Nirvana in Fire (NIF) is an intense series, seemingly slow at first but every little scene builds up towards the main storyline. The story revolves around family ties, loyalty, manipulation, revenge & virtues of individuals in handling these aspects.
In an army’s expedition more than a decade ago, Lin Shu lost his whole family to the allegation & ultimate sentencing of being traitors. He barely survived and was poisoned, but was eventually saved by Langya Hall. In his recuperation, his physical appearances were altered significantly, giving him an opportunity to return as a different persona.
Lin Shu plans out his ultimate plan to restore his family’s honour & unveil the truth behind the incidents a decade ago, returning to Jinling capital of Liang country as Mei Changsu, a top scholar and Chief of Jiangzuo Alliance. Mei Changsu is sought after as the political advisor by the squabbling princes vying for the Emperor’s succession. Lin Shu/ Mei Changsu’s meticulous plans in eliminating the obstacles one by one forms the main arc of the storyline.
1st Ripple of Destruction – Xie Yu’s Eradication (and Crown Prince’s goodbye)
Xie Yu (Marquis of Ning) is the first stepping stone for Lin Shu/ Mei Changsu to eliminate, being the officer recognised as the “saviour” when he defeated the “traitorous” Lin family’s army regiment. His meteoric rise to political prominence is built upon his relationship over the years with thorough slyness & calculation.
Xie Yu married the unwilling Princess Liyang, resulting in the best kept secret on the real identify of their son, Xiao Jingrui, for more than 2 decades. Under the guise of kinship, he made great use of Tianquan Manor to do all his underground biddings. He manages his relationship as the political advisor & backer of the Crown Prince behind the scene by pulling all the strings of the puppets.
Upon the main confrontation at Jingrui’s birthday party, everything unravelled for Xie Yu. His farce is peeled & his guarded secrets are exposed for all to see his real intention. Regardless of how ruthless he is, he finally realises that there is no turning back and relented to ensure his family’s survival. Xie Yu’s actions reinforce that he values his political standing the most. The only relationship that I wasn’t sure was his feeling for Princess Liyang, as there is a hint of regrets upon heeding her final advice. Upon his imprisonment, there is a little introduction to his relationship with Xia Jiang. Frankly, I did not feel much for Xie Yu as his character is deplorable & without morale. With Xie Yu’s banishment, the Crown Prince lost his advisor and ultimately his position as well.
Jingrui as the victim in this arc, grew throughout his own journey, from a young naïve noble to shock & anger upon realising his own identity, and final acceptance that certain things are beyond his control. The character is a naïve one, often becoming melancholic when things do not turn out well.
What I love most is Jingrui’s best friend – Yan Yujin. This happy-go-lucky lad is enigmatic, seemingly playful but shows profound understanding of the events & its implications. He probably takes after his father Yan Que’s brilliance. The father and son’s combination is splendidly contrasted – Yan Que’s choice of seeking serious solace in Taoism in his bid to forget the past & evade the present, while Yujin’s choice of seeking joy in life in his bid to evade his loneliness. Yujin has many unforgettable lines – from his cheekiness in replying to the forgetful Grand Empress that he is married (he is not!), to his banter with Jingrui, and his gratefulness to Mei Changsu for helping his father.
2nd Ripple of Destruction – Prince Yu’s Annihilation (and Xia Jiang’s downfall)
The politic picks up steam upon the Crown Prince being deposed, paving the way for Prince Yu (Xiao Jinghuan) who has been fighting with him for the longest time. Prince Yu (Xiao Jinghuan) seeks Mei Changsu’s assistance while Mei Changsu plays along, but in reality is strategizing for Xiao Jingyan (Prince Jing), his childhood friend who does not recognise him.
Prince Yu becomes increasingly wary of his own brother, Prince Jing and even Mei Changsu. He collaborates with Xia Jiang to frame Prince Jing, almost breaking the trust that the Emperor has built over the year with Prince Jing. Ultimately, he is not successful but attempts rebellion while the Emperor is at the Spring Hunting Ground. Prince Jing with the help of Mei Changsu/ Lin Shu manage to stop the rebellion, turning the tide against Prince Yu, sealing & ending his fate as a contender for the Crown Prince position.
Prince Yu’s story is one of ambition & choice. Although the descendant of the Hua Tribe, he has been greatly favoured and in terms of characters – probably mirrors the Emperor the most. Sly & suspicious, Prince Yu always portrays himself as a benefactor with great morality. However, his only aim is to obtain the position of Crown Prince at all cost.
Qin Banruo, being the Hua Tribe’s leader & Prince Yu’s strategist, is cunning & serves the objectives of her master well. Her relationship with Prince Yu is a little shady, but it doesn’t look likely that she has any other objectives other than to execute revenge for Hua Tribe.
3rd Ripple of Destruction – Emperor’s Moment of Truth (and Xia Jiang’s expose)
Xia Jiang of the Xuanjing Bureau (the royal internal investigation bureau), is a highly trusted aide of the Emperor. His need to ensure the survival of Xuanjing Bureau & his own position emboldens Xia Jiang to scheme against Prince Qi and the Chiyan Army. His method is bold, decisive & cruel. His success is the culmination of the suspicious nature of the Emperor & what the Emperor wants to believe.
Just as Prince Jing is made Crown Prince, Xia Jiang manages to sow seeds of doubt in the Emperor again. This set the confrontations between the Emperor and Prince Jing, forcing the Emperor to reassess the judicial review for the rebellion of Prince Qi and Chiyan Army.
Xia Jiang is a good villain to blame. Calculative, secretive, cruel, and extremely good in making use of the suspicious nature of the Emperor. However, I think the real villain is really the Emperor himself. His character has a significant flaw – he trusts no one and deems everyone acts like him, every action is for their own selfish needs. The number of friendships & family kinship that he has destroyed over the years, also reflect that he can’t see the error of his own ways. But eat the humble pie, the Emperor must. The rebellion case is over-turned & innocence of the people involved finally restored.
The ending leaves a bit of something for the audience’s imagination. An imminent war throws everything into chaos. With the survival of the country at its focus, the loyal friends/ brothers/ army go into the battle. The end.
I take it as an indication for us to pick our own best imagined ending to our favourite characters. There are so many great characters in the series, that it will take forever to mention each and everyone. Commander Meng, Fei Liu, Lin Chen, Xia Dong & Nie Feng, Gong Yu, Tong Lu, Li Gang, Zhen Ping, Doctor Yan, Prince Ji, Xiao Xin. Each and every one of these side characters have a soul & a story to tell! These are all great actors and actresses, portraying their characters to life in an epic series.
Favourite romantic scenes (Episode 11)
The ultimate romantic scene in NIF is where Nihuang exposes Lin Shu/ Mei Changsu’s persona at the border. The conversations are intense & full of emotions. Lin Shu’s gut feel that Nihuang is nearby just by hearing the bell from Nihuang’s horse, Nihuang’s relentless interrogation on his intent & background, Mei Changsu’s retort in anger on her choice of word – traitorous army, Nihuang’s manic reaction to check Mei Changsu’s arm & neck for evidence & her ultimate drop of pretence that things are rationale.
The scene portrays Nihuang’s hope & despair. I re-watched this section many times just to see the emotions between the two characters. The two has great chemistry. The crying scenes – I felt like crying with Nihuang!
And the song accompanying this scene, epic! Need I say more. Deserving a post on its own!
Favourite bromance scene (Episode 42)
The brotherhood between Lin Shu and Xiao Jingyan runs deep, as they grew up together as youngsters. They are honest & loyal to each other, and appreciates each other’s skills. I thought the best brotherhood scenes are when Jingyan misunderstood Mei Changsu and wants to severe their ties as master-advisor. The misunderstandings arose mainly as Prince Jing does not trust Mei Changsu as the advisor as he harbours deep-rooted bias that all advisors use others to achieve their aims.
Prince Jing’s bottomline was he thought his mother, Concubine Jing, was used as a tool in Mei Changsu’s strategy to gain sympathy from the Emperor. However, Prince Jing is a stubborn and sometimes unreasonable person, unable to see the overall picture due to his own biases.
The scene whereby Prince Jing cut off the bell at the basement, signifying the break in their communication channel is heart-breaking. When Mei Changsu showed his sincerity by requesting an audience and waits for a long while in the cold snow storm, it is not enough to thaw Prince Jing’s anger.
The scene when Mei Changsu is so frustrated that he shouted Xiao Jingyan’s direct name (which is inappropriate) depicts the anger that Mei Changsu had for his friend’s stubbornness.
How Mei Changsu brings Prince Jing to his senses by stating his understanding of Prince Jing’s helplessness for not being there for his brother & friend during the critical moment, and Prince Jing’s final realisation that he needs to put priorities above the bigger picture. The kind of arguments you have with friends, warts and all.
Last but not least, the songs! They have great songs in the show. Sharing one of my favourite series theme songs – When the Wind Blows 风起时
Please note the music sheet is personally arranged & shared for educational & personal entertainment purposes. Please use these personal shared items responsibly and not to use these commercially.
Watching NIF for the umpteenth times (I stopped counting after the 3rd times), it never fails to impress. This series inspired me to take a short hiatus to immerse in learning Mandarin & completed a short full-time Chinese language course in Beijing.
The scenery is beautiful, the etiquette so profound, the virtues & morality of humankind barely laid out, the political alliances & schemes poked. The storyline is riveting, and you are bound to focus on the conversations. The conversations as I was made to understand have many hidden meanings, which may not be appreciated by the general audience.
The series is not for everyone, as it may seem slow at times. But my final take, the series comes up top to stand tall amongst one of the greatest wuxia ie Legend of the Condor Heroes. When you have the time & the energy to focus, watch this series of 54 episodes with patience. Definitely one of the best!
5 thoughts on “Nirvana In Fire I (2015) 琅琊榜 : C Drama Series Review”
I learned that Hu Ge, Liu Tao, Jin Ding all turned down casting offers in this production in the outset. Only Wang Kai accepted the offer immediately.
Reasons may be diverse, and I heard that Hu Ge was uncomfortable with the script being a false representation of some historical facts and figures.
Thanks for sharing. I have also heard of Nie Duo, although this character is not cast in the series. I would be very interested to follow through the original novel to compare the series vs novel. There is a very good English translated version, which is not completed as yet. So will need to patiently wait for the full translated set.
Out of curiosity, what were the obstacles that the production team encountered? Why did all the key cast turned down the original role?
Nirvana In Fire 2 is also a favourite, although I have not had a chance to sit down & gather my thoughts in a proper blog. NIF 2 brings out a totally different feeling, but I only loved the series after the 2nd time watching it. The family ties of the 3 males, Xiao Ting Sheng, Ping Zhang & Ping Jing, it really tugs at the heart.
Of ALL series produced by China todate, Nirvana in Fire stands unsurpassed.
It would be even more interesting to note that it is even more popular in Korea and Japan, and even Vietnam, than it was in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Nay, this story is NOT about ROMANCE, but about LOVE.
Reviews that base credibility and acceptance on romantic elements would NEVER do justice to Chinese productions, let alone period Chinese productions. China has now evolved into a neo Confuscian culture and romance really plays a much lighter role than western culture.
Nirvana in Fire is hardly about romance. Lady Nihuang fell in love with Nie Duo, brother of Nie Feng who was believed to have perished with the Ch Yan troop. So, even when the script in the series cut out Nie Duo, in the post reunified relationship between Mei and Nihuang, little romance survived.
The ONLY romantic hint for Mei Chang su is by Gong Yu, who adores him unreservedly and obeys him even to the point of death. However, Hong Yu’s feelings for Mei are by no means merely romantic. It encompassed complete recognition of duty and faithfulness. Yet Gong Yu is still given freedom to give her expressions of feelings for Mei, something Mei very delicately recognises and tolerates, even to the dismay of Nihuang, his supposedly betrothed lady. This is gallantry of the highest order and more than compliment to Gong Yu, who is fully aware of Mei’s limited demise.
The other supposedly romantic relationships are between Marquis Yan Que and the late Concubine Chen, and Concubine Jing to General Lin Xie, the late father of Mei Changsu.
The amorous feelings between Prince Yu and Qin Banruo are very funny, with Qin being adamant that she must be the Princess Yu and no less, and with Prince Yu relying heavily on his wife proper in his relationship with his afpptive mother the Empress.
So, with Prince Yu, it is all power play and nothing else. Poor Qin Banruo, just compare herself with Gong Yu to find how low she has steeped herself. This despicable woman was responsible for killing hundreds of innocent Iives in the capital, and am surprised to find that Lin Chen and Mei Changsu spared her at the end.
Last but not least, gay relationships are hinted though very lightly throughout, as a very complete illustration of human relationships not confining to romantic attachments.
Nirvana in Fire is a GREAT piece of work.
Just as you think it is slow, you miss out the sudden burst of dramatic enetgy from Ep. 20 right through to Ep. 54.
I rewatched and rewatched, and came to the conclusion that had the characters of Xiao Ji g Rio and Yan Yu Jin be casted better, things would taken a very different turn.
The mood of the drama was set right in Ep. 1, by LinChen, Chuo Qing Yao and then Mei Changsu and Fei Liu, yet the momentum was lost with the appearances of Jingrui and Yujin, and their hilarious yet unexciting duel with Lady Nihuang. The entire setting sank immediately to the level of a 20th c. period common wuxia production. We learned now that the production encountered numerous obstacles right from the start, not the least in human resources, and with the exception of Wang Kai, ALL major protagonists turned down their role offers initially, including but notimited to Hu Ge.
Thank you for sharing.
Very good review!
Points of interest :
1. What is in a name? Different versions of LIN SHU, the priragonist –
Mei Chang Su vs. mei cang shu
Su Zhe vs. Shu zhe
2. What is friendship?
Lin Chen: ‘You (Shu) want to play with life and go to battle. I go now to join the conscription’.
3. What is ‘realm and regime’ ?
Per Lin Shu to Emperor Liang, “The realm belongs to the people, the regime is the people’ s regime”.
4. What is Lin Shu’s feelings for Lady Nihuang?
“Nihuang is beautiful and sublime. She would not suit someine who is a sickling”. (like Mei Chang Su).
5. What is Prince Jing’s biggest defeat?
“Everyone of you recognised him (Lin Shu), but I DIDN’T.”
6. What is the greatest vice of Emperor Liang?
“Whoever sits on the throne will change. I changed, Jingyan will also change.” (Liang) “Not everybody is like you” (per Mei Changsu).
7. What is Prince Yu’s greatest disaster?
“My mother was a pawn. I am the pawn of a pawn”.
8. What marks Prince Ji apart from other royals of his generation?
“We are all family”.
9. What is the only hint of true love for Nihuang by Mei Changsu?
When his great grandmother recognised him as Lin Shu and asked about his betrothal to Nihuang, Mei Changsu grabbed Nihuang’s hand involuntarily.
10. What is the biggest gesture of gratitude for the Lin family by Concubine Jing?
When she recognised Mei to be Lin Shu but did not tell anyone. She make deserts for her son as well as Lin Shu, omitting the offending ingredient that Lin Shu loathes.