(Also known as Shao Nian Yang Jia Jiang)
The Young Warriors is a historical martial arts epic that is more legend than history. Nonetheless, the series makers go out of their way to include costumes from the period. The focus of this story is more on the Yang brothers rather than on the women. The films and series that I know of usually focus on the Yang women. The series is an ambitious undertaking since it features excellent actors and actresses from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan - including Amy Chan, Hu Ge, Peter Ho, Eddie Peng et. al. The villains of this series are of course, First Minister, Pan Ren Mei, his son Pan Bao and the estranged daughter Pan Ying. The villains in this series are excellent and equally bad. The viewer is left with the wish that all of the Pans would get their "just desserts" in the end. However, this changes a little when we get to know some of the intimate details of the history of the Pan family. The prime villain, Prime Minister Pan Ren Mei stays pretty vicious for the whole of the series and is beautifully acted by Deng Li Men.
The story begins when a masked character breaks into the imperial palace looking for a treasure. Another masked nemesis shows up and it turns out to be someone else, a princess looking for fun and adventure. The masked character is Yang Liu Lang (Hu Ge) and the other masked character, who enters the fray is Princess Chai (Lin Jia Yu). The run into problems and they have to be rescued by the Yang family matriarch, Sai Hua (wonderfully acted by Amy Chan). The intricacies of court intrigue are quickly introduced into the series with the opening episode as Sai Hua drops a hairpin in the rescue attempt. The hairpin is linked to the Yangs and Prime Minister (PM) Pan Ren Mei wastes no time in trying to bring them down.
The series also has the age-old military opponents of the Yangs, the Liaos led by a charismatic young general, Yelu Xia (Yuan Hong). Yuan Hong is a villain to the Yangs and he even ends up kidnapping the very young Yang daughter, Ba Mei (Zhao Zi Cun) but the viewer is never really left with the impression that Yelu Xia is totally evil. He is an expert in martial arts with a deep sense of honour despite his unhesitating military strategies to destroy the Yangs and the Song empire.
Throughout the series, I am impressed by the excellent portrayal of Emperor Song (Li Jie) as an open-minded man who keeps a balance in his court between PM Pan Ren Mei and the patriarch General Yang Ye (stoically and capably acted by Weng Jia Ming). Emperor Song is shown to be smart and at times indecisive but the indecisions are really due to the careful machinations of Prime Minister, Pan Ren Mei. The PM is calculating and vicious in the way he manipulated the court. Counterbalanced to the Emperor Song is the 8th prince, his nephew played by Zong Feng Yan.
The series builds suspense constantly thanks to the tireless efforts of Yelu Xia and PM Pan Ren Mei. Yelu Xia at one point, infiltrates the imperial capital with the help of his connections to a brothel operator. The whole brothel is operated by Liao spies, who manage to gather secret military information from the hapless son of the PM, Pan Bao. Pan Bao (He Jian Ze) is a constant thorn in the side of the Yangs. The viewer gets a sense of the despicable nature of this character as he is manipulative and is manipulated by the Liao spies. Pan Bao is bereft of moral rectitude and is shameless in the way he carries himself. However, as the series moves on we learn that he has a sympathetic quality which is coloured by his addiction to a drug that makes him powerful but eventually also leads to his downfall.
Several major battles are described in the series, in the beginning, near the middle and near the end of the series. The battle scenes are well done since the viewer is never left with the impression that we don't know what is going on. The final battle at Golden Beach is an ill-advised attempt at peace between Emperor Song and the Liao Empress (Jiang Rui Jia) that becomes a slaughter. Yang Ye, the 8th prince and some of the emperors other advisers try to dissuade Emperor Song but the PM, the constant bane of the Yangs smothers any attempts to dissuade the emperor. The PM, Pan Ren Mei, makes a secret deal with Yelu Xia and the powerful and mysterious martial arts general, Tian Ling (Ba Yin), the other archvillian of this series. Whereas Pan Ren Mei is cold and calculating, Tian Ling is vicious, powerful and mysterious. The final battle of Golden Beach is a slaughter. The Yangs are all but killed and when I say slaughter, the series makers show some pretty graphic scenes. I don't want to say too much about those episodes but in the end all is not lost and both the Yangs and emperor Song gain some measure of hope and honour despite the utter massacre.
Throughout the series, the focus is constantly on the three younger brothers, especially Liu Lang, Qi Lang (Eddie Peng), Yang Xi Lang (the enigmatic, Peter Ho) and Wu Lang (Johnny Chen). Liu Lang is carefree and adventurous near the beginning of the series but his character builds as the circumstances around the Yang family are constantly changing. He becomes more serious towards the end of the series. I saw Hu Ge in the series "Chinese Paladin" and I was not that impressed, I thought he was too carefree in that series, but in this series his acting was superlative. Qi Lang was an endearing character in the series. He becomes the focus of court intrigue a couple of times when he becomes linked to one of the Liao spies (played by a beautiful actress named, Liu Xia Jie but it is when he accidentally kills Pan Bao that problems come to a crisis point. Qi Lang is a lovable character throughout the series. He constantly tries to play the peacemaker especially when the "black sheep" brother played by the charismatic actor Peter Ho shows up in the story.
Peter Ho is Xi Lang, a Yang brother who was believed to have died but comes to wreak havoc on the family peace. The dynamic portrayal by Peter Ho and Amy Chan as Sai Hua is excellent. Her emotional scenes are not overacted but the emotion she shows is subtle and honest. The viewer is easily drawn in. Peter Ho, is a wonder to behold in the family dynamic. Even when he is brought into the family fold near the end of the series, he remains different from all the other brothers. He has a wild nature, he is not uncaring but he has his own sense of what honour really means.
The relationship between Wu Lang, Yelu Xia and Guan Hong (the lovely, Wei Xiao Jun) is fascinating to watch. Yelu Xia and Wu Lang respect each other and hate each other at the same time where Guan Hong begins to fall in love with Wu Lang. Here the series forays into some aspects of Buddhist spirituality, which looks naïve to me. I am not Buddhist but I know better. Buddhism is never dogmatic unless we make it that way. Nevertheless, there are some good fight scenes, wonderful acting and just beautiful love scenes involving all three people. The dynamic between these three allows for some wonderful moments.
The Martial Arts:
I am no historian but my suspicion is that the Yang family style of spear fighting was not as evolved in the Song period as it looks in this series. The fight scenes are magical to watch, with a constant frenetic energy that constantly draws the viewer. The best scenes are those involving, Pan Ren Mei, Yelu Xia, Qi Lang, Xi Lang, Liu Lang, Wu Lang, Tian Ling, Cui Ying Long (Zhou Hao Dong) and of course the majestic Sai Hua, Amy Chan. Almost every episode has some key fights. Pan Ren Mei's fights are wonderful to watch probably because they come at key moments in the series.
I rate this series ***** stars because of the acting, story and the martial arts scenes. It is one of the best series I have seen thus far.