The Book and the Sword


Reviewed by: jotaro

November 01, 2010

Rating: five

The Book & the Sword

This story is by Jin Yong has been filmed and serialized for television countless times. It is known to be Jin Yong’s first complete novel. However, fans of the novel will quickly realize that the series departs from the novel in significant ways, particularly with the substantial use of the character, Yu Wanting (Liu Te-kai). The story takes place in the midst of the Qing period. Peace is fairly established throughout the realm with small pockets of resistance. However, there is some civil unrest with people always hungering and vying for power.

Amidst these tumultuous times, heroes and villains thrive. This story with its myriad selection of heroes and villains really is about Chen Jiaoluo (Qiao Zhenyu), Yu Wanting, Emperor Qianlong (the great Adam Cheng), and Huo Qingtong (the lovely Niki Chow). With this version of the story, we will get to see the background history of the formation of the Red Flower Society.

The Story:

Our story begins in the palaces of power where a hidden masked character shows up making his presence known to the emperor. The masked character is Yu Wanting. Yu Wanting is headstrong and stubborn in his drive to achieve his goal and vision of establishing equality between the Hans and the Manchus. In previous martial arts stories they seemed to be about the Ming versus the Qing and the Ming rebels’ drive to reestablish their former glory. The approach of this series is an obvious departure but truer to the Jin Yong philosophy.

Yu Wanting has a disciple in Chen Jailuo who he knows from his relationship with his mother and father. When Chen Jialuo’s father is killed, Wanting becomes Jialuo’s foster father. He begins to train him in the martial arts but he wants Jialuo to learn more. Enter Yuan Shixiao (veteran actor Bryan Leung), a comedic figure but a powerful martial artist. He begins to train our main protagonist in the martial arts.

Meanwhile, Yu Wanting is incessant in making secret forays into the emperor’s palace assassinating key figures and introducing himself as the 9th prince to different people in the palace, including the emperor Qianlong. Qianlong is Adam Cheng, a role he played in the past. Cheng had played Chen Jialuo in Jet Li’s Feng Sai Yuk movies and in TV series’, he had also played Qianlong in the past. This Qianlong is shown to be a wise leader, quick to anger but decisive when rapid response is required.

Qianlong is surrounded by equally smart figures from palace advisers, Bai Zheng (Yang Yitan), He Shen (Ren Wei) and the annoying Empress,(Yao Jia)all giving excellent supporting performances. The emperor’s advisers cause Qianlong to be constantly on his guard. The threats to his power are the empress dowager and his own wife, the empress. Into this palace intrigue steps Yu Wanting, the 9th prince who was thought to have been killed by the former emperor.

Our female lead protagonist, Huo Qingtong also appears early on in the series when she and her Uygur tribe are set upon by a group of bandits. Their tribe’s sacred book (if you pay attention, the text of the book is in Arabic and the book is in fact the “Koran”) is stolen. The theft of the sacred book is one of the key plot themes of our story as it threatens to destabilize the country and lead the southern tribes who revere the sacred book, into war with the Qing government army. Of course, we are made aware of why this is happening. Yu Wanting is behind everything. He wants war to commence in order to step into to the chaos and achieve his vision of an egalitarian state with the Qing.

In one episode the ruthlessness of Wanting is shown. In one fell swoop Chen’s mother and the emperor’s nanny commit suicide only because he knows their secret. Wanting has a problem in properly communicating what he knows to women. He also murders the innocent brother of emperor Qianlong.

Events in the story come to a head when Wanting forms the Red Flower Society. He works closely and secretively with the Chang Hezhi (Tan Jianchang), Chang Bozhi (Zhong Liang) and two others within the society to achieve his own goals. Hence even within the Red Flower society, Wanting has an inner clique that is aware of his overall plans. With this clique he even stages his own death in order to further his ends within the society in complete secrecy.

Chen Jialuo is devastated when he hears of the death of Yu Wanting and his mother. This occurs in episode 8 or 9. It is an excellent scene with a stirring performance by Qiao Zhenyu as Jialuo but it is Bryan Leung’s excellent and subtle supporting performance as Yuan Shixiao that really adds power to this scene. Watch how Yuan Shixiao reacts silently to the news. The slow motion work that was done in the non-action scenes adds power to the supporting performances. These performances were particularly good especially from Leung. All through the series the supporting performances were key to each scene. Qiao Zhenyu worked the hardest as both the lead protagonist and a supporting character, Fu Kangan.

Chen Jialuo, as we all know, becomes the leader of the Red Flowers, albeit reluctantly, and quickly leads the secret society to the rescue of the sacred book. Huo Qingtong and Jialuo become infatuated with each other and their relationship begins to flourish. Ka Sili (the ravishingly pretty, Liu Ying) doesn’t show up till the latter half of the series. This unusual because in the original novel she has a bigger role but this move to deminish her role does not seem to take away her importance to this version of the story.

In great fight scenes mixed with subterfuge and intrigue, the sacred book is recovered but the Red Flower Society is kept busy when one of their key leaders, Wen Tailai (Liu Naiyi) is captured in the home of Zhou Zhongying (Wang Gang). This capture brings forth a two-fold tragedy that nearly destroys the Zhou family. The sweet daughter of Zhongying, Zhou Qi (Li Chengyuan) shows up in these scenes and quickly develops an infatuation with Xu Tianhong (Li Yuan), the tactician and “right hand man” of Chen Jialuo.

Amidst all of this subterfuge is the Taoist sword master, Zhang Zhaozheng (Li Donglin) who begins to work for the Qing emperor. He proves to be the Red Flowers’ most proficient enemy both in the way he schemes to keep Tailai imprisoned and in the way he fights. His martial arts battles are amongst the best in the series.

Yu Yutong (Deep Ng) becomes the most obsessive member of the Red Flowers in his drive to save Tailai. He becomes enraptured by the beautiful wife of Tailai, Luo Bing (Qi Fang). We get the impression that Luo Bing is more than just curious about Yu Yutong. Eventually Tailai is saved but not without a serious sacrifice on the part of Yutong. Li Yuanzhi (the sweet Lu Chen) shows up near the midpoint of the series. But we feel sorry for her because of her innocence and immaturity. It is hard to see how she will win the love of Yutong.

In the palatial world of the emperor a visiting princess causes another interesting reunion between Bu Qianjia (You Jiahui), Qianlong and Yu Wanting since she was connected to the princes of the former emperor. Wanting’s hunger for power grows more evident with the arrival of Bu Qianjia, especially in episode 23. Even Wanting’s co-conspirators begin to feel threatened by Bu Qianjia. Likewise, the emperor is disappointed when Qianjia leaves the palace.

Wanting’s viciousness comes to the fore more frequently as he becomes desperate in his struggle to regain his former glory. The Chang brothers are killed when they get in the way of Wanting and Qianjia’s relationship. Wanting’s love for Qianjia is the only unselfish quality about Wanting’s personality. All other characters in his life are either expendable or people to be used.

Zhang Zhaozhong who shows up more in the latter half of the series as the rogue Taoist master and pawn of the Qing authorities begins to demonstrate his extensive martial arts abilities. His heartless and relentless pursuit of our heroes leads into many martial arts battles right up till the last episodes. The second half of the series has the best martial arts scenes with an excellent use of stop motion camera along with slow motion cinematography. The key martial arts battles near the end between Chen Jialuo and Yu Wanting are a wonder to watch. The vast panoramic settings for the final battle are perfect.

For martial arts, set design, meticulous direction, acting and cinematography I give this series *****stars.


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