22 episodes come in a 22-disc set by TVBI.
Characters (in order of most appearances):
MuRong Rong - Carol Yeung
Qi Yu - Chin Siu Ho
Feng FeiXue - Emily Kwan
Chu Jiu - Chan Ga Fai
MuRong Yi - Lee Lung Kei
Feng San - Jimmy Au
Feng TianNan - Jimmy Au
Feng YiLei (Sabre Saint)
Ho Fei (MuRong Yi's first disciple)
Fu QianShi (Qi Yu's master)
Sword slave (Woman who gives a treasure sword to Feng TianNan and remains his servant)
...and the mysterious Gong ZiDan
Having read some negative remarks about this series, I wasn't sure if I would enjoy it. I had high hopes from watching the breathtaking trailer, but it seems few viewers have liked the actual series. In my opinion, "Mystery of the Sabre" is a good wuxia series with fantastic action and great acting, but also with an unconvincing story, redundant scenes, and borrowed music. The final verdict: the positive outweighs the negative.
Before you skip to the end, I want to warn everyone who wants to watch this series to AVOID reading the synopsis on the back cover of the TVB boxset as well as the intro video, because both reveal way too much information. The synopsis basically gives away the big plot twist without blinking, and the intro video contains clips that spoil the plot twists.
At first I wasn't sure why this series (whose Chinese title translate to the "One Armed Swordsman") got its name "Mystery of the Sabre," but it became clear as soon as I started watching. The plot centers around a broken sabre that has a lot of mystery indeed.
This is one of those series that has very few subplots, unlike Jin Yong and Gu Long adaptions. The whole series focuses on two things: the sabre and an evil monster Gong ZiDan, and even those two are connected. There are some foreshadowings that will point the viewer to the right directions. I will outline the important events in the story for those who don't plan to watch the show; those who plan to watch it should skip to the end.
-A powerful monster Gong ZiDan has appeared in wulin and has wiped out several major clans. His appearance changes every time he shows up, so no one knows who he is, whether man or woman.
-Qi Yu is the oldest disciple of Fast Blade Clan. He beats the competitive MuRong Rong in a race, and she vows to get back at him.
-Gong ZiDan tricks Qi Yu and Feng TianNan into believing each other to be Gong ZiDan, but the two heroes become best friends.
-Later, Qi Yu discovers that Feng TianNan is the sworn brother of the Sabre Saint, whom Qi wants to duel badly.
-Fast Blade Clan agrees to deliver a package to Shaolin, but the naive MuRong Rong acquired the package. There is a broken sabre in the package, and it disappears.
-MuRong Rong knows she did something terrible. Next, everyone at Fast Blade Clan is murdered except Qi Yu. His master reveals that he is to marry MuRong family's daughter.
-Qi Yu doesn't know MuRong Rong's identity until they go to the MuRong mansion. The problem is that he doesn't like MuRong Rong at all. The leader MuRong Yi begins to investigate the murder of Fast Blade Clan.
-The Sabre Saint Feng YiLei has granddaughter Feng FeiXue, who falls in love with Qi Yu at first sight. After spending a night with her, Qi Yu's feelings for her rise rapidly.
-The package mysteriously turns up at Shaolin, and Sabre Saint wants the broken blade at all cost. The duel between the Abbot and him results in the death of the former and severe injury of the latter. A medical genius named Chu Jiu rescues the stubborn Sabre Saint. Chu Jiu remains the assistant of Feng FeiXue for the rest of the story.
-Feng TianNan will marry Feng FeiXue as soon as he kills Gong ZiDan, but he almost dies from saving FeiXue one time. Qi Yu learns their destined marriage and doesn't want to break up his best friend's romance.
-Sabre Saint is attacked by Gong ZiDan, and Saint is shocked to see a red mark on the attacker's back, which confirms the identity of the evil monster. Saint is deeply saddened by the attacker's identity and gives up hope.
-The 5 major clans seize and torture Sabre Saint, and the chivalrous Qi Yu rescues him. This is where the trouble begins. He has sworn not to reveal Saint's hiding place, but everyone is interested in the mystery of the broken sabre which Sabre Saint has. In front of the 5 clans, Qi Yu makes up a lie to Sabre Saint's granddaughter that he has killed her grandfather.
-Qi Yu writes a letter to explain things to his best friend Feng TianNan, but TianNan gets the wrong letter and is severely poisoned. He goes to see Qi Yu, who accidentally kills his best friend. TianNan's brother Feng San swears revenge.
-Qi Yu is wrongfully accused for the murder of Sabre Saint, and Feng FeiXue cuts his arm off, destroying his martial arts.
-In search of the mystery of the broken sabre, the Sun Moon Sect (aka the Evil Sect) kidnaps Feng FeiXue. Feng San takes a helpless Qi Yu to exchange for her, but the Evil Sect leader breaks his promise.
-To rescue FeiXue and Qi Yu, MuRong Rong pretends to be Gong ZiDan, but the plan screws up, and Qi Yu goes back to the Evil Sect.
-The powerful Gong ZiDan sweeps through the Evil Sect and establishes himself as its ruler. Qi Yu escapes but gets beaten off the mountain by a revengeful Feng San. FeiXue becomes crazy due to guilt of wronging Qi Yu in the past.
-Everyone thinks Qi Yu is dead, but he was rescued by, as later discovered, Sabre Saint's wife and FeiXue's sister, whom Qi Yu marries. She gives birth to a son, but they are attacked by the Evil Sect. Everyone dies, but Saint's wife reveals the secrets of the sabre: inside the sabre is a map of a gold mine as well as the One Armed Sword Techniques, which Qi Yu learns.
-Gong ZiDan has surrounded the MuRong mansion with all 5 clans' leaders inside. Even all 5 leaders teaming up is no match for Gong ZiDan. Thankfully Qi Yu arrives to save the day.
-Feng San and Qi Yu finally become friends after Qi saves his life at the Evil sect. Qi Yu teaches him the One Armed Sword Techniques.
-The spy at the MuRong mansion is its first disciple Ho Fei. He loves MuRong Rong with all his heart, but she absolutely hates him.
-The evil MuRong Yi is in fact the major spy. He has used Ho Fei as his pawn/scapegoat. MuRong Yi is revealed to be Gong ZiDan.
-MuRong Yi is killed by Feng San and Qi Yu. His last words to his daughter are "beware of Feng San."
-MuRong Rong discovers that Feng San is blackmailing FeiXue, but no one believes her words any more.
-Shaolin's manuscript "Yi Jin Jing" is found in Feng San's bathtub. He finally reveals that he is the real Gong ZiDan. He previously blackmailed MuRong Yi into pretending to be Gong ZiDan.
-The ultimate secret: the *real* Gong ZiDan is none other than Feng FeiXue, who killed the real Feng San and disguised as him. Her motive is to prove womanhood in a male-dominated world. But Qi Yu has changed her, and she now just want to spend the rest of her life with him. She asks him to distinguish Gong ZiDan and Feng FeiXue and carry out the appropriate action to each "person." In the end, each "person" gets what she deserves.
(End of Spoilers)
There you have it, the list of major events in this series of mystery and conspiracies. It would be hard to abide by some of the real identities thought, because the explanation behind their identities and their motives are so weak. This is the major flaw of the plot. The grand conspiracy--identity of the real Gong ZiDan--is the most unconvincing, simply because the person was too believable as his/her other identity. Also, this person would have to have known exactly what was going to happen later to plan all these schemes. It all works out too perfectly, and the flaws are obvious.
Part of the disappointment with the grand conspiracy comes from the fact that it does not give the viewer what he wants to see. The writers made a mistake to give the identity to the sweetest person in the story. The viewer is sure to wish Gong ZiDan someone else, not the sweetheart.
I have heard several complaints about Emily Kwan, who plays the gorgeous and caring Feng FeiXue. To me, her performance is flawless. She looks pale and yet warm, capturing the natural tenderness of the character. I like her character second best. As you can probably guess, the best is always the least, as usual. The best character Feng TianNan was gone in the 5th or 6th episode, which is a shame. He was chivalrous, straightforward, and willing to help, but his death was most tragic and untimely. He is the only wuxia character I have ever seen who has the "stomach of rivers," meaning he remains calm when others would be jealous and losing temper. Although Jimmy Au went on to play his brother Feng San, this role could not capture the magic of the original.
At first I thought Carol Yeung's character RongRong would get on my nerves, because I don't like naive girls who ruin important matters by doing stupid things (such as Ah Zi of "Demi Gods and Semi Devils" and Guo Fu of "Return of the Condor Heroes"). But it became apparent that she possesses better qualities. She is always helpful like Feng TianNan, and like Qi Yu she has sacrificed herself for the sake of her loved ones. It can be said that her character is rather tragic in that she loves Qi Yu with all her heart, but his heart belongs to FeiXue. At the end, RongRong says she will always wait for Qi Yu as he walks away from her, and it is almost heartbreaking. Throughout the story, RongRong risks her life to rescue Qi Yu and FeiXue in dangerous situations, but they can't possibly pay her back. One person who definitely owes her is her father, but even he was forced by a higher power.
One advantage of owning the VCDs is the fast-forward button, which you will need a lot for this series. There are some truly redundant scenes in which characters talk about the exact same things discussed many times prior and afterwards, most of which are about the love triangle between Qi Yu, FeiXue, and MuRong Rong. It is evident though, both girls are generous and unselfish, as FeiXue is always trying to make Qi Yu love RongRong, whereas RongRong pretends to be mean to FeiXue, so that FeiXue can leave to be with Qi Yu. Ah, if every girl was so nice.
You will notice after a while that more than one character in this series admit to crimes they didn't commit, and they all lead to disasters. These characters are in a panic and don't have time to think, so they say what is best for the whole world, but in this they sacrifice themselves. These choices can be viewed as heroic or deadly unwise.
One thing that might put off some viewers is that the series borrows most, if not all, of its soundtrack from other movies and TV series, most notably from the Swordsman trilogy (Swordsman, Swordsman II, and East is Red) and the Tai Chi Master. The music from Tai Chi Master suits this series pretty well, but there is no point in borrowing the haunting music from Swordsman II. The ripped-off music didn't bother me, but others may find it annoying.
I mentioned earlier that the entire series is focused on two things only, but at least the writers demonstrated some creativity by including diverse action scenes. You get to witness battles with Egyptian corpses, a Brazilian martial artist, and a polar bear. Cool, eh? The fights are perhaps the best things about the series. TVB still produces cheap/lame fight scenes that are no comparison to wuxia movies, but unlike Taiwan and China, TVB directors use different camera styles and angles to create the best results. They also have superior editing techniques, making anyone look good on screen.
In a nutshell, while certain parts of the series may be unpleasant or repetitive, and some factors have been featured in almost every wuxia series, but the overall quality is solid. I would recommend it to wuxia fans.