I had put off writing a review for this all-time favorite series of mine for a long time simply because I felt that it is a series that is already popular and well-known to be excellent that my saying so would only be a repetition of other much more enthusiastic reviewers. If you know Jin Yong, you have to know "Legend" and if you know Barbara Yung Mei Ling, you know Wong Yung. "Legend" is the series that became the pivotal point in Barbara Yung's acting career as the spirited and mischievous Wong Yung (Huang Rong). The honest and good Kwok Jing was played by Felix Wong Yut Wah and the ambitious, deemed Han-traitor was played by Miu Kiu Wai. The list goes on and on with Jin Yong's characters played by the excellent cast of the 80's--Lau Don, Yeung Pan Pan, Patrick Tse Yin, Lee Si Kay, and Rebecca Chan Sau Chu, to name a few.
The reason why remakes usually pale in comparison to the 80's established series is that the 80's solid cast demands respect and leaves a very strong impression on the viewer. Somehow, when watching a remake, a sense of something lacking, some missing "umph" is immediately felt. Old 80's series carry a martial arts feel (what Chinese call "goo deen mei"), whether it is in costumes, looks/actions of actors, language, choreography, or themesong. Remakes of the 90's and now the new century, always seem to give off the feeling that though this is a story about a fictional ancient China, it is "modern" in some sense.
An introduction to the storyline (for those of you who have been living inside a vacuum tube for all these years and don't know the story--enlightenment). "Legend of the Condor Heroes" is the first part of a trilogy that Jin Yong had written, with "Return of the Condor Heroes" and "Heavenly Sword and Dragon Saber" as the next generation stories that continue and relate back to Legend's characters. "Legend" is situated in the late Sung Dynasty, where the failing Sung government is slowly falling prey to the Kam race. Two sworn brothers, Yueng Tiet Sum (a descendent of the famous Yeung family) and Kwok Siu Tin, lament over the woes of their country and the faltering, corrupt government. Their quiet and simple life with their then pregnant wives are violently disrupted when Yeung Tiet Sum's (Patrick Tse Yin) wife, Bao Sik Yuerk (Lee Si Kay), saves the life of the Kam Prince, Yuen Gon Hong Lit, who falls in love with her. Yuen Gon sends orders to have her captured and in the chaos, Kwok Siu Tin is killed while Kwok's wife, Li Ping, escapes. Yuen Gon pretends to save Bao Sik Yeurk who, being the frail female she is, marries him when she believes her husband has also been killed. Bao Sik Yuerk gives birth to a son, Yeung Hong (Mui Kiu Wai), who grows up calling Yuen Gon father and lavished in the riches and power of a royal prince.
Li Ping, on the other hand, is saved and taken into Genghis Khan's tribe in Mongolia and raises her son, Kwok Jing (Felix Wong), with the hopes that one day he can avenge his father's death. A bet made between the Taoist Yao Chu Kei (Tang Gong) and the Kangnam Seven Freaks seals a promise for a duel between Kwok Jing and Yeung Hong eighteen years later. Kwok Jing grows up chastised for his slowness in both learning martial arts and in wits, however, his nature is loyal and righteous. Travelling to China for the date of the duel, he meets the beggar-dressed Wong Yung (Barbara Yung) who eventually reveals herself as a beautiful girl. Yeung Hong, on the other side of the coin, is cunning and ruthless in his goal to help the Kam dynasty and become powerful himself.
"Legend" is a like a big adventure trip, with many sub-plots and hard to forget, fleshed out characters. Jin Yong is excellent at creating catchy titles for his characters--some of the most memorable, Dong Che (East Weird), Xie Dok (West Poison), Nam Dai (South King), Bok Koi (North Beggar). The cast that supported these characters are some of TVB's best then and now so it is no wonder that the series is so strong. "Legend" is also the story that has the most patriotic feel compared to all of Jin Yong's other stories. The recounts of the General Ngok Fei's heroic deeds and the quest to find his war manual is one of the main threads of "Legend".
It has been said that Barbara Yung was given the role, in part due to her "butterfly" front teeth, which bore some resemblance to Michelle Mai Shuet, who had played Wong Yung prior in the 70's. Barbara Yung, however, is spectacular and brilliant as Wong Yung--interpreting her character as a mischievous, spoiled, and quick-witted girl. Whether you have read the novel or not, one still appreciates Barbara Yung's Wong Yung even though this version was less true to the original story because Wong Yung's essence was brought to life by Barbara. That is usually the stand I take when comparing between original writing to movie adaptation--as long as the personality of a character is retained, a deviation from the novel is not necessarily unacceptable. Only when directors or script writers decide to make a character do/say something so out of character do I feel an adaptation has stepped out of bounds.
Felix Wong also gave an excellent performance as the slow but honorable Kwok Jing. His chemistry with Barbara Yung was seamless and natural with an effortless comradry. The only fault Felix might have had was that he certainly did not look dumb! Felix has probably partaked in the most Jin Yong series compared to any other actor. Of all the martial arts series that I have seen Felix Wong in, his role as Kwok Jing left the most impact in my memory, in part due to the chemistry with Barbara Yung and also in part due to his performance showing the gradual transition of a maturing hero.
Miu Kiu Wai is the other most versatile actor of TVB in the 80s. Tall and handsome in ancient costume, Miu made a very hard to hate villain. Playing a dislikable character, Yeung Hong, in "Legend", Miu has managed to do this with such ruthlessness that he was the embodiment of a Machiavellian villian--someone who will do anything to achieve his ends and is someone the viewer both hated and loved. At the same time too, his love for Mok Lim Chi also made one emphasize with him and wish for him to turn good. The scene before Yeung Hong died was probably one of the best moments of "Legend" because though he repented, he also admitted it was because he was about to die. The inner struggles of Yeung Hong where he realizes his true birth and is torn between the "honorable" thing to do and the vast wealth and power of his present status was brought out extremely well by Miu. Perhaps Miu Kiu Wai would have also made a great Mo Yung Fok from the "Demi-Gods" story if he had the chance. (To read more of my thoughts on the character of Yeung Hong, go to the articles section: On Yeung Hong).
Yeung Pan Pan as Mok Lim Chi is also a good choice. Yeung Pan Pan knows some martial arts herself and was famous back then in TVB for her daring stunts during TVB's anniversary and special event shows. Though the spotlight has certainly been stolen by Barbara Yung's Wong Yung, Mok Lim Chi's sincere love for Yeung Hong is also one of the highlights of the series.
All three themesongs were classics, sung by Roman Law Man and Yun Nai, while the background music composed of tunes from these themes created the mood of "Legend" very well, though maybe a bit overused at times but very addictive to the ear.
Fight scenes were pretty good, mostly without the special effects that are so prevalent in martial arts series today--definitely a bonus here. Costumes were very beautiful back then, special notes on Wong Yung and Yeung Hong's outfits. Settings are sometimes lacking while major war scenes are made with a few soldiers obviously because of the low budgets. I have yet to see a series where they will take the effort and money to gather a large enough army to depict a war battle, or utilize computer technology to that extent. Mind you though, if TVB tries any gimmicks with their overly-done rainbow graphics, then I'd rather they forget it!
Overall, excellent story and cast and a definite recommendation to anyone who wants to see to some of the best of the 80's. Enough said.
Some of the Best and most Dramatic Scenes:
-Kwok Jing sees Wong Yung dressed as a girl for the first time
-Yeung Hong battles Mok Lim Chi in the fight for her hand in marriage
-Wong Yung plays pranks on Hung 7 Gung and tempts him to teach Kwok Jing kungfu with her delicious foods
-Kwok Jing competes with Au Yueng Hok for Wong Yung's hand in marriage
-Wong Yuerk Si searches for Wong Yung at sea
-Hung 7 Gung hands the leadership of the Beggar Clan to Wong Yung
-Kwok Jing and Wong Yung discover Ngok Fei's war manual when trapped in the forbidden cave at Iron-Palm Clan
-Wong Yung, thinking she will die from Kao Tin Yun's Iron-Sand Palm, makes Kwok Jing promise her three do's and three don'ts
-Wong Yuerk Si plays chess with Kwok Jing and finally agrees to let him marry Wong Yung
-Mui Chui Fung blocks a blow for her master, Wong Yuerk Si, and dies
-Wong Yung uses cunning to reveal the true culprits in murdering the Kangnam Seven Freaks and Au Yeung Hok
-Yeung Hong's death scene
-Kwok Jing makes a bet with Au Yeung Fung to capture and release him three times
-Kao Tin Yun dares anyone to say that his/her hands aren't stained with the blood of others. As Kao is smug at the silence, Hung 7 Gung comes out to claim he's killed many lives but every one of them deserved to die
-Kwok Jing battling Wong Yeurk Si and Hung 7 Gung at the Wah Mountain Battle
-Au Yeung Fung turns mad but finally becomes undefeatable
-Kwok Jing names Yeung Hong's son, Yeung Gor
-Kwok Jing duels his archer master and wins by a scrape of an arrow
-Kwok Jing speaks with Genghis Khan and compares the size of his conquered lands to the small plot of land everyone will go in when dead.