Review contains some spoilers!
Title: Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan Zhi Ling Zhu Shen Jian (仙剑奇侠传之灵珠神剑)
Screenwriter: Deng Zi Shan
Director: Li Guo Li
Hu Ge- Jing Tian / Long Yang / Fei Peng
Yang Mi- Tang Xue Jian / Xi Yao
Wallace Huo- Xu Chang Qing /Lin Ye Ping/Gu Liu Fang
Tang Yan as Zi Xuan
Liu Shi Shi- Long Kui
Jerry Huang Zhi Wei- Chong Lou
Lin Zi Cong- Xu Mao Shan
Guo Xiao Ting- Hua Ying
Gordon Liu- Xie Jian Xian (Demonic Sword Spirit)
He Yan- Sheng Gu
Han Zhen Hua- Priest Qing Wei
Yuan Hong- Lei Yun Ting
Song Yang- Xi Feng
Liu Rui- He Bi Ping
Liu Xiao Jie as Wan Yu Zhi
Deng Li Min as Tang Tai
Yue Yao Li as Tang Kun
Han Xiao as Huo Gui Wang (Queen of Fiery Spirits)
Zhao Zhou Na- Shui Bi
Fan Ming- Tian Di (Jade Emperor)
Lin Jia Jun- Jing Jing
Xiao Bing- Zhao Wu Yan
Jing Tian is a mischievous pawnshop assistant who, because of the power of a mystical jade, crosses paths with spoiled and wealthy Tang Xue Jian, the beloved granddaughter of Tang Manor's Tang Kun. Jing Tian is about to sell away the jade when a mysterious man turns up and takes it away. Before he leaves, the man reveals that the world will meet with destruction 300 days later and that Jing Tian is destined to be the people's savior. Tang Kun meets with danger when the evil Pi Li Cult tries to gain control over the Tang Manor by turning people into zombies. Xu Chang Qing, the eldest disciple of Mt Shu Sect aids Jing Tian and Xue Jian in defeating the cult and rescuing the Tang Manor. Meanwhile, Chong Lou, ruler of the evil world, breaks into Mt Shu's Suo Yao Pagoda to retrieve a magical sword. He passes the sword to Jing Tian, claiming that it belonged to the latter when he was a deity (General Fei Peng) in his past life and forces Jing Tian to battle with him.
Chang Qing rescues Jing Tian but ends up badly injured, prompting the latter to bring him back to Mt Shu, where he then meets the sect's 5 elders. As Suo Yao Pagoda has been broken into, the imprisoned spirits are escaping; hence, the elders call upon Jing Tian and Chang Qing to attain 5 (earth, fire, thunder, wind and water) mystical pearls to seal up Suo Ya Pagoda once again. The pair is also assigned the task of destroying a powerful force of evil so as to save the world from destruction. After Tang Kun passes away, Xue Jian is kicked out of the Tang Manor and decides to follow Jing Tian and Chang Qing off to accomplish their mission. On the way, they overcome various obstacles and must solve mysteries pertaining to their pasts...
This is the screen adaptation of the third installment of the popular Chinese game series and its storyline takes place 50 years before the events in Chinese Paladin 1. The producers decided to skip the second installment of the game, reasoning that its plot is not suited to be adapted onscreen. For those who have not watched the first installment, fret not as the characters and plot in the third installment are not closely connected to the first. With the success of Chinese Paladin 1, led by the popular Hu Ge, Liu Yi Fei and Ady An, there was much anticipation and excitement surrounding the production of this series and ever since its release in June 2009, the responses of Chinese audiences have been mixed; most of the discontentment centering on the way certain lead characters were modified beyond recognition and the alteration or cutting out of important events which occurred in the game. Having read details of the original story and characters, I have to say that unlike for Chinese Paladin 1 (where the writers were mostly loyal to the plot, with the exception of the last quarter), the writer really went "creative" for this production. The events in the first 5 episodes were creative liberties on the part of the writer and did not exist in the game. Same goes for the ending and the characterization of several of the lead characters such as Jing Tian (who is supposed to be humble, easygoing and down-to-earth in the game), Zi Xuan (who is nowhere as seductive and lovelorn as her portrayal in this series) and Chong Lou (who contrary to the game, has become a softie in here). Certain highlights in the game, such as Chang Jing being expelled from his sect after falling for Zi Xuan, Long Kui falling for Jing Tian, Xue Jian sacrificing for Jing Tian, Qing Wei's death etc. were also missing or modified in the series. Essentially, what the writers did was to only adopt certain key elements of the original game and twist the entire story and characters around to fit a very different plot.
Creating a whole new skeletal base and retaining only certain key elements from the game is dangerous if not done properly. For one, it might lead to incoherent plot and character development and I'm rather disappointed to say that this flaw tends to occur quite a bit in the series. For example, Zi Xuan initially decides to forget about Chang Qing after mistaking him for harming Long Kui but a few episodes later, without any reason or rhyme, she's back to being head-over-heels in love with him and risks her life once again to shield him from Chong Lou. Same goes for sweet, understanding and docile Long Kui who suddenly gets jealous of Xue Jian out of the blue (when all along, she's been trying to match-make her with Jing Tian).
Secondly, the writers did a rather poor job in developing the characters, which is a huge pity given the great room for multidimensional characterization offered by the game. All of the leads have more than 1 character facet to play and each of them could have tapped on their characters' various traits and past histories to aid in a more rich and holistic portrayal of roles. Instead, the writer ignores that opportunity and even does away with certain original events which resulted in the female leads appearing as boring and predictable flower vases (rather than unique and likeable heroines) and both male leads each having to go through a typical self-pitying and someone-come-and-encourage me phase before finding the courage to overcome all odds.
Sadly, the cutting out and changing of original events also resulted in a rather awkward and unmemorable romance between the lead couple, Jing Tian and Xue Jian. It's quite apparent how Xue Jian falls for Jing Tian but not the other way round. All the while, Jing Tian does not show the slightest romantic interest in Xue Jian and then boom, another man appears to like Xue Jian and he suddenly finds himself head-over-heals in love with her. Chang Qing and Zi Xuan's relationship may seem the most captivating and touching in the entire series and it really is so initially, but I subsequently grew tired of their never-ending quarrels and make ups and separations and reunions which is all very typical of a romantic soap opera. The couple I actually like most is Fei Peng and Xi Yao and I’m glad the writer retained their soul mates-but-not-lovers relationship from the original game because this made their relationship rather sad and memorable, and painted Xi Yao as a very faithful and sacrificial character.
Characters and plot modifications aside however, there are certain aspects of this production that I preferred to Chinese Paladin 1. Firstly, as mentioned, Chinese Paladin 3's plot frequently cuts across different generations and brings together past and present life events in order to propel the story forward and this makes the story-telling much more interesting and complex compared to that of the first installment. Secondly, although I find the light-hearted humor too overwhelming at times, I have to admit that Chinese Paladin 3 has extremely witty dialogue and comical elements, such as the pun on Chinese proverbs and the playing around with word phrases.
Unfortunately, those who are Chinese illiterate may not be able to enjoy this aspect fully. Thirdly, this installment has much better CGI and is a lot more creative in terms of how the magical powers, artifacts and characters are presented in the series. I like the way they give a brief introduction every time a new character appears because it helps the viewer keep track of who is who in a very game-like manner. Fourthly, despite most of the lead characters (especially the ladies) coming across as rather unmemorable, unlikable or unproductive in terms of plot progression, on the whole, I actually prefer the characters in here as opposed to Chinese Paladin 1. Perhaps this is due to a stronger cast (in my opinion anyway) and more unique and multi-faceted characters present in here.
Lastly, I really have to give kudos to the writers for the rather creative and open-ended conclusion to this series. Unlike the exaggeratedly tragic ending in Chinese Paladin 1 where characters after characters are slaughtered off unnecessarily in each episode approaching the end, the characters that die in this series actually die for a proper reason. I won't spoil the ending except to say that almost all the lead characters survive but each of them has a very bittersweet and memorable ending (especially Jing Tian and Xue Jian). There's no excessive screaming, blood and tears but it manages to evoke subtle sadness and pity, something that the former formula often fails to achieve. Surprisingly for me, the character whose death I felt most saddened by is actually a supporting character who is rather adorable but tends to be overshadowed by the main leads. It's not really so much the way he/she dies, which by the way is rather disturbing, but more of with why he/she dies and the love and strong bond he/she shares with another character.
Finally, just like the first installment, Chinese Paladin 3 has a very nice and addictive soundtrack though on the whole, I still prefer the ever-classic songs and background music in Chinese Paladin 1. Nonetheless, several of the current songs such as the ending theme by Hu Ge and insert themes by Zhang Yun Jing and Qing Niao Fei Yu, as well as the background music like Xue Jian’s Theme and Jing Tian’s Theme are still mighty fine.
Hu Ge - Jing Tian/Long Yang/Fei Peng
I would have liked to see Hu Ge in a role different from his Li Xiao Yao in the first installment but to my great disappointment, the writer had Jing Tian scripted as a character almost similar to Xiao Yao - a cheeky rascal with some wits and plenty of luck. Only that Jing Tian's somewhat more annoyingly clownish, greedy, light-hearted, clumsy and full of himself. A real pity because this is a total opposite of how the character is supposed to be in the original game and had the writers decided to be more faithful, it could have been more refreshing for me to watch Hu Ge in here because throughout the entire series, I kept can't help but have images of Xiao Yao pop up occasionally in my mind. I can’t really blame Hu Ge for portraying Jing Tian as somewhat of a clone to Xiao Yao because really, there's only so many ways to act mischievous and comical. Speaking of Xiao Yao, something related to him occurs in this series but I shan't spoil it for those who haven’t seen this because it will come as a huge surprise (which may be positive or negative).
Long Yang and Fei Peng are quite boring characters in that they're the typical all powerful but tragic heroes- the former, a crown prince destined to die protecting his nation and the latter, an ambitious and slightly cocky deity who is banished to earth for breaking the rules in heaven. These 2 characters appear for only an episode or two each and are nothing extraordinary, hence, not very memorable. But being a rather seasoned and well-rounded actor, Hu Ge easily contrasts between the different traits and facets of these 3 different characters though his acting is very similar to his other works simply because he tends to always play a very similar set of characters- either cheeky and loud like Xiao Yao and Jing Tian or quiet and gullible like Guo Jing, Ning Cai Chen and Dong Yong or serious and tragic like Xu Feng. It’s obvious his management company is more focused on trying to skyrocket his popularity by casting him in as many Li Guo Li idol-like serials as possible rather than allow him to step out of his comfort zone and experiment with more challenging roles. No wonder there have been talks about him being tired of his management and wanting to distance himself from their choice of series. He’s already an extremely popular actor in mainland so it's about time he progresses beyond idol-like productions and it's good that he seems to be doing so with his latest work, The Myth.
Yang Mi- Xue Jian/ Xi Yao
Just like how Jing Tian is somewhat of a replica of Li Xiao Yao, Xue Jian is rather similar to Lin Yue Ru (portrayed by Ady An from the first installment) in that both are wealthy, spoiled, hot-tempered, but kind and share a bickering romance with the male lead. Except that Xue Jian is nowhere as skilled, matured, sacrificial and memorable a character as Yue Ru. Again, I can't really blame Yang Mi for portraying Xue Jian as somewhat of a flower vase, albeit a very adorable and sassy one because the writer did cut out many original events which showcased Xue Jian’s martial skills and her love for Jing Tian (she actually sacrifices herself for him in the game). There's only so much attention one can attract from the viewer by being cute and sassy and after Xue Jian's true identity is revealed, her character fades into the background and takes on a very passive spot until the end. As a character, Xue Jian is not very likeable or memorable and is clearly out shadowed by the more interesting Zi Xuan. As an actress, I think Yang Mi did a decent job and what was required of her. An interesting point to note however is that most gamers actually vote her character portrayal as the one closest to the original game. Apparently, she's the only one of the lead cast who's played the game before and being a fan of Xue Jian herself, made an effort to portray certain of the character’s quirks and habits (such as the frequent waving of her fists in the air, pointing a finger at others when arguing with them and kicking Jing Tian) which is present in the game.
Compared to Xue Jian, Xi Yao is more likable a character. Passionate, insistent and sacrificial, she spends a few thousand years awaiting a romance that could and should have taken place for her but did not. She’s as sacrificial as Long Kui and extremely similar to Zi Xuan but unlike the latter, she knows how and when to let go. Although she’s the kind, lovely and demure sort of fairy goddess, Xi Yao does not seem too cloyingly sweet or annoyingly soft that is typical of such characters. Yang Mi does a nice job contrasting her portrayal of both characters such that I really had the impression that Xue Jian and Xi Yao are totally different persons during the scenes where they were together. It also helps that the stylist was able to make Yang Mi look so different as Xue Jian and Xi Yao
Wallace Huo- Xu Chang Qing/Lin Ye Ping/Gu Liu Fang
Contrary to the original game, Chang Qing is nowhere the stern, serious and determined priest he is supposed to be. In fact, Wallace completely surprised me with his portrayal as I had expected a serious and boring goody-two-shoes sort of character when I first saw him in the costume fitting pictures. Never did I imagine I would actually like him the most out of all the male characters. Although highly skilled in martial arts and well versed in the art of Taoism, Chang Qing is nothing short of being humble, gullible and somewhat of a blockhead with an innocent and good-natured sense of humor, hence, making him a favorite target of bullying by Jing Tian. I didn't know Wallace could be this natural with such a naïve and goody character and the serious expressions he puts on while making a joke (unknowingly most of the time) are simply classic! One of his most comical scenes is the part where Jing Tian tries to make him drunk by lying to him that the wine he is drinking is actually tea. The expression he wears when asking Jing Tian why the latter lied to him was really adorable and hilarious. Sadly, Chang Qing loses that innocent charm as the series progresses and he becomes a lot less likable after he goes through a period of angst-y distress. Chang Qing is probably the only one of the leads whose modification of character was a welcoming change to me.
Chang Qing aside, Wallace also plays Ye Ping and Liu Fang, Chang Qing's names in his previous 2 lives. Ye Ping and Liu Fang are pretty insignificant characters and have very little screen time, so they aren’t very interesting or memorable. In fact, they're Taoists priests just like Chang Qing and are also very similar to the latter personality wise.
Tang Yan- Zi Xuan
Beautiful, mysterious, passionate and headstrong, Zi Xuan steals the spotlight the moment she appears. Being a descendant of the Goddess Nu Wa, she is mother to Qing’er, the future Nanzhao Queen (played by Sun Li in the first installment) and hence, grandmother to Ling’er (played by Liu Yi Fei in the first installment). Unlike Xue Jian and Long Kui, Zi Xuan is matured and worldly though she's extremely stubborn and insistent when it comes to love, a trait, which makes her less and less likeable as the series progresses. Unlike Xi Yao, she takes very long to grasp the concept of letting go. Zi Xuan really is quite tragic a character because her whole life revolves around a man who doesn't love her as much as she loves him; it's also quite annoying to see that she loves Chang Qing even more than her own daughter and is willing to sacrifice the latter if Chang Qing wishes to do so. This is the first time I’ve seen Tang Yan onscreen as she's a relatively new actress but I'm really quite impressed by her. She successfully portrays Zi Xuan all the way from an innocent and playful 16 year old to a dejected and lovelorn woman of 200. In addition, she’s very pretty and looks extremely poised, elegant and fitting of a goddess. It helps that she's got the most beautiful wardrobe of costumes out of all the female characters. I only wish that the script had made her more all-loving and sacrificial as all descendants of Nu Wa are supposed to be because her sole focus and attention on Chang Qing makes her come across as rather selfish and uncaring a character.
Liu Shi Shi - Long Kui
Out of the leads, Long Kui is probably the most boring but useful character and does quite a bit to propel the plot forward. It's a real pity the writer decided to turn her into a flower vase of sorts as well because given her dual personalities and the romantic love she harbors towards Jing Tian in the original game, she could have easily become one of the most interesting characters in this series. But the writer decided to do away with the romance bit (they probably found the incest-like connotation too controversial) and make Long Kui love Jing Tian solely as a brother, which is rather unconvincing actually because I really can’t imagine which sister would be willing to torture herself for a thousand years just to be reunited with her brother and continues to protect and sacrifice for him even when he’s technically no longer her brother and doesn't even remember her. The CGI used when Long Kui switches back and forth between her sweet blue self and fiery red other was very well done and Shi Shi does quite a good job contrasting between Long Kui's dual personalities. I actually prefer red Long Kui who is really cool, dare devilish and somewhat vicious. Unfortunately, Shi Shi appears as blue Long Kui most of the time and the latter's cloyingly sweet, docile and passive nature makes her quite forgettable a character when compared to the other two female leads. Nonetheless, when the red Long Kui appears, she commands presence and immediately draws attention to herself. Shi Shi's acting has actually improved quite a bit from her very early days and I think she can brush up even more on her acting if given more different and challenging roles such as red Long Kui.
Jerry Huang - Chong Lou
Chong Lou is quite an eccentric character in a sense that he’s supposed to the ruler of all demons but it seems like the only concern on his mind is finding General Fei Peng and battling with him. He doesn’t care for promises and cannot be bothered over events outside his own world. He can however, be very brutal and ruthless if he wants to but turns into a softie after Zi Xuan literally steals his heart away. Chong Lou is actually more of a supporting character and doesn’t exactly have much overall screen time in the series. Jerry does an average job and isn’t particularly outstanding in my opinion though his built, make-up, hair and costumes really resembles the character in the original game.
Some supporting characters worthy of mention are Jing Tian's good pals Xu Mao Shan (Mao Mao) and He Bi Ping. Both actors portraying the characters are extremely hilarious and provide quite a bit of comic relief in the earlier bits of the series. Another extremely likable character is Hua Ying, Xue Jian's beloved pet. She is played by the very adorable Guo Xiao Ting, who was only 15 when she acted in this series. In fact, I actually like Hua Ying more than her mistress Xue Jian simply because she’s such a useful, obedient and adorable character. For fans of Yuan Hong, he makes a guest appearance as Lei Yun Ting, Jing Tian's rival in love who is everything the latter is not (i.e., wealthy, capable, famous, powerful) but I find him a rather uninteresting and boring character. Doesn’t help that Yuan Hong looks bored and expressionless most of the time. Lastly, the 5 elders of Mt Shu also provide quite a bit of comic relief (especially Chang Qing's hot-tempered teacher) and aid the lead characters by constantly providing them with magical help and crucial information.
In sum, a light-hearted and rather enjoyable series despite the not-so-fantastic lead characters and sometimes incoherent chain of events. Still, it's worthwhile catching it unless you're an avid fan of the original game and cannot stomach too many deviations. Overall, it's an improvement compared to Chinese Paladin 1.