The Return of the Condor Heroes


Reviewed by: wisefool

December 21, 2005

Rating: four

Cast:
Louis Koo- Yang Guo
Carmen Lee- Xiao Long Nu
Bak Biu- Guo Jing
Wei Qiu Hua- Huang Rong
Gigi Fu- Guo Fu
Theresa Lee- Guo Xiang
Suet Lee- Li Mo Chou
Maggie Cheung- Cheng Ying
Lau Dan- Hong Qi Gong
Wayne Lai- Zhou Bo Tong
Lok Ying Kwan- Huang Yao Shi
Liu Jia Hui- Golden Wheel Monk
Zhang Bing Xi- Yule Qi
Lo Chan Shun- Huo Du

Comments:

Due to the current anticipation with the latest mainland adaptation of this Jin Yong classic, I've recently re-watched this 1995 TVB adaptation. Though I have not watched the classic 1984 TVB adaptation, I still find this version the best as compared to the Singapore 1998 and Taiwanese 2000 adaptations. The leads, Louis and Carmen, though relatively newcomers then, provided strong performances and were the highlight of the entire series.

I was glad that this adaptation stays quite faithful to the original novel though the entire series was much too rushed and short. How could they cram a major Wuxia story into only twenty episodes? The fighting scenes, which are supposed to be the main focus of any Wuxia series was thus directly affected. Many climax fights such as the Heroes' Meet where Yang Guo and Xiao Long Nu first reunite, the couple's duel with Gongsun Zhi, when Xiao Long Nu first appears and battles with the Quanzhen Sons and so on were so short and rushed such that there wasn't really any Wuxia impact on me, it just became another ancient costume series.

I was also horrified to find that they did not bother to use any child actors for the earlier parts to portray young Yang Guo, Guo Fu and the Wu brothers. As a result, I had quite some trouble trying to
distinguish the child and adult character since they are played by the same actors. Lastly, I was disappointed with how short a time they allocated to the scenes where Yang Guo grows up with Xiao Long Nu in the tomb, since the rushed script did nothing to show the development of familiarity and love between the two.

Complaints aside, there are, however, several positive factors, such as the strong performance of some of the lead cast as mentioned and some pretty good fight scenes, especially that of Xiao Long Nu's left-right technique, which made use of pretty cool CGI, her battle with the Mongol lackeys as well as the duel between Hong Qi Gong and Ouyang Feng before they died. I thought the part Yang Guo and Xiao Long Nu learning the jade maiden technique was good, but again, too rushed. I loved the theme song sung by Emily Chow as well as the background tunes played during the series, which were simply beautiful!

The costumes, in my opinion were simple yet lovely as compared to the later versions, and even the latest 2005 Mainland adaptation. I especially liked Xiao Long Nu's simple white robe and hairstyle which were according to the novel and Guo Xiang's sweet yellow dress which made her look simply young and innocent.

However, like any old, classic wuxia adaptation, the series lacked the means and budget for wonderful scenic backdrops, unlike the plentiful breathtaking ones in the latest Mainland adaptation. Needless to say, and also due to backward technology then, they had to make do with simple and fake-looking props.

Cast:

Louis Koo- Yang Guo
Louis was a newcomer when he was cast. I heard that people were skeptical about how he would fare as the famous heroic role of Yang Guo. But Louis defeated his critics and earned new praises for his portrayal of Yang Guo, which I thought was a really good and convincing one for a newcomer. In fact, I think his acting in here is so much better compared to now, which has become somewhat stale. He was natural with the cheeky, witty and humorous emotions of the young Yang Guo, especially when he tricks the Quanzhen Taoists and Huo Du with his words as well as his cheekiness with Xiao Long Nu such that I did laugh out loud at times at Yang Guo's cleverness.

Louis was also convincing as a saddened and serious Yang Guo as his character matured, especially after the 16 years. The contrasts between his character when he was young and old, as well as the
development of the character were clearly shown. However, the script did not allocate any fantastic fighting scenes to him and the martial expert side of Yang Guo was not really shown. Another complaint was that the script did not really focus much on showing the unorthodox and heretic side of Yang Guo, as described in the novel.

Carmen Lee- Xiao Long Nu
Another newcomer when she was cast, Carmen still remains my favourite Xiao Long Nu. Beautiful, graceful, calm and naïve was Carmen's Xiao Long Nu and she was really convincing and natural with these features. Her coldness was so real that she really looked like an icy beauty statue. The aloof attitude she displays to others is a great contrast with the warm and loving one she dedicates to Yang Guo solely. Xiao Long Nu is also a pure and naïve lady who is inexperienced with worldly affairs and that was portrayed well by Carmen as well, especially the part when fear and uncertainty were showed in her eyes when she first left the tomb.

However, due to her overwhelming coldness, Carmen did not really portray the innocent side of Xiao Long much as described in the novel. I also have to admit that she looked a little mature as an 18-year-old in the first half of the series, though she made that up with her acting. Towards the second half as well as after the 16 years when Xiao Long Nu matures, Carmen looked perfect in the role. Another praise for Carmen was that she looked really graceful when she executed some of her fighting stunts, just as if she were floating, as described in the novel. I loved all her fighting scenes, especially her left-right technique which I thought was really cool. It is no wonder Carmen still remains the most popular Xiao Long Nu, alongside Idy Chan.

Bak Biu- Guo Jing
Bak Biu did an above average job as Guo Jing. I thought his stubborn and naïve character was portrayed quite well, especially the part where he threatens to chop off Guo Fu's arm to pay back Yang Guo and the harsh attitude he displays to Guo Xiang to prevent her from being spoilt like her sister. Bak Biu also showed the great love and care he had for Yang Guo as well as his kind and heroic nature convincingly. The duty he has towards protecting Xiang Yang city as well as to act accordingly as a father and husband figure towards his family were well-balanced.

Wei Qiu Hua- Huang Rong
Like what many people feel, I agree that Qiu Hua was a miscast for the role of the witty Huang Rong. The character, though already a mother and into middle age, is still supposed to elude that intelligence and charm as when she was younger, though she is now a much more restrained and responsible woman as compared to her stubborn self when she was young. All I see from Qiu Hua is a somewhat stiff and gentle middle-aged woman with no charm or assertion on her opinions whatsoever. She does not even have that superior image of a beggar sect leader, let alone that witty aura. The suspicion she has about Yang Guo was not that convincing and she failed to impress in the famous ?mad? scene she displays to Qiu Qian Chi as described in the novel.

Gigi Fu- Guo Xiang
Gigi was quite a good Guo Fu and was bratty, spoilt, and arrogant in every sense though the script did tone that down as compared to the novel. Though totally spoilt rotten and inconsiderate, Guo Fu does stand out as a unique character and a literally beautiful one too and that was what Gigi's Guo Fu was.

Theresa Lee- Guo Xiang
Theresa Lee is another wonderful actress. She was 25 when she starred in here but I had absolutely no trouble accepting her as a 16-year-old; she just looked so young and energetic. Theresa's Guo Xiang was really adorable and likeable, just like any innocent and sweet young girl. She has that cheerful grin and twinkle in her eye that makes her really look the part as the kind but clever Guo Xiang. She also did well to portray the admiration and care she has for Yang Guo, such that I did feel that it was somewhat a pity that Yang Guo only treats her like a little sister. One complaint I had was that the script did not follow the character from the novel closely, since they did not really show the heretic side of Guo Xiang well enough, except the part where she invited odd people to her birthday party. Also unlike the novel, Guo Xiang's wit wasn't really shown in here.

Other characters:

Other supporting characters which I thought did well too were Lau Dan, who is the best Hong Qi Gong ever, with his jolly and chivalrous presence, Suet Li as the beautiful but vicious Li Mo Chou and Maggie Cheung who portrayed Cheng Ying exactly as in the novel, with all the grace, elegance and calmness that was expected. Contrary to what many people feel, I thought Wayne did well as Zhou Bo Tong. He was really cute, mischievous, and silly and provided the most comic relief apart from Louis's young Yang Guo.

Conclusion:

With strong performances from most of the actors, which makes up for the rather rushed plot and weak fighting, it is still worth it to catch this adaptation, which boosts one of the best Yang Guo and Xiao Long Nu. Amidst the rushed pace, I still managed to enjoy the series overall!


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