This recent 2010 TV adaptation is based on Luo Guanzhong’s famous novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It is one of the four major classical novels of Chinese literature. Like the novel, this show is going to be a classic. Quite frankly, I have never watched anything like it. The show is titled simply as Three Kingdoms because supposedly it replaces some of the fictional accounts in the novel with true historical events that happened in Ancient China. Having said that, this adaptation is relatively faithful to the novel. I find myself looking up bits and pieces of the original story and comparing them to the events portrayed in this film as the film progresses. They are almost identical in many cases. There are a total of 95 episodes (each about 45 minutes long) and there is not a single episode that’s entirely dull and boring.
The three main characters (Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang) are exceptionally well casted. Chen Jianbing puts a different spin on the Cao Cao character that history despises. He makes him less of a villain and more of a hero – a visionary leader. After watching Chen Jianbin as Cao Cao for so long, I really can’t see any other actors capable of doing this character better justice. Quite simply, Chen Jianbin is Cao Cao.
Liu Bei is known throughout history as a benevolent and virtuous person. He is a conflicted individual with an aspiration to bring glory to the Han dynasty but lacks the ruthlessness to make it happen. The Liu Bei portrayed in this version appears emotionless for the most part. Actor Yu Hewei displays an almost expressionless face throughout most of the show. Some may even wonder why he is cast as Liu Bei in the first place, but it may make sense later if you give it time.
The novel has a famous saying, that Liu Bei is “like a fish found water” (ru yu de shui) when he recruits Zhuge Liang as his primary military advisor. Actor Lu Yi is Director Gao Xi Xi’s excellent choice as the military genius Zhuge Liang (aka Kong Ming). In the novel, Zhuge Liang is only 27 years old when Liu Bei first meets him. It takes him 3 visits before he can finally secure a meeting with Zhuge Liang. The story glamorizes Zhuge Liang into an almost god-like being and Lu Yi is quite convincing in his portrayal as such.
The casting of Chen Hao as one of the most beautiful women in Ancient China, Diao-Chan, is a choice that I didn’t quite approve of when I first heard of the news. However, Chen Hao’s solid performance quickly persuaded me to change my opinion. She is a beautiful graceful woman, as she has convincingly portrayed in the scene where she’s introduced to Dong Zhuo. Actor Lu Xiaohe lends one of the best performances in this film as the legendary tyrant Dong Zhuo. His acting – if you can call it that – is very natural and effortless. It almost seems like Lu Xiaohe has been asked to play himself. Peter Ho also lends a credible performance as the tall, suave peerless warrior Lu Bu (Dong Zhuo’s adoptive son). It is certainly fun to watch how the love triangle between Lu Bu, Diao Chan and Dong Zhuo plays out in this series. Peter Ho excellently portrays a much softer, sensitive side of Lu Bu. We will soon see him again in Gao Xi Xi’s upcoming “Legend of Chu and Han” depicting the rise of the Han dynasty where he’ll portray the famous Chinese military leader, Xiang Yu. Other actors whose performances are worthy of commending include Victor Huang as Zhou Yu, Ruby Lin as Sun Shangxiang (Sun Quan’s sister and Liu Bei’s third wife), and Ni Dahong as Sima Yi. My only reservation is for Fan Yulin’s portrayal of Sun Quan. The actor’s aloofness makes it difficult to connect with his character.
This show boasts a budget of 30 million US dollars, the largest amount ever heard of at the time for a Chinese TV production. By the summer of 2012, the production has made 133 million US dollars. It is very well received both in China and in the international markets. The money has indeed been well spent by Gao Xi Xi and crew. This is one of the best looking shows made for television – it is almost on par in quality to theatrical releases. The sets used for filming of various locations are astoundingly beautiful. The imperial palace of the Han emperor in Luoyang is a sight to behold. The huge lotus garden in the palace courtyard of Xiapei in Xu Province paints an aesthetically pleasing, relaxing, and serene picture. Most of the palaces’ interiors are very spacious, with very tall ceilings and gorgeous hard wood floors. Costume designs look authentic for the era and certainly help make the characters look more similar to their manga, anime and videogame counterparts (i.e Dynasty Warriors). Battle scenes are very well choreographed. At times, the way certain characters held their stances while preparing for battle or fighting stylishly on horsebacks made it appeared as though these scenes were taken directly from manga illustrations and brought to life.
My biggest gripe however has to do with the music in the show. There seems to be only a handful of different musical scores aside from the two main theme songs. A TV show of this enormity and caliber should have at least a couple of dozen unique scores and musical arrangements to do it justice. There is not one memorable tune that really stands out for me. I’m also not too fond of the two main theme songs that bookend each episode. However, don’t let that be a concern. The lack of good music is unlikely to deter anyone from thoroughly enjoying this show.
This show is very addictive. I highly recommend watching this from the very beginning. Chances are you will not be able to stop watching it once you start. This is a tale of political intrigues, deceptions and warlords vying for the ultimate power. It’s interesting to see lands being yanked back and forth, grabbed left and right by Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan. The conflicts involved certainly help keep the momentum going and the viewers’ attention glued to the screen. Watch it and immerse yourself in the history and culture of Ancient China during this tumultuous time period, and find out who will become the one to unite and rule all three kingdoms.
There is an excellent English subtitling done by Jiang-Hu Fansub (search for it on youtube.com)