(Because Jin Yong is a Taiwanese writer, I will write the characters' names in pinyin rather than the Cantonese pronunciation. It's easier to find further information on the Internet using these names. So even though the protagonist's name is Kwok Jing is Cantonese, his English name is more commonly known as Guo Jing.)
Guo Jing-Julian Cheung Chilam
Huang Rong-Athena Chu Yan
Yang Kang-Gallen Lo Ga Leung
Mu Nianci-Emily Kwan Bo Wai
The Four Greats
East Wicked/Huang Yurshi-Lok Ying Kwun
West Poison/Ouyeng Feng-Chu Tit Wor
South Emperor/Duan Chihing-Lai Hon Chi
North Beggar/Hongqi Gong-Lau Dan
Genghis Khan-Lau Kong
Wanyan Honglie-Wong Wai
Kau Cheen Jeung/Yan-Hong Chiu Fung
Ouyang Ke-Lam Wai
Zhou Botong-Wayne Lai
Yang Tiexin-Lam Ka Wah
Bao Xiruo-Leung Yuen Ching
Wah Tsang-Chan Pui San
Introduction: This is the first part of the trilogy, and it is one of Jin Yong's most celebrated and famous novels. The characters in "Legend of Condor Heroes" begin it all and set the foundation for the later two parts, the "Return of the Condor Heroes" and the "Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre".
Story Plot: Spoilers!
The story is set in a war-torn China in the Song Dynasty. There are basically three countries, all fighting to "unite" China. There are the Mongolians, the Kam empire, and the regular Chinese (the Song).
One night, two sworn brothers talk about their country when they encounter a Taoist priest, Yao Chugei. Yao names their two sons as a tribute to their patriotism: Guo Jing and Yang Kang. Upon their births, it was decided that if both were male or female, they would become sworn brothers or sisters, if different genders, they would get married.
Tragically, they are killed when Wanyan Honglie, the sixth prince of the Kam empire sees Yang Tiexin's wife, Bao Xiruo, and is captivated by her beauty. He ruthlessly kills everyone in their village in order to appear as Bao Xiruo's savior, but Guo Jing's mother manages to escape and is saved by the Mongolians.
Meanwhile, Bao Xiruo believes her husband is dead and Wanyan Honglie is her savior and marries him, even though she is already pregnant with Yang Kang. When Yang Kang was born, Wanyan Honglie treated him as his own son and therefore, Yang Kang grew up in great comfort as a prince in the Kam empire.
On the other hand, little Guo Jing, even as a child, is an apparently brave and loyal individual, although a bit (okay, very) slow. He saved a man from Genghis Khan, but the man incidentally became Genghis Khan's general, and GJ was welcomed into Khan's tribe. His daughter, Wah Tsang, fell in love with GJ at an early age. He also became the Seven Freaks of Jianing's disciples, but they were initially frustrated with him because of his slowness.
When GJ and YK are both about twenty years old, they meet Mu Nianci, a (supposedly) beautiful girl. Mu Nianci and her godfather are having a contest for a spouse, in that whoever defeats MNC will get to take her home as the bride. YK defeats her but takes her shoe instead, humilating her (in ancient times). GJ, being the righteous individual that he is, challenges YK, and that is how they meet. This incident sets off a series of events in which it is discovered that MNC's godfather is actually YK's birthfather (a.k.a Bao Xiruo's husband.) Bao and Yang commit suicide together after YK refuses to accept Yang as his father.
GJ also meets a beggar boy by the surname of Huang. They become great friends, and later Huang reveals to Guo Jing that she is actually a girl. She blatantly tells him that she is a girl, her name is Huang Rong, and she has feelings for him, wanting to follow him forever (I believe she does this because she knows he won't get it otherwise).
GJ and HR eventually become disciples of the respected Hongqi Gong, also known as the North Beggar. The three share a very good relationship.
GJ and HR encounter many hardships together, and their love remains steadfast and true to each other, despite oppositions from all over: Huang Yurshi (East Wicked, HR's dad), Ouyang Ke (West Poison's perverted nephew who falls in love with her), GJ's seven masters, and even more. Besides external opposition, there is GJ's constant inner strife: since he was engaged to Genghis Khan's daughter Wah Tsang, he could not marry HR. He had to pick between the love of his life or his honour and word.
Yang Kang tries to harm GJ and HR many times in order to secure support and men for the Kam empire, which is attacking the Song. He eventually dies, but not before Mu Nianci is pregnant with his child (Yang Guo-the protagonist in "Return of the Condor Heroes".)
Eventually, GJ and HR are able to live happily ever after.
I know many people have taken the 1983 version of "Legend of the Condor Heroes" to heart and will not agree with my praises for this series. I myself never saw the 1983 version, so in this review, I will not compare the two. Instead, I will analyze the series and its merits in its own rights, separate from 1983. I believe this is a fairer analysis because even if, in the eyes of die-hard fans of the '83 version, LOCH '94 will never measure up to the '83 version, LOCH '94 is still a wonderful series in itself. It isn't always necessary for the later version of a wuxia series to surpass the former's in order for it to be great.
First, on the casting. I saw this series in 1994 when it came out, and I was relatively young back then. I never heard of nor recognized Julian Cheung or Athena Chu, but LOCH '94 made me a huge fan of them! Julian and Athena are really compatible in terms of looks, and their chemistry isn't bad either.
The character of Guo Jing is my personal favorite out of the three protagonists in this trilogy: Guo Jing, Yang Guo, or Zhang Wuxi. Jin Yong is a mastermind at characterization. In Guo, he made a slow but loyal, righteous, and benevolent man come to life. Guo Jing is loyal to all those who he knows. His slowness adds to his appeal, and often times, it provides comic relief. Julian did a good job at bringing Guo Jing from the novel to the screen. His "huh?" look is so funny. He also did extremely well in bringing GJ's loyalty out. There was a scene when HR and GJ were about to be pushed off the cliff by Hongqi Gong's followers (in Coi Bong), and HR asserted to GJ "As long as we can die together, I will be happy." GJ, after hearing this, resolved to sacrifice himself so HR could live. He did a great job in bringing out how touched he was in his eyes, and therefore his resolve to save HR. GJ, when angered, was one scary individual, and Julian did a good job too. When he discovered that his six masters were killed and he though East Wicked was the culprit, the way he blasted open HR's mother's tomb, the way he yelled at HR, everything was done to perfection. Oh yeah, on GJ's dumbness: I think Guo Jing isn't stupid, he's just innocent. (haha, just as "Life Made Simple"'s Ah Wong isn't "chun" - stupid - he's just "dan shung" - naive.)
HR is my favorite female character. Cunning, clever, supportive of her Jing Gor Gor, swift, beautiful, and of course, a bit evil. HR's morals aren't as upright as GJ's, but she herself is very interesting. Her intelligence is immeasurable (except maybe by her father). Athena did a relatively good job at bringing HR to life as well, although there weren't much "wow!" moments. But likewise, I think she played HR adequately.
West Poison, his nephew/illegitimate son, Hongqi Gong, Wah Tsang, among others also delivered good performances.
Here, I list the characters whom I thought did an okay job.
Lok Ying Kwun did okay as HR's clever dad, but sometimes he was pretty expressionless, and I thought he tried too hard to look angry. But still, acceptable.
Gallen Lo and Emily Kwan both fall into this category. If it was their acting alone, they would have been in the 'Good' category, but my oh my, their looks do not fit their characters at all! Maybe it's not very nice of me, but to be casted for a role, the least you have to be is look like the character you are playing.
Yang Kang is 18-20 in LOCH, and Gallen simply looks too old to play him. However, he is great at conveying emotions with his eyes, especially at the scene where he told Mu Nianci (after she saw his true self) that he really loved her. He was also so, so, SO, evil, and his face was full of hatred.
Mu Nianci is supposed to be a beautiful girl who captures Yang Kang's heart. I shall be brutal here-Emily Kwan simply isn't pretty. Sorry. She did portray the sadness of Mu Nianci well, but her character is pretty one-dimensional and dumb for believing Yang Kang. Can't the casting directors pick a prettier girl to play A PRETTY CHARACTER? I don't think that's much to ask.
These are the total, total miscasts, and luckily, there's not a lot. I'll only mention the most obvious and painful one.
Number ONE miscast: Wayne Lai as Zhou Botong?!?! I think Wayne is an incredible actor, but frankly, he is horrible as ZBT. ZBT is supposed to be playful but clever, rowdy but responsible, childish but innovative. All Wayne did was exaggerate ZBT's child-like behavior and disregarded his intelligence.
On the set
The outdoor scenes look very beautiful (well, the natural ones do anyway.) It is painfully obvious which scenes are filmed in the great outdoors and which ones are filmed in TVB's cheap attempt to build a tall cliffside, ToFa Island, or whatever, within its budget. The artificial scenes are horrible. The part when HR tricked Ouyang Ke into breaking his leg under the boulder, oh man, it is very easy to picture the cameras working in the dark studio. Fake, fake, fake!
So, the series itself is extremely interesting. About 5 minutes after you meet Julian's GJ, you will fall in love with him. He is amazing and like the best friend you always wanted. For those of you who watched ROCH, if you watch LOCH, you will understand it a lot better-and you will want to kick the evil Yang Kang in the behind (since you won't get to in ROCH.)
For you folks who want a taste of Jin Yong's most famous work, definitely give LOCH '94 a try, if not for the wonderful portrayal of GJ by Julian, then for its good pace and good storyline.