Review: Romance of the Condor Heroes (Hunun TV, 2015)

Romance of the Condor Heroes (神鵰俠侶)

Genre: Wuxia Fiction
Length: 54 episodes
Producer: Yu Zheng

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Cast

Chen Xiao as Yang Guo
Michelle Chen as Xiaolongnu aka Little Dragon Girl
Zheng Guolin as Guo Jing
Yang Mingna Huang Rong
Viann Zhang as Li Mozhou
Rachel Momo as Guo Fu
Zhang Zhehan as Yule Qi
Yoki Sun as Lu Wushuang
Sarah Zhao as Cheng Ying
Sophie Zhang as Guo Xiang

And for the names of the rest of the cast, click here.

The Review

Before I begin, I do want to make a disclaimer that I haven’t read the novel and I’ll be making some comparison to TVB’s 1983 version.

My feelings regarding this adaptation is mostly mixed with both some good and bad. I must agree with the majority that one of the biggest downfall was the casting of Michelle Chen as Xiaolongnu. I got use to her midway into the series, but that still doesn’t make the casting was a good one. Yu Zheng wanted to create a more cute and bubbly Xiaolongnu, which we get to see a bit of here and there, but the cuteness didn’t really fit into the grand scene of things. Some say that Yu Zheng completely butchered the plot and changed many things, but besides the creation of many sub-romances for the Four Greats, I didn’t see major discrepancies to the 1983 version. Yu Zheng’s attempt for creativity made sense in his minor tweaks here and there, but for for some subplots, it didn’t fit in with the characterization.

Ouyang Feng’s romantic subplot, for example, almost had me going “wtf.” Ouyang claims that he only came to love martial arts and power because he lost in the battle for love — not every villain needs to be redeemed with love. Hong’s romantic subplot was, arguably, more enjoyable, but not anymore necessary. He had a guest role in the drama and him and the characters in his subplot came briefly and left quickly. But either way, these two Greats’ love stories are meant to tell Yang Guo not to let misunderstandings, regrets, pride and impulsiveness get in the way of love.

Huang Yaoshi’s forbidden love with Mei Chaofeng made me feel uneasy, especially the idea that she was raised by wolves. As eccentric as Huang is, he is one of my favorites of the Greats and having him admit that he failed in eccentricity in the realm of love somewhat diminished his “greatness” thermometer. This story is again to motivate Yang Guo to pursue love all the way to the end regardless of how society disapproves of the teacher and student relationship — because Huang regretted it and Yang will too. Well, Yang definitely took away way more pointers from the Greats in the realm of love than he ever did in the martial arts department.

Even though Dugu Qiubai died before this series began, Yu Zheng found a way to give him a love story too. In which case, while he was hoping for someone to defeat him, he met a girl who was actually a spy. She worked for a group of martial artists who was trying to defeat Dugu after a number of failed attempts. Though he was deceived by love and people will exploit love to get what they want, he wrote in his death diary that it’s still something worth pursuing and something to be regretted once it’s lost.

All in all, the takeaway point from these stories is that love is more important than anything else. And that these martial arts revert to evil, fame, power, reputation, when love is misunderstood, regretted, and lost. While I can see where Yu Zheng is coming from with the sub-stories, it didn’t quite have the intended effect. The Greats should remain untouched — like the untouchables they are. Ouyang Feng is evil because he is. Also, Huang Yaoshi adores Huang Rong so much, it’s unlikely that he had eyes for anyone else.

If anything, I wished Yu Zheng focused more on building the current characters and their stories like Yelu Qi and Guo Fu, or the Wu brothers and their respective, pairings. It seems like Wanyan Ping and Yelu Yan barely had any screen time. It was too deliberate to squeeze their stories into the series right before the 16 years later gap.

Arguably, the characters throughout the drama spoke in monologues quite often. While this helps the audience understand the characters inner thoughts and motivations, it also gives a reason for not having to portray the character to the fullest. If it’s going to be told, why waste the energy to show it? Yang Guo had the most internal monologue going, which can be helpful in understanding his complex internal thought process, but also makes me question the depth he needed to go to portray the character.

Although the series had nice costumes, it seems like they invested more in the filming locations and beautiful scenery than the number outfits for each artist. Most characters had only one or two outfits, most notably Viann. Michelle had different variations of the white dress including that with the pink, yellow, and blue hemlines. Rachel seemed to have at least two shades of pink dresses and a blue attire for the 16 years later segment. I’m pleased with most of the hairstyles, but why must Michelle have the most hideous hairdo as the female lead? I much prefer her hair loose in the 16 years later segment.

The authentic filming locations in China is easily the best part of the series. It not only helped with getting into character, but also made the viewing experience appear more real-time. This is the reason TVB’s ancient productions aren’t as large-scale because most of their scenes are filmed on sets and more sets. Here, the Ancient Tomb really lived up to its name and the Passionless Valley actually had a garden of flowers worth dying for. No pun intended. The paradise of Peach Blossom Island was landscape porn — I definitely wouldn’t mind living there for the rest of my life. In fact, I’m all packed up and ready to move.

Give or take, some of the actors’ flying and landing scenes were smooth while others were more deliberate. Guo Jing’s flying scene to escape the Mongol’s attack at Xiangyang wall was full of suspense. The behind the scenes of these flying and landing moments are hilarious though. Xiaolongnu’s “descending from heaven moments” aren’t as classy and without retakes like you’d think.

Even Li Mochou’s piercing ice pin needles, with the help of CGI effects, lived up to it’s name. All TVB could dish out were pin needles for Li’s weapons, which wasn’t very imaginative at all. Not every weapon or kungfu was intelligently portrayed though. Ouyang Feng’s Toad Skills was embarrassing — it had the actors’ cheeks becoming puffy as they bounced around like a toad, literally.

I’m not a huge fan of sad and melancholic love stories (or anything sad per say. Why would I be?), but if you were to watch this and know more or less about the plot and characters, this is to be expected. After all, it’s about one hero charming all the ladies, but the only girl he loves is not only cold and indifferent 90% of the time, but runs off somewhere for sixteen years. Everyone else either remains single or marries anyone else who is single. Therefore, the random comedic moments in this adaptation made it easier to watch. One notable crack-me-up moment is when Huang Rong poisoned Li Mochou with “itchy powder” and she uses a pole to scratch her back — everyone applauded for what they assumed was a sex show.

For the most part, the casting was great. Yu Zheng had a good selection of younger and more beautiful women play the roles of Guo Fu, Lu Wushuang, and Cheng Ying than did TVB. The problem here becomes, with all these beauties, it really makes his casting of Xiaolongnu even more flawed. Whereas, TVB was wise to select average-looking females for the supporting roles, thus making Idy Chan’s Xiaolongnu a talk of a lifetime. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it is also relative and comparable.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong who were supporting characters here seemed to be overshadowed by the younger cast. The actor who played Guo Jing looked the part, but the character was nothing more than a patriotic figure. Yang Guo really took all accomplishments in the 16 years later segment. Likewise, Huang Rong looked intelligent for the character, but just not memorable in the role. I really enjoyed Christopher Lee as Huang Yaoshi and how he runs away from Huang Rong, but the actor is only a few years older than Yang Mingna, which is laughable.

Characterization and Performances

Chen Xiao. I don’t believe the negative comments regarding Yang Guo and how the steadfast and upright character turned into a suave young man who would run away with any woman he stumbled upon to be fair. Yang was intelligent, though unpredictable, to begin with. Being suave is just another fun way of protecting himself. Plus that side of his character calmed down after he meets Xiaolongnu anyway. In fact, I found Chen to be an overall more optimistic and chill Yang Guo while Andy was more serious and he portrayed the eccentric side of the character better. Accurate to the novel’s characterization or not, I found Chen’s optimism and suaveness to be a likable change for the rebellious young hero.

I also didn’t find Xiaolongnu a good match for Yang Guo until he met up with her at Quanzhen Sect and right before they got married. This is because before he lost an arm, he was more playful and Lu Wushuang was a better fit for him.

Michelle Chen. I wrote a post earlier regarding her being casted in the role and my thoughts haven’t changed since then. While I got use to seeing Michelle onscreen over the course of the series, Xiaolongnu is still one of those rare roles where unless you look the part, your performance can only be average. This is because the character is known for being cold and indifferent and her ethereal beauty compensates for the personality — or lack of.

Viann Zhang. Some say Li Mochou is a psychopath, but I always like to believe that people do things for a reason. For this adaptation at least, Li Mochou just kills for the sake of it and Xiaolongnu who acts as the narrator in the beginning claims that having grown up in the Ancient Tomb, Li Mochou finds killing a normal thing to do. Why is that? Xiaolongnu and her sifu grew up in the same Tomb as well, yet why are they so different? One thing for sure is, there is no correlation between love and killing for Li Mochou. Whether he met Lu Zhanyuan or not, she was already and will continue to be a cold-blooded killer.

Viann seems too pretty (plastic surgery or not) and too young to be Li Mochou, especially since Viann is only 28 and Michelle is 32. Viann is suppose to be Michelle’s older martial arts sister. It seems like Viann is becoming the next villainness in many Chinese productions. Can’t blame the producers, she does resemble Fan Bing Bing, who played many villainess before she played hero.

Rachel Momo. TVB’s version never did Guo Fu’s beauty justice and thankfully, Rachel changed that. For a bitchy, spoiled, and unlikable character like Guo Fu, it takes the right actress to bring out the one advantage she had — which was her aesthetically pleasing looks in her custom-tailored pink dresses.

Yoki Sun. Lu Wushuang is vivacious, wily, and spends most of her time running away from her teacher and enemy, Li Mochou. When they first met, I almost believed that Yang Guo was better off and happier with Lu. It was with her that Yang Guo was most playful, lively, and himself. She developed a greater bond with Yang Guo than any of the other girls ever did besides Xiaolongnu, of course. Xiaolongnu was like, “Why do you call him Stupid Egg?”

Sarah Zhao. The likability of her character was not matched with adequate screen time for the actress at all. How can someone like Guo Fu find a great catch like Yelu Qi, but Cheng Ying ends up alone? They say nice guys finish last and this applies to nice girls too, clearly.

Sophie Zhang. Although only appearing in the final few episodes, she has more screen time than did Yoki and Sarah. The 18-year-old actress was a believable Guo Xiang, who is adored by everyone. Even Jinlun Guoshi begs to be her teacher, LOL. A little too good to be true, but Sophie and Guo Xiang’s optimism is always welcomed.

The Verdict

I really could’ve done without the entire Quanzhen Sect. For a reputable Sect like them, they were nothing but embarrassment and trouble. Despite the poor casting of Xiaolongnu, which is the most apparent flaw, this adaptation more than just watchable. It’s fast-paced for the most part — simply skip through the scenes revolving around the Quanzhen Sect and you’ll be fine. It does deviate from the original novel, but it does bring a breath of fresh air in everything from the casting to the scenery and CGI effects.

And for other posts related to the Romance of the Condor Heroes series:

Wuxia Inspired Fashion: Romance of the Condor Heroes (Part 1)

Wuxia Inspired Fashion: Romance of the Condor Heroes (Part 2)