Winning success with sincerity

By Xu Ming Source:Global Times Published: 2015-10-13 17:48:01

‘Nirvana in Fire’ restores confidence in period shows

A still from Nirvana in Fire starring Liu Tao (left) and Hu Ge Photo: CFP

If you still haven't watched Nirvana in Fire (Langya Bang) or don't know who Mei Changsu and Xiao Jingyan are, you might be falling behind the times in China. The period drama, about a man's quest for revenge and the struggle to clear his family name has become one of the hottest topics of discussion for TV fans.

Searching on Sina Weibo you can find millions of posts discussing and sharing opinions about  the drama or affectionately poking fun at the character. There are posts dedicated to analyzing nearly every aspect of this series in minute detail from clothing to etiquette and cinematography.

Premiering on September 19, the drama currently holds a 9/10 on various streaming sites, a record high for TV dramas in recent years. However, compared with the hot discussion and sweeping positive reviews, viewership numbers lagged relatively behind for a while. It wasn't until the National Day holiday that the show began topping the charts and living up to the enthusiasm of the audience.

Dedication to a craft

Story is king. While many period dramas play fast and loose with history, Nirvana in Fire has been praised for its realistic setting and respect for history and the source material. The show tells the story of main character Lin Shu/Mei Changsu and his long and difficult journey to clear his family name and get justice for tens of thousands of soldiers who were unjustly killed. The series has distanced itself from the clichéd romantic plots seen in many period shows by emphasizing the ideals of brotherhood, patriotism and living up to one's responsibility.

Having seen so many good online novels ruined by TV adaptations, I'm happy to say that through the sincere dedication of the cast and crew, the original novel by Hai Yan, who is also the scriptwriter for the show, has been faithfully brought to the small screen.

The leading actors, Hu Ge (Mei Changsu), Liu Tao (Mu Nihuang) and Wang Kai (Xiao Jingyan) have surprised audiences with their acting abilities. This is particularly true of Hu, who has surpassed his previous roles with his complicated portrayal of Mei Changsu and ability to touch audience's hearts with even the smallest movements.

The performances of the supporting actors are no less excellent. The serious dedication of the cast can be clearly felt and many netizens have posted how they have been moved to tears by certain scenes. Those dramas that try to pull a fast one by counting on an actor's popularity and looks to cause audiences to ignore a show's lame performances and poor storylines could never have such an emotional impact.

It's the little things

The dedication of the crew behind the camera is also apparent in all the little details that can be seen in each scene. Be it costumes, props, cinematography, dialog or the show's music, it's clear those working on the show have put their heart into their work.

There is actually a long list of things worth talking about. Though based on a novel without a specific historical background, the show goes out of its way to accurately portray the clothing and even etiquette followed in ancient China. The authenticity of the traditional culture on display demonstrates that the show has done its homework. It should come as no surprise that viewers are calling the show a textbook example of what a period series should be.

The cinematography present in each episode also has many people raving. Some fans have dedicated entire blog posts to analyzing the composition of individual scenes. Something rarely seen for other Chinese shows. Of course, this is probably because no other TV drama has enlisted two professional photographers as directors like Nirvana in Fire has.

This attention to detail is also reflected in the show's stage setting. As Li Xue, one of the production's directors told, major changes were made to the house where Mei Changsu lives to better fit the atmosphere of the show. The crew planted a bamboo garden and built a pebbled courtyard path themselves. According to Li, nothing appears in the drama that hasn't been changed in someway by the crew.

Originating as an online novel, Nirvana in Fire is not perfect and has its shortcomings. For example, Mei Changsu is written as too capable sometimes, but instead of making him actually smarter the writers tend to just dumb down the other characters such as the emperor and princes. However, a few flaws here and there haven't kept me from loving this drama. For one, this is a weakness that was inherent in the novel and the cast and crew have done their best to make up for this weakness.

I've been really moved by the sincerity seen in this production. I see a confident, elegant and grand drama that has abandoned the cheap and easy way of doing things that many frequently choose in order to produce a show that is guaranteed to turn a profit even if it is bad. Nirvana in Fire proves that while emphasizing quality over money is a risk, it is one that will certainly pay off when you put all you have in it.

In recent years many period series have tended towards simplistic plots, absurd storylines and a complete disregard for history, while also relying on shocking twists and cheap special effects to catch audience's attention. Standing out from its peers, Nirvana in Fire has not only attracted attention, but has also turned a new page for future TV productions.

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