Nirvana in Fire: Eps 1-6 (First Impressions)
The period Chinese drama Nirvana in Fire (original title: Lang Ya Bang) is all the rage nowadays and–in my opinion–rightfully so. I actually felt kinda mind-blown when I first started watching Nirvana because I had no idea it’d be this good. The high production quality is impressive with well-choreographed action scenes, great costumes and beautiful scenery/settings. And yes, even the CGI looks realistic, which is saying a lot for a c-drama. On top of that, the story is really interesting with revenge, political maneuverings, hidden identities, etc. So NIF is not just all eye candy, there is good substance to it as well.
Episode 1 opens with an unnamed man (Hu Ge) waking up after having a nightmare of a bloody battle. As you’ll later find out, the man is indeed quite mysterious, as he goes by three names. He has a super long and complicated backstory, so don’t be surprised if it’s a bit confusing at first. Bear with me, ok!
The Three Names:
- Lin Shu: This is his original name. Lin Shu is the son of General Lin of the Liang Dynasty. He went into battle with his father and an army of 70,000 soldiers, but was ultimately the only survivor. Someone had framed his father, thus resulting in the massacre as well as the criminal status of the entire Lin family.
- Mei Changsu: Lin Shu recovered after the battle, but due to his heavy facial injuries, his appearance drastically changed which made him look like a totally different person. He took on the name Mei Changsu and lived in Jianghu. Mei Changsu is a powerful person because 1) He leads the Jiangzuo Alliance (which..I still don’t totally understand what it is..) 2) A fortune teller predicted that he would be the key to helping the next emperor-to-be accede the throne.
- Su Zhe: FINALLY, this is Lin Shu/Mei Changsu’s current name. Mei Changsu leaves Jianghu to enter the capital city and carry out his long-planned revenge. He uses the alias Su Zhe so that people won’t find out that he’s the sought-after Mei Changsu.
“Since I managed to survive, I will not waste my life.” – Su Zhe
The whole point of this backstory is that Lin Shu/Mei Changsu/Su Zhe is out for revenge [against the people who framed his father]. On the surface, Su Zhe seems like a peaceful I-will-not-harm-a-fly kind of person. I mean, one of his first scenes shows him playing the flute while riding a canoe on a misty lake. Doesn’t seem to be that threatening, eh? Actually, Su Zhe is a calculating man and a formidable opponent. Oftentimes, stories portray revenge as irrational and passionate, something done in the heat of the moment. In contrast, Su Zhe has methodically planned his revenge for 12 years. He doesn’t let his emotions cloud his judgment–to do so would be foolish, because then his enemies would easily defeat him.
“Those evil, bloody deeds, I’ll do them. To defeat the evil, the innocent will be hurt. Sometimes we might have to be the ones to do it.” – Su Zhe
I’m mainly looking forward to seeing Su Zhe’s darker side in the future episodes. One of my favorite scenes is when he tells one of his old buddies that he survived the battle while all 70,000 soldiers perished. That’s pretty much all he says–no further explanation or no discussion of how this affected him–but his expression says it all. (middle pic)
The main heroine, Nihuang (Liu Tao) is both a princess and a general of an army. She carries around a whip–and uses it. She greets her friends by charging at them with her sword and engaging them in a fight for fun. She mounts her horse without using her hands or putting her foot in the stirrup. She has her marriage candidates fight her one on one–and if they can’t beat her, they’re not worthy of marrying her. Yes, Nihuang is pretty awesome.
I assume that Nihuang and Su Zhe will become the OTP in the future. I mean, the Empress Dowager even asks them about their ‘marriage’. Yup, even the Empress Dowager ships them! 😛 No really, NIF isn’t a period romance c-drama…even though there are a lot of Nihuang/Su Zhe scenes. I would be fine without a lot of romance because I’m more interested in Su Zhe’s revenge than his love life.
There are tons of side characters, but for now I’ll introduce 3 of the most important ones so far–Prince Yu, Prince Jing, and the Crown Prince. Su Zhe plans to defeat the contenders for the throne so that Prince Jing can become the next emperor.
- Crown Prince (Gao Xin; right pic)–He’s the usual incompetent and bumbling Crown Prince: the kind of guy who makes you ask “Why in the world did the emperor choose him to be the successor?”. I can only guess that the Crown Prince’s mother, a favored concubine, persuaded the emperor to choose him.
- Prince Yu (Victor Haung; left pic)–Prince Yu is the Empress’ son. He is savvy, sorta Machiavellian and is more mature than the Crown Prince. IMO he’s a greater threat to Su Zhe than the Crown Prince is.
- Prince Jing (Wang Kai; middle pic)–This prince is the “wild card”. He’s not in the emperor’s favor at all, and has a bad reputation for being quick-tempered and disobedient. Before Su Zhe entered the picture, Prince Jing wasn’t in the running for the Crown Prince position! But, Prince Jing has strong morals unlike the Crown Prince & Prince Yu. I love the scene when Prince Jing asks Su Zhe which prince he’ll pick…and Su Zhe says “I choose YOU!”. Do I sense a bromance forming?
One of the flaws of NIF is that it introduces waaay too many characters at once. I felt like episode 1 was bombarding me with name after name, so much so that I couldn’t keep track of who was who. Also, for those who haven’t read the original novel or the synopsis, (*cough* ME *cough*) the story can be confusing sometimes. If you have no background with Lang Ya Bang, I would suggest that you at least read the synopsis before you start watching the drama.
So, you may still be asking “Is this the drama for me?”. I would say, give it a try if you like action scenes, political intrigue, or The Count of Monte Cristo kinds of stories. There are frequent, long action scenes (I’d say at least once per episode, or every other episode?) that feel like they come straight out of a movie! Also, if you like period eye candy, this is certainly the right drama for it! I love all the costumes so far! I wouldn’t recommend NIF if you don’t want to watch a long drama–it’s 54 episodes long. Although NIF is fast-paced in eps 1-6, it could get draggy in the later episodes. I also wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for a period romance drama or a lighthearted story. And lastly, if political intrigue bores you, then stay away–it seems like most of Su Zhe’s revenge plan involves using palace politics!
Quote Translation Credit & English subs: Viki