The remake of "State of Divinity", aka "Smiling Proud Wanderer" in 1996 is thus far, the closest to Jin Yong's novel that I have seen to date. With a cast that had its preliminary doubts from critics, "State" proves that given the foundations of a good and well-executed script, a series can be riddled with some faults but still retain its appeal. After seeing the potential in Jackie Liu Chong Yin in a sub-story of TVB's "Bao Ting Tin" (Justice Pao), the director of "State" decided to cast him as the story's main lead, Ling Wu Chong. The female leads were then given to Fiona Leung Pui Ling as Yem Ying Ying, Cherie Chan Siu Ha as Oik Ling San, and Ho Mei Tin as Yee Lum. Timmy Ho Bo Sung was destinated the other male lead, Lam Ping Chi, a role that he hoped would rid himself of the good boy image.
"State" is Jin Yong's examination of the different governments and political struggles at his time. The extremity of a man willing to give up his masculinity by castrating himself in the face of power was metaphorized in the greatest martial arts scriptures "Kwai Fa Bo Deen" and "Pik Che Keem Fat". The 1986 version of "Smiling" had fell short of my expectations when I watched it after reading the novel and was one of those few rare 80's series that was not as well done as the 90's. One of the few elements of the novel that I thought "Smiling" had managed to capture well was Ling Wu Chong's (Chow Yun Fat) deep love for his little martial sister who was played by Jamie Chik Mei Zheng at that time--though who could blame him when Jamie Chik was so stunning as Oik Ling San? What was disappointing about the 80's adaptation was the fact that it underplayed much of the novel's key parts--Tao Gok 6 Sin's humorous bantering, Tien Bak Gong battling Ling Wu Chong in wit and weapon, and Ling Wu Chong's humor, to name some. The end product is a Jin Yong story that seemed incomplete. Aside from that, swordplay was an essential element in "Smiling". The special skill, Dok Gu 9 Keem, taught to Ling Wu Chong is one of the biggest statements in the novel when Jin Yong introduced the notion of "With no moves defeat with moves." However, all this seemed under-emphasized in "Smiling".
Though Ling Wu Chong was accused and misunderstood by his martial sister and teacher, he never lost his sense of humor or playfulness--thus, he still would tease Yem Ying Ying, impersonate a general, and have his fun. Perhaps that was the biggest flaw with the 80's version. Ling Wu Chong's character was hackneyed into a sad personality, making Chow Yun Fat's portrayal too melancholic.
On the other hand, the remake of 1996 had me nodding my head in agreement that this is how the story should be.
Jackie Liu as Ling Wu Chong was a surprisingly good pick, for Liu was able to portray the aspects of Ling Wu Chong's personality--his playfulness and wit--well. Fiona Leung as Yem Ying Ying was also casted in a fitting role. Fiona Leung has made quite some other martial arts series in her acting career and Yem Ying Ying seemed a walk in the ballpark for her. Cherie Chan as Oik Ling San, however, was probably the most disappointing. As the martial sister that Ling Wu Chong loved for a big half of the story, Cherie Chan was not able to convince the viewer of this in comparison to Fiona Leung. Lucky for Fiona was that Athena Chu Yun, who was originally asked, had refused the role of Oik Ling San and there was no one to share the spotlight. As for Ho Mei Tin's portrayal of Yee Lum, while she looked the part, her awkward dialogues ruined the effect.
Some faulty points of "State" were the drab and plain costume attires worn by the actors. TVB must have thought it would be cute to have each clan have their own dress code, but it was a bit insulting to the eye. Fighting was also done rather disappointingly. A lot of scenes depended on swishes of the camera and some human body swirling in the air to mean great skill. Some special effects were added with computer graphics, such as for "Kup Sing Dai Fat", that were done a bit overboard. However, the background music added to the mood of "State" quite well. Many of the themes heard throughout the series was from award winning Hong Kong movie "Ashes of Time".
"State" is one of the better 90's remakes in comparison to the older 80's adaptation in terms of storyline. The 90's version is definitely the one to watch if you are a Jin Yong purist.
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