Review by C.J. Bunce

Despite living in an international economy with the ability to communicate via portable devices with literally anyone on the planet, it’s a shame that the exchange of culture between the Western world and China is still stuck in the 20th century.  We only just saw an English translation of one of the best, most widely read, epic fantasy novels from China this year with the release of A Hero Born (reviewed here at borg), only the first book in author Jin Yong’s 1950s wuxia novel series.  The books have been adapted and interpreted over the past 70 years into dozens of films, TV series, and spin-offs.  But until recently they have only been available in China, or for those outside of China who have taken efforts to seek them out.  A Hero Born is only the first of twelve novels in the saga The Legend of the Condor Heroes Even without global circulation the series has influenced countless other stories, including so many elements of George Lucas’s Star Wars saga audiences will lose track of all the common elements.  If you think Lucas based his story only on the works of Akira Kurosawa’s films from Japan, think again–there’s as much Condor Heroes in Star Wars’s galaxy as Hidden Fortress. 

The most recent adaptation of the The Legend of the Condor Heroes story can be found in a 2017 series, starring well-known actors in China.  It’s only available if you’re willing to pick up an international DVD player, or you track it down on YouTube (both available in subtitled English editions).  But if you watch it–a whopping 52 incredible hour-long format episodes, you’re in store for one of the finest, most exciting genre series you’ve ever seen.  The quality of the production, the incredible martial arts work and visual effects, and top quality acting is prompting us to add this series to our own “Best of 2019” review coming later this month.  Sure, it’s two years since it came out in China, but there is no U.S. distribution channel.  Ideally Netflix would pick it up as they did for this year’s Korean series, Kingdom.  Two pregnant women escape an early 13th century conflict as their husbands, sworn brothers in spirit, are killed.  Their sons grow up separately, unaware of each other.  Guo Jing is honest, loyal and righteous, but slow to learn socially, and more importantly in the ways of the martial arts.  The other, Yang Kang, is clever and suave, but scheming and treacherous. They eventually meet each other and their respective lovers, Huang Rong and Mu Nianci.

Directed by Jiang Jiajun (also known as Jeffrey Chiang), the series follows Guo Jing, raised as Song and living on a rural farm with his mother.  He soon saves a man, a warrior in conflict with a general who will rise to become history’s Genghis Khan, and in doing so he is trained in bow and arrow in Khan’s legion.  Soon he is also taken on by seven martial arts masters in the techniques of kung fu, but they train him for a reason he is not aware of.  They made a wager at the boy’s birth with another martial arts master, a man who agreed to train the other boy, Yang Kang.  On the boys’ 18th birthday they are to meet at a restaurant where they will compete–the winner will determine who wins:  Jing’s seven masters or Kang’s master.  Unfortunately, Jing is awkward at basic moves including skywalking, while the other boy takes to kung fu very well.  But circumstances favor Jing, and others come along to fill in the blanks so that he can make a good showing when he turns 18, form a bond with friend and lover Rong, and go on to meet the Five Greats and compete in a mountain contest at the highest level.

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