Legend of the Yang Family and The Great General

Reviewed by: KHN

December 13, 2004

Rating: three-point-five

Typical Yang Family Formula: The Yangs single-handedly battle internal corruption and foreign armies after mere moments of escaping from the executioner’s blade. Yet ATV manages to compensate for this predictable theme by focusing on complex character development. The two-part series features ATV stars Damian Lau Chung Yan, Jackie Liu Chung Yin, Erica Choi Hiu Yee, Yan Chi Keung, Chui Siu Kueng, Mak Lai Hung, Joey Man Yee Man, Chun Pui, and Ng Ngai Cheung.

Part I is the more mundane of the two. There is much emphasis on the heroic feats of the Yangs and Justice Pao’s ingenious verdicts, but it is the love interests in the story that make it a bit different. Yan Chi Keung is Justice Pao’s right-hand investigator/bodyguard who is in love with the Emperor’s favorite concubine, Erica Choi. Incidentally, she is the daughter of the most corrupt mandarin in the court and she inadvertently aids her father’s evil schemes by the Emperor’s sheer desire for her. Both Yan and Erica are torn between love and loyalty, passion and obligation. Their chemistry is intense, but understated and I’d really like to see this pair as a romantic couple in another production.

Another interesting subplot is the identity and involvement of a young maid who works for the Yangs. Playful and mischievous, she possesses great kungfu and falls in love with the youngest Yang heir. She came to the Sung Empire with a mission to find her father and is involved with a secret Mongolian sect who is adept at using poison, and practices mysterious fighting techniques.

Along the way, the Yangs fight and ponder the meaning of honor and righteousness. They stop attempted coups, defend the nation from invaders, and recover a lost Yang heir born to a Mongolian princess. Enjoyable, but nothing new. The series is well-executed and the acting is consistently good on all fronts.

Part II has a better storyline. It is based on the searching for an invincible flag which could summon celestial troops. The Sung Empire is in grave danger, as three men are revealed as astrological threats who will combine their power to destroy the regime. They are a Yang General, a power-hungry royal uncle, and Jackie Liu. The Yang General is blindly loyal to the point of stupidity while the royal uncle is a spineless sneak. It is Jackie Liu who steals the show. He first emerges as a beggar who has lost his memory and is rescued by a young astrologer, Joey Man. As the plot unravels, he is revealed to be the former ruthless and ambitious Emperor of Sai Ha who wanted to conquer the Sung Empire. Jackie is superb in this role, conveying both the kind, simple-minded companion of Joey and the shrewd, unscrupulous Emperor with ease. Joey also portrays the gentle astrologer with grace and naturalness.

Enter the destined guardians of the Empire: Justice Pao and Dik Jing, played by Damian Lau. Damian is a veteran actor and he certainly earns the title. With his acting ability, Dik Jing becomes a very real and tangible character. A street-wise Dia Hup who commits forgivable crimes (killing bad guys,etc.), he falls in love with an exiled Sung princess, and later with the Sai Ha Empress before becoming a national hero. As for Justice Pao, he is wise, fair, and always right. So what else is new?

As already stated, an inherent flaw in the series is its lack of suspense. We know how the loyal the Yangs are, how the foolish Emperor distrusts them anyway, and how they will end up disillusioned for sacrificing so many lives for the sake of the Empire. This is probably attributed to the genre though, more so than this particular series. I will admit, this series does have slow parts every now and then, especially during Justice Pao's moralizing. You continue watching it because the characters are so compelling. As for fighting choreography, Part I is okay and Part II is better, especially toward the climatic end. The sets and costumes are simple, but effective.

Overall, this series weaves hackneyed historical myths with genuine and expressive characters, each with his/her own story. The emotional tone of each part is also different. The first part is very restrained and the subliminal message is self-revelation, as each character is unmasked in a certain way. In part II, the theme is self-evolution, as each of the main characters discover himself/herself and come closer to fulfilling his/her destinies. Fittingly, the emotional mood is more dramatic and even cathartic at times, making us realize that sometimes pain is necessary for us to grow.

Screenshots: (Images from Jackie Lui's Web World)

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