Home > Chinese Dramas > Legend of Condor Heroes 2008, first impressions

Legend of Condor Heroes 2008, first impressions

Tuesday, July 22, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

First of all, let me tell you how excited I am that it’s come out!! (The versions on the net are from the VCD, unfortunately no subs yet.) After wrestling mightily with the issue of recapping this megalith of a drama, I’ve decided to go for a gradual recapping process, with several episodes at one go. Hope you’re okay with that. πŸ˜€

That being said … spoiler ahead? Also, long post warning.

Contains a character list, backstory explanation, brief synopsis of episodes 1-12, and thoughts.

Characters: (lots of people in this thing, you sit forewarned)

I’ve included links for any of the actors I could find in English, but not all of them are available. Click on the name of the characters to find out who’s acting as who!

The lovers:
Guo Jing – the hero of this thing
Yang Kang – supposedly the foil of Guo Jing, but we’ll see how this show is planning to treat him
Huang Rong – smart, capable, pretty, has a quixotic temper inherited from her father and loves Guo Jing
Mu Nianci – also a beauty, and will fall in love with Yang Kang
Hua Zhen – Mongolian princess, daughter of Khan, in love with Guo Jing

The elders:
Bao Xiruo – wife of Yang Tiexin, mother of Yang Kang, married Wanyan Honglie, 6th prince/warlord of the Jin dynasty
Li Ping – wife of Guo Xiaotian, mother of Guo Jin, becomes Mongolian herdswoman
Yang Tiexin – father of Yang Kang, younger sworn brother of Guo Xiaotian, adopts Mu Nianci and searches for his lost wife
Guo Xiaotian – father of Guo Jing
Qiu Chuji – a Daoist master, befriended the Guos and Yangs, leading to their deaths as ‘traitors’, later teaches Yang Kang martial arts, also known as Chang Chun Zi, meaning, he who is forever young
Jiang Nan Seven – a brother/sisterhood of seven people, who become Guo Jing’s first teachers, after a long convoluted fight with Qiu Chuji (trust me, you’d be here until tomorrow if I didn’t shorten some of the cast listings)
Zhou Botong – a crazy old man, who also happens to be in possession of an impressive set of martial arts skills.
Genghis Khan – possibly the only historical person in this book, with the exception of the Song emperor. He doesn’t do much, besides serve as a plot catalyst.

The fearsome four:
They are acknowledged the most powerful practitioners of martial arts ever. There was a fifth one who was most powerful, but he died.
Hong Qi Gong – Northern beggar, Bei Gai. The leader of the Beggar’s Sect, a powerful force in the north, despite their position as society’s lowest. The guy has the appetite of a black hole and a gourmet’s appreciation for food. Fighting style is direct and powerful.
Huang Yao Shi – Eastern Eccentric, Dong Xie. Father of Huang Rong, known for his quixotic temper. Style aims for the ephemeral and cryptic.
Yi Deng Da Shi – Southern emperor, Nan Di. Style is very focused and precise. (I can’t say anything without massive explanations, so you’ll just have to wait until I get there.)
Ouyang Feng – Western poison, Xi Du. Style is … surprise! Poisons. Very evil, manipulative and power-hungry. (Also bottom-feeder person you keep your offspring away from, Huang Yao Shi.)

The baddies:
Duan Tiande – as a bad guy goes, he’s pretty minor. Still, he was responsible for Guo Jing’s father’s death and there’s a vengeance plot right there.
Wanyan Honglie – he’s not bad, per se, he just had some guy murdered so he could marry his wife and raise his son… okay, that does sound pretty bad. But he’s really nice to Yang Kang, enough to confuse the guy, and in the end, he’s just an ambitious invading prince. Morally different stances and all that.
Ouyang Ke – Western Poison’s nephew (*coughillegitimatesoncough*). He’s weak morally and later, turns out to be also not that good at fighting. Nice face, though.
Mei Chaofeng – the wife half of the Zombie couple, she was a disciple of Huang Yao Shi but ran away with her husband when she was 17. She practiced weird martial arts from the Jiu Yin Zhen Jing and taught Yang Kang for a while.

And that’s not all of them either. The rest I can’t remember off the top of my head. When Jin Yong takes it into his head to be epic? He totally will be. Five volumes in Chinese, which is like, the most concise language ever, especially if you look at the UN regulations manual lengths. πŸ˜€ Irugnotmis, tell me if I’m missing anyone super important.

So, what’s the story, you ask?

Backstory and some analysis:

Well… first let me take a refresher in Chinese history… in the Southern Song dynasty, they lost control of north China (here I am using China in the vaguest sense possible, as boundaries differ quite a bit from modern ones – go wiki it, if you’d like to read through 10 pages of the stuff) to the Jin dynasty, and quite naturally, lots of Han Chinese were unhappy about that. What doomed them was in fact the inept governance of the southern government, which had retreated to safer lands, effectively abandoning its people to the vagaries of the invading forces.

What’s more, the year of Jingkang, the Jin forces managed to invade to the national capital and make off with the emperor, his immediate heir, and most of their court.

The book has two main themes: nationalistic loyalty to the dying Song dynasty, and the heroic way of life. Guo Jing is constantly contrasted with Yang Kang, both having had radically differing upbringings. One is craven and selfish (err, in the book yes), and the other is ‘worthy to be called a man’. The books are so nationalistic sometimes it makes me retch, but anyway, you can really expect a one-sided outlook on things – the Jin people are all evil, though since Guo Jing grew up in Mongolia, not so much ethnocentrism there.

The action of the story surround two books – the Jiu Yin Zhen Jing, a martial arts manual that contains the most powerful moves ever, and Wu Yue’s book on war strategy. Both are of utmost importance, but one in the pugilistic world, and the other in the political. So, there we have it, the stage for our story.

Short Synopsis of episodes 1-12

On the border of north and south, two happy families meet with Qiu Chuji, Daoist monk mentioned above. He is an ardent Song nationalist, and goes off murdering Jin soldiers whenever he can. (Not too Daoist there, but he thought it was necessary.) The two men of the families approve, and they sit down for a nice cup of tea. Later, they get labeled as co-conspirators and are set upon by imperial guards. In the confusion, Guo Xiaotian gets killed, Yang Tiexin is wounded and presumed dead, Bao Xiruo is kidnapped by the Jin prince, and Li Ping gets sold as a slave.

The Jin prince loves Bao Xiruo, because she’s pretty, but also because she saved his life a few years ago. At the time of the attack, both women are pregnant, and they have decided to name their children after the Jingkang incident. Thus, Guo Jing and Yang Kang. Each set of parents has a dagger with the children’s names carved into it, a gift from Qiu Chuji, and the exchange the daggers, promising each other that when their children are born and grown, that these would be proof of the two families’ friendship.

Anyway, when the Daoist master comes back, he decides to chase down after the people who’ve captured Li Ping, but a misunderstanding occurs, leading him to clash swords with the Jiang Nan Seven. After it’s solved, they agree to indulge in a pissing contest (seriously, I have no respect for people who respect themselves too damn much) in 18 years, each having helped one of the two missing wives in question. Then, as masters of Guo Jing and Yang Kang, they’ll compare each other’s skills through their students.

The Jiang Nan Seven set after Li Ping, and Qiu Chuji goes after Bao Xiruo.

Guo Jing grows up roughing it in the Mongolian wilds, running after horses, cows, sheep and his friends. His masters teach him, but he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, so not that fast at learning. He is very strong, and terribly honest. He is very good friends with the Khan’s fourth son, and also his daughter, Hua Zhen. His strength is really very impressive, as the only man who is strong enough to shoot down condors flying far above in the sky. (This is where the series’ name comes from.)

Qiu Chuji’s elder brother (really only an older man who also learned from the same master) comes by and gives him some skills, after being impressed with the young man’s integrity and candour. He doesn’t mention who he is, though, and forbids Guo Jing to tell his other masters. This leads them to follow him one night to his practice grounds, only to have all nine of them bump into the fearsome Zombie Couple.

They beat the crap out of the united Jiang Nan Seven and elder, and only Guo Jing’s luck in stabbing the male half of the couple save them. The woman carries her dead husband away, with Guo Jing’s dagger still inside his body. She swears revenge. The twist is that the dagger actually says Yang Kang, so she seeks revenge in a complete different quarter and ends up becoming Yang Kang’s teacher.

Fast forward to the 18th year, and the Seven take Guo Jing into China, promising his worried mother that he’ll come back after he’s seen the world. Hua Zhen awaits too, anticipating their betrothal and marriage once he returns.

Once he gets to China, his teachers abandon him so he can earn a taste of the real world, and this is when he encounters the impish Huang Rong, disguised as a beggar (for fun, if you can imagine). His unconditional kindness to her stirs her heart.

On the other hand, we have Yang Kang, who grew up as Wanyan Kang, a princeling in the Jin court. He’s been spoiled every way possible… and has the best in everything. His mother has been living the same simple life she’s had with her husband, who she now thinks is dead, and she’s refused all his advances too.

One day, on the streets of the capital, Mu Nianci and her father (who’s really Yang Tiexin under the name Mu Yi) hold a contest – the person who can win against Mu Nianci for two moves gets to marry her. Wanyan Kang jumps in, wins, and sees nothing wrong in walking away after feeling her up. Guo Jing, as a spectator, gets offended on her behalf and jumps in to help, only to be beaten flat by him. Not terribly dismayed by his lack of skills, Guo Jing runs after Wanyan Kang, only offering his name to the astounded and gratified father-daughter couple.

He goes after Wanyan Kang but instead gets into trouble with the martial artists Wanyan Kang’s father hired for his war on the Song dynasty. Another Daoist master, from the same sect as Qiu Chuji comes and helps the embattled Guo Jing, but is injured and poisoned in the attempt.

Not satisfied with mortally injuring the man, the gang also buy up all stores of medicine that would have helped him, rendering Guo Jing full of despair. Huang Rong decides to reveal herself to him as a girl. The two help the Daoist master, Guo Jing out of the goodness of his heart and Huang Rong because she likes Guo Jing. They meet up with Yang Tiexin and Mu Nianci, who are grateful for their help.

Yang Tiexin suspects that his long-lost wife is the Jin prince’s wife, but is not certain, and goes to confirm at a temple where she prays frequently (within the prince’s palace). At the same time, Huang Rong takes advantages of Ouyang Ke’s obvious attraction to her to distract him while she and Guo Jing raid the palace for the much needed medication. During the raid, Guo Jing gets nearly strangled by a giant boa constrictor in the room where medication is stored, leaving him with no choice but to practice some vampirism and drink the snake dry. As it turns out, the snake is full of good medication and was prepared for 20 years for that same purpose by one of the prince’s lackeys.

Mu Nianci, also not one to rest at home, has a run-in with Wanyan Kang and gets tied up and deposited in his bedroom.

Then, Guo Jing’s run of weird luck continues, as he is attacked by Mei Chaofeng, whose husband he killed in the desert so long ago. Huang Rong saves him by revealing her true parentage, thus impressing all the other riffraff chasing after them. The exit with the needed medication and treat the Daoist master.

Wanyan Honglie has obtained Bao Xiruo’s promise that she will be formally married to him the day of her son’s 18th birthday, and leaves nothing to chance – he keeps her under lock and key. He calls Mu Yi in for a meeting, and reveals that he knows who he really is. However, he doesn’t force Yang Tiexin to give his wife up, instead, he guilt-trips the other man about leaving his vulnerable wife to search for other people, his lowly position that will never give her what she deserves, etc. Yang Tiexin is a n00b enough to believe him, and rejects the heartbroken Bao Xiruo, who believes that her allowing Wanyan Honglie to take her in has forever sullied her in his eyes.

Blah blah blah, angst.

Wanyan Kang has a hard night of it, with four different people (his mother, Mu Nianci, Huang Rong and Guo Jing) all telling him that he is in fact the son of Yang Tiexin, and not a Jin princeling. However, his mother is the one who sways him at last and the two decide to leave the palace.

Tensions are high in the reunited family, even when they’ve relocated to a small cottage in the country. Yang Kang is in a horrible mood after losing his riches and status. His parents have bottled up their feelings and refuse to talk to each other. Mu Nianci is dismayed at having a new big brother for whom she has romantic feelings. Guo Jing is envious of Yang Kang’s complete family, not one for seeing the undercurrents of conflict. Huang Rong is annoyed that Yang Kang keeps beating up her beloved Jing gege.

Anyway, things come to head when Yang Kang gets drunk in an inn several nights in a row, and one of the angry regulars finally decides to beat up this ‘Jin upstart’. Yang Tiexin comes to the rescue, increasing his value in Yang Kang’s eyes, and the regular is revealed to be an old friend, Zhang San (lol, one of the John Doe names in Chinese).

The next day, Yang Kang and his father mend fences and practice the traditional Yang spearcraft which is only passed from one generation of Yangs to the next. Guo Jing is envious, and Yang Tiexin, out of the kindness of his heart, teaches him a set of something, to make him happy too. He and Bao Xiruo mend fences also, and the usually astute Yang Kang nearly sees them reconciliate that way before Huang Rong hurriedly calls him out.

All this is actually a revision by the people filming this version, as the original Yang Kang decided to follow Wanyan Honglie even after meeting Yang Tiexin. I think I do like this version better, so earnest, aww. There is still this worrying tendency for Yang Kang to measure a person’s worth by his social status, since he came around to his father after seeing him respected by everyone in Song land and being beaten for claiming to be a member of the Jin dynasty.

Unfortunately this happiness doesn’t last long. Wanyan Honglie has come with troops to take Bao Xiruo and Yang Kang back. The four young eagles go and confront the army as Yang Tiexin and Bao Xiruo take refuge in a pavillion nearby. Wanyan Honglie manages to entangle them in his underlings while he marches forward. Poor Bao Xiruo is once again placed between a rock and a hard place: if she agrees to go with the Jin prince, her son, husband and his friends will live. If not, they will be killed.

She walks towards the prince, to Yang Tiexin’s distress and Wanyan Honglie’s joy. He gives a fireworks signal that tells his people to let the foursome go. However, to Xiruo’s credit, she walks forward only to stab Wanyan Honglie. In the ensuing confusion, both she and Yang Tiexin are fired upon by his elite archers. The prince’s people take him away, injured and heartsick.

Huang Rong, Guo Jing and Yang Kang make it back when the two are near death. Mu Nianci comes with reinforcements much too late and the Daoist masters and Guo Jing’s masters can only watch as the couples die a beautiful and heroic death in each other’s arms.

With his dying breath, Yang Tiexin bequeathes Mu Nianci to Guo Jing, who is expressionless. Yang Kang and Mu Nianci are both unwilling, but before the bigger sorrow of their parents’ passing, they’re a little distracted here.

End of episode 12.

And what do I think?

It’s a martial arts epic. The shots and choreography are going to resemble other stuff no matter what you do. I do like their take on Guo Jing’s famous archery stance. The new one wins lots of points for coolness. πŸ™‚ And the 16 year time-skip make the slow parts of the book appear not so slow, as they aren’t mentioned… I think I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with this. (Oho, year-long project, I see you. You dodge and weave and mention my grades, but I may become obsessed yet.)

I like the new graphics and motifs, done in the Chinese wall carving style, depicting some key scenes. Even though the music is bland, typical pop fare, it’s starting to grow on me.

The original source material is pretty compelling already – a love story set in the midst of war and personal feuds and multiple villains trying to kill our heroes. It’s exciting, it’s involving, it’s shiny. There’s overacting and drama, but it’s an epic. So far, the girls are outshining the boys. πŸ˜€ Huang Rong is scoring all sorts of points with me, and so is Mu Nianci, who does a convincing job of moping all the time, and of having large feet! πŸ˜› Yang Kang rings false sometimes, and Guo Jing is just kind of … one dimensional. There’s no other word for it.

The thing is, from the very beginning, Guo Jing is this simple Mongolian lad to evolves to a simple hero. He’s super nice and modest, but that translates to very dull acting by all but the best. Hu Ge tries, but he’s too wooden right now. Maybe he’s supposed to be, I don’t know, it’s just not that appealing. On the other hand, this version expands Yang Kang and makes him much nicer than he’s supposed to be, and I’m all for character development. I liked the transition between spoiled Jin prince into righteous warrior Yang. It’s just the actor for Yang Kang is new and you can tell, sometimes, from his rather bland performance. A role like this is like a gold mine, you can never stop exploring the opportunities and layer, but here he’s just a bit bleh.

Also, they’ve bled Guo Jing’s character a bit too much in favour of Yang Kang’s. That will change in the future, of course, but it’s kind of disconcerting to see something so classic change. Anyway.

The veteran cast is awesome, yah, three cheers for the older people!

Having read the book and seen the 2003 version, I think I could tell the story in my sleep, but this version’s altered some things. In sum, a solid 8/10. Opinion may be revised after I finish the show. Oh well. We march on to new things!

Hoping that you are still alive after this monster post,


  1. flyingcrispi
    Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    “Hoping that you are still alive after this monster post.”
    I was lost halfway and frequently had to go read again the characters’ names. It’s seems uber complicated, so please tell me when subs are out so I can watch it!!!

  2. flyingcrispi
    Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    Oh and I’m really sorry to double post, but do you have any nice american movie to recommend? I’ve watched like thousands of them, and I don’t know what to watch next.

  3. Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    ahh you’re recapping it after all. i need to start watching so i can catch up to you!!!

  4. Saturday, July 26, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    a minor point, it’s the fearsome five! you forgot δΈ­η₯žι€š. he’s not that important but the chant 东ι‚ͺθ₯Ώζ―’,ε—εΈεŒ—δΈ,δΈ­η₯žι€š sounds incomplete without him.

    i may end up recapping it after all. have you started watching epi 13 onward yet?

  5. sevenses
    Saturday, July 26, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    I’m afraid I don’t watch that much NA stuff anymore. I can recommend ‘Fly Daddy Fly’ though. It’s got a Korean and Japanese version. πŸ˜€

    And I did mention δΈ­η₯žι€š, though not by name. That chant annoys me, because what if there’s some random recluse (like Yang Guo’s descendants) who are super great but don’t decide to show themselves? It’s so self-promoting. Then again, wuxia is just a macho genre. Okays, will go correct it. Oh yeah, I have, I just need to write it all down.

    It’d be great if you did a 1-12 episode by episode, because I think mine is too confusing. πŸ˜€

  6. Monday, August 18, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    i think i’ll do just that. recap 1-12, while you take care of the rest. πŸ™‚

  7. sevenses
    Tuesday, August 19, 2008 at 1:52 pm


  1. Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 5:13 pm

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