They say Zhang Jizhong is a very serious Chinese producer who would make the best effort to produce a remarkable TV series. He doesn’t only think about the financial aspect of a production, but he involves himself in everything and anything. He even joins the cast sometimes, playing one or two characters. And that’s what makes his adaptations of Jin Yong’s popular novels fantastic TV productions to enjoy. It started with Xiao Ao Jiang Hu, or they call it Laughing in the Wind in English for this particular adaptation.
Shot in 2000, and first broadcasted in March 2001 by Mainland China’s CCTV, Laughing in the Wind received a high rating and popularity, though with rather mixed reviews. It is said to have marvelous scenery and real, jaw-dropping fighting scenes no wuxia TV series ever had. However, on the other hand, it fails to stay true to the book and casts the wrong actors for some roles. Still, it is a great production, an exciting adaptation, and, for some people who loved it, it’s one of the best wuxia series ever made.
There are already many reviews of Laughing in the Wind, but I think I’m entitled to my own opinion, aren’t I? Moreover, as I watched it I couldn’t help having raging thoughts in my mind. So, let’s see how it goes.
Li Yapeng as Linghu Chong
Some people said Li Yapeng is not the right actor to play the role of Linghu Chong. He’s too serious and melancholic, while the Linghu Chong in the book is a care-free man who never gives any thought to anything. Since I haven’t read the entire novel (I’m only into the first few pages now), I don’t think I have the right to make any judgment. But let’s be fair. The scriptwriter(s) might have their own interpretation of the character, or Li represents it in his own way on screen. He might not be a fun-loving man he should be here, but he’s definitely jokes-loving: he’s funny (okay, rather ridiculous sometimes), he’s naughty and glib-tongued. What’s the best about his portrayal is his facial expressions and funny gestures when he’s in the mood. Some said they are too much, but I’d rather say they are just entertaining. Other great thing about Li is that he can express sadness and love so soulfully. Really. Just look at his face. I think he’s a talented actor, such a shame he’s retired from acting now.
Xu Qing as Ren Yingying
Everyone seems to praise her and I didn’t have any complaint, either. I liked the way she portrays Shen Gu (The Holy Maiden), she seems so natural in doing so. She looks so fierce, so smart, independent, with an air of leadership about her. And yet, sometimes, she can be so shy and childish especially when she is with Linghu Chong. Yes, the Ren Yingying here is a very complex character, so complex that at times she can be poles apart within herself. At one time she can be so jealous whenever Yue Lingshan is concerned, at another she can be so understanding and saying something like, “I admire your xiao shi-mei (little sister), it’s your love for her that opens my eyes in the first place.” So contradictory, so inconsistent, and this swing-mood is pretty disturbing most of the time. Having said that, in the way of appearance, Xu Qing really suits the character of Ren Yingying. It’s like this role is truly meant for her.
Wei Zi as Yue Buqun
If there is any villain in disguise in the world, then it’s Yue Buqun. And the way Wei Zi performs this character on screen is very much convincing: so subtle yet so vivid at the same time. Just look at how he acts so elegantly indifferent sometimes—with a sigh and lazy gesture and a fan—also the way he talks, and you will see that he is a hypocrite. The least impressive thing about Wei Zi’s portrayal, however, is the way he interprets the “womanish” Yue Buqun after learning Bi Xie Jian Fa (Evil-Resisting Sword Skill). He appears to be less convincing in this, much less than the way Mao Weitao (Dongfang Bubai) and Li Jie (Lin Pingzhi) portray the same character change.
Other Important Characters
There is not much to say about Miao Yiyi who plays Yue Lingshan in this adaptation. She just acts the way she should as a 16-year-old girl: sweet, childish, and selfish sometimes. Her voice (dubbed or not), really suits her character. But who impressed me more here is Li Jie instead, the actor who portrays Lin Pingzhi . I appreciated how he displays the step-by-step changes in his character: from a spoiled young master, to a heart-broken and full of revenge young man, and finally to a sinister, womanish fighter who masters Bi Xie Jian Fa. However, Dongfang Bubai is still the best male/female character that left deep impression in me.
As perfect as an ensemble might be, there must be imperfection somewhere. Some actors just do not fit their roles. Sun Haiying who plays Tian Boguang was miscasted. He acts and looks too silly to be a well-known, ferocious rapist. And the worst failure of all is the character of Ren Woxing, who’s badly played by Lu Xiaohe. Once again, I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how his character should be. But to my thinking, a leader of a huge, evil sect should have an air of dignity about him, leadership, and harsh manner. Instead, Ren Woxing here merely looks like a silly old man who laughs a lot through to the end of his life.
They say there are three ways of adapting a novel into the big/small screen: stay true to the book; pick a part of the book and develop it into a lengthy narrative; or make an entirely different plot based on the idea of the book. The plot employed in this particular adaptation of Xiao Ao Jiang Hu doesn’t seem to stray far away from the original story, but in general, it does seem to have its own storyline. Some reviews stated that there are so many changes compared to the novel, and Jin Yong himself felt quite disappointed about it. However, as I haven’t known entirely how the plot should have run, here I’m pointing out what’s wrong with it as a TV series, not as a TV adaptation.
First of all, to snare an audience into a visualized story, an opening scene should have certain charm and captivating narrative, not merely a marvelous cinematography and beguiling characters. Unfortunately, Laughing in the Wind fails to do this. Whether or not it follows the opening scene of the book, its first five episodes run too fast and feels so awkward to watch. It’s suddenly this way and suddenly that way most of the time, with a lack of clarity in what it wants to deliver. Those who have read the book might be able to understand what’s going on or if some scenes are cut or shortened, but what about those who haven’t? Luckily, after the fifth episode, the storyline runs rather well and understandable, but only until the 30th episode. Afterward, the story starts to falter once again throughout the last 10 episodes. The idea in which Ren Ying Ying kidnapping Yi Lin in episode 31 doesn’t seem to have any significance, and episode 37 is the worst episode of all. Even episode 40, the last episode, although featuring a nice climax and ending, also runs too fast in the first 15-20 minutes. In conclusion, there is definitely something wrong with the scriptwriting. Something like being in a hurry. Like they have to end it in episode 40 and not more.
The Fighting Scenes
What makes Laughing in the Wind a great wuxia novel adaptation, and an amazing wuxia series, is undoubtedly its fighting scenes. There have been nothing like them before. The kungfu movements are seriously choreographed, the fightings are nicely shot, and at times they are made colossal. When these scenes are too complicated, fast, and shot from a far angle, they will be done by stuntmen. But when they are filmed in slow motion, quite simple, and taken from close angle, the actors will do them on their own. Since this is a wuxia story involving sword skill, the use of swords is very fundamental. The actors have to carry their swords everywhere they go and be able to play with them. When you look at the screen closely, you will see that all the actors are capable of swinging and playing deftly with their swords. No, they do not use stuntmen to do that. It’s them. They must have painstakingly practiced it over and over before shooting. And Xu Qing, in particular, is the most skillful one to do this.
And of course, as there are a lot of fighting scenes in this series, I couldn’t help but memorize some and make them my favorites. The fighting in the rain, where Linghu Chong uses Dugu Jiu Jian (9 Swords of Dugu) to blind the masked men making an ambush on his Huashan School fellows, is no doubt one of my favorites. It might not have the best kungfu choreography, but it looks so dramatic and beautiful to watch. Other best fighting scene in this series is, of course, the massive attack Cheng Bu You and co. launch on Linghu Chong and Ren Yingying at the Bamboo Hut in Luo Yang. It’s so exciting, visually engrossing, nicely choreographed, and very dramatic at the same time. The fighting between Linghu Chong+Ren Yingying+Ren Woxing+Xiang Wentian versus Dongfang Bubai also brings about the same excitement and sense of awe, it’s just such a shame it is not well-edited. I noticed that some scenes are not in coherence, so they seem awkward and do not run smoothly. But I liked it when they end the fighting with pink petals of flowers raining upon them. Really, the director does know how to entertain an audience.
Last but not least, every fighting scene involving Linghu Chong and Ren Yingying. That is, those in episode 13 and 14. I know this might sound so silly but I found those fighting scenes a bit romantic. I think I caught a sense of love-and-hate aura between them. But, well, maybe it was just me.
The Love Story
Everyone who loves wuxia series, and especially those who are fans of Jin Yong, must have known that Yue Lingshan is Linghu Chong’s first love, and even when he’s with Ren Yingying he still cannot forget her. I read somewhere that the character of Ren Yingying is supposed to come out rather later in the story as Po-po (granny), when Linghu Chong feels brokenhearted over his xiao shi-mei. However, this adaptation decided to let Ren Yingying appear earlier as herself, giving room for both she and Linghu Chong to know each other in advance. From the first time they meet, it is quite obvious that the Holy Maiden has a secret interest in Linghu Chong. She even helps to cure him in episode 3, releases him (together with Yue Lingshan and Yi Lin) in episode 5, and setting Ling Pingzhi free of Yu Canghai’s hold in episode 6. What else the reason she would do all that? But only Yue Lingshan has a room in Linghu Chong’s heart, so he is not aware of Ren Yingying’s intention. Moreover, she is someone from the demon cult. They are predestined to be sworn enemies.
As the story progresses, though, their relationship becomes more complicated. Separated by the notion of good and evil, and definitely having no hope whatsoever, Ren Yingying tries to get close to Linghu Chong through every way possible, without revealing her true feelings of course. It is displayed in episode 13 through to episode 16, when they somehow walk between love and hate, and reaches its climax in episode 18. After that, the rest is history.
However, it is still hard for Linghu Chong to love Ren Yingying wholeheartedly, and this is shown through his expressions and dialogues. Only after Yue Lingshan dies can Linghu Chong let go off his feelings for her and devote all his love and attention to Ren Yingying only. I do think this torn-apart emotion when someone is caught in a triangle love affair needs a great deal of acting skill to express it, and, once again, Li Yapeng has it in him to do just that.
Some people said that the scenery in Laughing in the Wind is one of the plus points of the series, and I couldn’t agree more. I particularly liked Si Guo Ya (The Repentance Hill), Hei Mu Ya (Black Wood Cliff), and the hills where Qu Yang+Liu Zhengfeng / Ren Yingying+Linghu Chong play the song Xiao Ao Jiang Hu at the beginning and end of the series.
But overall, every spot the shooting took place is real and breathtaking, even the front hall of Songshan School and the Hanging Temple of Henshan School.
As far as my experience watching wuxia TV series, I never knew of a single one actually having traditional/classic Chinese music as their soundtrack/background song. No, not one. But Laughing in the Wind has it, not only for the opening and ending themes, but also the score throughout the series. I especially loved the song entitled You Sou Si, the one which is played by Po-po (or Ren Yingying) every time Linghu Chong feels restless, and also the titular song of the story, Xiao Ao Jiang Hu. I really liked the sound of the zither in them. So classy and classic. As for the ending theme, which is performed by Liu Huan and Faye Wong, I have to say that it didn’t leave pretty good impression in my ear. However, visually, it is a marvelous production in itself. If you just sit and watch the video, you will recognize how every single note seems to fit the edited scene displayed.
Well, all things considered, this 2001 CCTV’s adaptation of Xiao Ao Jiang Hu is truly one of the best wuxia TV series I’ve ever watched. It’s like a modern classic. It has almost everything I need, and want, in this genre. If it was not for the clumsy plot I might have given it a higher rating, 4.5 maybe. But it barred me from doing so.