For those of my MDL friends that haven’t read any of my articles, I LOVE WRITING. Even better, I love writing about Asian dramas. SHOCKER: I love writers, especially those of Asian dramas or Asian books. Is it any wonder that I want to talk about one of my favorite writers, Priest? I have read all her books translated into English, I’ve even purchased the Chinese copies… just in case she ever comes to dinner… and she’s willing to sign them. This Chinese author is CRAZY talented. To date, three of her books have been adapted into c-dramas. Of course, I watched each and every one. I’d love to tell you (fairly spoiler-free) about each of these little ditties.
I said spoiler-free, not opinion-free… ahhhh, Wang Yibo (And Zanilla's not so bad either.)
Just in case you haven’t read a book by Priest – the fabulous danmei (yes, I’m a stereotypical female that enjoys this genre) author, she’s low on smut and high on world and character building, which makes her work highly compatible with TV. The three books made into C-dramas are Bandits (Legend of Fei), Faraway Wanderers (Word of Honor), and Zen Hun (Guardian). I’m not done reading Bandits (not completely translated, dang it), but I have read the other two more than once, and they are a roller coaster of angst, poetry, and bloody battles… which pretty much describes any Priest novel - You know, the kind that rips your heart out, elicits cries of disgust, tickles your funny bone with hopefully… a happy ending.
All three of these shows were made in Mainland China, where the censorship is high and the typical C-drama notoriously saccharine. To be honest, other than Bandits, Priest’s novels center around two male characters that save the day and find a life long meaningful relationship. Not something China allows visualized on any screen, let alone 30 plus episodes filmed in technicolor. Of course, The Untamed, Guardian, and other dramas have thumbed their noses at the censors and put enough subtext and sweltering glances in many episodes to let the audience know that there is something more going on than a straight bromance.
Question: Are the C-dramas as good as Priest’s books?
Legend of Fei is based on the book Bandits (hoping it will be translated completely. I love you, translators). From what I can tell, the drama strays heavily from the book. Not sure why, maybe money. This is the typical "female kicks butt and saves the world" story. Don’t see the need for much censorship or deviations from the original story - ANYONE KNOW WHY? Legend of Fei begins in the 48 Strongholds which are considered by the government to be a criminal-laden stronghold when it's truthfully a safe haven for refugees.
Loved this scene... It might be the best one in the whole drama.
Zhou Fei is born and raised in the 48 Strongholds and learns martial arts. Her father is called away to serve in the army as a general during a war. Her mother is extremely capable and just a little scary (her story is told in The Unbeatable). Zhou Fei (Zanilla Zhao) has enough run-ins with Xie Yun (sigh, Wang Yibo) that the two pair up and have adventures together. There’s mystery, romance, heartbreak, and lots of chances to watch Zhou Fei beat everyone up and destroy a sword or two or a dozen.
I’ll be honest, by episode 25, I was fascinated by Xie Yun (did I mention it’s the dreamy Wang Yibo?) and enthralled witnessing the development of Chu Chu (great job by Zhang Hui Wen). Li Sheng (Chen Ruo Xuan portrayed the spoiled brat nicely) became less annoying, and the tortured Yin Pei (wow, Oscar Sun) was not boring at all.
Zanilla Zhao did a great job through most episodes with Zhou Fei, but by the halfway point, I felt like she was phoning it in. EXAMPLE: Her face leaving Xie Yun with the monk looked more like being told she had to do the dishes rather than the anguish of leaving her true love. Frankly, I’d look a little more emotional trying to rescue a man that looked like Wang Yibo… what was Zanilla thinking… could she be any less interested?
Is it strange these two were my favorite characters in Legend of Fei?
Despite the lack of on-screen heat between Fei and Xie Yun, there were other interesting interactions, like the lovely chemistry between Chu Chu and Li Sheng. I LOVED Li Yan and Yang Jin’s (the country bumpkin) relationship from the get-go. Grampa Li’s harem (Duan Jiu Niang and Madame Ni Chang) were quite exciting, especially when they beat people up. I was extremely entertained by the Phoenix Master and Shen Tian Shu, just enough vulnerability to put them in the are-they-evil/are-they-not category.
I’ve written on this C-drama before. It's strangely intriguing to watch even though it’s a patched-up mess with all the censorship and money problems that plagued Guardian. Zen Hun was the first Priest's novel I read, frankly, because Johnny Bai and Zhu Yi Long made the two main characters so compelling. This novel was charming, funny, fascinating, chocked full of delightful monsters that I could read about over and over. That’s why Priest is such a good writer. Her vivid characters are quirky and adorable, like Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei, with just enough BAD BOY in them to warm this foolish girl’s heart.
Zhao Yulan & Shen Wei, a match made in heaven - or in their case, Mount Kunlun.
I believe the reason why this show was so popular was that every actor seemed to adhere to the book rather than the bizarre script. Some examples are the two leads who often appeared to be dating instead of cultivating friendship. Gao Yu Er, who played Zhu Hong, made the love triangle feel so real (even though it wasn’t… it's hard to explain). Chu Shu Zhi (played by Ocean Jiang) felt more like the zombie from the book rather than the “puppet-master” in the C-drama. I think each actor’s insistence on getting their performance as close to the book as possible led to a more interesting show, despite the controversial subject matter: reincarnation, Chinese mythology, and LGBT.
Out of the three of these shows, Word of Honor was the closest to the Priest novel… but let's be honest, it's not as close as it could be. I read Faraway Wanderers after finishing Lord Seventh, the prequel. Truth be told, Lord Seventh is a better book. There are two big reasons why this is the best of the adaptations so far:
#1 darkness spewing from most of the characters and #2 the flirting. Priest is extremely talented in writing nasty characters that we just want to snuggle up to - like Zhou Zishu and Wen Kexing. In the book, those two are just not the most moral-upstanding of creatures, and Hallelujah, neither are Zhou Zishu and Wen Kexing in WoH.
Can Ah’Xu and Lao Wen be more sweetly sinister?
That said, in WoH, Zishu was just a little too bright, cheerful, and forthright from time to time, characteristics Zishu never exhibited in the book. Zhang Zhe Han could bring on the tortured vibe, so thumbs up for his skills, but dang... he flashed those pearly whites WAY too much (but at least those smiles were pretty). A few times with Cheng Ling, I wanted to yell at him to stop with the cheesy grin and innocent looks. EXCUSE ME! Zhou Zishu is a cold-blooded assassin, not a happy-go-lucky shifu.
Simon Gong just nailed the flirty and skilled Wen Kexing. There were times I was shocked that they were able to get the suggestive dialogue past the censors, but YIPPEE, his coquettishness is firmly on display for us to relish, and wow, was he fun, just like the book. I’m sure groundbreaking shows like Guardian, The Untamed, and others helped pave the way for the ambiguous relationship between A’Xu and Lao Wen in WoH.
Another interesting note about Priest is that, unlike many danmei authors, her female characters are fun and capable, not the typical green tea (censored). Gu Xiang is probably one of her best female characters, and Zhou Ye plays the purple demon very well. WoH portrays the relationship between her and Cao Weining (well done by Asher Ma) true to the book, including the conclusion of their arc… surprise, surprise.
Shen Wei is much more... ahem, "wolfish" in the book. (GIF courtesy of pinimg)
What's the answer? These dramas aren’t quite as good as Priest's books, but the on-screen characters feel as if they came straight from the books... regardless of the script.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I adore Priest and her many wonderful books. Guardian, Word of Honor, and Legend of Fei are all shows worth watching, mainly for the actors doing their darnedest, portraying the essence of her creations. BUT NOT ONE of these dramas was completely faithful to those epic stories. Censorship, laziness, money? Not sure.
There are several more Priest books in the works to be adapted: Sha Po Lang (without the romance, will it work?), Liu Yao, Of Mountains and Rivers, and Silent Reading (my favorite Priest novel – Steven Zhang, please don’t screw up uber-flirt Fei Du.) Will the C-dramas be remotely like the books? Don’t hold your breath. Someday, if we’re lucky, South Korea, Taiwan, or Japan will pick a Priest book and make it as written. Until then, I’ll read the book first before I grab my package of double-stuff Oreos and binge-watch the drama.
What about you? Anyone out there a Priest fan like me?
Excited to watch the upcoming C-dramas or will you stick to just reading her epic tales?
Edited by: Cookie (2nd editor)