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Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Tian Long Ba Bu

China 2003

Number of Episodes: 40
Running Time: 47 min.

Wuxia, Drama

Based on a novel by:
Jin Yong

Zhang Jizhong

Hu Jun
Jimmy Lin
Gao Hu
Liu Yifei
Tong Zhen Zhong
Xiu Qing
Liu Tao
Chen Hao
Ma Yu Ke
Ji Chun Hua
Li Huo
Gao Zhao
Ma Yu Ke
Christy Chung
Jia Jun Yi
Jiang Xing
Wang Hai Zhen
Yang Rui

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Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils

aka Heaven Dragon - The Eighth Episode

Story: Qiao Feng (Hu Jun) is the leader of the Beggar-Clan. One day, after several strange murders, Qiao has to find out that he is actually a Qidan. Therefore, he belongs to the barbarians that are fierce enemies of China. He is expelled by the Beggar Clan and goes on a search for his past in order to find the murderers of his parents and take his revenge on them. However, Qiao's trip isn't without any obstacles. One after another, the people who know more about Qiao's background get assassinated by a mysterious, masked stranger. Qiao is accused of several murders even the one on his foster parents. When Qiao Feng believes to have finally found the murderer of his parents, he has to realize that the culprit is supposedly not only the king of Dali, Duan Zheng Chun (Tong Zhen Zhong), but he is also the father of his new (girl-)friend Ah Zhu (Liu Tao). Qiao makes a critical mistake, that will haunt him for the rest of his life...

Duan Yu (Jimmy Lin) is the prince of Dali and the only one of the royal family, who isn't interested in Martial Arts. He thinks of fighting and killing as a despicable thing. When his father once again tries persuade him to learn how to fight, he flees the palace. On his wanderings he gets his hands on a secret scroll, by accident, that makes him an impressive fighter, even though he still doesn't really know how to use these newly acquired skills and also doesn't care to learn. Anyway, one day he meets Wang Yuyan (Liu Yifei), who he instantly falls in love with. Still, Wang loves Murong Fu (Xiu Qing), who is said to be the best warrior in the country, though sharing this title with Qiao Feng. Although Wang is accompanying him whereever he goes, Murong Fu has no interest in her, but cares only about rebuilding his kingdom. To achieve his goal he is willing to do whatever it takes, which is something Duan Yu has to bear witness, too, as he makes use of every opportunity he gets to stay near his beloved.

Xu Zhu (Gao Hu) is a shaolin monk, whose martial arts abilities still need years of practice. However, when by chance he solves an inextricable Go-game, he gets all of Wu Ya Zi's inner powers, the grandmaster of the Xiaoyao cult, in order to be able to take revenge for Wu on his rival Ding Chunqiu (Jia Jun Yi). Yet, Xu Zhu refuses to commit this sin, as he still sees himself as a monk. To make things worse, Xu Zhu also saves the life of the leader of the Vulture Peak sect on his further journey, without knowing about her evil deeds. She forces him to learn all of her martial abilities. Moreover, the leader suffers from a curse of her sister, who eventually finds her and gets into a fight with her. This leads to Xu Zhu unwillingly becoming the new leader of the Vulture Peak sect, too. Anyway, Xu Zhu desires nothing more than to finally return to his monastery. Still, he also has to understand that he most likely will be banned by the monks, because of the many sins he commited during his imprisonment by the former leader of Vulture Peak sect...

Qiao Feng, Duan Yu and Xu Zhu run into each other on several occasions and it becomes obvious, that fate has woven an inseperable bond between the three. They eventually become blood brothers and fight many battles alongside each other, and against the most vicious villians, lead by demonic Duan Yuan Qing (Ji Chun Hua), Murong Fu and several other fighters who all want to earn the title of the best warrior in their country.

Review: "Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils" is a Chinese fantasy series of epic scale. This movie adaption based on the novel by the same title from famous Wuxia author Jin Yong sticks closely to the original and is fully loaded with betrayal, conspiracy, feuds, drama, sorrow, war and heroes that are willing to sacrifice their lives for their beliefs. It's not the first time that the novel was adapted for TV screen, but Zhang Jizhong's version is bristling with fantasy, great costumes and sometimes beautifully captured outdoor shots. When it comes to the special effects it becomes obvious that money wasn't something this production had plenty of, but then again, "Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils" hasn't the cheap looks of a TV series either. Quality-wise we get Wuxia entertainment on a high level, that can be especially captivating thanks to interesting characters and its epic plot.

Nonetheless, it takes some time to get access to this show. Oftentimes we are thrown into cold water when it comes to the characters, which are introduced one after another without granting us a break to breathe, so that we soon get lost about who we are already supposed to know and who not. Fortunately, seemingly all of the characters are important to the story the one way or the other, which is why they appear on more than just one occasion, which makes it easier to grasp who is in relationship to whom and in what way, eventually. This is something really essential in this series as almost everyone is related to one another in a way (mainly because of the many escapades of the king of Dali), or they are antagonists seeking their mutual lives.
Furthermore, the protagonists really earn their spot in your heart after a while, which, however, also brings us to some sore points. The story keeps its focus on only one of the three main characters for several episodes, which means that we are constantly getting emotionally pulled out of the other story threads. This was most likely the case in the novel, also, but what may work in a book doesn't necessarily have to be applied for a TV show, too.

Moreover, it's a bit difficult to follow the story, as there are numerous side stories inserted, that don't seem to be of any significance to the main story. Apart from that, most episodes don't provide a real cliffhanger. Yet, this also leaves no doubt that the show has been split into episodes rather randomly, as this is actually supposed to be one single gigantic work. Therefore, we aren't really surprised when we find out later on, that not a single one of the different story angles were irrelevant at all. They are picked up again and just display different parts of one single big puzzle. Everything is linked with one another in some way, and actually heads for one common finale, even if it might not be apparent at first. More or less at least. One of the series' flaws is that some aspects of the story are handled a bit too rushed and are illustrated too jumpy. That's odd, as there are other parts in the show that consume especially much time for rather insignificant scenes.
Granted, even for a 40 episodes counting TV show the novel still had to be shortened, but why this way? Why had the producers to race through some important story arcs, especially at the finale? They really could have set better priorities.

The true strength of this series is not only its grandiose story, but also its colorful characters. Hu Jun ("Curiosity kills the Cat") can absolutely convince as the archetypical, powerful Wuxia hero, who suddenly has to deal with his past. He has a benevolent and kind personality, even though he has a weakness for wine. However, when he is driven into a corner he also doesn't restrain from killing his former friends when it serves the greater good and his goal.
Jimmy Lin as the prince of Dali couldn't win me over at an instant, as he looks too spoiled and soft for the harsh martial arts world. Nonetheless, he soon succeeds in becoming a likeable character the audience can relate to, mostly because of his almost overstatedly goodhearted character. As fate plays its cards, he also masters an unusual martial art, that grants him the power to defend himself and protect others from evil. His willingness to self-sacrifice makes him the heart and soul of the show.
Gao Hu, who is depicting shaolin monk Xu Zhu, is the last part of the trio and eventually becomes the leader of several sects against his wishes, even though he has nothing of the character traits of a real headman. He is insecure, oftentimes doesn't seem to be the brightest, but in his heart he just wants to stay away from any trouble. Yet, heaven has forged another destiny for him, therefore he doesn't only grow stronger concerning his martial arts abilities, but also as an individual.

The first couple of episodes will be solely of interest for the male audience, because of the many beautiful actresses. And I'm not only talking about China's new star at the horizon, the lovely Liu Yifei, or Christy Chung, who has to endure a bunch of ants crawling across her face in an especially disgusting scene. In fact the whole show is bursting with pretty women. Moreover, the splendid costumes make them shine in a particularly gorgeous way.
Naturally, the show is also full of villians. Murong Fu embodies the main villian, along with the head of a demonic group, Duan Yuan Qing, who doesn't even have to move his lips when he wants to talk, but can make his demonic voice be heard in a mental way. Duan may be a cripple, but his martial arts are still on a very high level. Anyway, what's making the characters so special after all is the fact, that none of them is merely good or evil. Every one of them has their own motives for doing what they do, which is why the characters feel especially realistic and genuine. Oftentimes we can even sympathize with the villians!
Bad guys like Yue Lao San may seem a bit comic-like, but they also bestow a good portion of humor onto the show. Of course, there isn't time for every character to be fleshed out to the very last, but all in all the producers managed to make good use of one of the biggest strengths of the novel and brought lots of multi-layered individuals on the screen.

Without a doubt, something you really can't leave out when adapting a Wuxia novel is the fights. They are always quite innovative, impress with great wire-fu and are full of interesting offbeat special attacks. Sadly, the pacing of the fights is artificially raised, so that in the end we would have wished for some more down-to-earth combats. Still, this illustration of the fights fits very good into the fantasy world depicted. Furthermore, our heroes also have to face whole armies sometimes, which stresses the epic scale of the story even more.
The show also doesn't refrain from implementing some innovative camera movements and angles. Sometimes they won't work out as well as intended, still, most of the time they manage to fascinate the audience. Every now and then there are also some sets that are planned with great details. However, oftentimes it's easy to notice that there wasn't as much money involved in the making of this series than in an american. "Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils" still makes good use of what it has and impresses with some beautiful outdoor shots. The beauty of the Chinese landscape is captured pretty well and can easily enchant the viewer.
The good overall picture is complemented by a great soundtrack, that is captivating with its reoccuring motifs and manages to underline the emotional scenes as well as the more somber moments. I'm not quite sure to what extent the Chinese filmmakers stole some of the music, only at one point throughout the series I could pinpoint a motif that suspiciously reminded me of the work of Hans Zimmer. But the worst thing is the incredibly bold and inappropriate use of the famous "Terminator" theme... And this also in one of the series' highlights, episode 17, during an extremely emotional scene, which caused ruin to the whole movie magic unfolding...

"Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils" offers a good portion of drama and does so without any kind of overacting like it is almost typical for TV shows. Instead we get lots of emotional scenes that work out pretty well, which may be flawed by some sudden use of music or bad editing every now and then, but still remain captivating enough for us to care about the characters. Moreover, it's refreshing and surprising how often more or less major characters suddenly simply die. Even the amount of violence and blood involved in these scenes is sometimes pretty startling. Anyway, I still can't understand why the series has to give so many hints during the ending credits of each episode who is going to survive this epic tale and who's not...
"Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils" is full of great ideas, enthralling characters and a great multi-layered and twisted story. The fact that the producers did stick closely to the original story is one of the series' big strengths, as there is little to do wrong when relying on this captivating story. The TV show may drag at times, but it's also addicting, as we just have to know how things are going to resolve eventually. Apart from that, the show scores with good actors, who all play their part convincingly well, and thus create a drama how it is supposed to be: full of fantasy, innovative fights, nice pictures, great characters and an epic story!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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