I forget how impactful Jin Yong’s storytelling could have on me. From the adaptations of the Condor Heroes Trilogy in the 80’s and 90’s, as well as the Heavenly Sword tale, these epic series opened me to a world of wuxia; its heroes, heroines, values and relationships. In essence, it molded my young mind and set the standard for excellence in dramas to come. It made me forlornly wished that I could read Chinese so that I may endeavor to read JY’s masterpieces. Yet, witnessing the book come to life certainly has its own merits. I may not know what will happen next, but it makes getting swept by its epic-ness all the more worthwhile.
This latest adventure (latest in my book, not reality)- Demi Gods Semi Devils 2003- a CCTV (mainland China) production, is another first for me. I’ve seen TVB (Hong Kong) productions and their take on Jin Yong’s wuxia novels, and I notice one striking difference: the theme song. It is missing from CCTV. To me, having a powerful theme song brings forth anticipation and promise of a wonderful adventure ahead. But instead, CCTV showcased a poignant score with a matched ferocious theme. Even though I felt the production was lacking in that category, they did live up to the expectations of wuxia genres, with its complicated heroes, engaging martial arts and so many twists and turns to the plots that I find myself always guessing and then proven wrong.
The story surrounds three heroes, Qiao Feng, Duan Yu and Xuzhu, whose lives are inextricably woven. These three protagonists were originally created to model after the demi gods “Tian Long Ba Bu,” the “8 races of non-human entities.” But I’m grateful Jin Yong decided to make them human, because complicated human traits make the theme more profound and resonating to us lowly mortals.
The series starts out with Duan Yu, the Crown Prince of Dali who abhors violence due to his Buddhism beliefs and upbringing. His survival mechanism is to run away from his problems (lol) and thus unceremoniously runs into a new set of problems, all spawn by his virile father whom in the past sired many half-sisters. Even if he has no desire to learn martial arts, it eventually falls into his lap and he discovers (during tough times) its life saving benefits. He falls head over heels for Wang Yuyan even though she only has eyes for her “brother cousin” Murong Fu, but Duan Yu doesn’t give up. In the midst of his adventure, he becomes blood brothers with Qiao Feng and later, Xuzhu. This ties the story together, as their brotherhood and oath brings us to the climax.
Qiao Feng, a hero that has stolen my heart, is one of the best martial artist warriors in the pugilistic world, and has the saddest story of them all. Following my earlier post, Qiao Feng gets tricked into believing that Scarlet’s father, Duan Zhenchun was responsible for his parent’s death, and he ends up killing his beloved who disguised as her father. He proceeds throughout the series trying to “take care” of Scarlet’s sister, Purple, to honor Scarlet’s last wish, as well as uncovering the true murderer 30 years ago. And deep down, he could never forget, never move on from losing is beloved.
It’s funny how I can get so invested in a hero’s story and when he goes through a painful time, I could feel my heart breaking for him- and crying for him, from the injustice of it all. But things happen to teach our hero a poignant lesson. I was angry and frustrated with the ending, but finally made peace with it because it is the best ending for Qiao Feng. Like J said, “don’t you think it’s best for QF to be with Scarlet i/o [then] being alone in this world?” Indeed, how could he continue to live on without Scarlet? I only wished the ending showed Qiao Feng in the heavens, reunited with his beloved. I am glad that Qiao Feng ended- at least for the moment- a warring bloodbath that would have ensued if he didn’t sacrifice his life to protect Sung and Liao empire.
The character that irritated me the most is Purple. Good gad, I felt bad for Qiao Feng to have to be responsible for her. She is truly evil. But in the end, she did have one redeeming quality: she is capable of love. She has always loved Qiao Feng and could never measure up to her dead sister- which is a bane in her existence- especially when Qiao Feng said that he only took care of her because Scarlet told him to (hah.) So as she holds Qiao Feng’s body in her arms and recalling that he wanted her to “take care” of the “ugly guy” iron faced man who sacrificed his eyes for her, she refused to. She didn’t want to be indebted to the iron faced man, she wanted to be free to be with Qiao Feng- so she gave those eyes back and ended her life. Talk about traumatic!
Our final hero is Xuzhu, an orphaned Shaolin monk whose mission in life is to follow Buddha’s ways. This gets challenged when he is forced to become the leader of the unorthodox sect and encounters the Elder Child who makes him break every monk rule to the point of getting exiled from the Shaolin sect. He also uncovers his true parents and learns that it is ok not to be a monk- that as a man, he can still abide by Buddhism beliefs. He becomes a powerful leader and prince of Xixia due to his marriage with the princess whom he had an indiscretion with during his “testing” phase.
No matter what these heroes choose to believe in or run away from, they are fated to do what they are meant to do.
Overall I felt the storytelling profound. It was easy to get through the 40 episodes as I love watching martial arts and learning the fates of the characters, if you will, not to mention that it was very fast-paced. I adore each heroes- although I wanted to smack Xuzhu upside the head several times- but he too warmed up to me. Qiao Feng on the other hand gripped me the moment his story took centerfold, especially his formidable martial arts skills, compelling acting, chemistry with Scarlet, and his inevitable sacrifice.
I’m one to prefer watching only happy endings- a la the Condor Heroes Trilogy- because no matter what obstacles and fucked up things the protagonists had to endure, they would still end up together. And my time spent exploring these adventures with them, is worthwhile. But with Demi Gods, at the end of the day, I must say that I felt satisfied. Even though my favorite couple could not be together in the wuxia world, they can still be together in the wuxia heaven. It is an exception I have made for this bittersweet, wonderful series. And alongside other Jin Yong’s fabulous masterpieces, Demi God sits very close to the top.