Ice Fantasy (2016) 幻城 : C-Drama & Novel Review

Ice Fantasy originates from a novel written by author Guo Jing Ming which was then made into a tv series in 2016. Both the novels and the series were a little unconventional, and also mired in its share of controversies too. Ice Fantasy the tv series first caught my attention with the very eye-catching blonde/ white hair of one of its tribe members with blue eyes. So much like the elves in western fantasy series. Watching this a few years ago, I had enjoyed the series but had recently read the English-translated novel (which is very well translated) on the following website listed below. The tv series is a very long 62-episodes while the novel itself is only 29 chapters.

Theme Song and Introduction to Ice Fantasy the series

Comparing the series and novel is actually interesting as it gives different perspectives to watching an imagined series vs reading an actual novel to your own imagination on the journeys of characters. And surprisingly, reading this short novel actually rekindled my love of reading. The joy of reading is actually in the imagination of the characters, the worlds described and even the interpretation of the mood & feeling of the characters.

Ka-Suo : Designate Special One of Ice Tribe

The series took a lot of liberty to expand and add on some of the adventures of the various characters, milking out the romance parts, adding in more sub-plots, and even improvising on characters. But the series and novel obviously revolves around Ka-Suo the prince of Ice Tribe and his adventures in the midst of an on-going war between the tribes of the fantasy world – Ice Tribe and Fire Tribe. In his adventures in the mortal realm (whereby he and his brother Yin Kong Shi enjoys a more normal and sedate lives), he meets with the love of his life Li Luo, a mortal guardian. Subsequently upon returning to the Ice Tribe, the schemes are unravelled to show how the different characters of both Ice Tribe and Fire Tribe have their own agenda to push forward during the crisis. The last part of the adventure is where Ka-Suo goes with a few carefully chosen ones with their own expertise to save his beloved brother, Li Luo and Lan Shang (his fiancee the mermaid).

Feng Shao Feng portrays Ka-Suo in the series and look regal in the character. But I had never really been that interested in this character when watching the series. Reading the novel re-iterated the feeling as the character actually sounds ordinary & useless. Very unfortunately I am unable to empathise with Ka-Suo’s situation. It always feels that he is reactive, and not so smart when it comes to planning ahead for his own tribes or his affairs. It frustrates a lot when the male lead is actually weak, and his ending in the novel is so unnecessary. Although Feng Shao Feng salvages a little of the character, it does not fully enliven the character’s weaknesses. The novel especially paints the character as one who goes with the flow and does not really manage his own affairs well at all. An extreme let-down of a character.

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Ka-Suo’s Relationship with Brother Yin Kong Shi

Ka-Suo’s brother Yin Kong Shi is the really interesting character in both the series and novel. Ma Tian Yu portrays the character in the series, and did it so well that I am rooting for him all the time. He is able to bring out the innocence and the devilish part of the character. In the novel, Yin Kong Shi only has one objective – to free his brother from all the worries of the world, and he does it with a single-track mind at whatever costs it takes. The novel actually has very little screen time for Yin Kong Shi, portraying his innocence and naivete and his final show-down with Ka-Suo.

The series re-invented and gave a lot more screen time to Ma Tian Yu to flex his acting prowess and my conclusion is – that is the right move. The series also expanded the romance part for him, with an insertion of a totally new character in Princess Yan Da of the Fire Tribe. Is she meant as his real love interest, I do not think that is the intention although their relationship borders on love-hate, and perhaps not so healthy.

Clean cut & naive white in Ice Tribe, devilish red in Fire Tribe

Whatever is the intention, the series manages to expand the characters of Yin Kong Shi way better to allow significant growth in the character for the audience to empathise with him. The novel paints Yin Kong Shi as a naive character with the sole objective to give the freedom to Ka-Suo while the series manages to pain the dimensions of the characters – his own internal struggle with his identity, his relationship with Ka-Suo, his relationship with Princess Yan Da (and his confusion of his own feelings), his needs for full control and even the streak of total “devilish” stares that he gives to others. Totally great acting from Ma Tian Yu.

His story arc also has many twists in plots – his own drive to take over the Ice Tribe & his confusion, his mother’s hidden secret leading to his own background, his relationship & mutual respect with Princess Yan Da of Fire Tribe. Love this character the most in the series.

Ka-Suo’s Women

Li Luo is portrayed by Victoria Song, showcasing her as a strong character in the mortal realm willingly assisting Ka-Suo. The chemistry between Ka-Suo and Li Luo seems to be a bit far-fetched. Described in the novel (and expected in the series) but falling quite flat even though the romance is supposedly traditional. A forgettable character and romance.

In the novel, Lan Shang’s character is quite tragic – raped (actually by Yin Kong Shi and died). In the series, her ending is similar although the rapist is not Yin Kong Shi. The actress portraying Lan Shang is Medina Mehmet and her beauty looks exquisite. However, I am glad that the series changes the plot slightly. In the novel, the kind of sympathy that Ka-Suo gives to Lan Shang is actually degrading – he chooses to marry both Li Luo and Lan Shang. It is clear to Ka-Suo he does not love Lan Shang but feels guilty towards her. The series redeems Lan Shang to show how she gets over her unfortunate situations and grow to be stronger, continuing her journey on her own.

Mermaid Princess Lan Shang

The best part is the plot twist for Ka-Suo and the 2 love interests in the novel. I would say – serves you right for not being determined to choose one over the other. The hidden meaning in the novel is actually quite good. 😀

Ka-Suo’s Right Hand Man and Other Capable Followers

Both novel and series paint Xing Jiu as an ambitious and capable sorcerer. Xu Ke portrays Xing Jiu aptly, showcasing his own internal struggles, his love for his sister and his loyalty to Ka-Suo. In the novel, I had always wondered what did Ka-Suo do to warrant such loyal subjects who believes him so much.

The novel’s depiction of Xing Jiu’s sister Xing Gui is way more mysterious that then series. But the brother-sister love depiction is one that is nicely written – family love amidst the chaotic world to pledge loyalty to a king. I also thought the novel depicts Xing Gui in a very humane manner – the need and will to stay alive, for her to choose a path of no return (and despised by her brother).

Sorcerer Xing Jiu

In Ka-Suo’s adventure to save the brother and 2 women, he brought along Yue Shen, Huang Tuo, Chao Ya and Die Che. In actual fact, the novel sets more time for the set up of these adventures. In the novel, it is only briefly described how Ka-Suo attracts loyal & capable followers by being kind hearted. Unfortunately, his role is meant as a leader of which he has not done a good job. He flips between wanting to be kind to all beings and chasing his own dreams. The worst – he can’t choose either hence ending up not being able to focus as a leader nor a good brother/ lover/ friend.

Guo Jing Ming The Author

It is interesting to note that the author Guo Jing Ming is popularised due to Ice Fantasy novel, and that he wrote the novel when he was barely 20 years old. He has also been plagued by accusation of plagiarism and found to violated another author’s copyright. His reaction towards the plagiarism seems to be of non admittance of guilt, avoidance and later part even nonchalance.

The Ice Fantasy novel, however, I thought has a great concept & imagination with plot twists that I really didn’t think would happen. That alone should give a lot of praises to such a talented young writer. My only grouse with the novel is the characters are probably not well-flexed enough to show multi dimensions and growth. Perhaps the lack of experience of the author at his younger age is the reason for the lack of growth in the characters. Regardless, the plots are very good with a mix of characters. I also like the way it is written, actually quite similar to some of the western style of writing.

The series is not so well-received. Although I do like the series, there are other weaknesses especially the complain on CGIs and the re-imagined fantasy world reflecting more of a western fantasy rather than an eastern fantasy. But generally an acceptable series expanded on the base of a less developed novel.

My own personal take – read the novel (it is really way shorter at 29 chapters that can be easily read in 1 – 2 days). Then only watch the series to take a deeper take on what the producers re-define parts of the novel.

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