When I first read the novel, Yue Buqun did not leave such a strong impression on me, and I did not understand why so many people consider him to be the character that the entire story turns on. As I’ve read/seen more adaptations, I have gotten a better understanding of his importance, but it is this adaptation which really drove home to me what a great character he is.
What really distinguishes State of Divinity’s Yue Buqun is that, unlike any other version of the story I’ve seen/read, we get to see his inner thoughts.
In the original novel, everything we know about Yue Buqun comes from Linghu Chong or Lin Pingzhi, and since Yue Buqun never reveals his private thoughts to these two characters, we can only understand him based on his actions. By contrast, State of Divinity offers Yue Buqun ample opportunities for soliloquy.
What really struck me is that Yue Buqun’s thoughts as depicted by State of Divinity are very different from what I expected – yet entirely consistent with canon. This, of course, is a reflection of just an enigma Yue Buqun is – though we know what he does, the reader never knows what he says to himself.
And State of Divinity shows Yue Buqun being vulnerable. This is something I have never seen in any other version of the story. One of the principles of Yue Buqun’s personality is that he *never* shows vulnerability (at least not in Linghu Chong or Lin Pingzhi’s presence). To be honest, vulnerable!Yue Buqun shocked me.
I now think that Yue Buqun is one of Jin Yong’s finest characters.
I ended up really liking Lin Pingzhi in State of Divinity.
I’m not just saying that I thought he was well-written and well performed (though I do think that). I actually ended up liking the character himself.
While most versions of the story note that Yue Buqun and Lin Pingzhi have similar personalities, State of Divinity really emphasizes that Lin Pingzhi = young!Yue Buqun. Thus they reinforce each other’s position in the story.
Laughing on the Wind introduces Lin Pingzhi as being privileged, coddled, and spoiled, which of course sets him up for being disliked by the audience. It’s almost satisfying to watch him suffer.
State of Divinity, by contrast, makes it really easy to love Lin Pingzhi. This was hard for me, because I knew what happens to Lin Pingzhi at the end. I wanted to hope that State of Divinity would show some mercy to Lin Pingzhi … but I already knew that hope was in vain.
In this adaptation, it is Lin Pingzhi who breaks my heart the most.
About the Music
Well, a lot of the music used in the show is not original (for example, it borrows the soundtrack from Ashes of Time, among other sources). I still found it a bit jarring to hear music pulled from other contexts. Then again, borrowing really good music was probably wiser than composing original-yet-mediocre music – and what original music the show has is mostly uninteresting.
There is one original song which actually stands out is the tune of “The Laughing Proud Wanderer” itself. According to the story, it’s the more beautiful song the characters have ever heard, but I don’t think the audience actually expects that of the makers of the TV show.
The song works because it fits the atmosphere story. Bach it is not, but it does a pretty good job of condensing 43 episodes of story into a single tune. That is much more important than being a great music in its own right.
A Shift in the Ending
Every adaptation (except Lee Chi-Ching’s manhua) alter the ending.
To be fair, the ending of State of Divinity is actually mostly the same as the ending of the novel. But there is one crucial change.
In the original novel, Linghu Chong is helpless at the end. There is practically nothing he can do to change the course of events. His must experience whatever fate sends his way.
And that is what State of Divinity tweaks. At the end, Linghu Chong does change the course of events.
That doesn’t make it a bad ending. But I find it interesting that most adaptations feel that have to change that part.
Comments on the Acting
Overall, I think both shows have very good acting. Even when they did not cast the most suitable actor, at least it is somebody competent enough to make the part work anyway.
That said, these are the highlights for me (from both shows)
Xu Qing as Ren Yingying (LitW) – I think it’s a bit unfair to compare Xu Qing and Fiona Leung’s performances as Ren Yingying, since the script of LitW gives Xu Qing a lot more to work with. Nonetheless, I think Xu Qing does a better job of exposing Ren Yingying in her most vulnerable moments.
Wei Zi as Yue Buqun (LitW) – It is really hard to decide whether Wei Zi (LitW) or Wong Wai (SoD) is a better Yue Buqun, but my gut says that Wei Zi’s acting is a little better (though as far as the script, Yue Buqun is definitely better written in SoD).
Jackie Lui as Linghu Chong (SoD) – This is an example of great casting. To quote a review (which I can’t find right now) ‘Jackie Lui is Linghu Chong’. Li Yapeng’s performance in LitW is also good, but he fails to embody the character as fully as Jackie Lui.
He Meitian as Yilin (SoD) – If casting Jackie Lui as Linghu Chong is great, then casting He Meitian as Yilin is perfect. In a show which sets a very high bar for acting, it is Jackie Lui and He Meitian who really stand out. He Meitian also plays Qi Fang in another of my favorite wuxia dramas, A Deadly Secret, where she is once again a highlight.
Small Evil is Scarier than Great Evil
One of the messages of this story (and most of Jin Yong’s work) is that good cannot defeat evil.
Good can avoid evil. Evil can self-destruct. Good can even, rarely, persuade evil to change. But good cannot defeat evil.
Some adaptations (including Laughing in the Wind) try to turn one of the villains into the Big Bad, which the heroes can then take down and triumph over. That’s not how the original novel works. In the original novel, all of the villains are narrow-minded men (none of the villains are cis-female). Though they can fall individually, they can never be eliminated as a group. If you take down one petty tyrant, another will emerge.
This is scary.
If you think in terms of great evil, at least there is the hope that, after taking out the Big Bad, you will be free once and for all. But if evil is like a weed which will grow back from the soil of human nature as soon as you pull it out, then it will be with you forever.
The villains are horrible not because they are inhuman, but because they are human.
My Encounter with the TV Show
I had been in Taiwan for a short time, and I was just starting to feel out Chinese-language media. As a starting point, I would channel-surf. During my channel-surfing, the wuxia dramas caught my eye the most, since they were quite different from what I was familiar with.
However, even with my lack of listening comprehension skill, I could tell that wuxia TV dramas follow Sturgeon’s Law.
There was one wuxia drama which stood out. I could only understand 10-20% of the dialogue, so of course I couldn’t follow the story, but it still drew me in. Without understanding it, I still felt that what was happening mattered.
I remember one scene where a certain nun killed another character.
Now, I understood enough to know that the nun was horrified by the fact that she had just killed somebody. I also knew that Buddhist nuns are generally not supposed to killing living creatures. I did not know the broader context – for example, I did not know what the nun’s relationship to the victim was – but I *felt* it.
Scenes like this made an impression on me, even though I didn’t know what they mean.
Well, I had to find out what this TV show was – and I learned it was State of Divinity, adapted from a novel by Jin Yong.
Yep, this TV show was my gateway drug, both to Jin Yong specifically and the wuxia genre as a whole (I’ve even written about this before).
Now, even if I hadn’t caught reruns of this show, I would have almost certainly encountered Jin Yong and wuxia anyway. But if my first encounter had been, say The Book and the Sword, I might have concluded that it wasn’t for me, and left it at that.
And if I hadn’t gotten hooked on wuxia, this column would be really, really, really different.
It also made for a weird experience when I finally read the novel. As I read a scene, images from the TV show
would emerge in my head, and I would have lots deja-vu moments -‘This seems oddly familiar’, ‘So, this is what that was actually about’, ‘Oh shit, this is the scene where she dies!’
Availability in English
As far as I know, this show is currently not available in English.
It is listed on Dramafever as ‘coming soon’, but there are so many Hong Kong dramas which are listed as ‘coming soon’ that, unless Dramafever has a gigantic army of translators/subtitlers/etc. at its command, not all of those dramas can ‘come soon’. My guess is that ‘coming soon’ means ‘we have a license to stream this show, but we’ll only actually translate it if we think it will generate a lot of interest among our viewers’.
So if you would like to see this show with English/Spanish subtitles, tell Dramafever.
Okay, in some ways, Laughing in the Wind does kick State of Divinity‘s ass. Yet I think it should be obvious that I love State of Divinity much more.
I think most people agree with me. While both shows get onto many people’s ‘best wuxia TV show’ lists, everybody who has compared the two (including a Laughing in the Wind fansite!) says that State of Divinity is better.
I would take it a step further. There are many classic wuxia TV shows I have yet to see – as well as many classic Chinese-language TV shows in other genres. But of all of the Chinese-language dramas I have seen, State of Divinity is the best. That’s right, it is better than every other single TV show I have discussed here at Manga Bookshelf.
This show is so highly recommended that I think I have just wrecked the roof.
Sara K. made some comments about Shén Tōu Tiānxià by Zheng Feng (who also wrote Passionate Wastrel, Infatuated Hero and Spirit Sword) over at her personal blog.