s true intentions are. (And exploits them to his own benefit.) In the start he has this flirty little thing going on with Ronger, where he teases her and is somewhat intrigued by her.
At one point he even competes for Ronger with GJ, when he proposes marriage to Huang Yao Shi. Although he’s such a big flirt with such evil intentions, Li Jie does well to give Ouyang Ke more depth, making him much less of a villain than he actually is. I’ve never really liked this character before, but he gives a new perspective to Ouyang Ke, and eventually makes even me feel sorry for him. His back story was pretty sad too, and I could see where it all came from, like with YK, so it’s hard to just hate on him. Maybe with another actor, Ouyang Ke would seem like a disgusting perv, but his neverending taunting of Ronger and his overall performance makes this one quite a winner.
Also a special mention for Guo Liang as Wanyan Hong Lie. Another seeming villain who just humanises his character so much that I couldn’t bear to hate him either. Although he does some horrible things, again we *do* get to see where he’s coming from, and even though it’s not always reasonable or moral, he does get to redeem himself in the end. (by *spoilerdyingspoiler*) And how he treated YK like his own son was pretty honourable, for a man like him.
Other aspects of the drama like the special effects and action scenes. Some of the special effects were rather iffy, like the giant fake snake which only managed to induce laughs, not fear. The action scenes were pretty okay, although in some of the scenes where the characters are flying I could almost envision them being hung on a wire – the movements didn’t seem natural or real. Music for the series was not too bad, the songs seemed very wuxia-ish. They could’ve had more slow love songs, because they kept using the same song in the romantic scenes that it got a little predictable. Not that I didn’t like the song though; it would have been nice if the 2 main couples had their own songs.
Images taken from tom.com and sina.com.cn