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The Return of the Condor Heroes [2006] - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Shen Diao Xia Lü

China 2006

Number of Episodes: 41
Running Time: 45 min.

Wuxia, Drama

Based on a novel by:
Jin Yong

Zhang Jizhong

Huang Xiaoming
Liu Yifei
Wang Luoyong
Kong Lin
Meng Guangmei
Ba Yin
Yang Mi
Chen Zihan
Chen Jiming
Zhao Liang
Wang Ning
Zhao Zhentao
Yang Rui
Wang Jia
Liu Liwei
Zhai Naishe
Yu Chenghui
Fu Miao
Sun Lihua

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The Return of the Condor Heroes [2006]

aka The Divine Condor and his Companion; Condor Hero

Story: Yang Guo (Huang Xiaoming) is brought into a famous martial arts school that is teaching the art of the Quanzhen Sect, by his father Guo Jing (Wang Luoyong). However, Yang Guo has to face some hardships there, as he soon experiences the wrath of his masters and his fellow students who all dislike his rebellious nature. Yang Guo flees and escapes to the nearby Tomb of the Living Dead, where he meets Xiao Longnv (Liu Yifei), who is a student of the Ancient Tomb Sect. Longnv teaches him the martial arts of her school and raises the young boy. When he has become an adult, a love relationships evolves between student and teacher, which is intermitted by Li Mouchou (Meng Guangmei), an outcast student of the Ancient Tomb sect, who is looking for a secret martial arts script. Her appearing forces Yang Guo and Longnv to flee the tomb, whereas the two lose sight of each other.
Yang Guo, who is desperately looking for Longnv, gets caught in the midst of a lot of different adventures, eventually finds his love, only to be seperated from her again. At the same time he also becomes part of political power struggles and has to help his father Guo Jing to fend off the attacking Mongolians and their most skilled fighter Jin Lun Guo Shi (Ba Yin). Yet, he never gives up his search for his beloved Longnv...

Review: When looking at the budget "The Return of the Condor Heroes" has what it takes to become something very special. The pictures and the sets also promise to fulfill all our expectations, but in the end the show proves to be one hell of a bitter disappointment. This is mainly due to the incredibly cheesy love story brought on screen, and two leads, that aren't captivating at all. Liu Yifei actually can give a decent performance as Xiao Longnv, Huang Xiaoming as Yang Guo on the other hand is simply unbearable. During the last third of the series we can finally get along with his more mature personality, but before that we just get a whining child, that with its numerous almost ecstatic bursts of emotions creates a deep-rooted antipathy in the viewer. But what is actually giving the show the death blow is the way the love story is presented. You couldn't have worked in more cheesy romance in a soap opera, and this is the more unfortunate as we normally are used to see overdrawn emotional cinema in Chinese series that in its own unique way works out in an almost natural way for some odd reason. But certainly not here.

The strength of the series is without a doubt its story, which is based on Jin Yong's novel and sticks pretty close to it. Lots of entanglements, intrigues and tragedy make for a big epic framework, in which certain plots also have cross-overs with story threads of the prequel. It's not necessary to have knowledge of "The Legend of the Condor Heroes", but it's helpful, especially since there are some flashbacks, in which material from the TV adaption of the year 2003 is used. There are even some actors returning into their old roles, e.g. Zhao Liang as Zhou Botong or Shagu. Nonetheless, concerning the story there is still something to criticize, since producer Zhang Jizhong focuses too much on the love story, which eventually degenerates into a "Yang Guo searches for Longnv, the two find each other, only to be seperated again, so that Yang Guo is looking for her again etc."-plot. In between Yang Guo runs into some other girls, who fall in love with him, which is, to say the least, rather unbelievable when looking at his immaturity and annoying behavior. But Yang Guo's heart belongs to his Longnv, anyway. This repetition and more than anything else the scenes in which the two finally find each other and run into each other's arms, feel very contrived and cheesy.

It's also not really helpful that the chemistry between the two lovers just doesn't feel right. There is always something perfunctory and inexplicably lyrical to this relationship, that misses a true foundation.
Fortunately, there are some side-plots, that can offer you a bit more. Especially Ba Yin as Jin Lun Guo Shi, who by order of the Mongolians and with his own hidden agenda in mind makes our heroes' lives a living hell, can arouse some interest, even if Ba Yin with his portrayal sometimes seems to be overacting a bit. The one that will stick to you the most, however, is Meng Guangmei as Li Mouchou. Thanks to her mature beauty and her likeable diabolic character she becomes an antagonist, who we always like to see spoiling our heroes' plans. Furthermore, it has to be noted that every villian has his own story to tell, which is full of tragedy, naturally, making the villians not just evil, but individuals on their own, something that has always been the true strength of Jin Yong's story-telling.

Wang Luoyong can't provide a real profound portrayal as Guo Jing, but he still mananges to depict the older version of the man, who was the hero in the prequel, quite convincingly. Only Kong Lin as Huang Rong isnt't always compelling as she often looks a bit lost in her role and doesn't show the cool-minded woman who always has a plan up her sleeve, as what we know her from the prequel.
Chen Zihan as Guo Fu can be incredibly annoying at times and only seems to have inherited the bad character traits of her mother Huang Rong. Along with her bad temper, she stands as the only real detestable individual in the series for me, especially because of what she does to Yang Guo. The youngest daughter of Guo Jing, Guo Xiang, played by Yang Mi, turns out to be a surprising highlight, though. She only gets screen-time in the last few episodes, yet succeeds in lifting the series to a higher level. Hopefully, we will see more of her in the future.

Credit goes to the sets and the landscape shots, which are truely eye-candy. Sometimes polished up by some special effects, the sets seem to be part of their own artificial world, which just makes them even the more appealing. Especially the lighting in the forest of the Passionless Valley can drag you into a warm and distand dreamland. The costumes are also appealing most of the time, but what producer Zhang Jizhong really is known for is his affinity for casting beautiful women as the main and supporting characters. For the male audience this is one more fact not to be underestimated that makes the series a feast for the eye.
Of course, there are also some martial arts insertions, which are all quite pleasing to look at and feature some interesting special moves. The special effects, that are worked in can be convincing at times, at others, however, it would had been best to leave them out.

It gets really bad, when it comes to the soundtrack, though. Apparently, there was no money left for it at the end, which is why the producers boldly took what they needed from already existing compositions. From "Harry Potter" to "The Village" and to a classic version of Ayumi Hamasaki's "Dearest", you'll find a lot of familiar stuff. It goes without saying that this is at least irritating, if not extremely interfering.
Ultimately, you just have to get angry about the fact that "The Return of the Condor Heroes" can't be captivating or moving. The pictures and the supporting characters are promising, but the cheesy dialogue and love scenes, as well as an annoying Yang Guo that spoils the picture until the last third of the show, destroy the overall picture. His bursts of emotions are oftentimes embarrasing and awkward for the viewer and unnecessarily pull down the series because of the involved overacting. The show, nevertheless, deserves some credit for its dreamy atmosphere, which is mainly created by carefully composed pictures. But this alone doesn't make for a good series...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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