Shen Diao Xia Lu
Who has the say? Jin Yong?
Hello, everyone. I'm Siew Lee, an avid reader of Jin Yong novels and I have been participating in a Jin Yong-related message board recently. Frankly, I'm really happy to have so much people to talk about wuxia stuff through a click of a mouse. Sadly, much of the conversation there are centered on the television adaptations of those novels I dearly love. As most Malaysians know, there aren't many versions of Jin Yong tv dramas aired here, maybe except for a few. Currently, we have only watched State of Divinity 96 (the one with Jackie Lui), Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre (the one with Steve Ma, which IMHO, is better than Tony Leung's version) and Return of the Condor Heroes (the one with Richie Ren - ridiculously bad). To overcome this, I have rented and watched some of the 80's adaptations. (Note: I'm quoting all names in Mandarin, not Cantonese)
Although I'm basically quite new there, it seems to me that there is a bitter rivalry between supporters of Jin Yong purist fans and people who simply love re-writen scripts for the sake of entertainment. I have only been on the board for slightly more than three weeks and I have seen heated debates blow up between the two groups. Sadly, I caused one to blow up after I posted an article about how Mr Louis Cha (whose pen name is Jin Yong) disapproves the way Yang Pei Pei rewrote his stories in a recent forum in Singapore.
One thing which really upset me is how a fan of Taiwanese-produced adaptations reacted to my post. Perhaps he didn't mean it, but I really feel hurt as how he worded his thoughts really made any passerby think that I'm a liar. Now, on which basis must I lie to the internet Jin Yong community? What would I gain? I have everything to lose, including my online reputation. I am a quite well-known writer in the anime (Yu Yu Hakusho) fanfic community and why must I put my name on stake just to write something which Jin Yong did not say?
Alright, since I'm not on the message board now, I'll criticize Taiwanese Jin Yong adaptations without any fear of being flamed, especially Shen Diao Xia Lu, since I have watched the entire adapatation and I can compare it to TVB serials. Please do note that this is my personal opinion and I do not represent any organization or body. Please do not sue me too, as this is what -I- feel about this production. Anyway, do feel free to send me a note of support and your feelings about this piece of writing. Just for your information, all flames will be posted with this article for everyone to look at.
First, I would like to comment about the casting. Yes, I do like Richie Ren's songs, especially 'Xin Tai Ruan', and he is a great singer. And yes, I do really like his voice, but that doesn't make him a good actor. I mean, his acting isn't even presentable! Yang Guo (Yeung Gor) is supposed to be childish and playful. He is supposed to be carefree too and totally devoted to Xiao Long Nu. Don't you think Richie looks a little too old and too dark to play Yang Guo effectively? I mean, he is ugly. No matter how I look at him, he is ugly. Too ugly to play Yang Guo properly. According to the original novel, Yang Guo is a pretty boy and see what the cast director did to my imagination. Richie Ren also has a speech problem - he can't speak proper Mandarin. I know most Taiwanese can speak Hokkien but Richie Ren's Hokkien slang is getting very irritating. Just one thing I would like comment on his singing - I think his version of 'Cang Hai Yi Shen Xiao' is really bad. I think I can bring his version of this classic to a techno dance party and play it out loud without much trouble. The point is, why are those music directors so crazy about techno-styled wuxia songs? This is wuxia, for goodness sake! Why destroy the original version of 'Cang Hai'?
I would also like to comment on Jacqueline Ng - she is not beautiful enough to be Xiao Long Nu. I still think Idy Chan Yuk Lin is the best Xiao Long Nu I have ever seen and she surely can act. Even Jin Yong said that she is the best Xiao Long Nu ever cast. In the book, Xiao Long Nu is supposed to be icy and cold, and well, as beautiful as an angel, yet innocent as a new born baby. Jacqueline doesn't carry out the role well. Instead, she seems like a girl who whimpers at every difficulty and keeps calling for Yang Guo. I mean, Xiao Long Nu should be able to kick male asses and yet she is whimpering and crying so often until it came to the extent of me skipping all parts with Jacqueline Ng in it. In a newspaper report, Jacqueline's role was even quoted as 'Black Dragon Girl' because she wore black, instead of the traditional white reserved for Xiao Long Nu. On another detail, Long's skin tone should be rather pale and fair because she has never seen the sun (literally). I don't really go out of my house under the hot sun and my skin is very fair, even in this Malaysian weather. If my skin can be fair, why can't Long's skin be fair too? Scientifically, if a human being isn't exposed to much sunlight, a lot of melanin (pigment) will not be produced and Chinese skin tones are much lighter than most Asians (say, Indians? Thais?). In the book, Long is very fair and pretty, but Jacqueline's skin tone is too dark.
Next, the most irritating mis-portrayed character is Ou Yang Feng. Even the 'insanity' is incorrectly played. Ou Yang Feng ought to have a brutish outlook and a prickly bush of facial hair, but in this version, he is a clean shaven and kind-looking man who loves to have fun. The guy is a fine actor, but the portrayal is completely wrong! I still can't bring myself to accept that Ou Yang Feng, the villain in Condor Heroes, can be turned into an animal loving fellow with a heart of gold just because he went crazy from over-training. Besides, I find it ridiculous to have Hung Chi Gong forgiving Ou Yang Feng for all he did earlier back then.
Just to be fair, the only few thumbs-up I'll give are to the actors and actresses who played Li Mo Chou, Yin Zhi Ping and Qiu Zhen Ren (I just like how he sputters and spits... ^^;). Basically, these people are playing supporting roles but I'll give reasons on why I think they did a good job. First, let me talk about Li Mo Chou. I think this actress carried out Li's anger and will for vengeance very well indeed. I just love the way she looks spitefully at Long.
As for Yin Zhi Ping, I'm giving him credit not because I'm related to the actor or anything. The thing is, he made me think. I used to hate him for raping Long, but after watching Li Zhi Xi's portrayal and reading the trilogy once again, I began to feel that maybe Yin Zhi Ping isn't such a bad guy after all. I would say that he is human. Jin Yong has a knack of making his heroes too perfect (say, Guo Jing and Duan Yu?), but Yin Zhi Ping's normal. Let's say he's a man with mortal feelings. When I finished the part where he commited suicide in the book, I felt sorry for him; but of course that doesn't justify his crime for raping a girl. Besides, he is also a man of principles in the first part of the trilogy, but somehow Jin Yong decided to kill him off in the second part just to make the story more platable. Li Zhi Xi's portrayal of this demi-villain made me think, that's all. Otherwise, I may also label his role as 'inaccurate' because Zhi Ping isn't exactly a saint. Well, I'm just glad that he knew that he was wrong and should be subjected to suitable punishment.
Okay, case closed on the cast. I'll rant on the costumes next. When I first saw the Taoist outfit, I nearly laughed my head off. Don't get me wrong, I'm a devoted Taoist and the costume in Shen Diao isn't really what I see during Taoist festivals and ceremonies. The Taoist robe is supposed to be wide sleeved and comfortable looking, but I see very body hugging (^^;) and tight outfits for the poor priests. At one point, I could even visualize Yin Zhi Ping and Zhao Zhi Jing having breathing difficulties. Besides, any fan of Rurouni Kenshin would know that their outfits are rip-offs from samurai-style gi and hakama. ^^; Guo Jing's robe is also very uncomfortable looking and the poor actor looks like he is slowly choking to death. Ah, one thing - Sun Xing's too fat and bulky to jump nicely and he does not look like any top-notch 'da-xia'. Xiao Long Nu's costume is also way out of expectations. It's too body-fitting and worst of all, it looks like it is made out of scrap material. Which girl would wear black and blue stripes for a Chinese dress?
This version of Shen Diao is also severely lacking research. Obviously, they took a Buddhist temple for the setting of the Quan Zhen Taoist Sect. That is still okay until the part where the camera zooms in on a plaque - Nan Wu Er Mi Tuo Fo. Any Buddhist knows that this is a line from a Buddhist prayer chant and what is it doing in a Taoist-based sect? Basically, Taoist Gods and Buddhist Buddhas cannot be worshipped together on the same altar. Although most Chinese believe in a mixture of Buddhism and Taoism nowadays, that rule still exists. This proves that the entire production is a huge joke.
Computer Generated Graphics. I hate that technology when film producers overuse them to make their work more 'impressive'. Basically, in Shen Diao, all of the fighting scenes are choking with CG stuff. It makes the entire thing so unrealistic and ugly. Instead, why can't they do stuff like what Hong Kong producers do with their version of the same story? Throw in some real physical action, for goodness sake! Even the flying looks so unnatural! Of all these, I think the worst part still has to come from the ending - since when did Yang Guo and Xiao Long Nu became Dragonball Z fighters? The entire scene looks like a total rip-off from Dragonball Z; ya know, those Saiyajin aura stuff.
Of the entire series, the thing I dislike most is how Yang Pei Pei changed the story from A to Z and it leaves my jaw hanging after they began to show all sorts of crap on the screen. First, Mu Nian Chi (Yang Guo's mother) shows up. Isn't she supposed to be dead? Isn't Yang Guo supposed to live like a beggar? Yet the story has him stealing from a temple! The Yang Guo we know from the books will not do such a thing! I don't know why I finished watching all 40+ episodes. Perhaps I have this really insane urge to watch and laugh at all those big boo-boos the producers made. Recently, Mr. Louis Cha has voiced his displeasure over how Yang Pei Pei rewrote this novels, which is much to my relief. When I posted this piece of news to a fan-oriented discussion forum, I have seen many different responses, regardless of them being good or bad. Then, this thread popped up - Are Jin Yong's opinions superior to ours?
In my humble opinion, yes. Jin Yong -wrote- the story and basically, we are discussing about his ideas and his characters. Changing and mutilating them are forms of insult to him. As far as I know, Jin Yong's a pretty mild person and he wouldn't voice his disappointment if the adaptation is okay and the scriptwriter does not change the basic story. I'm a writer too and I know how much it hurts to have people editing and changing my characters. In fact, I have stopped a doujinshi (fan-comic) adaptation of my new Rurouni Kenshin fanfic from going out on the Comiket because I was not pleased with the alteration made to my story. I'm talking about disrespect here! If Jin Yong's stories and ideas are not good enough, why is he labeled as the standard setter for wuxia novel writers? Why does he have so many fans and readers all around the world? Even the late Gu Long couldn't match him in terms of popularity. Besides, isn't he the one who thought out most of those famous moves like Xiang Long Shi Ba Zhang?
I simple hate the way Yang Pei Pei changed the entire story. Basically, she deformed the entire novel in such a way that no one will know that it's Shen Diao Xia Lu if the names of the characters are changed altogether. If Yang Pei Pei insists on rewriting the entire thing, why bother to name it 'Shen Diao Xia Lu' in the first place? I'm inclined to think that they are doing this is make their production sell overseas. Most people who watch these adaptations are wuxia novel fans themselves and they are eternally enthusiastic about each new remake of the original. Alright, maybe they want a different approach to the original novel but why change crucial parts? Why make Yin Zhi Ping rape Xiao Long Nu under drug influence? Why change Xiao Long Nu's character into someone who is so stupid and unforgiving? Why turn Yang Guo into a person so cruel that he is willing to kiss and court another girl just to get back at her mother? I will never believe Yang Guo will do such a thing, especially when he is so in love with Xiao Long Nu. From a writer's view, I am beginning to think that this is some badly written fanfiction by a person who has never really read wuxia novels.
What else? Zhou Be Tong doesn't even appear there! He supposed to be a close friend of Xiao Long Nu and the part where Long devised the double sword technique is missing! That is a very important turning point in the story because Long was so heartbroken that she decided not to fight along with Yang Guo! Yin Zhi Ping became Long's best friend? Heck! Xiao Long Nu will not befriend anyone! C'mon. If she can decide to live alone in the mock grave for the rest of her life, I bet she will be strong enough to live without anyone else beside her.
Worst still, Yin Zhi Ping still has the guts to meet Xiao Long Nu and 'help' her to search for Yang Guo after he raped her. On the way, he visits prostitutes and at last, castrates himself. Now, what kind of story is that? On the way, Xiao Long Nu wants to marry Gong Sun Zhi because she thought that Yang Guo slept with her and didn't want to admit that on the original story, but in this version, Gong Sun had a lot more parts. After failing to make Long his wife, he went on some scheme to get back at his ex-wife and Yang Guo. Even Li Muo Chou's parts are not spared from being chopped into pieces. Somehow, Gong Sun Zhi rapes her and makes her his slave. Now, I think my blood pressure is rising from all that shock.
If Jin Yong is the standard setter for wuxia novels, who is the most popular Chinese romance novelist? Of course the answer is Qiong Yau. Qiong Yau is one of the most prolific Chinese novelist I know and she has written over 56 individual novels and some of them are classics. Her novels also has made some actors really famous like Steve Ma, and more recently, Alec Su and Vicky Zhao. I am no fan of Qiong Yau's but she has certainly created this phenomena in Taiwan. Qiong Yau has this knack of creating over-dramatized scenes with all the screaming, shouting, crying, wailing and weeping.
What has the Qiong Yau Phenomena got to do with Jin Yong television adaptations? Okay, when Taiwanese directors and scriptwriters get together, they have been so accustomed to making Qiong Yau-styles series and they can't get rid of those techniques while filming wuxia series. That's why you see lots of tears, shouting and screaming on the way. Wuxia is about a warrior's honor, Jiang Hu rules and duels, not screaming and crying over minor things! In the Taiwanese Shen Diao, you will go 'huh?' when Long ends up in tears for numerous times. What else? Yin Zhi Ping crying his eyes out?! Wanna watch over-dramatized series? I suggest you go watch those Qiong Yau stories.
Seriously, I think this is the worst adaptation ever made from a Jin Yong novel. Alright, I don't want to write any more about this topic any longer or else, I might suffer a heart-attack later on. For all comments, ideas and flames, email them over to me.
Alas... If I can just dig out that Chinese poem someone composed to poke fun at this version... I am just -glad- that Jin Yong has finally decided to stop Yang Pei Pei from adapting any more of his novels into a television series in the future.