Tag Archive: wuxia


A Bond Undone

Review by C.J. Bunce

As the paperback edition of Anna Holmwood’s English translation of A Hero Born–book one of Jin Yong′s Legends of the Condor Heroes novels–arrives in bookstores tomorrow, the first English translation of Volume 2 is coming late this month.  In the spirit of Homer, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R. Tolkien, Akira Kurosawa, and George Lucas, Jin Yong’s epic adventure continues in A Bond Undone A sequel as exciting a follow-up as The Two Towers, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Godfather II, Jin Yong takes his epic, legendary wuxia heroes into a riveting, unputdownable volume of honor, loyalty, bravery, cunning, and devotion.  And English audiences get to experience it for the first time this month thanks to a compelling, tightly written translation by Gigi Chang.  The 1950s series has sold more than 300 million copies internationally over the past 60 years, but the books are finally being made available to U.S. and UK readers.

Two young men whose destinies were determined before they were born, Guo Jing and Yang Kang, were made sworn brothers by their fathers, and their lives came crashing together 18 years later in A Hero Born (awarded our Best Read of 2019, reviewed here at borg), as the truth of their shared past finally caught up with them.  By the end of the first book they had each developed relationships with powerful women, Lotus Huang with Jing, Mercy Mu with Kang, all four among the most promising martial artists of the early 13th century of this work of historical fantasy.  The story takes on tones of a Shakespearean tragedy, as Mu and Kang’s relationship is one of confusion and despair, as they are driven together and then apart by Kang’s fear at parting ways with a life of privilege, the only life he has ever known.  Jing, the saga’s hero, is constantly mocked for his ignorance, but the quick wit and love of Lotus, and his pursuit of her hand, allows him to come under the teachings of the greatest of China’s masters.

Adding to their former teachers or shifus, in A Bond Undone Jing and Lotus learn secret kung fu from a new shifu, Count Seven Hong, Chief of the Beggar Clan, a comical sort who will do anything for great food.  As Jing stumbles into getting himself engaged to more than one woman (one by order of Genghis Khan, one by his former shifus and a mentor), Lotus is pursued by Gallant Ouyang, a handsome but conniving member of a tribe who has amassed an unwilling army of women warriors, all at his beck and call, as well as a more powerful kung fu.  Jing has his own enemies, not the least of which is the deadly Cyclone Mei, who possesses one of two volumes of the Nine Yin Manual, a book of secret, ultimate martial arts, the understanding of which could make someone the greatest master of them all.  The book is both the Holy Grail and One Ring of the series.  But Mei was also the student of Lotus’s father, the Heretic Apothecary Huang, as was her husband Hurricane Chen, inadvertently killed by the reflexes of a six-year-old Jing, told in the first volume of the series.  Apothecary Huang is repulsed at the thought of his daughter betrothed to the killer of one of his students, which sets up the key action of the story.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

We’ve seen Disney go back to the well as the norm lately, with a host of live-action remakes of animated movies from the “vaults.”  Ticking off the list so far have been Aladdin, Cinderella, The Jungle Book (twice), and Pete’s Dragon, with Beauty and the Beast, Lady and the Tramp, the second take on The Jungle Book, and The Lion King remakes really more CGI than live-action, with a few centered on classic villains, including two Maleficents and one Cruella.  What other animated Disney films will audiences see adapted to the real world in the future?  So far news of pre-production has been mentioned for The Little Mermaid, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Lilo & Stitch, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, The Sword and the Stone, yet another take on The Jungle Book, and spin-offs including Tink, Rose Red, and Prince Charming.  With more than a dozen live-action remakes of animated Disney movies in production, it’s a surprise to see a preview for one that looks like it could have been a standalone live-action film from the get-go.  Utilizing the production designer of The Lord of the Rings movies, Disney has upped the ante for Mulan.

Based on the 1998 animated Oscar-nominated film, which was based on a Chinese folk legend of a young heroine who posed as a boy to fight for her people (The Ballad of Mulan), with a lot of influence from Jin Yong’s heroine Huang Rong in Legends of the Condor Heroes, next year’s Mulan replaces roles voiced in the animated film that included Eddie Murphy, Harvey Fierstein, Donny Osmond, and Miguel Ferrer, instead showcasing a legion of Chinese and Chinese-American actors and a film steeped more in traditional Chinese folklore.  In the title role is Yifei Liu (also known as Crystal Liu) an actress who has grown up with roles in wuxia stories, starring in Return of the Condor Heroes, and appearing with Jackie Chan and Jet Li in John Fusco’s Forbidden Kingdom.  In the first trailer for Mulan (below) we meet her father, played by Wu Assassins and The Man in the High Castle’s Tzi Ma.  Other key cast members include Jason Scott Lee (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny) as Bori Khan, Gong Li as the Cyclone Mei-inspired witch Xian Lang, Rogue One’s Donnie Yen as Commander Tung, M*A*S*H and Star Trek’s Rosalind Chao as Hua Li, and Chinese mega-action star Jet Li as The Emperor.

Mulan is directed by Niki Caro, who you may know as the director of the fantastic and inspiring McFarland USA, among other award-winning films.  Clearly this is not going to be a shot-for-shot remake as we’ve seen with past Disney efforts.  Costumes were designed by Bina Daigeler (Volver, Grimm), and the music was created by the prolific film composer Harry Gregson-Williams.  The rich production look is courtesy of Grant Major (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, The Meg, X-Men: Apocalypse, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny).

Take a look at this fantastic, exciting new trailer for Mulan:

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

When you think of epic adventures, maybe first that comes to mind is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or George Lucas’s Star Wars.  Maybe the cinematic stories of Akira Kurosawa, like The Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, and Rashomon.  Or maybe your epic adventures are more fantasy, like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes, Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Conqueror, or historical, like Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel, C.S. Forester’s Lieutenant Hornblower, or go farther back, like Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte De’Arthur, the Maya’s Popul Vuh, the Old English Beowulf, the Old Norse Poetic Edda, or even the stories of Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey.  What if someone wrote an equally exciting, rich adventure in the 1950s that has been read by more than 300 million readers, and you missed it, simply because it hasn’t been translated into English yet?  That would be the first English edition just released of A Hero Born, by Jin Wong, the pen name of Chinese author Louis Cha.  His novels sold more than 300 million copies internationally over the past 60 years, but the series is finally available to U.S. readers.

Two men, Skyfury Guo and Ironheart Yang, grow up together around 1200 AD.  Becoming best friends and blood brothers, they get married and have their firstborn both due at the same time.  They swear loyalty to each other, including a vow binding the futures of their family together that will survive these men, just as intruding warriors divide and even kill members of their family, leaving the friends and their families to disperse and flee.  Enter the Seven Heroes of the South (known by their enemies as the Seven Freaks of the South).  When the two friends are feared dead, this elite Magnificent Seven of sorts, a fabulous mix of warriors with every type of skill and weapon, makes a bargain with one of the revered seven Immortals, Eternal Spring Qiu Chuji.  They will separately train the offspring of the men, and in 18 years return for a showdown to see who are the better masters or shifu.  To one of the women a boy is born, named Guo Jing, and it is his story–his mythic hero’s journey–that the reader follows in this first adventure, which takes him from birth into adulthood, toward a destiny he may not be prepared for.  Guo Jing does not know his life and training is all based on a wager.  What does it take to have honor, to have character, to be a hero, and what surprises will he stumble upon on his way to meet his destiny?

Books like A Hero Born are why we have words like “epic.”  First published in Chinese in 1957, A Hero Born is the first of 12 novels in Jin Wong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes series set in the 13th century, following the life of a family in a community under the Song Empire who escaped to join Genghis Khan and his people.  It’s hard to believe the novel wasn’t written a hundred or hundreds of years earlier, or that George Lucas didn’t base his entire Star Wars saga on this story.  Anna Holmwood′s use of prose in her translation is pure artistry–A Hero Born reads seamlessly as if the novel was originally written in English.  Holmwood conveys the meanings of the hundreds of Chinese terms without seeming to explain them, weaving cultural nuances, the unique characters, the rich history of China, the Mongols, and Jin, the Taoist philosophy, and visual kung fu choreography into easy reader understanding.  The world-building will suck readers in and leave you wanting even more.  Luckily the entire series has been translated now, to be released over the next few years.

Continue reading