State of Divinity (2000)
- Title: 笑傲江湖 / Hsiao Ao Chiang Hu (Xiao Ao Jiang Hu)
- English title: State of Divinity
- Also known as: The Smiling, Proud Wanderer
- Genre: Wuxia
- Episodes: 52
- Broadcast year: 2000
- Theme song: Obstinate 死不了 by Richie Jen
- Related TV series: Xiao Ao Jiang Hu
- Richie Jen as Linghu Chong
- Anita Yuen as Ren Ying Ying
- Vivian Chen as Yue Ling Shan
- Song Ta Ming as Lin Ping Zhi
- Yue Yao Li as Yue Bu Qun
- Leanne Liu as Dongfang Bu Bai
- Li Li Qun as Ren Wo Xing
- Sun Xing as Tian Bo Guang
- Cai Can Te as Yi Ling
- John Chiang as Qu Yang
- Norman Tsui as Xiang Wen Tian
- Liu Li Li as Ning Zhong Ze
- Gu Guan Zhong as Zuo Leng Chan
- Chen Zi Han as Lan Feng Huang
- Original writing: Novel The Smiling, Proud Wanderer by Louis Cha
- Director: Lai Shui Qing
- Producer: Young Pei Pei
State of Divinity, which seems to be the current English name adaptation of Jin Yong's (aka Louis Cha) Xiao Ao Jiang Hu. Jin Yong is probably the most popular contemporary wuxia novelist, and his epics have repeatedly been made into movies & television dramas. If Jin Yong's close counterpart was Gu Long, known for his femme fatale characters, then I would say Jin Yong's trademark would be his fun, witty heroes or heroines. Ling Hu Chong happens to be my favorite one.
Ling Hu Chong is the eldest disciple of one of Yue Bu Qun, the head master of Hua San, among the top martial arts "good" sects in the ancient world. Naturally, a easy-going and carefree guy, he is popular among other disciples for his fun nature, which is symbolically characterized by his love for alcohol. Hu Chong is very loyal to Hua San, and because he was taken in by Yue Bu Qun as an orphan and sees the master and madam as his own parents. Ling grew up with their daughter, Yue Ling Shan, and at the beginning the two were extremely close, sharing what seemed like a perfect puppy love.
The story is very complicated and involves many twists, but the driving device is the burning desire of martial artist practitioners to come up on top & take over the world. Lin Ping Zhi is from a respectable middle-class family, who was rumored to carry extremely powerful martial arts in the Lin's family inheritance. Because of this his entire family + household was mysteriously massacred, and he took refuge in Hua San, carrying the all-important scrolls that everyone's after with him. There is a big secret involved with these scrolls, and all Lin descedants had sworn to keep it as heirloom, forbidden to read and learn what's in it. Ping Zhi & Ling Shan's relationships develops and Yue realizes that her adoration towards Ling was only brotherly affection, while she has fallen deeply for Ping Zhi. Ling suffers twofold--besides being deeply hurt by Yue's change of heart, he is also accused of trying to kill Ping Zhi in order to steals the scrolls. He is eventually disgracefully kicked out of the sect.
Around this time, Ling is seriously injured and precariously expects to die in the short run, therefore he gives up all hopes on Yue San and loses faith altogether. But he is emotionally and physically healed by the appearance of Ren Ying Ying, the beautiful daughter of the late leader of the "evil" Sun-Moon sect, whom comes to him in the guise of an old lady. The two develop a relationship without him knowing about her real identity...
The other core character worth mentioning is Dung Fang Bu Bai, the person who usurped the throne from Ren Ying Ying's father (unknown to her)--this character is the acknowledged villian here, although not the only one. Because he practiced a black martial art, which called for castration, he becomes feminine and a woman was chosen to play Dung Fang in this version.
Despite relative successful reception in Taiwan, many Jin Yong fans chastised it for egregious plot changes, but as a viewer taking it as entertainment, State of Divinity 2000 did the job. This version was lengthy, either 45 or 52 episodes depending on how episodes were cut off, but I was intrigued for the most part. Richie Ren was not the perfect Ling Hu Chong, but overall, he did an "all right" job. Contrary to most critics, I think Richie Ren does have charisma & an undescribable pleasant air about him, though maybe overly silly during the playful scenes rather than witty. All the tracks were sung by him, and added a interesting pop element to the classical genre. The first soundtrack I purchased happened to be this soundtrack!
Ling Shan is supposed to be a spoiled, fun-loving girl in the beginning and I felt Viven Chen lacked the vivacity of this character I've seen in other portrayals, although I think she is a fine actress that's very effective in crying scenes. Anita Yuen was an surprising choice for the cruel but soft-hearted Ren Ying Ying. Not challenging Anita's ability, she has powerful presence & stole the show in the beginning, but this character was very different--made to be way too nice near the end.
Overall, great entertainment. The sets & fight scenes were nicely done--realistic enough and exciting. Original plot twists also keep you in suspense.
Most memorable scenes: (Spoiler)
When Hu Chong "tricks" Po Po [literally old lady or granny] (aka Ren Ying Ying in disguise) to take over her headgear which covers her face by the stream--there he finally saw her appearance through reflection in the water. He was shocked to discover a beautiful young lady instead and yelled out, Po Po?!
When Yue Shan tries to convince Ping Zhi that the only one she'd ever truly loved was him. To prove that to him, she took out a sword and plunges it into herself.
Love Ling Hu Chong!