The memories live on

By Yin Lu Source:Global Times Published: 2015-10-19 19:03:01

‘Legend of Sword’ excites Beijing fans

A scene from the stage play Legend of Sword Photo: Courtesy of Ran Space Huanyi Culture Limited Company

Against the backdrop of a big, bright moon, atop a temple roof, the immortal master demonstrates how to use a sword to his new, unsophisticated apprentice Li Xiaoyao. With dazzling moves, he holds the audience captive and finishes to the sound of passionate applause and cheers. It was like we were young again and experiencing the thrill and excitement of playing the video game, after which the play is named, for the very first time.

The stage play Legend of Sword is an adaptation of the popular Chinese game series The Legend of Sword and Fairy, a series of role-playing video games that were made into multiple sequels. The first installment of the game, released in 1995, is still considered a classic among live action role-play game aficionados. So popular were the games that they were made into a TV series in 2005 and 2009.The play was created and debuted in April in Shanghai and is currently on a national tour.

Among the audience that turned out to the play during its October 14 to 17 stopover in Beijing, most were born in the 1980s and have been avid fans of the game series for more than a decade.

Special effects 

The play tells the story of how a careless teenage boy, who lives with his aunt and has an unrealistic dream of becoming a hero, is taken on an unexpected adventure where he meets sword masters and girls with fairy powers and martial art skills. During his journey Li Xiaoyao learns about love, loss, destiny, family, friendship, and swordsmanship.

Theurgy and multiple fights have given the creators of the play a lot of room to fully use their imagination and expertise, but the interpretation and exhibition of the world and the worldview constructed in the games is a challenging job. Fortunately, through the use of advanced multimedia and lighting effects, the show was able to get the audience to experience the power structure of that world.

For instance, the audience was able to see the main female character, Zhao Linger, finally attaining all five spiritual balls each representing one of the five essential elements of the world — water, fire, thunder, wind and earth. During that scene the five balls were shown in different colors as they flew around surrounding the actress. Her attaining the balls is a key element of the play as when the five forces merged into one they brought precious rainfall to the lands that were suffering from drought and war for a long time.

It is one of my favorite segments from the game. The elements and their importance are derived from the Chinese philosophy of balance, mutual creation and destruction, among different forces. The scene in the play was a definite improvement on the low resolution, original version from 20 years ago.

Significant attention was also paid to the details to present the original storyline and aesthetics. The stage and background design was full of Chinese elements such as traditional pavilions, terraces, bamboos, lotuses and traditional furniture.

Pandering to fans? 

Although the play has recreated and upgraded many of the classic scenes, dialogues and background music, which is very satisfying to its loyal game fans, many might complain that it borders on exploiting its fans for commercial gain.

There is a current trend in China, "IP (intellectual property) fever," where the characters, dialogues or even simple images of original works are used in other fields such as music, theater, film, games, and animation for monetary gain. Hence the controversy, as some believe these productions are only "exploiting" the popularity and fandom of the original series without any real artistic achievement.

As a loyal player of the original game series, I was happy to relive some of the classic scenes and see how top-notch laser effects could exhibit the fights that were some of the "coolest" I could imagine at a younger age. At the same time, I can see why the adaptation of old popular works might be seen as a ploy to lure in fans of a particular generation. But as long as there is visible improvement and the producer's own understanding of the storyline and worldview of the games shines through, I think it can pass.

One of the few negative comments I have about the staging of the play is that the plots in the second half were too rushed compared to the previous ones. It almost seemed like everybody was in a hurry to squeeze a big story into three hours. Therefore, a relevant problem was that the growth of the young hero Li Xiaoyao, from a single-minded boy with pure enthusiasm to a man with an understanding of the complexity of the world and his responsibilities, was not very well elaborated. At least, it was not as good as in the game where I could feel how he grows up step by step and little by little.

Considering that the fans have always been in disagreement about things like the depiction of the themes in the games, or which of the two leading female characters is the right one for Li, I am sure everybody has their own understanding and I hope more of these different views will be seen in future productions.

The team announced that it is going to remake the third generation of the game series into a stage play next year. There is plenty of time for the playwrights and cast to grow and make a more impressive play.

Posted in: Theater

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