ATTENTION! This review contains spoilers. If you have not watched the serial, I advise you to read just the last paragraph to get a recommendation. ^_^
Xiao Ao Jiang Hu was written by Jin Yong in the 1960s. Although it's not as popular as The Condor Heroes Trilogy, it has a comparable twist of events and a very interesting plot. CCTV as the first Mainland China TV station to adapt one of Jin Yong's novels into a TV series, chose "Xiao Ao Jiang Hu" as its first. Now it is followed by other Mainland production companies, with "Xia Ke Xing" ("Ode To Gallantry"), "Lin Sing Kuet" ("Link Cities"), and "She Diao Ying Xiong Zhuan" ("Legend of The Condor Heroes"). Xiao Ao Jiang Hu (CCTV 2001) consists of 40 episodes with Huang Jianzhong as the director and Zhang Jizhong as producer. It stars Li Yapeng as Linghu Chong and Xu Qing as Ren Ying-Ying. The ending themesong, also entitled Xiao Ao Jiang Hu, is sung by Liu Huan and Faye Wong (the Hong Kong pop diva! ^_~). A lot of people put high expectations on this adaptation, as did Jin Yong. He even cared enough to visit the set and gave Li Yapeng advice on how to understand his role as Linghu Chong.
So, how did it turn out?
I don't really have a very good first impression on this one. I mean, I've always thought Hong Kong produces the best Wuxia series, and Mainland is only good in producing historical series. Moreover, I do not recognize the actors at all. So, is it a bad adaptation? Let me just write the review from every aspect.
First of all, of course, the script adapted from the novel. Unfortunately, it changed a lot, they made Ren Ying-Ying appear too fast (episode 2), perhaps to make more air-time for Xu Qing? Also, it was not Lao De Nuo who accompanied Yue Lingshan in doing the task given by Yue Buqun, but it's Linghu Chong himself. Meeting Qu Yang from the first scene, is a mistake, too. Not to mention, the story goes at a slow-pace for the first several episodes. I have to say, it's not a very good FIRST impression, watching this series.
However, starting at the 10th-11th episodes, the story starts to pick up. And gladly, after the writers varied things up in the beginning, they decided to stick closely to the novel later, which I'm very glad for ^^. Unexpectedly, I got addicted to it and I just couldn't help myself, but to watch more and more! I'm even MORE glad that they have ALL six hilarious brothers for Tao Gu Liu Xian (Six Fairies of Peach Valley) since in some previous adaptations they cut them down to only 4 or 2 brothers. They're just as funny as ever!!
Sure, they change the final battle. In the book, Linghu Chong and Yi Lin defeated Yue Buqun, then after that, an anti-climax...Ren Woxing challenge Linghu Chong to a duel, but before they even start, RWX dies because of old age. But, in the final episode of this adaptation, they made Yue Buqun and Ren Woxing having a duel, where Ren Woxing later gets killed. Then the final battle is between Yue Buqun and Linghu Chong! Definitely a climax! Just great! Really leaves you satisfied! ^_^
This production may have casted unfamiliar faces for Asia. But undoubtedly I say, they have casted such MAGNIFICENT actors and actresses!! Nearly no miscasts!!
Li Yapeng did a superb job as Linghu Chong (LHC)! He really amazed me with his excellent acting skills! Only if he has less-serious expressions, he would've been the most perfect LHC ever ^^. Unfortunately, he's not that natural doing funny or ridiculous expressions, but still...it's acceptable. He has done the best he could! In my opinion, he has done very well! I especially love his expression in fight scenes, just soooo COOL!! He has this great 'screen presence', and that's why he really fits the role as a hero ^^.
Xu Qing as Ren Ying-Ying is a wonderful decision! Although she portrayed the character a little more complex than in the book, it's hard not to like her character ^^. She's vicious, yet gentle. She's elegant, yet very cute. A very capable woman, too. Xu Qing has pull out a superb performance. Not to mention, her PERFECT on-screen chemistry with Li Yapeng. It makes me wonder, are they really dating in real-life? ^_~
I definitely have no complaints for Miao Yiyi as Yue Lingshan, she portrayed the character just like she was in the book. I always think, the hardest part for Yue Lingshan's (YLS) character is when she has to express her anguish after she married Lin Pingzhi, yet she still is the same selfish YLS she used to be. She pulled that part out very well!
I admire Chen Lifeng as Yi Lin! She really shaved her head!! O_O For a pretty face like hers, such a pity to have a bald head. But then again, I admire her professionalism ^^. As Yi Lin, she portrayed her 'almost' perfectly and she has the perfect appearance too, just as I imagine her to be when I read the book.
Special mention to Mao Weitao (DungFang BuBai), Wei Zi (Yue Buqun) and Li Jie (Lin Pingzhi). These men have to portray feminine guy characters in the end after mastering kungfu manuals (Kuihua Baodian and/or Pi Xie Jian Fa). They portrayed it VERY well! Not too much, not less, just perfect. Mao Weitao is very pretty with that make-up on, one hardly can tell he's a REAL man. Li Jie pull it off very well too, I was also disgusted with his attitude near the end, because of his excellent performance. And lastly, Wei Zi as the hypocrite Yue Buqun, he fits the role so much, really fit the role as this "Gentleman Swordman", I think he's the best YBQ I've ever seen this far, although I think they made him look too powerful. ^_^
The sceneries in this adaptation is just breathtaking! The vast mountains, grasslands, etc. All beautiful! I love it! I'm very glad they didn't use those fake sceneries like in other productions. They also showed the ancient Chinese art of "bian lian" (changing faces). How amazing is that? It was really an eye-opener! Another excellent thing is the Qing Cheng people talking in authentic Si Chuan dialect, the Mountain Hymn in Fu Jian dialect. Just plain cool!
The fighting scenes are superb which I did not expected at all! Watching the fighting scenes in this adaptation, it made me think the fighting scenes in Hong Kong or Taiwan productions are nothing compared to this one. Rather than swing the camera around here and there, they actually focus on the people who are fighting.
Visual effects? No doubt, it's as excellent as it can get! For once, in a chinese ancient series, they don't use those colourful lights, which looks ridiculous, and feel like watching cartoons. These are what I call, real visual effects!! There are no unnecessary effects either.
There are also many extras in this serial. I think this is necessary in order to create the grand atmosphere and feeling. In other shows, the producers usually only use a few extras and try to pretend like there are a lot.
Great costumes and make-up too! Just look at Dung Fang Bu Bai's flowers painted on his forehead! Great detail.
Themesong? At first, it seems my ears can't stand the tunes. But, as I watch the series, it kind of grew on me and I ended up liking it! ^^ Especially, since the themesong was accompanied by the fabulous scenes from the series and really fits. In my opinion, the song has a heroic element and I love the melancholic tune too. See, the song starts out with fast tunes sung by the male, Liu Huan. Then, it turns to a slow one with the female vocal, Faye Wong. Then, it turns back to the fast one ^_^ Pretty unique!
Sadly, I have to say, I DO NOT like the background musics. I think they used VERY ancient Chinese songs which definitely do not suit my taste!! I realized they don't have any cheerful kind of songs. All they have are melancholic songs and a fighting song. It is no wonder that in every funny or ridiculous scene, despite that I laughed hard, I felt something was missing. That's because they didn't insert any background music on those scenes to set up the mood. However, I really love the background music which was used on the last scene of the final battle right after Yue Buqun was killed. A great instrumental orchestra version of the themesong!!^^
Overall, I only have 3 complaints on this adaptation. The changes on the plot in the beginning, the slow-paced parts on the first episodes (especially the change of Yue Ling Shan's love and her scenes with Lin Pingzhi, pretty draggy), and lack of background musics.^^
All in all, Xiao Ao Jiang Hu CCTV 2001 is ONE OF THE BEST Jin Yong adaptation!!!^O^ I'm giving it FIVE stars! Definitely a must-watch! It really offers a new atmosphere for a wuxia series! Can't wait for their next production : "She Diao Ying Xiong Zhuan" or "Legend of The Condor Heroes"!