In my previous post, I mentioned that I tend to identify with the bad guys in wuxia genre. Dongfang Bubai, played by Brigitte Lin, in Swordsman II (笑傲江湖之東方不敗) (1992) is my favorite fictional villain of all time. She is also the first transgender character I ever met, which made her story arc all the more riveting.
Before there was the righteous Justice Pao (包青天) (1993) or the cunning Sima Yi in The Advisors Alliance (军师联盟) (2017), there was The Legend of Liu Bowen (劉伯溫傳奇) (1992). Liu Bowen was one of the founding members of Ming Dynasty, who was wise enough to retire before the newly crowned Emperor began to prune his court by killing the founding members. His retirement gift from the Emperor was a sword that grant him the authority to investigate and execute bad guys he encountered during his cross country sightseeing.
Liu Bowen’s smiling face, his wisdom, and his fortitude left such a strong impression on my young mind that I continued to associate the actor Zhang Fu Jian to that character. To me, his face is synonymous to warmth and safety of a father figure. As long as he’s around, everything is going to be A-OK.
Dramas that incorporated Buddhist ideology have a special place in my heart, especially when they touched upon the concept of “渡 (du / save)” and “轮回 (lun hui / reincarnation).” In one episode of The Ferry Man (灵魂摆渡), Zhao Li and the gang went to a village where many residents died of unnaturally causes. After seeing the spirits trapped in an unending torment, Zhao Li tried to alleviate their sufferings by reciting Buddhist scriptures (du). For a brief moment, he forgot he was a Ferry Man, and he unconsciously act the way he was when he was alive, a devoted Buddhist monk who tried to save others from spiritual agony. Although he didn’t succeed because of what he was, his single-minded sincerity brought tears to my eyes. Compare to the ferry man’s tangential relation to Buddhism, Faithful to Buddha, Faithful to You (不负如来不负卿) has very strong Buddhist presence. It contains no supernatural element to soften the message and can be preachy at times.
I kept watching because the teenage monk is super cute. I kept watching because of the taboo love and the mystery of why she time traveled to that period.
My obsession with Buddhism related romance dramas started with Continued Fate of Love (再世情緣) (1992). The drama began with a spoiled princess harassing a handsome monk. We later discovered that their connection was more than skin deep. In their past life, they were lovers but their love was renounced by everyone. Simply because she was a beautiful gentle lady. And him, a disfigure hunchback outcast who was fortunate to be saved by her and nursed back to life. When their love came to light, people accused him of being an ungrateful, ugly beggar who abused the lady’s kindness. Self-conscious and ashamed, he cut off his tie with her and became a monk. But her love for him was true and she died waiting for him. Reincarnated centuries later, they picked up where they left off. While appearance was no longer their obstacle, other factors continued to prevent them from being together.
Their opening theme song was selected at every karaoke gatherings.
It’s end of the year and I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for the dramas I grew up watching as a kid. Number one of my short list is TV musical The Legend of White Snake (新白娘子传奇) (1992). A classic that no other versions have yet to match in its addictive nature. Between the singing and the villainy good guys vs. virtuous bad guys, it exposed my childhood to a land of “grayness.” Because of this drama, I grew up with a mental flexibility of recognizing that people have multiple sides to them and actions speak louder than words. The downside is I tend to identify with the bad guys in Wuxia genre. I found them to be refreshing in their honesty about who they are and what they do. As oppose to those hypocritical good guys who do wicked things under the table.
I still get goosebumps whenever I hear their theme songs.