On the excellent rec of [personal profile] egelantier, who has a better (non-spoilery) intro with photos., I recently watched a 54-episode Chinese historical drama, Nirvana in Fire (Lang Ya Bang). It was awesome.

The plot is very complex, but it's basically the wuxia version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Twelve years before the story begins, the crown prince, his general, and the general's military genius teenage prodigy son, Lin Shu, went to fight on the emperor's behalf. Something went horribly wrong, and they were falsely accused of starting a rebellion. The paranoid emperor had them all killed, along with their 70,000-man army. Now it's a completely taboo topic which no one even dares to mention to the emperor.

But Lin Shu is not dead! Exactly. Due to a near-death experience, he survived at the cost of his martial arts skills, his physical strength and health, and his entire previous body and face. No longer the strong warrior he was, he is now completely unrecognizable, an extremely beautiful but physically weak strategist dying of magical consumption. Going by the name of Mei Changsu (also Mr. Su), he returns to the capital to clear the name of the supposed rebels, bring down the two princes currently maneuvering for the throne, institute his own former best friend (the disfavored Prince Jing) as the crown prince, and restore justice, set up good rule, and get revenge.

He does this by means of incredibly intricate plotting and the power of the sarcastic eyebrow lift. Here is a typical moment: Mei Changsu is smarter than you.

Mei Changsu/Lin Shu is a fascinating character whose motivations are slowly revealed over the course of the story. I don't want to spoil what's going on with him other than what I already said (and some of it is a matter of interpretation) but in addition to being really fun to watch (his body language is amazing), there's a lot more to him than the perfect genius who immediately meets the eye. If you're interested in issues of identity, I'll just say that there's a lot to enjoy in that direction. His refusal to tell almost anybody - including his former best friend - who he really is, even if they guess and confront him, starts out seeming to have legit plot reasons, but ends up clearly being much more about his psychology. It's frustrating to watch at times, but also really interesting and uncompromising.

On a less elevated level, his illness provides an immense amount of satisfying hurt-comfort carried to sometimes hilarious extremes, as literally everyone in his vicinity gets sucked into worrying about his health, helping him walk, providing him with fur cloaks and fluffy blankets because as apparently everyone knows and is very very concerned about, his health is very delicate and he cannot take the cold. (At one point he actually has an enemy providing him with fluffy blankets.) Also, he has really beautiful hands and a great array of sarcastic/cranky/smug glances.

But this is really an ensemble story, and it has a huge array of fascinating characters, all with their own motivations and stories. Just a few of my favorites were Consort Jing, Prince Jing's 50-something mother, who has spent nearly her entire life locked in the palace but slowly reveals a talent for intrigue which is the match of Mei Changsu's own and probably better in some ways; a pair of very different warrior women, one a general and one a sort of ninja detective, who served together in the army and whom I shipped; Mei Changsu's teenage bodyguard Fei Liu, who is developmentally disabled but great at kung fu, and has a really sweet relatationship with Mei Changsu which gets more and more heartbreaking as his death gets more imminent and Fei Liu can't accept or even really understand it; the antagonist Prince Yu, who is not a nice guy at all but has understandable motivations and solid, loving relationships with his equally scheming mother and concubine/strategic advisor; Mei Changsu's kung fu doctor buddy who turns up in the last five episodes and completely steals the show.

I could go on and on. I had to stop myself or I'd name twenty favorites. In general, I liked the large number of badass middle-aged moms and the multiple interesting and important mother-son relationships, which made a nice change from western media's ubiquitous daddy issues. Though there are also a lot of daddy issues. The emperor is terrible but a really great character and gave one of my favorite performances. He's responsible for all his own woes and a lot of everyone else's too, but if I had to sit there and watch all that scheming, I'd probably start throwing paperweights too.

The story is structured as a lot of careful set-up and dramatic or funny character bits (punctuated by kung fu battles - I swear, there must have been some contractual thing saying that no more than five episodes could go by without an attack by flying ninjas) building to spectacular pay-offs; the pay-offs are sprinkled throughout the story, but more frequent in the second half. I thought it got better and better as it went along, so if you're potentially interested, I would keep going for a while even if it's confusing/slow at first.

I think everyone who might possibly have any interest should watch it so I can talk about some spoilery aspects. The first episode was really confusing and the series picked up a lot as it went along and I started figuring out who everyone was (and stopped thinking stuff like, "Is that the favored prince, the disfavored prince, or the non-prince dude whose status I'm uncertain of, and is he talking to his girlfriend, his advisor, or his sister?" It doesn't help that a lot of people have multiple names.

Maybe you could start with episode two. I think most of what happens in episode one just sets up some stuff. Skip this paragraph if you don't want to be spoiled, read it if you might skip episode one. There are two contenders for the throne, the Crown Prince (a total tool) and Prince Yu, and that younger Prince Jing is not considered a contender. Mei Changsu is associated with Langya Hall (a sort of martial arts and strategy consulting firm)which puts out the Langya List (a sort of Forbes List of great martial artists, strategists, and rich people), and comes to the capital under the easily broken identity of "Mr. Su." (Most people investigate him, quickly find that he's really Mei Changsu, the brilliant strategist ("The Divine Talent"), and don't think to look farther.) As Lin Shu (aka Xiao Shu), he was engaged to the general and princess Nihuang, and was best friends with Prince Jing (Jingyan).

The only person who knows that Mr. Su/Mei Changsu is actually Lin Shu is General Meng, who helps him find an appropriate mansion and build a secret passageway so Mei Changsu can meet with Prince Jing (aka Jingyan). This leads to this hilarious exchange:

General Meng: "The passage is ready. Now you may have your secret midnight rendezvous with Prince Jing."

Mei Changsu: "Could you try phrasing that differently?"

(If you legit ship them, there is plenty to support that and it's really angsty and epic. I had what seems to be a minority ship, which was Mei Changsu/Lin Chen, the late-appearing doctor buddy who is the one person who actually calls him on all his asshole behavior and is the only person other than Fei Liu who ever gets him to smile. I liked his relationship with Nihuang, his ex-fiancee, but I couldn't ship it because even though she does extract a few hugs from him, they are hilariously awkward. He pats her on the back like he has no idea what he's supposed to do in such a bizarre situation. That had to be deliberate, because he otherwise uses his hands so beautifully that they sometimes distracted me from reading the subtitles. And while I'm on shipping, Nihuang and Xia Dong would do a lot better with each other.)

If I have sold you on starting, I suggest using the handy photographic character guide and some patience. The show is really rewarding once you get your bearings.

Watch on Viki

Watch on Youtube

Character guide with photos.

Has anyone seen this? I would love to discuss some spoilery aspects, but only if you've seen the whole thing.
littlerhymes: the fox and the prince (Default)

From: [personal profile] littlerhymes

I'm only up to ep 17 but I'm all for Nihuang/Xia Dong. Mostly though I'm terrified my minor character faves will die, because at this stage I have no idea if they're important enough to survive.

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schneefink: River walking among trees, from "Safe" (Default)

From: [personal profile] schneefink

Yesss Nirvana in Fire! I recently watched it and immediately tried to get other people to watch it too (and also sign up for Yuletide), it's amazing.

Here there be spoilers.

I love Lin Chen - he can actually get Changsu to laugh! He keeps telling people that unlike them, he doesn't do anything Changsu asks of him, to hide how much he would actually do if Changsu asked him to, aww. Joining the army!! I need to rewatch that episode and their final argument, it was so good.

I really love Meng and Changsu's relationship, though I don't ship them in a romantic way. Meng is great (and I also appreciated that he was the one things were explained to, to the benefit of the audience), especially fun when playing with Fei Liu. Though that applies to everyone, I loved how "playing with Fei Liu" seemed to almost become an excuse for people to check up on Changsu and make sure he's not lonely, or cold, or sick...

Meng is also the only person who keeps telling Changsu to tell Jingyan that he is Lin Shu. At first I thought it's because he's the one unfamiliar with political schemes and he just doesn't understand what it'll take to be successful, but the more I thought about it the more I wondered what would have happened if Jingyan had known earlier. Yes he can be very stubborn and temperamental and emotional, and Gao (who I also love btw) was probably right that Jingyan would have been extremely unhappy with xiao-Shu being imprisoned in the Juanxing Bureau, but if xiao-Shu told him the full truth I'm pretty sure Jingyan would have trusted him enough. It seemed more, or at least as much, like Changsu was scared of Jingyan finding out because of what it would mean for who he'd have to be, if that makes sense, and Meng is someone who'd see through that.

Mu Nihuang/Xia Dong, yes please :) (Especially in the AU where Nie Feng really is dead.)


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naye: the going merry go on blue waters with the words "follow your dreams" (lyb mcs back)

From: [personal profile] naye

Oh. Oh this is all a brilliant rec post - mind if I link it? We only just finished it last week, and are already on the rewatch because. There's a lot of feelings to process? (It makes so much more sense the second time around!)

Anyway I'm all feelings and no brain on this so I don't have much to add I just wanted to sparkle at the write-up and see if I could use it to entice others watch it.
marycontrary: (Default)

From: [personal profile] marycontrary

I can't read this or comments yet, but Ursula LeGuin just blogged about this show.

Thanks for the rec!

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com

Before even reading this, I want to say thank you, because now that we have Apple TV (and can, for instance, watch YouTube on the TV), I've been looking for good things to watch that take advantage of that ability.

(I'll come back when I've had a chance to read this in its entirety)

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zdenka: Yellow leaves. (all will yet be well)

From: [personal profile] zdenka

I haven't seen it, but you've sold me on it. I've enjoyed a lot of historical kdramas, from serious to ridiculous, so I'm happy to give this a try.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Default)

From: [personal profile] larryhammer

there must have been some contractual thing saying that no more than five episodes could go by without an attack by flying ninjas

I think it's a genre contract, rather than a business one.

One day, when I'll be able to watch any actual tv, I'll track this one down. One day ...
Edited Date: 2016-10-05 04:06 pm (UTC)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

Ha ha, yes. It's a genre contract. It was so clockwork that I could actually predict the ninja attacks based solely on elapsed time since the last one.

From: [identity profile] egelantier.livejournal.com

HDU, the first episode has the self-steering boat scene! it's the best scene and an ideal character introduction (presents: mcs being beautiful, mcs being fussed over, mcs being scary, mcs being a SNARKY DAMN ASSHOLE. also fei liu and whoever is probably propelling the boat underwater. probably li gang).

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

True! The intro worked way better for me the second time around. The first time I was too busy trying to figure out WTF was going on and who everyone was to really register the characterization.

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ext_9800: (Default)

From: [identity profile] issen4.livejournal.com

...what spoilery aspects?

I caught it last year and re-watched a couple of times since. Sadly it came out too late for Yuletide last year. I love Yu Jin loads.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

I have a bunch of spoilery discussion on the dreamwidth side of this post!

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From: [identity profile] yhlee.livejournal.com

troisroyaumes rec'd this to me and I really want to see it...I may have to give it a go.

From: [identity profile] yhlee.livejournal.com

Have watched ep. 1 and your guide is the only reason I'm not even more confused. I already ship the princess with a sword and the special investigator lady but cannot remember either woman's name. Everyone else I am kind of lost on who they are in terms of significance--I can tell their faces apart, but so many NAMES. :p

Will attempt ep. 2 tomorrow...

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

"I ship them! ...who are they?" was basically my reaction to episode one as well. I think it was about five episodes before I got the majority of the main characters straight.

If you do persist, it eventually delivers some amazing scenes in which Mei Changsu destroys his enemies and then shows up while they're in chains to gloat over them. I was very jealous as I have always wanted to do that.

From: [identity profile] sunlit-music.livejournal.com

Damn, now I want to see this. Thank you for this lovely write up.

Finally! A Count of Monte Christo remake I can actually watch and enjoy.

From: [identity profile] sartorias.livejournal.com

Up to sixteen with maximum frustration, as wiki keeps throwing me back to the beginning of the episode when I reach the third or so set of stupid commercials. (After playing them three times, sometimes.) And Youtube, while more reliable, maddeningly has the subtitles tracked at the beginning of the title sequence, so it's always about two minutes off. Argh, argh, argh.

From: [identity profile] meganbmoore.livejournal.com

I realized I never commented on this even though I meant to after reading sartosias's post on it, so I'm just going to copy/paste the comment I left there:

I haven't seen this yet, but I'll give you the same recommendation I've been giving to people on tumblr who loved this but haven't watched many/any ancient Chinese dramas, which is that a good followup would be show would likely be Ballad of the Desert/Sound of the desert (depending on where you look for it.) It has Hu Ge as the second male lead and the role most likely had a large part to play in his being cast in Nirvana in Fire. He was originally cast as the male lead, but asked for the secondary male lead role instead because he's been trying to break away from the swordsman roles that made him famous for years. He even refused to take on any ancient roles for a few years. It was a sad time.

The actual main leads are Liu Shi Shi and Eddie Peng, both of whom Hu Ge has collaborated with multiple times in the past, though usually with him as the lead and them as second tier main characters. The series is set in a fictional version of the Han Dynasty and is a Romance-with-a-capital-R series about a girl from the desert who was raised by wolves (and then adopted by a desert tribe and became friends with their prince and then fled back to her wolf family after her adopted father was assassinated) who goes to the capital and becomes entangled with a nephew of the Empress, and nephew of the Emperor and a musician out for revenge, and all the political shenanigans that go with them, while also becoming the madam of a high-end dance house. (I think it's actually a brothel in the book the series is based on.) It was sexually-scandalous for a Chinese drama, but only about average-network levels of sexually explicit in its most explicit scene, and it stayed pretty female-centric throughout despite plenty of temptation to wallow in the male leads issues. Based on gifsets and clips I've seen, the production values are lower quality than Nirvana in Fire, though production values have come a LONG way the last few years for Chinese series, and it's still pretty good quality overall.

From: [identity profile] swan-tower.livejournal.com

I'm only a few episodes in, so no spoiler talk yet, but I'm definitely enjoying it! The first ep wasn't super engaging, but I started getting invested in ep 2, when everybody goes to see the Grand Empress and there's the INCREDIBLY SAD bit with her not-really-mistaking Su Zhe for Lin Shu and putting his hand on Nihuang's and asking when they're gonna get married. I felt so bad for the Grand Empress. D-:

From: [identity profile] swan-tower.livejournal.com

Added to the list of characters I feel bad for: Magistrate Gao Sheng, who as of where I am in the series right now is basically the dumping ground for all of Mei Changsu's "get people arrested" plots. :-P

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