Sunday, 5 June 2016

Langya Bang (Nirvana in Fire)

Having sworn off the modern wuxia series (as in, made in the 21st CE but the setting is up the Qing Dynasty) due to their constant use of CGI and ‘flying’ heroes using cables instead of the genuine somersault and backflips, I gladly eat my own words for Langya Bang. ‘The Langya List’, a.k.a. ‘Nirvana in Fire’ (see it at Viki or MyAsianTV) is a  2015 Mainland production. It starred Hu Ge, Liu Tao, Wang Kai, Chen Long, Jin Dong, Victor Huang, et al. and it has taken me by surprise for its non-cheesy, ‘non-traditional’ approach for a semi-historical drama. By ‘non-traditional’, I mean that this series is not a romance series, has no love triangle drama almost every writer love to use, and despite full of palace intrigue, it did not resort to the likes of ‘My Fair Princess’ (tho I love Vicky Zhao and Ruby Lin) in the tendency of having the Empress vs Consort war as the main focus.

Instead, this 54-episodes series offers me, a total stranger to all the actors and actresses here, a chance to fall in love with them, with many excellent reasons. The truth is, my only original hook to the series was Liu Tao, for I love her performance in ‘Li Hou Zhu’ (co-starring with Nicky Wu) in 2009. However, not only Liu Tao surpassed my expectation by portraying a badass general princess (instead of her damsel-in-distress portrayal in Li Hou Zhu), I was blown away by Hu Ge’s performance. I now realise why many people root for him, and I wonder what I’ve missed by not watching his other series. But the strength of Nirvana in Fire is not only in its three main actors (I really dig Wang Kai’s Prince Jing; if there’s a statesman like that in my country, I’ll vote for him in a heartbeat!). No, NIF/LYB is full of great actors and actresses, director, cinematographer, music composer, costume designer, etc. that made the beautiful works of authoress Hai Yan come to life in front of the modern audience.

Well, okay, not all actresses blew me away. I could do without Wang Ou’s Qin Ban Ruo (she’s so annoying with her double eyelids, I just want to fast forward every time she’s on-screen) and Yang Yu Ting’s Noble Consort Yue (similar species, just happened to be a consort). They’re such a far cry from Liu Tao’s amazing General Princess Nihuang and Zhang Ling Xin’s Investigator Xia Dong. Or the gentle but smart doctress Consort Jing (Lu Shan).

Hu Ge as Mei Changsu/Lin Shu and Liu Tao as Mu Nihuang 

For those who haven’t seen it yet, Nirvana in Fire (Langya Bang) tells the story of Lin Shu (Hu Ge), the son of General Lin Xie, who returned to Jinling, the capital of the sixth century Liang Dynasty to clear his father’s name. Thirteen years prior, during the Battle of Meiling, despite having aided the Emperor of Liang for 10 years, Lin Xie and his 70,000 personnel Chiyan Army were wiped out under the accusation of aiding Crown Prince Qi in rebelling against the Emperor. The ever suspicious Emperor did not only refuse to hear what his son had to say, he also executed Prince Qi and all members of the Qi and Lin families. As one of the very few survivors of the backstab battle, and also as his father’s son, Lin Shu vowed to clear the name of his father, Prince Qi and the Chiyan Army, even if it cost him his own life.

As he arrived in the Capital, almost no one could recognise Lin Shu. Not only Lin Shu took the identity of Mei Changsu, the #1 Strategist in the Langya List (hence the title), his appearance was totally different now due to the Bitter Flame Poison he suffered during the Battle of Meiling. The medication Lin Shu received from the Langya Hall Master Lin Cheng (the charming Jin Dong) had robbed him of his kungfu ability.  Basically, the strategist who just arrived at the Capital was a weak scholar, but a very smart strategist nonetheless.

The sincere and courageous Prince Jingyan (Wang Kai)

Mei Changsu proceeded to support the unfavoured Prince Jing (the gorgeous Wang Kai) to the throne, despite Prince Jing’s doubts of Mei’s moral compass and the Prince’s suspicion of Mei’s true identity. In his aid, Mei had the teenage fighter Fei Liu (played cutely by Wu Lei), General Meng Zhi (Lin Shu’s childhood friend, excellently portrayed by Chen Long), and two assistants who were also Meiling survivors. Mei also met his teenage girlfriend Mu Nihuang, who was now a prominent General Princess of the country. After deducing that Mei was her childhood boyfriend Lin Shu, she pledged that she’d assist him reopening the Chiyan Army case.

Princess  Nihuang (Liu Tao) & Mei Changsu (Hu Ge)

Mei’s amazing strategies helped elevating Prince Jing’s career. When the previously-favoured Prince Yu (Victor Huang) rebelled against the Emperor, Jingyan’s sincerity and courage saved the kingdom and hence he earned more favour from the Emperor. Jingyan and Mei were finally able to reopen the Chiyan case and proved the innocence of General Lin Xie and his family, Prince Qing and his family and more than 70,000 innocent soldiers that died during the Battle of Meiling.

Langya Master Lin Chen (Jin Dong)
Lin Chen and Lil Fei Liu (Wu Lei)

Then of course, the drama ended sadly with the death of the main character. Shortly after the Chiyan case was cleared, Liang was attacked from four directions. Despite his deteriorating health and fierce objection from his personal physician Lin Chen, Mei Changsu/Lin Shu convinced Crown Prince Jing to allow him to lead the army northwards to face their traditional enemy the Da Yu kingdom. Very reluctantly, Prince Jing allowed him to go, after asking his old friend to return back to assist him running the country. Jing also dispatched Princess Nihuang southwards, for she was the perfect choice to handle the southern attack. The Crown Prince himself, despite his eagerness to join the battle, had to stay in the Capital to man the country. Thus, the two closest people in Lin Shu’s life were not there when he finally died after defending the northern border.

And thus I cried big time last night.

Regardless of the bittersweet end, I totally recommend Nirvana in Fire to wuxia lovers. Amazing is an understatement. The series is almost perfect to me. I now understand why people need to shoot ancient series in Heng Dian; it’s a truly amazing studio for these kind of series. The cinematography is beautiful. The costumes are grand and gorgeous. The opening scene in Ep 1 after the battle looked like a Japanese movie to me, complete with the flute that sounded so much like the Japanese shakuhachi for me. The music scores had some classical western-like music, which actually suits the series. The script was amazing, the story flew effectively in general. Hu Ge, Liu Tao and Wang Kai were amazing. Well, generally, the actors’ expressions were genuine, I really feel for each of them (except for Banruo and Consort Yue, but I do have an ingrained hatred towards them).

NIF has scary battle scenes and cool warriors. General Nihuang, Xia Dong and Gong Yu were beautiful and fierce in their battle armours; almost like watching Chinese Amazons in action (Okay, I do want Liu Tao to have more fighting classes so that she can take up badass roles like Princess Nihuang in the future, but at the moment, it’s good enough to shatter my damsel-in-distress image of hers).

General Princess Nihuang on horse

Don't ask these warrior ladies whether they'd been sewing flowers...(Nihuang & Xia Dong)

General/Commander Meng Zhi was definitely amazing. Meng Zhi looked more like a samurai than a Liang general in his armour, but I don’t mind that. Actually, I have a total crush on him with his goatee.

Love Meng Zhi's frown! 

Doesn't Meng Zhi (Chen Long) look like a samurai here?
And because I can't have enough Meng Zhi...

Beautiful people aside, I like how the series managed to keep some facts hidden until very late in the series. We didn’t learn until after Prince Yu was defeated how Lin Shu physically changed into Mei Changsu. I somehow suspected that a curious case of the blood-drinking animal that was mentioned in the first few episodes was important to the story, but I didn’t realise that it was actually THAT important. The furry ‘animal’ was actually General Nie Feng, husband of Investigator Xia Dong and also a survivor of the Battle of Meiling. Apparently, the mixture of the Poison of Bitter Flame, the bitter snow of Meiling and a flesh-eating bug triggered a different reaction to the poison, such that the victim became a blood-drinking mute ‘Hanuman’ afterwards. Nie Feng was one of the victims. The other one was Lin Shu. Lin Chen treated Lin Shu such that the latter was cured. However, the treatment changed the patient’s appearance and robbed him of his kungfu. Thus, Lin Shu reappeared as Mei Changsu after the treatment.

I also didn’t know that Lin Shu's mum was Princess Jingyang, the blood sister of the Emperor until Ep 53. Apparently, little Lin Shu used to play kites and got piggybacked by the Emperor (who was still a courageous Prince back then). I definitely teared up when Emperor kneeled down behind Lin Shu, reciting those childhood memories. The nephew himself just walked away for all he cared. To think that emperor's suspicious nature caused the death of more than 70k people, I can see why Mei Changsu didn't bother to acknowledge the emperor’s regret.

The series also showed good character development for those who were meant to have the characters developed. For instance, nice to see Eunuch Gaozhan becoming more and more trustworthy. Gaozhan even silently asked Consort/Empress Jing's opinion when Emperor wanted to talk to Mei Changsu alone. This old eunuch was still serving the new emperor's family till Ting Shen grew as a strong teenager, adopted by Emperor Jingyan. That scene, the even older eunuch smiling as he accompanied Mother Jing et al. actually teared me up too.

I do have some minor quibbles though. Although the shots were generally done in beautiful angles, they tended to go slow-motion and getting too much zoom-in and zoom-out during the one-to-one fighting. These shooting tactics might appeal to modern viewers, but it distracts me from enjoying the whole fights. Only during the battle scenes or mass fighting scenes that the film makers used the common wide-angle view, bird’s eye views or longer close up view (without excessive zoom-in/zoom-out) that helped us enjoying the scenes. Glad they reduced the slow-mo and CGI fights towards the end. IMO, they still should make the actors do somersaults instead of the silly cable flying. Totally ruining modern wuxia series, those cables!!

I often mention my dislike on the habit of dubbing in Mainland series; I think that habit should just be abandoned. However, I think this series managed to tone down the dubbing. Granted, some minor actors were dubbed; the high-pitched voices of Consort Yue and some maids sounded like dubbed. I think Eunuch Gao Zhan’s voice was different in the end when Prince Jing already became the Emperor. But the main actors seemed to retain their own voices (CMIIW). I’ve been listening to this interview, and I think Hu Ge and Liu Tao used their own voices, which is great. Again, feel free to correct me, cos I’m not familiar with their real voices. 

I know for sure that Wang Kai did not have his voice dubbed. His Prince Jing’s deep baritone voice was actually his own voice. Oh, and he once played an effeminate character (Chen Jiaming in Ugly Wudi), so I was pleasingly surprised to see his heroic Prince Jing. Jin Dong (Langya Master Lin Chen) and Chen Long (General Meng Zhi) seemed to use their own voices too, so it’s good. See the NG video below to see how funny these actors can be!

Another little quibble, for the translation this time: in Ep 37, Xia Chun's wife is from Wudang, whereas Wudang wasn't created until the end of the Song Empire. Perhaps the script meant it to be Wudang Shan (Mountain), not Wudang Sect. Also, before Nihuang departed to the south, she asked Lin Shu to see her immediately in Yunnan. But Yunnan was not created until the Yuan Dynasty. Until the Yuan Dynasty, Yunnan was called ‘Dali’.

But apart from those minor quibbles, I love this series. I don’t know if I can watch it cover-to-cover again, but I think I might episode-jump to some scenes. The argument between Prince Jing and Mei Changsu when the former severed the ties with the latter was definitely worth rewatching. Also some limited but treasured scenes between Mei and Nihuang. Liu Tao and Hu Ge made a beautiful on-screen couple. I never watched Hu Ge's dramas before, but he's such an amazing actor. Liu Tao was an amazing warrior princess here, so different from her genteel damsel-in-distress role in Li Zhou Zhu. I'd love to see her in another badass role like this.

To end this post, here’s “The Aging of a Beauty”, an OST of Nirvana in Fire sang by Liu Tao. Not only she is a talented actress; she also has a lovely voice. I think she just needs to hone up her fighting skill, and she’ll be in a good shape for another badass role next time.  The translation is from this blog. Check it out, for the translator (Joyce, also translating many episodes of Nirvana in Fire) showed the progress and interpretation of the translation. It’s indeed a beautiful, bittersweet, song...

The Aging of a Beauty (红颜旧)

Singer: Liu Tao
Composer: Zhao Jialin
Writer: Yuan Liang
Translator: Joyce (Viki)

Lit. West wind blows past in the night, cold mountain rains.
Lyrical: The west wind blows past, cold rain in the mountains.

Lit. Home and country vaguely seen in broken dreams.
Lyrical: Home and country remembered vaguely in dreams.

Lit. Thinking of you but not seeing you makes me miss your more.
Lyrical: Thinking of you but not seeing you, brings forth more sorrows

别离难忍, 忍别离
Lit. Separation is hard to bear, but separation is endured.
Lyrical: Though arduous, separation is endured.

Lit. When will the wolf smoke and beacon flames rest?
Lyrical: When will the flames of war rest?

Lit. Successors be Kings, those who fail be bandits and all will flow to the east.
Lyrical: Successes and failures will wash away in the river of time.

Lit. The candles are spent but tears will not dry.
Lyrical: The candles are spent, but tears will not dry.

Lit. The rivers and mountains have not aged while the beauty has aged.
Lyrical: The kingdom is still young but she is not.

忍别离, 不忍却又别离
Lit. Enduring separation, hard to bear, but again we separate.
Lyrical: Separation is to be endured. Though hard to bear, separate we must.

托鸿雁南去, 不知此心何寄
Lit. Entrusting the wild geese to head south, not knowing where this heart can be sent.
Lyrical: Entrusting the wild geese to head south, but where shall this heart go?

Lit. Aging of a beauty
Lyrical: She is no longer (as she was)

Lit. Despite the big dipper turning and the stars moving
Lyrical: While time flows as always.

Lit. Only this feeling persists.
Lyrical: These pure feelings will never waver.


kimberly ly-c said...

Hey! I usually love your posts for the CLH or Miu/Yung posts. But I just finished this series and was looking up what other reviews were about this series. I actually really like this series, the plot lines were intricate and different from the typical superhero vs bad guy, and love plots thrown in.

I watched this on Drama Fever so I felt like maybe some scenes were cut/edited. I wished they showed the parts in the series where they "expose" the bad guy instead of doing a scene where they talk about the aftermath. LOL. I guess I like those scenes from wuxia series. I.E. in LOCH 82 when Bab's exposes Miu for trying to kill her, thus when he struck her he got poison on his hand ends up dying.

I thought this series was great besides for the cut scenes. The plot was done well, the character development was done nicely, the actors are all good looking (Prince Jing, General Meng), and nice scenery.

Anyways, I'll talk to you later.


Icha said...

Hi Kim, Thanks a lot for the comments!

I still love Langya Bang, and I would have re-watched it had I have more time... Totally gorgeous series... LOVE Wang Kai and General Meng Zhi... and of course Hu Ge's Lin Shu...the only problem is the too slow-mo fighting scenes and (sigh) the dubbing...

Yes, I love the scene where Babs exposing Michael's YH's bad deeds... that was TOTAL gold. The 2017 was really good too with Li Yitong peeling off Chen Xingxu's YK evil deeds, but Babs and Michael were still better...


kimberly ly-c said...

My mom has "brainwashed" me, I can't watch any other verions of LOCH, and I refuse to. But hopefully when we get the subtitles version of the 2017 version, I'd probably watch it for Michael Miu <3

I noticed the mainland chinese dramas are getting better and better lately, and HK dramas are starting to get cheesy. Back in the 80's and 90's the dramas from HK were great - plot, casting, costumes, and scenery. Even in the early 2000's they were still okay, the "wuxia" ones had terrible CGI but watchable. But I think mainland china dramas have surpassed on terms of plot, customes and the scenery. I'm still getting used to the actors from mainland China, I feel like they're TOO pretty. I've seen previews for Ten Miles of Peach Blossom (???) and I thought it looked like a cute drama to watch, but the male lead is TOO pretty. I need some scars or something LOL. Hu Ge is so likeable because he is good looking, but not TOO good looking. No idea if that makes any sense.

Anyways, I was on DramaFever and recently watched Sounds of the Desert (highly reccomend), especially if you like the cute pairings. Teehee. Ice Fantasy blew my mind in terms of the costumes and set, but that story is too dragged out. Prince of Lanling was also a great series.

Anyways, I hope you're doing well. Because of you I feel like I want to start a blog too, but I feel like I'm too lazy!


Icha said...

"I think mainland china dramas have surpassed on terms of plot, customes and the scenery. I'm still getting used to the actors from mainland China, I feel like they're TOO pretty."

I agree on the "too pretty" part... at times they can just take on the actresses roles and be done with it... like in a Kabuki drama...

Not sure with the plot for CN series, but yes, costumes and sceneries are definitely much better these days. LOCH 2017 I think sets up the new trend of the proper fighting with minimum CGI and slow-mo (not non-existent, but bearable)... and real close up hand combat scenes, which is very exciting. Watch the Michael Miu clip as HYS that I posted here:

and see if you like it...