Big Shot is probably one of Gu Long’s best known novels. It seems that all of the themes typical of his stories can be found in this epic portrayal of one person’s ambitious and tenacious drive to become the leader of the martial arts world. But also typical of Gu Long, the martial heroes of this story are uncompromising in their sense of righteousness and justice. I don’t think all of the lines in the series are directly from Gu Long’s novel but the characters certainly utter statements that one would typically find in the psychologically nuanced writings of this great writer.
The series has some great visual background scenery along with careful choreography of the martial arts battles in the foreground. My interest in the series lies in the subtle interaction between the characters because that is what I expect to find in a Gu Long story.
The story begins with a young girl’s dream of a great martial arts hero. The young girl is Tian Si Si (Angelica Lee) and the martial arts hero is Qin Ge (Yan Kuan). Her dream turns out to be an infatuation with the written exploits of Qin Ge, a well known member of Liu Xing Ge, a martial arts conclave. Tian Si Si is a young spoiled girl doted on by her rich father. The first part of the series focuses on Tian Si Si and then focuses on our other lead protagonist, Yang Fan (Nicholas Tse). Yang Fan becomes the centre and lead protagonist of the series as he moves through the martial arts world solving the mystery of his own life. His life becomes a mystery when he is attacked by a group of assassins led by a powerful and mysterious iron masked man who nearly kills him and through freakish events, he looses his memory.
His life is saved by a mysterious madman named Tie Jun and when he recovers he finds himself in his father’s home not really knowing his past. He has sudden flashes that point to the fact that he is not entirely who he thinks he is. Flashes of the ambush that led to his predicament return to him. His confreres in his martial circle (Liu Xing Ge) are not too helpful as they force him to become too introspective and fill him with self-doubt. Even his master, the beautiful Jiang Man Hong (Zhao Yue) is not too helpful. Within his martial group, vile enemies work toward his downfall, in particular, Liu Feng Gu (Zhu Xiao Huan). Although we don’t know Yang Fan’s real enemies, we can begin to suspect very early on.
Meanwhile, the relationship between Yang Fan and Tian Si Si is a strong one. Tian Si Si’s infatuation with Qin Ge seems to get in the way and Yang Fan has the gorgeously beautiful Zhang Hao Er (Si Qin Gao Li) in his past life. The paroxysm and conflict involving Zhang Hao Er and Yang Fan will eventually reach a high point when Yang Fan begins to regain his memory and the opposite happens to Hao Er as the extent of her “illness” slowly becomes unveiled.
At the Tian household, Tian Si Si has a propensity to run away and attempt to find herself but even this search for freedom is literally upstaged by her doting father. Master Tian (Wang Jian Guo) attempts to prearrange all of her experiences in the martial world when he hires actors and stages martial arts scenes. Si Si eventually realizes this and becomes furious with her father. At the same time Fan’s and Si Si’s fathers plan the marriage of their children to each other. Fan is obedient and filial in his devotion to his father whereas Si Si is rebellious but nonetheless consents to the marriage.
Despite Hao Er’s tragic circumstance, she is obsessed with the memory of Yang Fan and at one point kidnaps Si Si in order to renew her relationship with Fan. This plan only comes to partial fruition as Si Si’s incarceration helps her to mature in her personality and the tragedy of her experience with her incarcerators will eventually presage a further tragedy in this story. Si Si befriends a young child and eventually teaches the children and the villagers how to read and write. This new found maturity will help further deepen and reconcile her relationship with Yang Fan.
In the martial world, the leading elders gather for a special meeting at Xue Shan Sect headquarters while an evil group called the Crow gang, headed by the arch-antagonist called the Iron Masked man attempts to thwart Yang Fan and at the same time usurp the leadership in the martial arts circle. The turmoil is centered around the leadership of Xue Shan Sect but it also entails the recovery of a map, a flower, a sword and a labyrinthine structure that hides the legendary martial arts master, Chu Liu Xiang (Yang Huai Zhong).
Chu Chu (the very beautiful, Liu Tao) and a happy drunkard, Liu Qing (Ren Tian Ye) meet on the way to Xue Shan and begin to have a relationship. The chemistry that develops between these two actors is excellent. Their scenes together are very genuine and realistic. They begin to be the centre of this part of the series as they discover the tomb of Xue Shan’s fallen master and confront Chu Liu Xiang. However, unfortunate tragedy strikes when Jiang Man Hong, Master Yang (Yang Nian Shang) and Master Tian (Wang Jian Guo) investigate the labyrinth and master Tian is murdered by Iron Mask. Chu Chu finds him dying at the moment that she and Liu Qing are in the maze.
The mythic hero, Chu Liu Xiang leaves the maze to reappear at key moments for the rest of the series. The chaos in Huan Shan ends tragically with several key figures killed including Wu Lan (the beautiful Xiong Nai Jin) and Yuan Da’s attempt to rule the sect is thwarted. Episodes 20 and 21 begin to reveal the truth of Yang Fan. Fan’s flashes of memory become more frequent at one point Fan will clearly remember the face of the Iron Masked man who pushed him down the cliff.
Of course, the death of old master Tian has a devastating effect on Tian Si Si causing Yang Fan’s and Si Si’s love for each other take a new turn. As Si Si grieves the death of her father, Fan’s memories gather more clarity and Fan begins to realize he is not who he seems to be. This realization makes him estranged from Si Si as he seeks self-discovery.
Qin Ge, at the strange urging of master Jiang begins a relationship with Si Si and helps her with her grief. At this point, Qin Ge appears genuinely caring and heroic even though the relationship with Si Si is all a pretense. As this unique relationship evolves we begin to see how Si Si really loves Yang Fan and in true Gu Long style Si Si utters the line to Qin Ge: “I adore you but I love Yang Fan.”
Those of us who are following the series closely begin to realize who Yang Fan really is. The three main heroes of Liu Xing Ge, Qin Ge, Yang Fan and Fei Wu Ji (Zhao Qing) are never sucked into the machinations of Yue Huan Shan (He Jin Qiang). Each of our heroes has their own motives but they never seem to compromise on their just and righteous standards.
Chu Liu Xiang stands aloof from our whole story only because of his sworn oath that he would never fight Yue Huan Shan. Chu Liu Xiang’s standards are too high and his love relationships with Dr. Su and Jiang Man Hong are acknowledged but never fully realized. However the tragic relationship between Jiang Man Hong will end in sadness with this series.
In the love camps, Fei Wu Ji will fall in love Si Si’s servant, Tian Xin but she is duped into betraying Wu Ji by the Crow gang. This ruse is revealed but so is the plotting of the Crow gang so that Tian Xin is exonerated. Qin Ge and Qian Ning’s (Tang Yi Fei) love for each other also flourishes. They have the best love scenes especially the intimate love scenes in the last episodes. Their final love scene together is deeply moving. Yan Kuan is perfectly cast for the role of Qin Ge. Yang Fan and Tian Si Si’s relationship also flowers beautifully with many ups and downs and leads to a final confrontation with Yue Han Shan.
The final martial arts battles are a fitting denouement to the series and so is the chess match in the final episodes between Chu Liu Xiang and Yue Han Shan which presages the final outcome of the story. Overall the martial arts scenes are well choreographed. Nicholas Tse, in particular demonstrates a careful attention to detail in his choreography. For martial arts, acting and casting direction “Big Shot” deserves ***** stars.