Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Swordsman 2013 adaption of The Smiling, Proud Wanderer

Ok, so I am a wuxia fan and raised on a healthy dose of Jin Yong. It would be hard for me to pass up on any of the adaptions...this one though, I had to really really think about it. Then I thought about how much I admire Joe I did.

Now, I don't even know where to begin. How about the opening theme? Lol, it's actually a pretty catchy song that showcased part of the series' appeal - the playfulness in the face of insane regulation.

In fact, the 1991, 1992, and 1993 versions were THE most horrendous perpetrators of making changes, they also had top of the line actors/actresses that were great in their own right.

Let's do some simple comparison. The novels and this version. In terms of characterizations, I felt the original novels were more focused on the main characters and secondary characters. The story surrounded a lot of the problems each character was viewed based on their affiliation, whereas their true character were often the opposite of how they portrayed themselves to be - the whole Asian saving face idea as well as judging based on appearances. This was a theme that had been very prominent in the Jin Yong, the author's, books. As with all re-tellings and visual translations, changes had to be made to either make it filmable, or need a different form of explanation. Invertibly, each new "adapter" (i.e. re-writer, director, etc.) would put their own visions, biases, explanations, or thoughts into each adaption.

This 2013 version was no different. So, while the adaptions were great to watch, it really didn't have much to do with the general story. In this case, I think the adapter of this version took his cue from those movies rather than the stories themselves. Or, like a weird mesh of the two and churned out this version. Let me say this, while I appreciate the more current visual translations expanding and giving reasons and explanation of backgrounds, I felt the story would have been better if the director just wrote his own story instead of borrowing/embellishing someone else's. Especially such a classic.

The biggest problem that I felt rose from the changes that caused so many people to not like Ren Yingying was the fact the director/re-writer, tried too much to create what he said - the three women as ideals of the three types of women a man would tend to love in their lives. Many roles that Yingying played in the novel was instead somewhat merged with Dong Fong Bubai's role.

This made Yingying much weaker than she really was. Her thunder was stolen, so to speak. Although there was growth for each female character, they still remained chaste up until the end.

The actors and the re-writer had an interview where he basically said that these three women were the representation of the women a man would meet...

When I heard that video, it really really reminded me of another writer, Eileen Chang's White Rose and Red Rose. This person analyzed her story much better.
I found a summary/short analysis for it here.
一個是他的白玫瑰,一個是他的紅玫瑰。一個是圣洁的妻,一個是熱烈的情婦. 普通人向來是這樣把節烈兩個字分開來講的 也許每一個男子全都有過這樣的兩個女人,至少兩個.娶了紅玫瑰,久而久之,紅的變了牆上的一抹蚊子血,白的還是“床前明月光”;娶了白玫瑰,白的便是衣服上的一粒飯粘子,紅的卻是心口上的一顆朱砂痣。 
The skinny: A man will encounter 2 types of women in his life, at least two: The Red Rose and The White Rose. Basically, the passionate, free spirited and seductive woman as the Red and the submissive, quiet, and peaceful woman as the White. If married to the red, she becomes like a bloodstained mosquito upon the wall and the man will long after the white as if the beautiful full moon. If married to the white, she becomes like the leftover grain of white rice upon one's face and the red is the love mark upon one's heart. Think the western ideals of madonna vs. whore for simplicity.
The director split the roles of these women to be an almost idealized version of the type of women a man would love in his lifetime.

The young puppy love, the passionate affair, and the peaceful wife. Where is a picture of a bird? I must give them one. XP
Aside from the obvious...any form of idealism is incapable of holding up to scrutiny. My biggest problem with this idealization (aside from idealizing) also dubs as the weakest part of this entire story/version. From my perspective, those three women are the same woman. A woman grows from her own youthful innocent puppy love into the passionate adulthood and settles into a marriage. To say these three are separate women does everyone a dis-service or I even felt like it suggested that a wife wouldn't be passionate or child-like.
I hate to let me break it to all the people out there: women change and grow, with or without you, whether you like it or not...because each person is an individual. No one stays the same forever. Let me also point out, has actually been a problem I feel in a lot of movies, novels and stories.
In truth, the novel had several re-writes but in all cases (in my opinion), Jin Yong in general kept the women in his novels with more "agency." I use quotes because he still kept these women to revolve around the men they love, which I will totally go off on in another post.

Granted, he was fair in making sure quite a few male characters revolved around the women they love. Now, the controversial character him/her self, Dong Fong BuBai. It got so messed up and bad with so much controversy, they had to make a mini movie for the actress Joe Chen to come out and endorse it. Which was pretty interesting in and of itself, mainly because I really admire Joe Chen. She was one of the best actor out there.
Ok, original novel and subsequent maintained true to the story of learning The Sunflower Manuel. So, the original Sunflower Manuel was created by a ennuch - therefore the manual required a castrated male to in order to achieve the strongest inner energy.

Therefore, Don Fong BuBai was originally a male. This change of the character into female isn't really something new as the movie had done something similar (female playing a male).
Instead of having Dong Fong BuBai be a truly changing character - seeing the sexism of the world, the limitations and dangers, or the problems, it became some driveled bs about a woman not having meaning until she finds the love of her life and then giving up power, strength and her life (heart) in some lame idea of self-sacrifice for the happiness of another man. Granted, she wasn't the only one that did it.
Almost all the women did.  I would roll my eyes, but I'd rather give a sardonic face. -_-
I personally grew up in this culture and understood first hand how self-sacrifice for those they loved and cared for was actually an unparalleled strength and character. What the problems came from was this was like some wet-dream people dream up where all the strength was washed away into some lovelorn tragedy.

Heck, no thank you.

I am not discounting the fact they made Dong Fong Bu Bai one of the more well-rounded and in-depth character (up to a point since her life previously to becoming Dong Fong BuBai was completely discounted), or the fact Joe Chen did a wonderful job. The main problem was that this felt like some twisted and merged fan-fiction turned into a movie.  To tell you the truth, I actually don't think the character was that strong in the long run. It was the actress that made it all the better.  She's really a great actress and in my opinion, that's what made the character more appealing and beloved.  My response to all the people out there saying the change was better and they should've let Dong Fong BuBai be with the main guy would be simply: it's the actress.  If you had Joe Chen act in the role of Ren YingYing, people would probably love her more.  Not saying the actress wasn't good, but Joe Chen was better.

Another problem I had - Tian Bo Guang, um, I'm very uncomfortable with certain changes. Not that I don't appreciate the background, or the fact the actor was great, but a rapist is a rapist.  No reason would justify what he did.  None. He should've been held accountable (well, more so) in the tv series.   In the novel, he got his male parts cut off by a monk to be a monk to repent his actions.  Here, his actions were lightened and Dong Fong BuBai was the one to have him change his ways (sort of).

Again, let me note it has nothing to do with the action, but I am tired of all the excuses for said terrible actions actions, like rape in this case. The original author was not as lenient as this version (sometimes).  So, as much as I liked the actor and enjoyed parts of this character's story...this type of white-washing disgusts me. As a sidenote, white-washing characters has become more and more common and usually geared towards male characters.
Even Dong Fang BuBai was considered, even though giving her a female perspective was great, it still fell into that category. What would we call this type of washing? Still white-washing right? I've said this before with The White Haired Demoness, but this aspect was akin to pure fan-fic.
Let me say it again, keep your fan-fic fantasy out of these very seriously classics. They were not here for you to mess with. It's even more annoying since the author, Jin Yong, has been well know to continually re-edit and update his novels. Ergo, I felt this addition was very much the directors way of self-gratifications.  Anyways...moving on since I'm entering an area I don't want to get into.

My long, rambling, and ranting point was simply this: there have been entire fields of study on Jin Yong's works.  Scholars, historians, writers, and many others have all made a study of these complex literatures.  It's called Jinology. Seriously, it's a real field of study and has great meaning to many people.  To really screw it up would be a travesty since it would be more self-serving than to showcase a greater/higher aspiration.  I would've hoped that each re-interpretation and translation would be in existence out of great love of the writing and stories, that the characters were so special that the heart of the story would be re-told over and over again so that we may all attempt to better ourselves.

Of course, I felt the heart of this series was seriously skewed by the forced inclusion of very...non-related stories.  To tell you the truth, I understood why the inclusion of such an expansion for the character as well as the changes.  The intents, in my opinion, was at least functional and sincere.  The show worked hard to merge the changes, but the writing and characterization was too different from the original author.  Jin Yong's work has been around too long for this type of changes.  I could clearly see where the changes were.  No matter how hard the attempts were to integrate such a distinct and different storyline (with very different intentions) caused the entire storyline to be too jarring to be a strong storytelling form.  The supposed seamless integration ended up just making all the mistakes more glaring and the differences too stark in contrast.  I would've preferred the adapters to write their own stories and not reinterpretation of a classic.  It's ok though, I'm sure another version will be out in a few years.

The series was good at pointing out a lot of hypocritical aspects of jianhu...which was in the novel as well.   It was also good at retaining a lot of humor.  Take an example:

One part I found really funny with the often frequented background of brothels was one of the madame's reply to the statement that the brothel was a dirty place, she pointed out that if it wasn't for the dirty men like him, women wouldn't need to be into this type of profession.  And although I appreciated the social commentary, ended up being much like a "telling" rather than "showing" of the situation.  Many times there was too much of "telling" rather than "showing" recently in many of the series I've watched. With this story (as well as with many of the visual translations) was the inability to stand up to scrutiny, which the original novel was better at. I really could go on and on about all the problems, but let us end on a good note.

I really enjoyed the visual actions.  The scenery was nice and the martial art parts were actually my favorite.  It had enough hand-to-hand action and just enough CGI to make things believable without going over the top (except a few times like with the wolves - which made me hate the series a little more for making wolves evil).  Seriously, all the martial arts action was very fun and addictive to watch, in my opinion. Very well coordinated and beautiful.  I also enjoyed a lot of the casting (aside from the main ones). I felt it was very well done and the actors/actresses were perfect in portraying the characters.  Mostly the side characters, but that also showed how most of the veteran actors/actresses were very good at showcasing the emotions.  The shifu and shimu, they were great.  I liked the Grand Master as always.  The side characters were some of the best. 
I linked the extended trailer (since it won't post on blogs). It revealed a lot but it also really showcased the action and the graphics well.

I'll probably talk about the story itself later on when I've had a chance to re-read the translations since I really do like this series.  The Smiling, Proud Wanderer was a good series that started moving into a direction I much preferred in all the stories I read: no such thing as black and white.  Never let pre-existing labels rule one's life.  Also, live life happily no matter the obstacles.

Updated...after a lot of thought, I've decided to lower the ratings.  As much as enjoyed certain actors and actresses, the fact they had to go out of their way to get their actress to come out and endorse the changes actually says how tragic the portrayal was.  I'm sure those not as familiar with the storyline probably wouldn't mind.  A lot of people would, but the more I went back to it, the more it bothered me. 

So, updated rating...the actions, costumes, scenery and such get a 6, whereas the acting varied so much, I'll give a 6.  The storyline gets simple 4.  Average, I give it a 5.3 for a nice attempt, but overall, bad idea.


  1. LOL, Alys, you're a braver woman than I am!! Seriously, I would not go near this adaptation ^_^; I've read some summaries and such and again... if you're going to change the story, why the heck don't you write a new one?!

    Anyway, I looooove Jin Yong, but his stories and tv adaptations were such a big part of my life in my teens that I totally over-dosed on him. I haven't felt like picking any of the new adaptations and seeing so many being made and knowing that so many will be unfaithful, it just blah my mood :(

    Did you watch TVB version in 1996? I think that version was the most accurate ever :) You could actually follow certain scenes from the book and the series at the same time. It was the same thing. I remember a thread somewhere on how this version copied some of the scenes... but then, this version changed so many of the key elements...

    You know, I feel that it's so unfortunate that some of the tv series nowadays are filmed based on the cast. Had Joe Chen not been part of the cast, would they have changed DFBB into a woman?

  2. I did it for Joe Chen! Lol. I had thought long and hard about it and even discussed whether or not I should watch. She gave me a mini lecture, as only cool older sisters are able to, and put some sense into me...ergo, more adaptions in the future.

    Omg, I totally grew up with Jin Yong stuff as well! It became so overwhelming I stopped watching all of it around 2000-2002. I most definitely watched the 1996 version :D It was my favorite for the longest time! So good, so very good. Maybe that's also why this version annoyed me so much. The 1996 version was so good already. Plus, I was looking up the screenwriter and he's a very well known guy. He's written and directed and produced a bunch of his own stuff so it really annoyed me that he still wanted to mess around with such a classic. I watched one of his other shows and he was able to show a lot of the same ideas he had with original characters. So the changes to a Jin Yong classic freaking annoys the heck out of me.

    I have noticed that as well recently...the roles changing based on character. In this case though, I think they specifically went out of their way to have DFBB female. *sigh* I don't know. Sis tells me to not take all of this too seriously. Hahaha. I can't help myself though, these were such important stories for me growing up. I want to see it improve, since it could be completely the same story and updated costumes, actions, technology, etc. Oh well, I just hope for a good version in a few years. Lol.

  3. Yeah, that's about the same time I stopped watching kung fu series as well or at least, JY adaptations. i think one of the problems is that TVB wasn't allowed to make the series and it went to mainland china. Nothing against them except that I wasn't very familiar with their actors.

    You know that there are rumors that the screenwriter is going to adapt Return of the Condor Heroes!

    Between, what did you think of Wallace Huo's acting in this series? From the review I read, it's as if he realized half-way what a fiasco the series was going to be and just gave up acting wise...

  4. I didn't know TVB wasn't allowed to make them anymore. That's sad. I think it was around that time they had way too many adaptions. I think in 2000 alone, there were three versions of TSPW/Swordsman.

    Yeah, they moved to mainland. I liked it more since they actually had a combo of the best actors/actresses all in Legend of the Condor Heroes in 2008.

    Oh dang, that guy's doing another adaption? Gee, I wonder what else will be changes. *sigh* I think that screenwriter is super popular right now... -_-

    Hahaha, other people's said similar about Wallace Huo? That's kind of funny and yeah, I have to partially agree. I don't know if he gave up, or maybe something was going on with his personal life but yes. There were episodes were it was kind of evident he wasn't that into it. He's not a bad actor (pretty good actually), like when he was acting all devil-may-care, carefree attitude - he was really believable. There were moments when he was super sad, like when his SiMu died, it was heart-wrenching. Then there were times when he's like...blah. Not just him either, quite a few were like blah towards the end. His was just more evident. Lol.