Romance of Red Dust

Reviewed by: jotaro

April 09, 2010

Rating: five

This series is a traditional martial arts drama that departs from
tradition in some ways. I have seen this 30 episode serial twice now
because it features the beautiful model turned actress Shu Qi and the
veteran movie martial arts actor Rong Guang Yu. Both of these actors
do well in their respective roles. I have seen Shu Qi in the action
film “So Close” an action film which showcases her acting skills in
playing cold-hearted assassins. In “Romance of Red Dust” she plays
Hong Fu or Zhang Chu Chen, the deadliest of four assassin servants of
the Sui dynasty official, Yang Su. The other three assassins are also
beautiful and in this personality driven serial chapterplay we will
see plenty of close up shots in order to accentuate the subtle
performances and the beauty of our female leads.

The story takes place at the beginning of the Tang dynasty and the
downfall of the Sui dynasty. Thus the turmoil and uncertainty of the
time gives rise to a fascinating conflict between the various people
as they try to align themselves behind the right leaders. There is an
underlying theme that is mentioned near the beginning and near the end
of the series which is a testimonial to the way the series writers
crafted the story: “…with the responsibilities of leadership there is

The story is narrated in the first person from the point of view of
our lead protagonist, Hong Fu. She speaks about her relationship with
five men: Yang Su, Li Jing, Li Shi Min, Curly Beard Zhang Lie and Du
Gu Cheng. These relationships are the subtext of our story and make
the series a continuous account of the development of Hong Fu’s
personality and character. However it is her love for Li Jing that
will bring our story to its fascinating conclusion.

The island of Taiwan has not produced many martial arts series
compared with the others TV production companies but the series’ they
have come up are surprisingly good in quality.

The Story:

The context for our story comes near the very end of the Sui dynasty
and the beginning of the Tang dynastic period. There is vast turmoil
and civil unrest as various key political figures consolidate their
power. The most powerful political figure is Yang Su who with his
hidden underground kingdom wipes out any threat to his political
dominance. In his employ are a group of assassins, all women: Hong Fu
(in red played by Shu Qi), Bao Qin (in Blue, Luo Xiang Jin), Lu Yu (in
purple, played by another gorgeous actress), and Che Su (in Yellow,
played by Liu Yun). The deadliest of course is Hong Fu.

In the opening scenes the four assassins attend to a high Sui dynasty
official. In a perfectly choreographed fashion they dance for him and
his friends and then with an equal amount of deadly martial arts
choreography they destroy him, his friends and burn down his
stronghold. In spectacular fashion, the four ruthless assassins
calmly walk out of the burning castle without a scratch.

The other main protagonist of the series is Li Jing (played by Wallace
Huo) a young brilliant but naïve and scholarly young man who is trying
to find his way in these tumultuous times. Li Jing and Hong Fu see
each other and, at a glance, begin to fall in love. Li Jing comes to
the wary attention of Yang Su (played with exceptional guile by Kent
Cheng). Li Jing confronts the four assassins in a martial arts
demonstration in Yang Su’s palatial estate. He demonstrates his
brilliance and acumen both in his words and his martial arts in front
of Yang Su who quickly sees Li Jing as a threat.

Yang Su dispatches Hong Fu to kill Li Jing. In an about turn, Hong Fu
sets him free and changes her mind. She decides to commit her love to
Li Jing. Together they escape to a peaceful village but they cannot
find peace because they are pursued by Yang Su’s hired thugs. They
are also pursued by the vengeful and jealous Du Gu Chen (Kwang Wa) and
the obsessively jealous Bao Qin. Bao Qin is jealous because she loves
Du Gu Chen and Du Gu Chen is jealous because he loves Hong Fu.

In the corridors of the Emperor’s castle events change as the Sui
emperor is besieged by his own advisors and forced to take his own
life. This event sets in motion the instability of the times as a new
emperor claims power. In episode 4 we are introduced to a key power
figure, Li Shi Min (played with resolute assurance by Li Jun Feng),
the second son of the “new emperor.” It was Li Shi Min, with his
brilliant strategizing who tricked his own father in to claiming the
throne as the new Tang emperor.

Hong Fu and Li Shi Min meet each other for the first time by accident.
He becomes infatuated with her beauty. From that moment on Li Shi Min
comes across with firm self-assurance as the person who will attempt
to claim Hong Fu’s love and who will eventually claim the rightful
rule. His own two brothers, in particular Li Yuan, are jealous of
their brother’s influence and brilliance. They become the lead
antagonists alongside Yang Su.

In this series, Yang Su’s fall from power is carefully scrutinized as
we witness his own moral deterioration. He destroys the life of his
hapless son and turns his own son into a kind of living zombie. His
lead advisor Yin Shi Shi is a master in the use of potions and
poisons. Yang Su’s son, Yang Xuang Gan (Jia Nai Liang) becomes the
experiment of Yin Shi Shi who turns him into a walking monster.

Meanwhile in the martial arts world, the most skilled martial artists
are found in the Wa Gang fortress. The real leader of these righteous
outlaws is Curly Beard Zhang Lie (Rong Guang Yu). His fight scenes
are the best choreographed fight scenes of the series. Shu Qi’s fight
scenes are also fun to watch. Hong Fu/Zhang Chu Chen is a master of
the needle string martial arts. There scenes have some intricately
magical fight choreography.

In a stunning move in episode 10, Bao Qin and Du Gu Chen corner our
three protagonists, Hong Fu, Li Jing and Zhang Lie, who had joined
them on their journey. On the edge of a cliff the six individuals
have a spectacular confrontation which nearly causes the deaths of our
three heroes. I can’t give away this spoiler but somehow Hong Fu, Li
Jing and Curly Beard become separated. Hong Fu becomes blind and at
another point she looses her memory.

Du Gu Chen and Bao Qin begin to have a strange relationship. They are
equally obsessed with the recapture of Hong Fu but their obsessions
are far apart. The obsession leads Bao Qin to psychological self-
destruction and Du Gu Chen (by a strange twist of events) to a quiet
death in the arms of Hong Fu who had always been the secret love of
his life.

Of Course, Hong Fu is our most complex character. For a few episodes
she is blind and comes into the life of Li Ping Yang (played by the
very beautiful Yvonne Yao) and her brother Li Shi Min. Near the end
of the series, Du Gu Chen gives her a potion that makes her forget her
past. Her attitude changes from cold confident indifference (her
assassin persona) to naïve innocence. The subtle change in Hong Fu’s
personality is fascinating to watch.

This series has both tragedy and triumph with the death of several
characters both good and bad but the final episodes bring the series
to a satisfying emotional finish. There are excellent performances by
all of the lead actors and actresses. I do wish some of the
characters were not killed off. The relationship between Li Ping Yang
and Cheng Jao Jin (played with funny comedic range by Pang Yong Zhi)
was both funny and moving at the same time because the relationship
looked very real.

As I have said above the best martial arts scene takes place in
episode 10 where Du Gu Chen and Bao Qin challenge our heroes. The
mountainous background in this scene is gorgeous and adds to the power
of the scenery.

For martial arts scenes, fine acting, excellent cinematography, and a
well crafted story I give this series gets ***** stars.

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