The Legend of Condor Heroes


Reviewed by: Ian Liew

December 30, 2004

Rating: four-point-five


I have just finished watching the latest version of the Legend of the Condor Heroes (LOCH), and I felt I must write this review. I expect that the story is familiar to most readers already, and will not write a synopsis section.

This version has got to be the most enjoyable version I have seen (as compared to the 83 version starring Wong Yat Wah and the 94 version starring Cheung Chi Lam). This version has the benefit of being filmed in China, and as such it possesses the grandness of scale which we have come to take for granted from any film in China. Armies actually look imposing, rather than 50 men running around being filmed from several angles (and even then I believe TVB recycled that footage for many subsequent films). The scenery is breathtaking, and unlike the previous TVB incarnations, the special effects do not seem too over-the-top. The two music pieces – the opening song and the ending song are absolutely beautiful – different in style from the Roman Tam/Jennifer Yen versions of the classic 80s, but still very nice. The opening theme provides a powerful launching pad to warn you that you’re watching an action movie, while the ending song will pull at your heartstrings and make you sad, especially for Mei Chaofeng (we’ll get on to her brilliant performance later). Most of the characters are well chosen, and I’ll deal with the major characters individually. Forgive me if my pinyin is inaccurate, as my Mandarin is not too hot.

SPOILERS

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Guo Jing (Kwok Ching) Rated 7/10

Guo-Jing was played almost to perfection by Li Ya Peng. While he lacked the lovable look of Felix Wong, he played the ‘naïve’ role beautifully. If I have any complaint about him, it is that he looked naïve almost all the time – Guo Jing is supposed to look furious when his mother dies, but somehow just manages to look really, really miserable and sad. He speaks with that ‘silly boy’ accent, which suits him, and his dumbness is a perfect foil for Zhou Xun’s Huang Rong. A bit wooden to start with, but he grows on you after a while. Overall, a pretty good performance, and in any case the show is stolen by….

Huang-Rong (Wong Yung) Rated 10/10

Zhou Xun’s portrayal of Huang Rong was surprisingly good. My initial impression wasn’t too optimistic, because my stereotype Huang Rong has really big eyes like Barbara Yung and Athena Chu Yan had. The last version of LOCH I had was the comic series and her eyes got even bigger then. Zhou Xun has small eyes, but within a few minutes of watching her act, she captivated me. Much of her attraction comes from the script, no doubt, but Zhou Xun brought a very jolly liveliness to the character. Perhaps it was my first time watching LOCH in Mandarin, but I really loved her voice. She could switch between being serious, funny, happy and sad seamlessly. An immensely lovable character, she grows on you more and more as the show progresses. She did some voice-acting for the Jin-Yong online gameworld and her wit was used as a marketing tool for the game, so I assume she must be pretty famous in China for her quick-witted roles. She’s level with Mei Chaofeng as my favourite character in the show, although she wins through having far more screen-time.

Yang Kang (Yeung Hong) Rated 8/10

My only previous experience with Zhou Jie was in the Princess Pearl series, so it was refreshing to see Yang Kang portrayed with such a scheming look. Zhou didn’t quite have the charisma of Miu Kiu Wai, or the cockiness of Gallen Lo, but he had a charm of his own. He’s the sort of person you don’t know if he will turn good, or will remain bad (of course, all of us know because we’ve seen the story countless times), and there are times you genuinely feel sorry for him (Miu had that same effect, Gallen didn’t). Being pressured to kill the man who brought you up like a son is not easy, whatever his personal sins, and I genuinely felt sorry for Yang Kang…. until of course he starts getting really evil towards the second half of the show. An admirable performance, but I have a single complaint. I personally disliked his habit of shaking his shoulders, as if throwing a small tantrum. He does that a LOT, as if to highlight that Yang Kang is after all, only a child, but I feel that he overdoes it.


Mu Nianci (Mook Nim Chee) Rated 10/10

The role of Nianci was perfectly cast. The actress (Shui Ling) radiated a very fragile beauty which was very, very captivating, and most of the time I felt very sad that she would have to end up with a villain like Yang Kang. She truly deserved better. Unlike Emily Kwan in 94, it was actually very believable how she could captivate Yang Kang with one look – she really has a very beautiful, classy, mystical air around her. Nianci is supposed to be drop-dead gorgeous, as she not only draws attention from Yang Kang, but Ou Yang Ke and that beggar elder in the end. Yeung Pan Pan was decent if a bit ‘housewife’ish in her presentation. Emily Kwan just didn’t have that ‘heart-breaking’ look, but Nianci in this show really make you feel for her. She’s small-built, which makes her look very fragile. She’s strong inside, faithful, and loyal, and the actress captures all these traits wonderfully.

Huang Yaoshi (Wong Yeok See) Rated 6/10

Huang was well-portrayed, although he looked a bit old. Given his students and his position in the Martial Arts world, he should be fairly old, but my impression of Huang will always remain firmly set with one face - Kenneth Tsang Kong in the 83 version. Tsang Kong oozed charm from every pore, and portrayed the perfect enigma that is Huang Yaoshi. Huang in this series does provide a very enjoyable character, but I just felt he looked too old (much, much better than the 94 version, who really, really needed at least a beard to not look like a queer). A bit more emotion would have been good – he tried very hard to be sad when Mei Chao Feng died but he just could not squeeze that tear (he does, in the books). I felt that the actor who played Qian Long in Princess Pearl would have been more suitable (although he was stuck playing Yang Siao in heaven Sword Dragon Sabre – another role which requires a lot of charm). Another option would have been Yong Zheng from the Yong Zheng Dynasty. Huang wasn’t BAD, he was just not quite charming enough.

Hong Qi Gong (Hung Chat Kung) Rated 4/10

Hong was portrayed as a very rough and uncultured man, which is reasonable considering he is a beggar after all, but he lacked that heroic look. Hong, in the books, was supposed to be a man who commanded respect when he decided to be serious, but this Hong could not impress. His ‘Hau Wei Feng’ (very impressive) to Ou Yang Feng was supposed to look very imposing, and make Ou Yang Feng feel ashamed, but somehow he couldn’t say it seriously. His final speech to Chiu Chien Ren was supposed to touch Chiu so much that he would look back on his past and repent, but it was delivered with insufficient force, and the directors had to add an extra scene with Chiu attacking Hong and being saved by I-Teng before repenting. The jolly scenes are done well, but I had difficulty taking this Hong Qi Gong seriously, and he did not come across as the man who would be the most respected man in the Martial Arts world.

Ou Yang Feng (Au Yong Foong) Rated 5/10

Ou Yang Feng just could not look the part of the main villain. He seemed overly friendly at times, and was much too pleasant. Just like Tsang Kong was my favourite Eastern Enigma, Yeung Chak Lam from the same series was my favourite Western Venom. Yeung had that classy look, very dignified, and yet could be completely scheming, ruthless and evil when he chose to be. Chu Tit Wo from the 94 version was a bit too rough and lacked Yeung’s charm, but at least he could look evil when he wanted to. This Ou Yang Feng was used for too much comic relief, and towards the end when he had to cook for Guo Jing, I felt so sorry for him. His eyes just don’t seem to be able to look evil, and his Shakespeare hairstyle probably didn’t help either.

I-Teng Da Shi (Yat Tang Dai Si) Rated 6/10

I-Teng, as befits a former king, had a very regal air about him, and spoke with a very educated diction. I have two concerns regarding him – he looked too young, and could have done with a bit more white around his beard. His screen time was very short, and hence there’s not much to say about him, but he did a decent portrayal – he just needed to be older. Much older. The second concern is that he didn’t look gentle and caring enough. He looked too serious, and when he smiled he looked a bit cheeky, rather than compassionate. I guess it’s also due to not looking old enough too.

Mei Chao Feng (Mui Chiu Fong) Rated 10/10

In terms of performance, she’s second only to Huang Rong in my opinion. In fact, if the show made any lasting impression on me, it was via Yang Li Ping’s portrayal of Mei Chao Feng. Back in 1983 Wong Man Wai terrified my sister and me with her evil laugh and scary makeup, in 1994 Gadi Mak softened the role a bit, but still came across as vicious and ruthless in the beginning, only becoming less threatening after meeting Huang Rong. Yang Li Ping comes across as a tragic character from the very start – you don’t even get to see her kill anybody in the show. I believe that her eyes made a big difference – while Wong and Mak spent the rest of the series with their eyes closed, Yang’s remain open. Apparently the needles blind her and make the eyes bleed, but the eyeball remains intact from the outside, and hence you can read her expression more. With her eyes open (and that wind which always blows about her), she has that Lin Chin Hsia quality about her character, and her scene in the Jin palace where she fights off Ou Yang Ke and the other Jin cronies really remind you of Lin Chin Hsia’s kungfu flicks. From the beginning you get used to the new style of Jiu Yin Bai Ku Jao – it’s more like a dance than a fight, even when she fights the Chuan Chen Seven she maintains that dance, and it’s a bit silly at times, but it works well. Throughout the entire series I could not feel anything but pity for her, and she will endear herself to all viewers. Only criticism is that sometimes, since her eyes are open, Yang forgets that she’s supposed to be blind, and a bit of eye contact happens. A brilliant performance, and I just wish that they portrayed Chen Xuan Feng in a more attractive way to make them a more suited pair – it’s hard to believe that she would run away with a man who looked like Zhang Fei – they could easily have made him handsome and eerie at the same time. You won’t forget Mei Chao Feng as she’s one of the four couples portrayed in the beautiful ending song, and you’ll keep thinking of her long after she dies.

Lau Wan Tong (Low Wan Tung) Rated 9/10

Comparable to Chun Wong’s performance in the 83 version, this Lau Wan Tong Zhou Bo Tong is immensely lovable. He borrows heavily from the comic portrayal, complete with pony-tailed beard. In any case, a major improvement over the ill-advised young Zhou in TVB’s 94 version – that chap was a disaster. Much of his attraction, like Huang Rong’s, comes from the actual script, but he brings the character to life without being overly stupid (the 94 version just annoyed me). Fat and rotund, with a little hat, Zhou remains extremely flexible, and is extremely energetic. Very enjoyable. Due to I-Teng narrating the past without much flashback, you don’t get to see a younger Zhou. I suspect the actor isn’t really that old – but he looks the part.

There are too many characters to go into each one in detail but we can deal with a few more –the Jiang Nan Seven Weirdoes are portrayed beautifully. Han Bao Ji is short and round, like the books say he is. Zhang He Seng is bald, as is befitting a ‘Laughing Buddha’. Ke Zhen E is very classy. He is not as commanding as Kong Kgai’s twin performances in 83 and 94, but is good enough. Kong Ngai has that fierce big brother air about him, but this version has less of a temper and is much more polite. Zhu Chong has a very cheeky smile and is extremely likeable. Nan Chi Ren, Chuan Ching Fa and Han Siau Ying also throw in very decent performances. With regard to the Chuan Chen Seven Sons, we only get to meet Ma Yu, Chiu Chu Chi (Qiu Chuji) and Wang Chu Yi in any detail, and they’re all well-done (even though I find Chiu Chu Chi very difficult to say, I prefer the Cantonese Yau Chu Kei). Chiu has the biggest role, and it’s comparable with Har Yu’s portrayal in 1983 – i.e. very good. The only other son who is meant to have more screen time is Tan Chu Duan – the one who gets killed, but you don’t even notice he gets killed - more on that scene later. Yang Tie Xin and Guo Xiao Tian play their roles very well, although Yang seems to portray the younger Yang much better than the older Yang, unlike Li Ping and Bao Xiruo, both of whom play their roles well whether young or old. The last honourable mentions go to Temujin and Wan Yan Hong Lie. Temujin is played to perfection. Paul Chin Pei in 1983 had a certain charm, but the studio filming and limited wardrobe sort of made it look rather fake. Lau Kong’s performance in 1994 was better, but he didn’t quite have the body frame to look imposing. This Temujin, and his Mongols, all look very convincing, complete with Mongol haircuts, not just the fur hats of 83 and the blond pleats of 94, but real long hair with that little tuft on the forehead! Wan Yan Hong Lie portrays a very noble villain, and it’s hard to not feel sorry for him, both in his wish to see the Jin stronger and his love for Yang Kang. He also bears a striking resemblance to Wong Yat Wah, which only works in his favour. If I were Yang Kang I would have a very hard time leaving him too.

There were a couple of bits which I felt should not have been omitted. The first was minor, but was quite vital for plot purposes. After I-Teng translates the Jiu Yin Chen Ching for Guo Jing, he’s supposed to mention that by using it, he would be able to recover his powers in 3 months, instead of 5 years, and that if the manual was shown to Hong Qi Gong, he would be able to recover fast as well. It is not mentioned (Hong later does discuss the manual with Guo Jing, but the accelerated healing time is not mentioned), and later I-Teng and Hong just miraculously recover their powers in time for the Hua Shan duels.

The second bit is the battle covering Mei Chao Feng and Tan Chu Duan’s deaths. You don’t get to see Tan really die – he just gets hit, and they all rush to him, and you don’t see any of them again in that scene. It’s supposed to be understood that Tan died and that they all left. Even worse was the way they let Mei die. Mei gets killed taking a hit from Ou Yang Feng while shielding Huang Yaoshi with her body. She then collapses, Huang holds her, and you see her dead, and you hear a voice saying “Sifu, please take me back to Peach Blossom Island”. Given the effort the directors took to make Mei a character you felt sorry for (they even assigned a haunting sad melody to her every time she appears) it’s surprising they removed the final conversation which Jin Yong wrote. She’s supposed to break her own arms in accordance with Huang’s third command given at the Returning Spirit Villa, and apologise for not being able to complete the first two. He then takes her back and she kneels before him and dies after completing her respects to her sifu. Huang is supposed to be weeping throughout the whole thing – that scene would have been beautiful and would have probably made viewers weep too. They spend hours portraying Mei as this tragic innocent girl who made a few bad decisions, got blind and lost her love, lived alone, hated and unloved, like an animal for 18 years, tried hard to make things right at the end, and died saving the person who mattered the most to her, and yet they cut that final conversation. They certainly weren’t short of time, given some of the extras they put in. Huang remains sad and her funeral is handled well, but why they cut that beautiful bit I cannot understand.

Another minor scene was the scene where Chiu Chu Chi concedes the contest to the Jiang Nan Seven Weirdoes – the scene should have been more moving, and the six of them could have reacted with more passion when they won. Not a big thing, but the Weirdoes had such energy in the series, it seemed out of place that they didn’t dance about and laugh when they won like they did in the comics.

All in all, however, this series is a MUST SEE. From the moment you listen to the opening theme, you are captivated. A quality soundtrack makes all the difference and in that respect LOCH also excels. I rate the series a 9/10 (or 4.5/5), marred only by a few badly-cast characters and a few missed bits which kind of leave a few unnecessary loose ends. The ending after the Hua Shan duels also seems a bit rushed, which was a shame, but it doesn’t spoil the overall series too much. I watched all 42 VCDs in 8 days, and will go out and buy a few copies to give to friends. It’s that good, and the three women – Huang Rong, Mu Nianci and Mei Chao Feng really steal the show and make the series a classic.


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