Jin Yong’s 3rd installment of Heaven Sword & Dragon Sabre was serialised in 1961 to 1963, 60 years ago! The 2019 series is a testament of how a good story is immortalised and will be entertaining regardless of how long time has passed. Series is fast-paced with the introduction of many sects & characters.
5th Brother Zhang Chui San from Wudang meets Yin Su Su from the Eagle Sect while investigating the mishap of his 3rd Brother’s and falls in love. Both are kidnapped by Xie Xun onto a ship, which drifted to a deserted island. Deserted for 10 years in the island, Yin Su Su gives birth to Zhang Wu Ji, who treats Xie Xun as his adopted father.
When the Zhang family gets an opportunity to return to the mainland, Zhang Chui San & Yin Su Su had to face the objection from the society (and different sects) on the differences in their stance, whereby Wudang Sect is deemed the righteous path while Eagle Sec is deemed the evil path. The couple faces significant pressure to disclose the location of the island whereby Xie Xun is still living. In honouring their friendship with Xie Xun & maintaining the secret of the location, Zhang Chui San commits suicide and Yin Su Su follows suit. Wu Ji is left alone, but hurt by a poisonous palm-attack.
As he grows older, he encounters various experiences whereby he is betrayed. However, Wu Ji maintains his innocence & acts honourably whereby he treats everyone with sincerity. He meets various girls who fall in love with him
- Yin Zhu or A Li, who is actually his cousin but captured as a servant to Golden Flower Grandmother and forced to practice a type of martial art using poison from spiders
- Zhao Zhi Ruo, who becomes the head of Emei Sect
- Xiao Zhao, a spy hiding as a servant in the Ming Cult and also a successor to the Persian’s virgin maiden
- Zhao Min or MinMin Te Muer, a Mongolian princess of the Yuan Dynasty
With 4 girls, it seems like a series with focus on romance. However, it is not. The focus on Wu Ji’s journey encompasses his own personal journey to understand himself, the jianghu and the bigger picture of the Yuan Dynasty. Each journey provides him with more experience in dealing with various people who have personal agenda.
Wu Ji becomes the head of Ming Cult and gets involved in plotting the rebellion against the Yuan Dynasty. His rebellion is successful, but when offered the opportunity to be the emperor, he declines & chooses to lead a carefree wanderer’s life in the jianghu.
There are some key take-aways which are sprinkled across the series, which is summarised below:
- There may be more than what you see on a superficial level. The reason why so many of the misunderstandings arise is due to prejudices & assumptions made, whereby little effort is spent to clarify the facts
- The deemed righteous sects may not be all honourable while the deemed evil sects may also not be all wicked
- The moral compass helps to pave the right directions for a person, helping them to realise what would contribute towards their ultimate happiness.
Versions of Series
There are many versions of series over the years, of which the latest is the 2019 version. The version I watched as a young girl is the 1986 TVB version of which Tony Leung portrays Zhang Wu Ji (Cantonese Cheung Mou Kei), which left a deep impression of how popular Tony Leung is amongst the girls!
The 2019 version has many pretty faces, with the supporting roles getting adequate screen time which I love. In this version, the adult Wu Ji is only introduced in episode 13. I actually enjoyed the early episodes as the side stories are equally great with the other actors & actresses.
Kathy Chow is another recurring actress, having starred as Zhou Zhi Ruo in a 2009 version. She returns as Abbess Mi Jue, E-Mei Sect elder and Zhi Ruo’s teacher. I thought she ages very well, and still looks great.
Zhang Wu Ji’s character is one which is straightforward, honest and upright, treating everyone with sincerity. Quite a rationale character, he is not overly emotional (as compared with Yang Guo from Return of the Condor Heroes). I think deep down he is attracted to women similar to his mother – pretty, sharp with a quick wit & eloquent. Although the adult actor in this version, Josef Zeng Zhunxi, looks the part, he probably needs a bit more practice in acting. In a number of scenes, he looked hunched which does not fit the character. The young actor portraying the small Wu Ji is my favourite.
Zhao Zhi Ruo’s character is one which started off as an innocent girl, but takes a route filled with jealousy & revenge. One thing I realise, I had never liked this character, mainly because I felt that she is quite the faker & usually pretends to be the damsel-in-distress, squeezing others’ empathy. At one point, she seems to be conflicted due to her responsibilities towards her teacher. However, she seems to have forgotten about her responsibilities as she devotes herself to Zhang Wu Ji to obtain his love. She does not have confidence in Wu Ji, often not trusting him and obviously jealous of other women in his life. Upon their separation at the wedding altar, she finally shows her true guise. I actually thought she would probably feel better being herself, no matter how wicked that is.
Zhao Min’s character is similar to Huang Rong’s character in Legend of the Condor Heroes. Sharp, witty, cunning, scheming but straightforward & direct. She is never shy to chase for what she wants. When she is faced with rejection, she does not shy away but faces it as a challenge, often needing to pick herself up after the fall. If she is guilty of the act, she admits to it. I am glad that Wu Ji ends up with her, as they share common goals in life – living a carefree life.
Xiao Zhao’s character is described as a little white rabbit, demure & modest, never demanding. I thought the character is forgettable, and although pretty, she is cherished by Wu Ji as a family rather than as a lover. There is a later version of the novel which provides a more open-ended ending for Wu Ji and Zhi Ruo. I would have hated this version, as I did not feel they share common life goals and both do not understand each other well.
One character that stood out for me in this particular 2019 version is Yang Xiao’s character. The actor, Lin Yu Shen, is truly experienced and he portrays the character with such flair. Wickedly flamboyant & icy nonchalance – he brings out these so well. He is also eloquent when is dealing with all the political issues in Ming Cult.
His arc, specifically the romance he shared with Ji Xiao Fu, is so well portrayed in this version. The romance is short, but lasting. His respect for Xiao Fu’s wishes even when it is not what he wants is clear, showing a deep kind of love. He is so understanding of her wishes, helping her to achieve what she wants.
His relationship with his daughter, Yang Bu Hui is totally lovely. He provides the freedom for her to explore, and even accepted a much older man (6th Brother of Wudang) for her daughter, in fact his lover’s fiancé! His interactions with his son-in-law are also very cute and endearing – accepting his request for Bu Hui’s hand in marriage through simply drinking a cup of tea and congratulating his son-in-law for the grandson through a written couplet meant for wedding.
What a wonderful character, I am totally in love with! I love the way actor portrays the quirky raised eye-brow, his mischievous grin when he observes the kind of girl-issues that Wu Ji as his head of Ming Cult had to face.
The story ingeniously slots in real historical character of Zhu Yuan Zhang, who ultimately became the founding emperor of Ming Dynasty. Even the name of Ming Cult, is actually connected with the name of dynasty. There is also link to White Lotus Sect, a real life sect closely connected with Buddhism but historically has been used to start rebellions.
The opening theme song is Sword-like Dream 刀劍如夢 which was composed by Emil Zhou Hua Jian, and totally fits the series as its theme song. Sharing the simple instrumental tune.
There are at least 2 other soundtracks which are equally nice, but have not had the opportunity to figure out the arrangements.
If you have never watched this series in your life, well – what are you waiting for? Watch it! Jin Yong trio classics – Legend of Condor Heroes, Return of Condor Heroes & Heaven Sword & Dragon Sabre must be watched at least once in your life time. If the series can last 60 years, it can easily last another 600. The issues raised in the stories are relevant in ancient history, it is relevant now, and will probably be relevant in the future.