The New Heavenly Sword and Dragon Saber

Reviewed by: magifaye

May 04, 2009

Rating: four-point-five

The first version of The New Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre I watched completely was the TVB 2000 version starring Lawrence Ng, Gigi Lai and Charmaine Sheh as well as some parts of the 2003 version of Taiwan. I enjoyed the 2000 version but the 2004 version did not leave me a deep impression.

Recently, I borrowed the 1986 version starring Tony Leung, Sheren Tang and Kitty Lai and was in for a pleasant surprise. Initially, I did not expect too much from the version of the 80s as I couldn’t quite appreciate the costumes and makeup of that decade. But this version proved to be the best of all I had ever watched.

Personally, I enjoyed the 1986 version more as I find the storyline and characters more sufficiently developed and closer to the novel and did not overly focused on Wuji's love life. Also, the leading cast was much more convincing in the portrayal of their roles, despite being young and new to the TV scene then.

Perhaps, the cast for the 2000 version looked too modern to fit into period dramas, even though they could really act their roles. Also, compared to the 1986 cast, they were sometimes overly dramatic and couldn’t really be as balanced in their emotional portrayal of the characters. Overall, I must say the cast in the 86 version seemed more focused and absorbed in their roles. In addition, the fighting scenes in the 86 version was much more realistic as there wasn’t an overuse of special effects, unlike the newer ones.

Tony Leung as Zhang Wuji
The young Tony definitely had a natural advantage since he acted as Wuji when he was in his early 20s, unlike Lawrence who was in his 30s when he took on the role of Wuji. Tony was totally convincing as the soft-hearted, intelligent and forgiving young lad. His chemistry with all the ladies and his other relatives was perfect. On the other hand, Lawrence doesn't quite bring out much the emotions of Wuji for his grandmaster and godfather as much as Tony, though he had good chemistry with Charmaine and Gigi.

Kitty Lai as Zhao Min
While some may feel that Gigi Lai was a prettier version of Zhao Min, which I do agree, I still feel more convinced by Kitty Lai's portrayal as she comes across more as an intellectual and politically savvy princess who schemes within principled boundaries. Gigi Lai comes across stronger as the spoilt and infatuated princess with very little self control over her emotions.

Sheren Tang
Before watching Sheren, I thought Charmaine Sheh did an excellent portrayal of Zhiruo. But as I watched more of Sheren, I can't help but believe Sheren is born to portray this role. The difference between Sheren and Charmaine was that the latter was way too dramatic while Sheren, like Kitty, controls her expression much better and wasn't an overkill as the manipulative and scheming Ermei disciple. Sheren uses her eyes and facial expressions very subtly to portray the intensity of her emotions, her anguish, jealousy, pain and despair. Her performance is the best among all the female leads in this version.

Maggie Siu
I have been a Maggie Siu fan for 17 years but I am ashamed to say this is the first time in so many years I watched her in her early role as Xiao Zhao, Wuji's maid and Holy Virgin of the Ming Sect, a beautiful girl with mixed origins. Maggie Siu naturally did well as Xiao Zhao since she look very much like a girl with mixed blood. I personally felt that this role was pretty close to Maggie's real character; kind, self-sacrificing and gentle. Unlike the other girls who fell passionately in love with Wuji, Xiao Zhao loved him in a different way as they shared a unique platonic relationship. In the 86 version, her departure from Wuji appeared to be one of the most emotionally traumatic episode of his life after his parents’ death. Maggie Siu was definitely the most beautiful and cutest female leads in this version. And she is a true living and breathing Xiao Zhao, Jin Yong's favorite female character.

Simon Yam and Dodo Cheung
I enjoyed Damian Lau and Michelle Yim’s portrayal of Wuji’s parents in the 2000 version. But I still preferred Simon and Dodo’s version. Dodo was extremely beautiful as Yin Susu and had great chemistry with Simon. It’s a pity she is given less roles nowadays.

Other cast
One of the minor cast that impressed me was the actress that portrayed Yang Buhui, the daughter of Yang Xiao and Ji Xiaofu. She had a unique beauty and seemed perfect for the role too. Other cast were also outstanding in their performance which made the 1986 version a timeless classic which fans of HSDS should not miss!

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