Drama

Currently Watching: Heroes

WARNING! Light spoilers on the First Impressions. Episodes covered: 1 to 10.

Let me show you what I meant by “choreographed aesthetically”

   I N T R O D U C T I O N   

I had waited for a year to watch Heroes, since I found out that Joseph Zeng and Liu Yu Ning reunited in this drama. This is their second collaboration since Ultimate Note (2020), where I watched Liu Yu Ning for the first time and became his fan. Since I have also written an article on Ultimate Note, four in total for their works, I might as well write one for Heroes, too. This is my first time writing about a wuxia drama. I usually avoid writing about Chinese historical/costume dramas because of their hundreds of names.

After watching 10 episodes, though, somehow I have mixed feelings about this drama. As I stated in the article summary, Heroes is a Chinese wuxia drama that is choreographed aesthetically. You have seen an example above, and that is just one of many. The drama is pleasing in the eyes in many aspects. However, it’s not without caveats and I will tell you why in the First Impressions part.

Native Title: 说英雄谁是英雄  
(Say Hero Who is Hero)
Genres: Romance, Wuxia
Episodes: 38  |  Duration: 47 min
Schedule: 23.5.22 – 27.6.22 
Every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday

Where to watch:
     Trailer:  Tencent Video     Drama: WeTV, TencentVideo

Adapted from novel under 
the same title by Woon Swee Oan.

S Y N O P S I S

To give readers who haven’t watched it an understanding of what to expect of Heroes, below is the summary that I think accurately and realistically describes episode 1 to 10 covered, credited to Chinese Historical Drama Corner.

In the Chinese ancient martial arts world jianghu of this drama, two leading sects dominate: the Six and a Half Hall and the House of Sunset Drizzle. The former values profit and business, while the latter values chivalry and honor. Heroes of the martial arts world flock to both, hoping to make a name for themselves.

When the innocent young Wang Xiao Shi leaves the mountains to travel the world, he is tasked by his teacher with delivering a secret box that will determine the future of the House of Sunset Drizzle Sect to its young master Su Meng Zhen. Along the way, he meets and befriends the ambitious Bai Chou Fei and the feisty lady Wen Rou, as well as the famous red sleeve swordsman Su Meng Zhen himself. The four become fast friends and the three men become sworn brothers.

But in the turbulent waters of the capital city, Wang Xiao Shi soon discovers that brotherhood and loyalty will be tested by the lure of power and ambition, and in the face of betrayal and heartbreak, he learns what it truly means to be a Hero.


M A I N    C H A R A C T E R S

Joseph Zeng/Zeng Shun Xi 

as Wang Xiao Shi (nickname: Little Rock)

At age 20, Wang Xiao Shi finishes his training as the disciple of Xu Xia Yi, a master from Baixu Garden, who took Xiao Shi in after his mother’s death.
Xiao Shi is innocent, compassionate, and righteous. He is an excellent martial artist, and is bestowed the renowned sword called Retainment, to be used exclusively with Longing fighting technique.
When Xiao Shi leaves the mountains to travel the jianghu world, his teacher asked him to deliver a secret box to Su Meng Zhen. 
Along the way, Xiao Shi becomes fast friends with Wen Rou, later his love interest, and Bai Chou Fei, later his sworn brother.                                                        

Yang Chao Yue 

as Wen Rou (nickname: Gentle)

Her name literally means “gentle”, but she’s far from being one. Wen Rou is kind-hearted and brave, but hot-tempered and impulsive. She comes from the prominent noble family of Wen.
Wen Rou joins the House of Sunset Drizzle Sect and becomes Su Meng Zhen’s martial art little sister. She just wants to delay her father’s plan to marry her off. Therefore, she isn’t genuinely interested in learning martial arts. Not until she met Wang Xiao Shi and Bai Chou Fei.
Being at the marriageable age of ancient times, I guess Wen Rou is 14 to 16 years old. A lot of viewers don’t like her immature behaviors (from episode 1 to 10). I assume she would be the one with much character growth later.

Liu Yu Ning 

as Bai Chou Fei (nicknames: Bai or Cabbage)
Before meeting Wang Xiao Shi and Wen Rou, Bai Chou Fei is an aloof and loner martial artist. Initially, he wants to take the secret box from Wang Xiao Shi’s hand to seek fame. However, Xiao Shi was able to convince Bai to join him in his journey to the capital to become famous.
Although Bai only uses daggers and darts, he is a very skilled fighter. He has had a lot of experiences and hardships in the jianghu world. Bai is unrestrained and shows no mercy to his enemies.
At the mature age of 26, Bai Chou Fei no longer seeks minor accomplishments. Proud and ambitious, he is aiming for something big. He wants to join the House of Sunset Drizzle Sect, to become the top martial artist and be envied by others.

Baron Chen/Chen Chu He

as Su Meng Zhen

Su Meng Zhen is the young master of the House of Sunset Drizzle Sect. As the only child of his father Su Zhe Mu, the Old Master of the House, Su is groomed to be the next leader of the sect. He is a proud owner of the famous sword Red Sleeve Blade.

At age 32, Su is ready to be the leader of the House. He is skillful and revered by the sect members, enemies, and government officials. However, the path to leadership succession is not only by heritage lineage alone. That’s how the secret box delivered by Xiao Shi becomes a determining factor in the future of the House of Sunset Drizzle Sect.

As Wang Xiao Shi and Bai Chou Fei help Su Meng Zhen to be the next leader of the House, they become his sworn brothers.

Meng Zi Yi

as Lei Chun

Lei Chun is the daughter of Lei Sun, the leader of the Six and a Half Hall, the rival of the House of Sunset Drizzle. I guess that she’s in the early 20s.

Lei Chun became acquainted with Wang Xiao Shi, Bai Chou Fei, and Wen Rou on their way to deliver the secret box for Su Meng Zhen.

Although she doesn’t know martial arts and appears weak on the outside, she’s tough on the inside, beautiful, smart, and mysterious. She’s not interested in being the next leader of Six and a Half Hall, nor involved in the martial arts world. She rather sends prayers to the heavens and stays behind the scenes, although she has her own agenda.

Lei Chun makes a rare appearance in episodes 1 – 10.


O R I G I N A L    S O U N D T R A C K

Before delving into my first impressions on the drama, below are the 7 releases of 8 total OSTs. All are sung beautifully with uplifting lyrics.

  • Opening theme “Where Are the Heroes” (Ying Xiong Suo Xiang / 英雄所向) by NZBZ, about the life of  jianghu martial artists.
  • Closing theme “The Pursuit” (Ke Zhui / 可追) duet by Joseph Zheng and Liu Yu Ning, about the companionship of friends in reaching their dreams.
  • Insert song “Forever Smiling” (Qian Gu Xiao / 千古笑) by Jin Zhi Wen, about having a positive attitude despise of the hardship. Sung during the merry gathering on the boat (right image).
  • Insert song “Flying Through the Clouds” (Ling Yun Ji /凌云寂) by Liu Yu Ning, about Bai Chou Fei’s aspiration.
  • Insert song “No Matter What”(Nai He Nai He/奈何奈何) by Huang Xiao Yun, about the emotional entanglement between the leads.
  • Insert song “Never Give Up” (Bu Li Bu Qi/不离不弃) by Ye Li, about the Wen Rou’s hardship.
  • Insert song “Life Companion” (Hong Chen Ban/红尘伴) by Joseph Zheng and Yang Chao Yue, about Xiao Shi and Wen Rou’s love story.

F I R S T    I M P R E S S I O N S

        L I K E S        

  Theme: Strong friendship/Brotherhood  

The life journey of the protagonist Wang Xiao Shi is similar to ours. He has lived most of his life with his master in seclusion, surrounded by mountains. For us, it’s protection of the family and surroundings that bring us up. Before he goes out, his master warns him that he will be influenced by the outside world. Xiao Shi cannot remain unchanged. All he can do is find like-minded people to be his friends, to ground him to his principles and to accompany him through the treacherous outside world, as he soon finds out. We also need people who can accompany or support us on our own life journeys.

The friendship between our leads starts with Wen Rou helping Xiao Shi get out of the dangerous situation because of the secret box. Being asked why she helped him when she isn’t connected to the box, she stated she’s Su Meng Zhen’s martial art sister, so she must accompany him to deliver the box to Su. Bai Chou Fei helped him too, but with a personal objective. Knowing that they can support each other to achieve their dreams, Xiao Shi was able to convince Bai to join them. 

When they finally deliver the box to Su, Xiao Shi and Bai helped him with a massive fight. They’re together in a life-and-death situation, so he makes them his sworn brothers. You saw the oath of sworn brothers in the GIF above. Sworn brotherhoods are an integral part of jianghu culture. Sworn brotherhoods offered men who don’t belong to the mainstream society and often are far from families, essential protection and mutual support (source).


  Characters: Three dimensional  

As I stated above, I’m not really fond of writing recap articles on Chinese historical/costume dramas because of their hundreds of names. These include people, items, groups, especially if they have multi identities, different translations, or status changes along the way. But this is one of the enthralling charms of Chinese historical/ costume dramas that lure people to watch them and get lost in the ancient fantasy world. If you’ve never watched any Chinese historical/costume drama and would like to try one, you better equip yourself with notes to write the names down.

Heroes is a collection of events in Wang Xiao Shi’s life journey of ten years. So obviously, he meets many people. There are characters who are close to him and together they go through ups and downs of character growth. There are characters who are not what they appear to be. Friends become foes, foes become friends. People change. The character growths and changes make them unpredictable, complex, unique, and interesting. Your opinion on characters will change, too. You may also root for a certain character. But save yourself from a broken heart.

The arrays of characters in the upper and bottom of this subsection are just a few characters in this drama. There are important supporting characters who haven’t even shown up yet up till episode 10.


  Artistry: Pretty people wearing pretty clothes in pretty places  

According to a Sohu article about Heroes before it started production, the budget of this drama is 200M yuan (equivalent to 30M USD). The production team spent a lot of money on art setting, and hired Zhao Hai, a well-known art director in the industry. He won the 34th Hong Kong Film Awards’ Best Art Direction Award for the movie The Golden Era (2014) and the 24th Golden Eagle Awards’ Best Production Design for the TV series Ming Dynasty in 1566 (2007).
Moreover, according to AvenueX, the director Li Mu Ge is known to make the female characters in his drama productions look stunning. For example, in  Good Bye, My Princess (2019) and Rattan (2020). Above are the four significant female characters in Heroes, each with her own charm. From left to right: Wen Rou, Lei Chun, the courtesan Zhu Xiao Yao (Zeng Yi Xuan), and the martial artist Lei Mei (Fan Zhen). The costume design team also made the Male Lead Xiao Zhi look fashionable with various intricate costumes as shown below. 

Each main character’s fashion style represents their distinctive personalities. The warm and dependable Xiao Shi wears earth-tone colors, the teenage Wen Rou’s costumes are youthful and colorful. White color stands out in the crowd, so it’s Bai Chou Fei’s color pick. The heroic Su Meng Zhen opts for flaming red robes. And the ethereal Lei Chun wears light-colored costumes with a flowing veiled hat or weimao (帷帽).

Heroes was filmed in three locations: Hengdian, Xiangshan, and Bangshan Grassland. There are a lot of beautiful settings in this drama. Below is one of my favorites: the river scenery where the trio are waiting for the passing boat to take them to the Capital. If you notice the dock, it doesn’t look like the posts are submerged into the water. So, it’s probably fake, and they filmed the scene in front of a green screen. Real or not, the result is imaginative, as if they stand by the river in the remote area and enjoy the serene surroundings.

Besides the stunning outdoor panorama, the indoor cinematography setup creates its own appeal. Below is one of my favorite settings. There are two parties: one sitting outside the room and two are inside. Each party doesn’t see each other in person, one never goes inside and vice versa. The conversation is carried on with the screen between them, and the back-lighting creates an illusion of shadow puppetry for the person outside the room and the viewer.

Some action scenes are choreographed artistically, including this unorthodox fighting scene below. The ‘fighting’ scene appears more like a dance performance than a battle. If you’re looking for a believable fighting scene, this is not it. It’s innovative and it seems purposely intended to be stylish, as demonstrated by the fighters in blue holding red umbrellas, and the fighters in red holding blue umbrellas.


        D I S L I K E S        

  Editing: Uhm… where are the fighting scenes?   

Now, if you’re a hardcore wuxia fan, you probably are disappointed with the theatrical fighting scene in the GIF above, right? We need the real meaty martial art scenes! We want action, not a dance performance, don’t we? The fighting scene on the left image is what we want to see. There are fighting scenes, alright. But because of the choppy or messy editing, some fighting scenes appear non-existent with lame CGI and bad editing. Let me show you three shake-my-head moments below.

At the same battle, now Xiao Shi’s turn to show off his sword fighting skill. He owns a famous sword called Retainment to be used with a special technique. Uhm… but where is it? After slashing the rain with his sword, suddenly people are thrown off the wall and others fall off the balcony. Only with a few strokes, he’s done and jumps down onto the ground with a pose. The audiences don’t even see him fighting! Does he even fight?

Still at the same battle, next we’ll see Bai Chou Fei in action. After being catapulted to the sky with a bad CGI, he throws darts at the enemies… but the acting seems more like he’s swimming. I even added the scene where Su Meng Zhen and his assistant Yang Wu Xie (Yu Bin) looks up at him surprised, probably thinking: “is he swimming?”, lol. Bai then lands on the ground with choppy editing as the screen changes swiftly.

In this scene, Bai Chou Fei is guarding Su Meng Zhen, who needs to walk by the enemy’s guards unscathed. Now we’ll see how the editing treats his scene. This should be Bai’s shining moment as a martial artist, since he single-handedly fights the guards. But the action is so messy. After an awkward landing, the editor forgot to cut the scene when he stumbled to stay balanced, froze the pose of him criss-crossing his dagger too long, and prolonged an unnecessary dialogue with a guard. 


  Plot: The government is watching   

When you watch a historical/costume drama, you may not completely escape palace politics somewhere in its story. I don’t like political dramas, either contemporary or historical ones. But if the politics only serves as a background of the plot, it’s fine with me. I thought Heroes would only have a trivial political background, too. 

According to Wikipedia, members of the jianghu are expected to keep their distance from any government offices or officials, without being antagonistic. It was acceptable for jianghu members who are respectable members of society to maintain respectful but formal and passive relationships with the officials. 

So, I was not happy when MOJ officials show up quite early in the drama, as seen watching the choreographed fighting down below. I won’t elaborate more on what MOJ is and does in this drama, as it will be a spoiler. But they sure make our protagonists’ life challenging.


  Ending: The beginning of the end  

No, I won’t spoil you about the ending, but the drama may. What is it about the beginning of the end? As the old bard lifts up his finger in the image below, I warn you to avoid the initial encounter with him. It’s in the first 3 minutes in episode 1. Run away when you see him sitting under the tree, singing, and playing his sanxian (三弦 ) in the dark. The scene cryptically spoils the ending, and it upsets some viewers.

Lastly, the drama deviates from the original novel and there are major changes. Even if you know about the novel’s plot, you will not be sure about the ending of this drama. 


C O N C L U S I O N

To close this article, I summarize my first impressions on tips:

⚔️

⚔️

⚔️
⚔️

Story/Plot: The drama makes some major changes from the original story. If you’re a hardcore wuxia fan, the messy editing of the martial arts scenes may disappoint you. Warning: significant palace politics. Despite of the romance genre in the tag, the drama focuses more on strong bonds between the characters and power struggles. If you want a particular ending, put this on hold and watch when it finishes airing. If you don’t want to be spoiled, avoid watching the first 3 minutes prologue in episode 1 before the opening theme.
Character/Acting: If you watch for your favorite actor/actress, don’t root for their characters.

Art/Design: If you like pretty stuff, you will love this drama.
First time watcher: Take notes since the drama has many characters.

THANK YOU FOR READING AND HAPPY WATCHING!


AcknowledgementsThank you to the editors who edited this article, and to Pingpongball for the synopsis source. Credits: All images and self-made GIFs are taken from the drama page on MDL and screenshots. Emoji is taken from emojiall.  
Edited by: devitto (1st editor)
baron chen
wuxia
joseph zeng
zeng shun xi
liu yu ning
heroes
yang chao yue
chen chu he
meng zi yi

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