(Ramblings, ramblings, with some information thrown in)
The Heroine of the Yangs (Mok Kwaiying) is a period drama series in Cantonese, produced by Asia Television (ATV) in Hong Kong. It's set during the Song Dynasty in China, centering around the Yang family, a clan who was extremely loyal to the Emperor, but was constantly under harassment by corrupt government officials (who seemed to be a permanent fixture of Chinese dynasties).
Mind you, this series, though not remarkable, is slightly better than most of the TV shows coming out of Hong Kong. Not that I'm an expert or anything ^^;;. When I was a kid, HK serials were a staple in the family. We'd watch fantastically-attired people (sometimes with gravity-defying hair) fly around in the air and perform graceful kung fu. Of course, there are modern dramas as well, but somehow they lacked the same magic. When I grew up, we somehow stopped renting them (the serials are usually rented from video shops) and I lost interest, because, without the naivety of childhood, one somehow notices how corny the dialogues are and the fact that you can drive a truck through the holes in the plot doesn't help any. But the local TV channels still show them, and one day my mom said to me, "Why don't you watch Mok Kwaiying? It's quite interesting." I probably have the only mom in the world who encourages her child to watch the idiot box ~_~;;. So I sat down and watched an episode. Okay, girl in love with guy, guy's family disapproves, villain in love with girl and causes no end of trouble for the lovebirds, lovebirds triumph, blah blah blah. Booorrring. That was that for me. Then, some days later, I switched on the TV and the show happened to be on. Having nothing better to do, I gave it another try. Hellllooo, what's this? The evil, no-good, low-down scum of a villain is injured? In my experience, they're usually totally invincible until the end, when they'll be killed by the hero. And here he's saved by one of the good guys, a servant girl of the Yangs. Ooh, a relationship building. And he's got a dark, horrible, previously-unrevealed past. And, my goodness, he's cute! (They're only ever cute to me when they have an interesting personality ^_^;).
Mok Kwaiying, btw, does not mean Heroine of the Yangs. It's the heroine's name, y'see. I think there's a standard way of writing Cantonese in Romanized characters, complete with various symbols to signify all six tones, but I have absolutely no idea how. My spellings will be based on what I find aesthetically pleasing ^_^. It's because of those tones that Chinese names sound horrible spelled in alphabets. Non-Cantonese speakers will, for instance, pronounce "Mok Kwaiying" in a monotone while it's actually spoken in a variety of tones (which makes the names sound almost lyrical). Lemme see if I can describe this... well, the "mok" is in a low tone, the "kwai" is spoken in a gradually rising tone, and the "ying" is very high. Or something like that ^^;;. Btw, the title says "Yang", but since this is in Cantonese and everybody says "Yong" in the series, it shall henceforth be "Yong". I attached the two given names together when talking about the characters (e.g. Yong Paifung, Ye Lut Zhongyuen [the two words "Ye Lut" form a single surname, if I'm not mistaken]) but separated them when referring to the actors (e.g. Chao Wun Chun, Lam Wai Sun). There's no reason for this except for my own aesthetic preferences (for example, I just think Zhongpo looks better than Zhong Po and prefer Chan Sau Man to Chan Sauman ^_^).
A bit of historical background on the time period. The Song (960-1279) was a Chinese dynasty founded by Chao K'uang Yin. The Liu Dynasty (Liao in Pinyin) ruled present-day Manchuria and Mongolia between 907 to 1125 AD. It was formed by the Khitan, a tribe of nomadic people who had helped brought down the Tang Dynasty. Historically, the Song and the Liu maintained an uneasy peace along the border until the Juchen (from northern Mongolia) came along and attacked both kingdoms.
The story of MKY goes like this. Kwaiying, of the Mok clan which neither liked the Song nor the Liu, met and fell in love with Yong Zhongpo, the son of General Yong of the famed Yong family which loyally served the Song Emperor. Unfortunately, Ye Lut Hounam, advisor to the ruler of Liu, wanted to marry Kwaiying, after having divined that marrying her would make his ambitions come true. Kwaiying spurned him, of course, and he proceeded to devise all sorts of dastardly plots to win her over, landing her in hot water with the Yongs. After about 32 episodes, Kwaiying and Zhongpo finally lived happily ever after.
Now, on to the characters, which I think is the most important element in visual fiction, whether it's anime or live-action. The title character is obviously every inch the heroine. MOK KWAIYING is tough as nails, beautiful (inevitably), temperamental, and takes no crap from any man. When her father brought along some eligible young men to marry her, they got on her nerves by being overly boastful of their own abilities so she challenged them to a fight to win her hand, and proceeded to beat the living daylights out of them ^_^. She was fiercely loyal to the Yongs, though she thought they were stupid to serve a worthless king as the Song Emperor. Because she loved Zhongpo, she constantly put her own life on the line to save the Yongs from one crisis after another. And though she kept calling Hounam all sorts of uncomplimentary names ^^, she was extremely ruthless herself, and was capable of great cruelty at times. At the beginning, she seemed to have no reason to hate Hounam, but hate him she did, because he asked her father for her hand in marriage and her father agreed. Of course, later she had every good reason to hate him. Both he and Kwaiying were students under a great Taoist teacher, who taught them divination, kung fu and other arcane arts. The teacher expelled Hounam before he finished teaching him, because he could sense that Hounam's heart was not pure. When Kwaiying realized that she was destined to be married to Hounam, she refused adamantly and even asked her sifu to change her fate so that she would be with Zhongpo, regardless of the fact that changing her fate would influence the fates of others, including the Yongs and Hounam. Another example of her ruthlessness is when she held the entire family of Pong Tai Si (one of the ubiquitous corrupt officials) hostage so that he would tell the Emperor to spare the Yongs from the guillotine (or a Very Big Sword, in this case). She even threatened the life of Zhongpo's father so that Zhongpo would escape from the prison with her. When asked by the Yong matriarch whether she thought her actions were right, she replied, "They were not wrong." One of the things I find strange, however, is how easily and often she falls in a swoon. I mean, here she is, able to kick male asses without breaking a sweat (the only guy who seems to give her some trouble is Hounam) but because she's a woman, she has to faint at the slightest provocation. I don't get it.
YE LUT HOUNAM is the villain of the piece and my favorite character (oh, you couldn't tell? ^_^). After being expelled by his sifu, the Taoist master, he went to the Liu country and became the most trusted advisor of the Liu Emperor. Even so, he was regarded with suspicion by most in the court, because he was not Liu, but of the Han race (the Song is also Han, but both Hounam and Kwaiying were Northern Hans, who were also distrusted by the Song). When the Liu Emperor died, the country was controlled by a group of high-ranking officials, who burned the late Emperor's Will, put a child on the throne, and ordered the Empress and other concubines to be burned together at the Emperor's funeral. These Khitan officials were against the late ruler's adaptation of the Han form of government and assimilation of Han culture. Their motto was to kill all Hans in the country. Hounam, who had been gone on his quest to win Kwaiying over, came back in time to mastermind a plan to get rid of the officials and put the Empress on the throne. He succeeded, naturally. He was actually the only son of the Northern Han king. The kingdom was violently overthrown and he was the only surviving member of the royal family. This is where the dark past comes in. As a child, he watched his family slaughtered by Song soldiers right in front of his eyes before he was thrown over a cliff. He had put all this behind him when he and Yong Paifung fell over the same precipice while fighting each other. While there, he remembered how he had survived the fall and was trapped in the hidden valley with an insane old hermit who happened to bear a grudge against Hounam's father. Hounam suffered the old hermit's daily tortures for several years before he could find a way to escape. Back to the present, Paifung started to fall in love with him, and he with her. Ah, this is where he repents and becomes a good guy, I was thinking. After such a revelation, what did you expect? But once they left the valley, he seemed to revert to his old ways and took Paifung prisoner. But later he saved her from being raped and then let her go. Ah, this is where they confess their love and live happily ever after, you think. Paifung did confess her love, and in a touching scene, they embraced in the rain, but the next morning he had left her. After some soul-searching, Hounam came to the conclusion that his previous reluctance to be truly ruthless had prevented him from realizing his ambition, which was to restore his father's kingdom. He met with his teacher, who tried to steer him to the path of right, and Hounam killed him. He then returned to the Liu Empress, and started learning the twelfth and final level of the Sky Door Maze, which would presumably make him invincible. This step required the blood of children, and he went around the country killing children for their blood. Kwaiying and Paifung learned of this, and planned to stop him. In the Maze, Kwaiying came across the corpse of their deceased teacher, and realized that Hounam meant to use the corpse to augment the power of the Maze. To prevent that, she burned the corpse. Hounam sensed this and hurried to the Maze, but it was too late. To compensate, he gouged out his own heart as replacement for the corpse. (They lived in a world where people could fly, and could not only know their own destiny but to alter it as well. Of course Hounam could live without a heart.)
The other main characters include Yong Zhongpo, Yong Paifung and Ye Lut Zhongyuen. The moment you see YONG ZHONGPO all clad in pure white complete with heroic music playing in the background, you know that he's obviously the hero. He's actually quite an interesting hero, because he couldn't beat Kwaiying in a fight, and in one scene, he was the one crying buckets while Kwaiying was the one maintaining her cool (usually it's the other way round, isn't it?). But I think that's only because of the actor who played him, who's Taiwanese. Taiwanese actors, male and female, have a tendency to cry buckets in angsty scenes (complete with moisture coming out of the nostrils, believe it or not). YONG PAIFUNG was a servant girl of the Yong family, who adopted her when she was a child. She was pretty, feisty, and more innocent and compassionate than Kwaiying. She caught the eye of the young Song Emperor when she saved him from a falling branch. Since then he had tried to find ways to win her over, but she wasn't interested and resisted his advances. One thing I found pretty ironic is how she could love Hounam, whom Kwaiying thought would be a terrible tyrant of an emperor if he ever restored the old kingdom. And yet the Song Emperor, whom the Yongs and subsequently Kwaiying (though she didn't think highly of him) would lay down their lives for, Paifung couldn't bring herself to love. YE LUT ZHONGYUEN was the nephew of the Liu Empress, and was content with life on the plains until Hounam manipulated him into helping the Empress regain her throne from the overzealous Khitan officials. It was revealed later that Zhongyuen was actually Zhongpo's cousin and thus of the Yong bloodline. He used this fact to infiltrate the Yongs, but later had a change of heart.
The first half of the series (about 32 episodes) culminated in a war between the Song and the Liu, the finale of which was a battle in the twelfth-level Sky Door Maze between the Yongs and Ye Lut Hounam. Kwaiying went into labor in the middle of the battle, and the birth of her son somehow destroyed the Maze and killed Hounam. There's a second part to the series, set several years later, but I haven't watched it yet. Having watched the teaser, however, I have some reservations. My guess is this - Zhongpo somehow becomes villainous and has a falling out with Kwaiying. The villainy may be real or pretended (these things do happen in fiction ^^). Either way, I just can't see Zhongpo as a villain. He's just too honorable, too upright, too loyal, and... too honorable! Plus some new antagonists are introduced, including some ambitious exiled prince or other, and this just seems too suspiciously similar to the plotline in Part I. And Hounam has somehow survived the destruction of the Sky Door Maze but has lost his memory. I'm very leery of the amnesia plot device. I just hope they can pull it off convincingly. I would rather Hounam remember his past and make a conscious and moral decision to leave it behind him. But I am glad he's not dead ^_^. I'm just wondering whether the writers are going to address the fact that his heart has been destroyed? ^_^
The title character is ably played by Chan Sau Man, whose acting ability
is mature and consistent. There's no instances of trying-to-look-cute here
(you'd be surprised at the number of HK actors, male and female, who spend
time in front of the camera very obviously trying to look cute. An example
is that pop idol Leon Lai who, in one movie, does nothing except consistently
presenting his best side to the viewer). The only thing about Chan Sau
Man that I find very slightly jarring is that her voice tends to get very
high-pitched when she raises it ^_^. Ye Lut Hounam is very wonderfully
portrayed by Lam Wai Sun, one of the few HK actors who can actually act.
His understated and individual rendering of the character's ambiguous,
intricate and flawed personality manages to make Hounam a sympathetic character
in spite of the fact that he ruthlessly manipulates virtually everybody
in the series for his own ends. A show of versatility from the actor, who
usually plays good guy roles, an acclaimed one of which was in the drama
series The Good Old Days (where he also harbored an unrequited love
for Chan Sau Man's character ^_^). Yong Paifung is played by 24-year-old
Man Chung Han, who looks eternally like a teenager ^_^. Her role isn't
a far departure from other roles she had played, and she pulled it off
capably. Zhongpo is adequately portrayed by Taiwanese actor Chao Wun Chun,
though not particularly memorably. IMO, Chan Sau Man and Lam Wai Sun carried
the show and saved it from being overly self-indulgent and a total bore.
Go to the gallery for more pictures.
Credits: Images on this page are from SPCNET, a very nice site which has reviews of ATV, TVB and Taiwanese series.
The Heroine of the Yangs is copyright ATV. This
is merely a fan appreciation page and no profit is being made from it.
All images are copyright their respective owners.