Binge watching the Condor Trilogy series

Thanks to the Corona virus, the people of San Francisco have been sheltered in. One of the things that I’ve enjoyed doing is watching the Condor Trilogy 射鵰三部曲 series. I got the idea of doing this because of nostalgia. I always enjoyed wuxia as a kid. I don’t know which I watched first – Bruce Lee or Chinese kung fu movies. For that reason, I didn’t even think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was that awesome when it first came out – thought it was just like another Chinese kung fu movie. Hero though, the film with Jet Li and Donnie Yen, was really awesome! I watched the The Return of the Condor Heroes 神鵰俠侶when I was a kid. My late aunt graciously recorded it for me and I watched while being babysat at my great-grandmother’s house. Only upon watching it for the 3rd time, this time in order without missing any episodes and with subtitles, did I really know how much of the story I missed and how poor my Cantonese is.

When I was a kid, I only cared to see the kungfu action. At least that’s what I thought I cared for. Having watched it very recently, I still enjoyed the kung fu action, but also really enjoyed the story. I also enjoyed seeing the lots of beautiful women cast in the series. It’s almost like watching the UFC actually. Which guy doesn’t like watching violence mixed with beautiful women? With the UFC or boxing, you have ring card girls. I know the movies aren’t real fighting. It’s more of a dance than a fight scene. If I want to watch real fighting, I’ll watch the UFC. That said, this is a series that has a remake every decade. Jin Yong wrote some masterpieces. There’s no other reason they would do a remake every 5-10 years.

So I spent about 30 hours watching the 1983 version of 神鵰俠侶 with Andy Lau and Idy Chan. I enjoyed the series a lot. Andy Lau plays brilliantly and Idy Chan is a goddess. Among them were many other talented and beautiful stars as well. I knew I had to watch it from from the beginning to the end to really understand the film. The moment I started watching the series, I started to notice that I needed to keep track of the characters so that I wouldn’t get lost in remember who was who. I ended up using wikipedia as Cliffs notes. I wish I had known about the fandom link at the time. I would’ve used it as well. I’m not the best at remembering Chinese names. I did my best, but also sadly couldn’t resist reading and finding out what happened prior to seeing it actually happen. It was still entertaining and exciting to see how the directors set up the scenes and how they were executed.

There’s a video below that talks about how they shouldn’t make these series because the ratings seem to be getting lower and lower. I might agree perhaps for the older series e.g. the 1990s and 2008, but would wholeheartedly disagree for the 2017/2019 versions. Also, the guy makes his argument based off of ratings. Well, ratings are based on the time and what was available at the time. If you watch the 1983 神鵰俠侶, you’ll see that the Jinlun Guoshi is wearing a wig that doesn’t match his skin color. You would also see that in a lot of scenes, the backdrops are terrible – totally obvious that it’s done on a set.


Think about it. Why would anyone in their right mind create a remake of a series, spend a shitload of money, and make a series that’s worse than the original? Nobody would. Nobody would invest. Nobody would play the parts. Unless they’re just milking the cow – if they already own something and just want to get as much money out of it as possible before it dies. I don’t think that’s the case with these series. You should expect that every series is better than the next. There are many reasons for that. If a series was successful, people usually would like to replicate that success somehow. With better technology and a bigger budget, they can often produce a better product as well. For example, back in 1984, the best they could do to simulate 小龍女 XiaoLongNu’s bees was to make little lights flash on screen. Technology has gone a long way since then.

At the end of the series, I had a decision to make. Did I want to see the prequel and sequels? Well, it was a resounding yes. Jin Yong can really tell a story! I had no doubt that I wanted to see the other 2 parts of the series. That said, there are about 3-4 different versions I could choose from. My first thought was to try the Amazon prime version. I watched 1 episode of the Legend of the Condor Heroes there and decided immediately that it wasn’t for me. My issue was that the English subtitles get superimposed over the Chinese subtitles and made it hard to read. Another issue was that I think they went overboard with the special effects and computer generated imagery. I guess you’ll never know how far you can go until you have crossed the line. I feel that the 2008 version did just that. I then watched 1 episode of the 2017 version and felt good with it. I’m glad I did.

李一桐 Li Yitong plays Huang Rong 黃蓉, one of the main characters in the Legend of the Condor Heroes. She won 2 well-deserved awards for her performance. I absolutely fell in love with her character. I was looking forward to her character to come on the entire time. She was super cute, witty, intelligent, the whole package. In an interview, they asked her if she had watched the previous drama series. I’m glad she didn’t. That’s not to say that her predecessors didn’t do a good job. The late Barbara Yung Mei-ling 翁美玲 and Athena Chu Yan 朱茵 are also fantastic in their respective versions of the series. I can’t pick a favorite because I’ve always been a huge fan of Athena Chu’s since her performance in A Chinese Odyssey. I’ve now also become a huge fan of 李一桐 Li Yitong!
The beautiful Athena Chu in the 1994 version of The Legend of the Condor Heroes.
Viola Mi 米露 plays a fantastic and underrated Mei Chao Feng 梅超風. Doesn’t she look like she came out of a comic book? Viola, clearly very attractive, looks fantastic as a goth villain. She plays the role of a blind woman pretty convincingly and I believe this is the best version of her costume as well. She switches from a master villain role to a subservient role well when the master Huang Yaoshi 黃藥師 shows up.
I haven’t seen a better version of the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan 江南七怪. These guys were not in the series that much, but at least you see the different characteristics of the different characters. In the 1983 version, apart from the leader Ke Zhen’e 柯鎮惡, it’s hard to tell one from the other.
陈星旭 Chen Xingxu looks totally innocent, doesn’t he? He plays a pretty good bad guy, 楊康 Yang Kang, switching to being a bro of Guo Jing. Heard from an interview that he was nervous about the role because the guy that played Huang Yaoshi played his role in 1983. Frankly, I think Chen did a better job, but Michael Miu 苗僑偉 played a very good Huang Yaoshi.
Meng Ziyi 孟子义 sure is beautiful, isn’t she? She plays 穆念慈 Mu Nianci. Internet says she had some plastic surgery.

After watching the The Legend of the Condor Heroes, I proceeded with watching Heavenly Sword and Dragon Slaying Saber. I figured I would go with the 2019 version since it was the latest and it didn’t disappoint. This is available on Amazon Prime video as well, but unfortunately only in Cantonese. Since the movie was filmed in Mandarin and I always prefer to see lips in sync, I opted to watch in Mandarin.

Chen Yuqi 陈钰琪 or Yukee Chen has also earned a fan in me. Her acting was superb and she earned 2 well-deserved awards for her performance as Zhao Min, the Mongolia princess.
See the source image

Bambi Zhu Xudan 祝绪丹 is gorgeous, isn’t she? She plays Zhou Zhiruo, a beautiful, sweet, and innocent woman. Does she look like she could kill anyone!? Well, she played a very convincing role when switching over and also deserved the 2 awards she won for her performance.

No way! You’re a total catch!
Watch a comparison of scenes here. I think it’s pretty clear that the remakes are better.
Here’s another comparison video.

I do have one complaint about the casting. There’s no shortage of talent in Hong Kong or China. Why do they reuse the same actors for different parts? The only reasons I can think of are budget or directors wanting to work with the same people. Here are some examples of some that look the same. There are more, but since the series are over a decade apart, the actors no longer look the same and they played the parts well. Kathy Chow Hoi-mei 周海媚 played Zhou Zhiruo in the 1994 Legend of the Condor Heroes series and played an awesome evil Abbess Miejue in the 2019 Heavenly Sword and Dragon Slaying Saber. Michael Miu played Yang Kang in the 1983 series and Huang Yaoshi in the 2017 Legend of the Condor Heroes series.

The same guy plays one of the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan in the 1980s version of the Legend of the Condor Heroes and then plays the 公孫止 character in the Passionless Valley.
The beautiful Li Zeng 曾黎 appears in both, The Legend of the Condor Heroes and Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber. I guess she commits suicide as Guo Jing’s mother 李萍 and then reincarnates as the Poison Goddess 王難姑 over 100 years later. I don’t mind seeing more of her by the way! She’s stunning!
Li Zeng in The Legend of the Condor Heroes. In my dreams, she’s married to me!
Ning Wentong plays 周伯通 in the Legend of the Condor Heroes and then plays 胡青牛in Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber.

Normally, when watching any drama series, after the whole thing, I feel like I’d wasted my time. After all, it is many hours of my life. After Breaking Bad, arguably one of the most successful series of all time, I felt like I had wasted many hours of my life and wish I hadn’t seen it. I felt the same after watching the IP Man tv series. The Donnie Yen movies were great. The series, not so much. I also watched many episodes of Boardwalk Empire – perhaps 1-2 seasons. At some point, I feel like it’s never going to end and I quit. This is one of the few series that I cannot seem to get enough of. Eventually, I may read the books, but now, I’m content with watching what I can on tv or YouTube and reading on wikipedia and fandom. The reason I feel that I could be critical about the different versions is because I actually went through the different ones that I’ve talked about and found my favorite scenes and watched them in the various versions. You can find almost all of them on Youtube.

If you do watch this series however, don’t watch it in the order that I watched it in, unless you want to know what happens later. It is a little fun to know how the characters already progressed, but I think it’s better to watch them in order. 🙂 Start with The Legend of the Condor Heroes 射鵰英雄傳, move on to The Return of the Condor Heroes 神鵰俠侶 and finish with The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber 倚天屠龍記.

I can’t wait to see the New Return of the Condor Heroes starring 佟梦实 Thomas Tong and 毛晓慧 Mao Xiaohui.

Thanks for reading and please leave some comments below.

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