Swordsman (笑傲江湖) 2013 Review

March 9, 2013

Okay so I finally finished the formidable 56 episodes of 笑傲江湖。Wow, I have so many thoughts about this production that I don’t even know where to begin. Well, let’s start with the good points…I finished it. In the beginning, I found the first few episodes a bit draggy  but then as the series progressed towards the middle, it got really good and i was definitely hooked all the way till the bit before the end where I more or less thought I knew the ending and so left it on hold. So to show you where this review is coming from, this review is coming from someone who has watched the 2001 version with Li Ya Peng, 2000 Mediacorp version with Fann Wong as well as the 1991/1992 HK movie versions with the famous portrayal of Dong Fang Bu Bai by 林青霞. So yes, I’m definitely more critical of this most recent production than some others.

Well, 笑傲江湖 has a good plot and an interesting mix of characters to start with and no matter what was done to dress up the show in special effects or spice things up, the fundamentally solid storyline still did its magic. The best thing about this production, in my opinion is the cast. By far, this version has the youngest and best looking cast and it’s a point in its favor. In all honesty, a huge part of what kept me watching was the cast. Wallace Huo was actually a really good 令狐冲 to my pleasant surprise. I had my doubts when I found out that he’d been casted as he’s always played depressed and emo characters so wasn’t sure how he was going to pull off 令狐冲’s relaxed, carefree and slightly mischievous character. Well, he proved me wrong, he pulled it off! What was also awesome was that when it came to portraying 令狐冲’s serious and emotional scenes Wallace completely nailed them. So funnily enough, my favourite 令狐冲 is probably from this adaptation, not to mention, he’s definitely the most good looking 令狐冲 so far. I also really liked Lin Ping Zhi( looks wise) in this. Even Yuan Shan Shan as Ying Ying didn’t disappoint contrary to the initial outcry against her casting. I did wish she was slightly colder and guarded at the start instead of immediately falling head over heels with 令狐冲 though. I always liked seeing the slow transformation of Ying Ying’s character on encountering 令狐冲. Qiao En did her best in her role as Dong Fang Bu Bai as well. All the actors did a good job with their roles really. I also have to hand it to whoever it was that played Yue Bu Qun….he was the epitome of the 伪君子 that Yue Bu Qun is supposed to be- righteous looking with hidden ambition.  If I had to fault the casting at all, it would be that the ‘ veteran’ pugilists of the martial arts world all looked so young! Feng Qing Yang, 任我行, the old monks…basically all the old people looked too young. Or maybe it was me missing the veterans actually looking really old like in the old wu xia productions. But really…Feng Qing Yang looked as if he was 40 years old just that he had a long white beard stuck on. Dong Fang Bu Bai who is also supposedly many years older than 令狐冲 was also ageless in the show which is strange as all the people from her generation looked downright OLD. This could’ve been on purpose though…maybe due to her learning the Kuei Hua Bao Dian? Who knows….

So aside from the actors, another good point would be the colours and the sceneries in this one. I thought the use of bright colours was pretty refreshing and it did bring the show to life so kudos to the Director for that. Also, some of the background sceneries were really pretty. The romance in the show was also pretty good as well- more screen time was devoted to the couples which allowed viewers to understand the relationships better. I thought this was a good change that was introduced because in the older productions, the romance isn’t so prominently featured and much of the relationship is left up to the viewer to infer from occasional glances, intense looks and the subtle holding of hands. So, I do appreciate the emphasis placed on romance in this version.

Okay, so now the bad….there were just too many mistakes. The scripting was pretty bad and sometimes things didn’t make sense in the show. An example would be how it seemed pretty clearly established from the start that Dong Fang Bu Bai was a woman through and through but then later on there were still discussions about her confused sexuality by 任我行 who supposedly was the one who rescued Dong Fang Bu Bai when she was a helpless girl running away. Of all people, he was questioning her sexuality? right….There were quite a few instances in which statements in front and at the back seemed to contradict each other or didn’t make sense as well. Additionally, people were puking out blood over every injury….and then appearing fine right after they were supposedly  ‘severely’ injured. little things like that. No biggie really, but they did disrupt my enjoyment of the show from time to time.

The interpretation of characters…..Lin Ping Zhi!! I don’t know if this version had a more faithful portrayal of Lin Ping Zhi than in other versions but I was really looking forward to being drawn into his character since they got such a handsome guy to play him this time but….no! Ping Zhi ended up being pretty 2 dimensional in this one. Just plain insane and obsessed with revenge.  I kind of wished that they made his character more humane, it would have been nice to see that he actually DID care for Ling Shan.  I didn’t like the fact that this version portrayed him as completely heartless and opportunistic. I mean…it is true that he is supposed to be a good guy who gets twisted by revenge and power but even so, an absolute transformation isn’t very realistic. During his weak moments, it would’ve been nice to see that he at least had some feelings for Ling Shan, especially when so much time was spent on showing what a loving couple they were. After all that…he must have had at least some residual feelings for her? I definitely would’ve been more sympathetic towards him and it would have made his character more fulfilling. Even at the end…instead of regret, they decided to go with portraying Ping Zhi as full on crazy even when he was already in a wheelchair. In my opinion, that’s a bit extreme…I’d rather he ended up regretting his mistakes and becoming a monk…that’s kinda more believable ( to me anyway).  Hence, instead of becoming my favourite Lin Ping Zhi, the character fell rather flat for me in this version. If he weren’t so handsome, I probably wouldn’t have cared much for him at all. Same goes for Yue Bu Qun…when he turned evil and his wife of 20 years died, SOME form of emotional reaction would probably have been more believable. There was no need for a total weepy scene but, complete disregard for her death just ain’t very realistic either.

Dong Fang Bu Bai….sighs. I was really looking forward to Qiao En and her Dong Fang Bu Bai. She looked so awesome in the released stills and indeed, she looked great and acted great in the show. HOWEVER, her character ended up falling rather flat for me as well. It just wasn’t well developed. I’m not actually disapproving of Yu Zheng’s attempt to give us a very different Dfbb, I respect that idea but it just wasn’t executed well. Quite alot of screen time was devoted to the initial romance and chemistry between ling hu chong and her but it never really went anywhere, it was just left unresolved for a long while and then before you knew it, he started hated her and within the span of an episode, they became enemies. Then she disappears again and appears at the end trying to resolve what was left hanging like…20 episodes ago. The relationship ended up being quite disjointed and the presentation of Dfbb as the big baddie whose soft side was only shown to 令狐冲 didn’t work out very well. In the end, it was quite hard to feel anything for Dfbb because the nuances and different shades of this very interesting and awesome character weren’t given a good framework to develop in. Qiao En did what she could but…for me, it just never took off, especially for the parts after the initial romance between them.  Such a let down really…it’s quite sad to think that 林青霞’s Dfbb and even Jacelyn Tay’s Dfbb ( I actually really liked her as Dfbb) conveyed so much more even though they were given much less screen time. I blame the scriptwriter for this major letdown. Dfbb could’ve been so awesome in this production with such a beautiful actress and loads of screentime. Such a waste really, the time allocated to her was just used so badly.  However, for what it’s worth, I did enjoy the initial interactions Dfbb had with 令狐冲.

Another bad point was that the show moved really quickly. Events happened one after another, very systematically to the extent that sometimes it was a bit robotic and thus, many of the supposedly touching and tearful moments in the show lost their effect. Deaths happened quickly and passed too fast. Even if you were feeling somewhat sad, before you could actually properly feel sad, the show moved on. Special effects were also slightly overdone at times as well. I know this is the age of special effects but sometimes, its really too much and at times they look really fake as well. I guess I still miss the old school productions where emphasis was placed on actual sword fighting. Directors nowadays don’t understand that bigger, grander effects do not equate better fight scenes. I wish someone would just knock this into their heads! Viewers aren’t here to watch video game effects, we’d just play a video game if that were the case!  In fact, the grander the special effects, the less awesome the fight because it just ends up looking fake and unimpressive. The worst part is that you understand the sentiments of the director and can only helplessly watch on as coloured lasers shoot back and forth across the screen- at one point the characters were even throwing out CG animated ANIMALS which had no relation to their martial art skill whatsoever. I repeat. CG animated animals are not cool and in no way are a good replacement for old fashioned but completely awesome sword fighting.

Lastly, the ENDING EPISODE. It was so ridiculous that it’s not even worth mentioning. Why is it even there? It should have just been removed from the show. It does not even deserve to be called an episode of 笑傲江湖. It was so ridiculous that it was nearly hilarious. So much of the c*** that they added in could’ve been taken out, the story would’ve still been the same and i would be feeling satisfied rather than extremely annoyed.

Well, this ended up more of a rant rather than a review since its reeking of my criticism. Don’t get me wrong though, I enjoyed watching the series nevertheless although I can’t say much credit can be attributed to the scriptwriter’s creativity or director’s indulgence in CGI. It’s just because I think I’ll enjoy anything that is 笑傲江湖 and nearly anything with strong, good looking actors. So anyway as a production which has seen many predecessors before it, it is disappointing. Some bold changes were attempted and they could’ve been awesome or disastrous. Sadly, in this case, I think the changes headed more towards disaster, especially considering the horrible changes in the ending. All I can say is that the scriptwriter needs to be shot. Apparently he’s going to be adapting the script for a new Return of the Condor Heroes and I must say I am really apprehensive about that. I just hope Yu Zheng doesn’t ruin it although….I haven’t seen a version of that that I’ve been satisfied with so maybe, just maybe there’s some hope for a good adaptation yet.


10 Responses to “Swordsman (笑傲江湖) 2013 Review”

  1. y said

    a very nice and honest review!

    i agree with you mostly, although i enjoyed the CG effects, which i felt brought to life many of the techniques. most people who follow these series probably already read the classics and/or know the entire story. so making an adaptation and sticking to the original may make them quit predictable. on that note, i respect and accept the changes made to the storyline. however, i’m very sympathetic towards dong fang bu bai in this adaptation. her sacrifices for linghu chong were greater than ren ying ying’s and the romantic side of me wished the ending could have been twisted in her favour. she was quite a victim of circumstances especially after meeting linghu chong and after spending time at the temple. ren ying ying’s character was quite a lousy portrayal in this one, i think.

    and yes, the veterans should look older. ping yi zhi seems to be the same age as linghu chong when he should be at least 20 years older

    • yeah I think that was the intention of the scriptwriter! as I said earlier, I’m just disappointed with its execution. I feel that it could have been done alot better and as much as I’d like to applaud Yu Zheng for his intentions…DFBB living through giving her heart to Ying Ying…I just find that whole idea a bit hard to accept. Wish he came up with a more plausible way to let the audience feel for DFBB, once again, it’s just a preference that I have for something more realistic than supernatural. I do welcome changes made to the storyline since yeah it’s been done sooo many times but I think this time, the changes made weren’t that great. Thanks for your comments! it’s nice to hear the opinion of fellow watchers 🙂

      • karened said

        Agreed! I’m not a Jin Yong purist, but when it comes to Wuxia, and not say RPG-adaptations, I prefer the storyline to be more realistic.

  2. NB_ said

    I definitely agree with the overuse of CGI. As someone who watch majority of Jin Yong TV adaptation as well as read all the books, I think CGI definitely make the fight scene looks less epic than trying for a more realism approach. Out of all, i think Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils (2003 TV series) did the best job.

    That, however, is not to blame the production. I think they are just using CGI to gain more production money from sponsor while filling the lack of design talents with false technological assistance. Its a common occurrence in Chinese TVs shows simply because talents camera crew, set designers, direction are much harder to assemble than getting some nerds doing CGI.

    I am disappointed but at the same time, appreciate the effort of them reviving Jin Yong series to TV again.


    • Thanks for your comments and for shedding some insight as to why CGI is used instead. It is so sad really that alot of the productions now, I feel are focused more on quantity rather than quality and I think there’s alot of pressure on directors now to ‘ please the masses’. I actually haven’t watched the 2003 series of Demi Gods and Semi Devils ( but that’s because I’m just quite biased towards actors used) I am however, looking forward to the new adaptation which is coming out I think in October this year! The trailer does look amazing and the effects seem more subtly put together. It’s by the same director who did heaven sword dragon sabre with Su You Peng. So yeah, hopefully that’s good!

      Yeah as much as it’s good that they are reviving Jin Yong, I also feel that maybe it’s because there just isn’t much new material to work with- lack of new wu xia material. Wu xia in itself…would you think it’s a dying genre? It’s pretty much the same with alot of blockbuster movies nowadays. Loads of book adaptations rather than original plots.

      • karened said

        Dying? You said what I dare not! I do think so…there is just no more noteworthy wuxia novels written these days, which my friend attributed to a lack of imagination of the current crop of writers who grew up watching idol dramas (yes, she is a harsh lady), a lack of the xia-spirit, and a lack of grasp of language required for a compeling wuxia novel.

        Jin Yong’s more popular dramas are kind of done to death (not that I’m not happy). Perhaps the production companies can remake more of Gu Long’s novels too? Or just write a Wuxia script themselves?

      • sorry for this extremely belated response…I kind of missed your reply! anyway, yes, I think i agree with what you say. I’m not too familiar with Gu Long, but from the productions of his novels so far, I can’t say I’m really impressed. His stories lack the complexity that Jin Yong’s have. Just my opinion….hehe. No one’s brave enough to write a script themselves I guess :O If only I could help write a script….but it’d have to be in english 😛

  3. karened said

    I watched this version of XAJH, but only the DFBB cuts (which would also have LHC in most scenes anyway), because of Qiao En and Wallace. Whilst I had enjoyed Yu Zheng’s Gong (the first drama I watched that is under his name), my experiences with his productions (and thoughtless comments on weibo) have been bad. So, when I saw his name stamped on this adaption, my natural reaction was to run away from it…until I saw the cast and decided to watch just for Wallace and Qiao En (hence only the cuts).

    Doing so, I can forget that this is an adaption of the novel, and pretend that it’s a romance story between 2 people from opposite halves of the pugilist world – which makes for excellent storyline.

    The colous are vivid, and I guess suitable for the mood of this adaption – more of idol drama type. But after watching numerous cdramas which feature which sharp colours, gorgeously tailored and detailed costumes and acessories, I sometimes find myself wishing for something with rougher edges…something less polished visually…>_<

    Same goes to the CGI and swordfight scenes. I agree, the 'older' period dramas have really good swordfight scenes where we get to see strokes and stances, instead of mere CGI, and where qinggong means we see the actor/actress leap from wall to wall, roof to roof, instead of just…floating away. Lol.

    I'm still trying to think of a way to watch Return of the Condor Heroes without subjecting myself to Yu Zhen's butchering of the classic. I guess I will watch Chen Xiao (since he is afterall the lead, and he IS eyecandy), but I've got to cut myself from Li Mo Chou, Xiao Longnu, and that guy who raped Xiao Longnu in the original.

    Have you watched Gua Xia Yi Zhi Mei starring Wallace and Liu Shi Shi? The action, scene transitions, chemistry, plot are all quite interesting. Give it a shot!

    • thanks for the suggestion! Yes I have 🙂 it was pretty good. yes, I know I dread to think what Yu Zheng is going to do to Return of the Condor Heroes. I agree with you, am watching for Chen Xiao too 😛 I think he’s the most fitting Yang Guo out of all the other versions so far! Pity about Xiao Long Nu….hopefully they will be a believable couple in the show.

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