The new TV dramatization of Romance of the Three Kingdoms

BEIJING, Sept. 26 2009 — The remake of TV drama "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" sets a record as the most expensive small screen series so far in China’s television history.

    The 90-episode project was sold to four regional TV broadcasters at the price of 160 million yuan for exclusive airing.

    Though selling 1.8 million each episode, the publisher said the project is not even as profitable as an average-production TV drama due to its huge cost in costumes, war props and plenty of outdoor filming.

    "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. It was first adapted into a TV series in 1993 and debuted as a smash hit that year.

    The new version will be aired during the New Year season of 2010.


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My interest with Chinese TV historical drama started with the TV dramatization of the Romance of Three Kingdoms which was made in the mid 1990s. It was then that I knew about the three sworn brothers, Liu bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. The series  was shown on Singapore TV every Saturday afternoon. With the help of English subtitle, I could understand the plots. The only problem was that there was just too many episodes where it ran for more than a year.  I did not watch most of the episodes as I was not free or was away for most of time. As my interest was awakened, I started reading English version books of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.  It was in  2003 that I managed  watched almost the entire episodes, as I got hold of the full set of DVDs (around 45) of the TV drama. Also, in 2007 I happened to visit one of the locations where the TV drama was made – it was in Wuxi, in Jiangsu province. The palaces, pavilions, courtyards, military barracks, naval docks that appeared in the series are still in a park in Wuxi.

I have heard of plan for remake the Three Kingdoms for TV a couple of years ago. I was not that enthusiastic, as I have read the books, and the earlier TV dramatisation was already very good.  After being disappointed with  John Woo’s produced Battle of Red Cliff, I was even less enthusiastic.  

The DVD of the new TV drama started to appear in Chinese videos shops a couple of week ago. They were selling like hot cakes.  I am midway through watching the show. My initial assessment of this series: it deserves 5 stars rating.

The casts are just superb. The actor playing the part of Cao Cao performed brilliantly. It was a flawless performance, very convincing portrayal. He could be truly cold blooded, calculative and full of trickeries, but he could warm, very humble and magnanimous too. He does remind me of a brilliant politician.  Initially I had some reservation on the actor playing the part of Liu Bei, thinking that he was too wooden or lack passion. However, as time goes by, he became more alive and very human, and one could not help feeling warm towards this noble character. Guan Yu character is as usual aloof and loyal, while Zhang Fei is impulsive, straight talking and almost child-like in temperament.  Zhao Yun character looks good, but maybe a tad too clean cut boyish look. Lu Bu and Dong Zhuo characters are also unforgettable.  Zhuge Liang appeared in around episode 34, and he appears to suprisingly rather young for a brilliant military strategist.

There are plenty of outdoor shootings, of battles scenes with cast of thousands of soldiers, weaponries and war horses. The scenes are extremely well made and seemed very realistic to the point the carnages can very  gory to watch. I have to say the battle scenes are just breathtaking – they are as good, if not better than that of the Lord of Rings movie trilogy.  

There are a number  large battles scenes that are worth many times the price of the DVDs I paid : the battle where Cao Cao army destroyed army of Yuan Shao, the battle involving Zhao Yun saving Liu Bei’s son and the naval battle at Red Cliff. Somehow, I feel that thje battle scenes are even better than the lavish John Woo’s production of The Battle of Red Cliff. This is certainly the case with the scene of Zhao Yun fighting to save Liu Bei’s son.  The fighting scene was extremely well done, and it will be hard to find any other scene better than this, be it HK movies productions or Hollywood productions.

John Woo’s Red Cliff depicted Zhou Yu as a noble character, but this production sticks closer to the book. Zhou Yu wanted to get rid of Zhuge Liang three time. It failed the last time due to Zhou Yu’s wife.

My only grouse with the production is that there were not enough commentaries about the battles , maps of the areas involved and the development that take place in the intervening years.  Very little attentions are paid on how Liu Bei built his army and  the personal lives of the main characters, though Guan Yu and Cao Cao have grown up sons serving their fathers.

Incidently, there is no English subtitles of this remake. However, I’m sure one can obtain a version with English subtitle in near future, as this series should have broad appeal worldwide.   


About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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