Drama

Imagining a Faithful Adaptation of Bride of the Water God

Hello, MDL’ers! ^^
Remember this k-drama from 2017?

Yeah… what if I told you,
it’s meant to look nothing like this

and instead, look everything like this?

Gorgeous, right?!

Despite, the drama’s fan-base, we can all agree that The Bride of Habaek wasn’t the greatest of adaptations! Live-adaptations of Manga (manhua & manhwa) and web-novel/ webtoon/ web-comic have come a long way since. The 2017 k-drama tried it’s hand and didn’t quite succeed. But imagine, what if… the IP rights were sold outside Korea? To an entertainment industry that does historic costumes and CGI with unparalleled perfection? A drama industry known for their high production-values and cinematography when it comes to costume-fantasy works?

Yes, as a fan of the original work, I can vouch that Bride of Habaek was always meant to be adapted as a Xianxia-style drama. And here are 7 reasons why it would absolutely SLAY, should it be adapted into one!

>>All clickable Images link to their parent sources. Direct image uploads are Author screenshots from official streaming platforms<<


T H E   P R E M I S E. . . . 

Bride of Habaek is a historical fantasy-romance, that follows a beautiful young village-girl, Soah, who is picked as the virginal bride to be sacrificed to the Water-God Habaek. Her sacrifice is arranged in order to appease the God and bring forth rains to end a year-long drought. She is sent-off on a stormy night, to be devoured by the raging river, however, ends up being miraculously saved. A not-quite-dead Soah is transported to the Water God’s Realm, and she finds herself an unwilling bride to a petulant pre-adolescent boy instead, who is claimed to be the cursed Water-God. Soon, it is found that Soah is different from all the other brides previously sacrificed to Habaek till date, and one of the reasons is the two ‘red-strings of fate’ wrapped around her fingers at birth. Her unique fate sets her up as the person who might be the one to break through Habaek’s curse after-all. However, this positions her interestingly in a larger scheme of events (a Celestial War among the Gods) which she must survive to make her way back home. But for each day she spends being Habaek’s bride, she gets entangled deeper and deeper into fulfilling a destiny that prevents her from ever returning to her Mortal Life…..

Xianxia is a genre of Chinese fantasy that is rooted in traditional concepts of mythology and folk religion. [User Blizzardahm recently has written a wonderful article introducing the same!] The ‘Xian’ in the word quite literally refers to Immortal Beings, much like the characters in the world of the Manhwa. While Xianxia generally focuses on action & adventure, most of the stories currently are romance-heavy; thus, being the ideal genre-of-choice when it comes to adapting the Manhwa on-screen!


T H E   T R O P E S. . . . 

A common concept found in Xianxia is cultivation, which lets regular humans ‘level up’ to become immortal beings (‘Xian’), & achieve immortality to spend an eternity with a God. This lays the foundation for all Mortal x Deity love-stories.

Famous Humans in love with Deities; L: Love and Destiny, R: Eternal Love

The word ‘fated one’ is used quite heavy-handedly, and usually the leading-lady is the one meant to break the curse of our tragic hero. Sounds a lot like our Manhwa’s premise, eh?

The Manhwa also heavily features some of the usual set-ups found in a Xianxia drama. The stories are set against the backdrop of a ‘Heavenly Realm‘ resembling Ancient China. The plot often culminates into a large Celestial War that brews in the background, threatening our protagonist/ OTP.

Celestial War in Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms

A common occurrence are deities who assume their Godly form as Heavenly Beasts, such as the Celestial Dragon, Phoenix, Nine-Tailed foxes, etc. Amusingly, there are also wannabe-girlfriends/ exes who *gasp*, somehow look like our heroine (hint: Nakbin)… What may seem like common tropes and cliches of the genre, actually end up making 80% of the Manhwa’s plot. Xianxia, thus, has all the essentials to cater to this story! <3

L, C: ‘Divine Beasts‘ from Eternal Love of Dream, R: Doppelganger from Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms


T H E   L E G E N D. . . .

Let’s get nerdy, shall we? 
The Korean Legend personifies the God of River Amnok as Habaek, a river that forms the geographical border between China and (North) Korea. He is a Goguryeo God, whose (part-human) daughter Lady Yu Hwa gave birth to the founder of ‘Goryeo’ (Korea) and the Goguryeo Dynasty, the famous King Jumong/ Chumo. This Legend is likely an adapted/ borrowed version of the Legend of Hebo from China; Hebo being a mythological personification of the treacherous Yellow River, that brought yearly deluge to the Northern Mainland. The ‘cult’ of Hebo eventually reached Imperial status, and animals (even humans) began to be drowned in the River as sacrifices & tributes to appease the benevolent but mercurial God, who occasionally turned destructive.

L: Hebo (China), C: Habaek (Korea), R: Habaek (Manhwa BoTWG)

Interestingly enough, the tradition of sacrifices in China (as mentioned in the Manhwa) has been recorded up to the Han Dynasty (China), long enough for the Legend to be part of a cultural-exchange with the neighboring Goguryeo Kingdom (Korea), that existed right alongside the aforementioned!


M O R E   M Y T H O L O G Y. . . .

Habaek’s mother in the story, Suh-Wang Mo is based off of her Chinese counterpart, Goddess Xi Wang Mu, who also lives in a forested garden and tends to the Peaches of Immortality, has the honorific title of ‘Queen Mother of the West’ and her domain of governance is Fertility & Death. Xi Wang Mu’s lover/partner is Dong Wang Gong who rules from the East, and forms the basis of Habaek’s father, the God of Sun & Fire of the East, Dong-Wang Kong. The Current Emperor of the Heavenly Realm, Hun Won is based on Xi Wang Mu’s eventual heavenly-partner, the Jade Emperor. And the ‘Celestial War’ in the Manhwa, between the Current Emperor, and the previous Emperor-God Shin-Nong (God of Agriculture in the Manhwa) is based on the Legend of the ‘Three Sovereigns & Five Emperors, where Yan Di (God of Fire & Agriculture) lost the War to Huang Di (the Yellow Emperor).

L: Xi Wang Mu, C-L: Birthday Feast at the Peach Orchards, C-R: Dong Wang Gong, R: Jade Emperor;

(Paintings from China)

Much like Japanese Manga series Fushigi Yuugi (set largely in Ancient China) and Akatsuki no Yo-Na (set completely in Ancient Korea), Bride of the Water God is heavily implied to be inspired by Ancient Mythological China, even though never explicitly stated. A C-drama adaptation, thus, would logically, do the story justice!


T H E   V I S U A L S. . . .

Lacking styling inspiration, are we? Fear not! 
The Author has drawn her characters wearing some of the most stunning Tang-Dynasty inspired outfits, that can serve as a serious guideline, if not an inspiration, for the wardrobe-design team! One of the most striking features of the Manhwa was the gorgeous costumes everybody wore, and the artwork visuals has a separate fanbase altogether! In fact, an essential telling sign that the story was set in Ancient China, was the fact that the characters wore Hanfu (& not Hanbok!)

The women in the story sport similar up-dos as those seen in previous Tang-Dynasty set dramas. Nothing speaks ‘Peak Godly Aesthetics‘ like gravity-defying & humidity-proof hair, with bottles of tree-sap to fix every strand in place, decorated with quintals worth of ornamental gold. Of course, blindingly silky, inky hair across ranks, age and gender is only possible because ~magic~. A part of the fantasy appeal & convincing-power is certainly in the visuals, and nobody can do Asian ‘costume-drama hairstyles‘ as flawlessly as the c-drama industry! It wouldn’t be a far reach to say the Manhwa might have been inspired or even done the inspiring for certain C-drama looks. Have a look! ^^

Similar hair, outfit & styling across ranks of women; Celestial Maids, Concubines & Empress

T-L:The Empress of China, T-R: The Warrior’s Gate, B-L: Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms, B-C-R: The Empress of China 


T H E   A R T W O R K. . . .

What a waste, should these beautiful settings of the Heavenly Realm, the Water Kingdom, and the Western Palace never be brought to life?! No worries…

Most of the stunning backdrops we see in Xianxias are partial sets built against a green-cloth in reality, which is then replaced with CGI-backgrounds in the post-production. These eventually become what we see as the beautiful Heavenly settings where our fantasy story is set! Xianxias of today boast slick after-effects, that can authentically capture all the beautiful illustrations (seen above) in all its 3-Dimensional glory!

Celestial Palaces, Realms & Kingdoms as seen in Ashes of Love


E N S E M B L E   C H A R A C T E R S. . . .

Don’t Xianxias have 89 characters & a 100+ episode count? ^^
Jokes aside, the Author has given characters like Hoo Ye, Mura, Nakbin, Yo Hee, SuwangMo, Dongwanggongthe Emperor, Shin Nong, etc. compelling & rich back-stories, worthy of being adapted and shown equal love & attention.

Xianxia, by virtue of its extremely long length (50+ episodes) can cater to side-stories of ensemble-proportions. The stories usually feature an OTP’s journey that involves family/ clan member, sometimes mirroring these peripheral characters’ backstories. The extended story-telling can do justice to themes such as cross-generational vendetta, betrayal, star-crossed love, revenge-politics, etc., which form the crux of the Manhwa’s plot…

Ensemble Casts of….
B-L: Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms, B-R: Love and Destiny

Now, onto the fun part

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C A S T I N G. . . .

Since we have already established how well Bride of the Water God as a Xianxia-style Live Adaptation, it would be tragic to cast actors who haven’t received sufficient training to be comfortable with wire-cable stunts, acting/ emoting in front of a green-screen majorly, being used to full-weaves (wigs) in sweltering heat, and carrying oneself in multi-layered Hanfu with ultimate grace & poise, thereby convincingly looking the part of a God. After much deliberation based on my limited knowledge of the C-drama industry, here are my picks for the Main Cast…

Xianxia pros in ‘Love and Redemption‘ goofing in front of a green-screen


The Younger’ Generation
Physical Age: Early 20’s, Real Age: 5,000 years+

>>All photographs of actors below are search results from google images<<


M U I 


Imposingly tall and of a stately built, Mui radiates the perfect balance between boyish handsomeness and wicked manliness. In stark contrast to the gravity of his appearance, is his casually playful nature that comes forth frequently. He no longer possesses his long-hair, as a mourning sign for his dead-love, Nakbin.


Chibi’s pick

Lin Yi

Age: 22, Height: 188 cms
Experience: 
The Blessed Girl

WHY?

He fits the appearance, built & countenance of Mui to a T. Much like the character, Lin Yi is known to have a much smaller face in comparison to his physique. He looks great in both long as well as short hair! The actor excels at playing the besotted lover, but with a personality. Also, it’s time he graduates from his ‘chocolate-boy’ roles!


S O A H

Slender-limbed & petite-bodied Soah looks her stature next to the more statuesque Deities. Even the petulant-child Habaek grudgingly agrees she’s pretty! She has big-eyes, and heart shaped face that resembled Nakbin, to the point where the Deities believe she may not just be a Doppelganger, but a reincarnation, instead.


Chibi’s pick

Song Zu Er

Age: 23, Height: 165 cms
Experience: Guardians of the Ancient Oath, Novoland: Eagle Flag, The Dark Lord, The Prelude of Lotus Lantern

WHY?
A classical Xianxia-beauty, much like Zhao Li Ying & Crystal Liu previously. She strikes the perfect balance of womanly yet innocent. 23 cms of height difference would look stunning between her & Lin YI!


N A K B I N

In contrast to Soah’s pin-straight hair, Nakbin wears her hair in wild, long waves and curls. Appearance-wise, Nakbin and Soah can pass-off for each other. She looks like a hyper-feminine version of Soah.


Chibi’s pick

Zhao Lu Si

Age: 22, Height: 165 cms
Experience: The Long Ballad, The Romance of Tiger and Rose, Love Better Than Immortality, Oh! My Emperor : Season One.

WHY?
Zhao Lusi is the Queen of Costume Dramas in her generation. Plus, she may very likely be Song Zuer’s doppelganger (from built to appearance). An antagonist’s role will be a nice change of pace for her career, much like Zhao Liying in The Palace 2: The Lock Pearl Screen.  


H A B A E K

He appears as a petulant pre-adolescent boy, who according to Soah, looks ‘nothing like his cousin Mui.’ He is the titular River God, and Soah’s ‘husband’, but only reaches up to her ribcage. Like Mui, it is told that he keeps his hair short.


Chibi’s pick

Lu Zhan Xiang 

Age: 14
Experience: The New Version of the Condor Heroes, The Blessed Girl, The Legend of Xiao Chuo, The Song of Glory, Princess Silver, Heavenly Sword and Dragon Slaying Sabre, Sword of Legends 2, etc.

WHY?
A talented child-actor in the costume C-drama industry, with an impressively unrivalled portfolio! Considering how Habaek is actually an adult in a child’s body, he can play the role with a maturity beyond his age, and can also convincingly carry off Habaek’s sass, sarcasm and sardonic attitude! 


H O O   Y E

Nakbin’s brother, and an archer in Habaek’s Water Kingdom. Described as exceedingly beautiful and ‘God-like’ in appearance. In fact, his ethereal beauty is why Soah initially assumes, and later wishes, she was married to Hoo Ye instead of Habaek! He wears his hair long, initially tied up, and later as semi-open when he assumes his true-identity as the Emperor’s son.


Chibi’s pick

Huang Jun Jie

Age: 23, Height: 185 cms
Experience: Novoland: Pearl Eclipse, Truth or Dare, Eternal Love of Dream, Dr. Cutie, Fox in the Screen

WHY?
He looks delicately beautiful like a Classical Xianxia hero, but also possesses an enviably tall frame. He can convincingly play the ‘Good-Guy’ second ML as well as turn into a believable antagonist when needed.


M U R A

Cold and intimidating in appearance, Mura smokes a pipe and sports a cool face-tattoo. She wears her hair in tightly pulled-back up-dos. She assumes the role of a minor antagonist as she fights Soah for Habaek’s affections.


Chibi’s pick

Zhou Ye 

Age: 23, Height: 162 cms
Experience: Word of Honor, Back From the Brink, The Female Supporting Role

WHY?
Zhou Ye plays a convincing mean character in Better Days. She’s exceedingly gorgeous for her age, but can look menacing because of her RBF (unless she smiles and flashes her dimples!)


The Older’ Generation
Physical Age: Early 30’s, Real Age: 10,000 years+

Ps. I absolutely cannot fathom this generation of actors playing ‘parents’ already. Just a few years back, they used to be the ‘leads’ in Xianxia/ Costume Dramas….
Wow, Chibi feels O-L-D! >_<


S U H   W A N G   M O

Other-worldly beautiful; she’s a statuesque woman who appears to be in her early 30’s (claimed by Soah), and is fittingly, the pre-teen Habaek’s mother. She’s the Empress of the West in her own right, and hence wears a Regnant’s garbs & head-dress. Despite her beauty, she looks cold, domineering & intimidating.


Chibi’s pick

Ni Ni

Age: 33, Height: 173 cms
Experience: Love & Destiny, The Rise of the Phoenixes, Wu Kong, The Thousand Faces of Dunjia, The Warrior’s Gate 

WHY?
EVERY cell of her being radiates the ‘boss-woman energy’ of Su Wang Mo. If there was a Goddess on Earth, it would be Ni Ni!! Her beauty is perfection exemplified; glamorous yet intense, powerful & seductive, and un-reachable.

 Like they say, third time is a charm? (her Warrior’s Gate look was uncannily similar to Suh Wang Mo’s style)


D O N G   W A N G   K O N G

Habaek’s father, he looks exactly like an older, more masculine version of Mui, with longer hair. There isn’t an iota of doubt if Habaek is his son! He appears to be physically the same age as his Consort Suh Wang Mo. He looks benevolent yet radiates strength & physicality.


Chibi’s pick

Lin Geng Xin 

Age: 33, Height: 186 cms
Experience: Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back, Sword Master, Xuan-Yuan Sword: Scar of Sky, Chinese Hero Zhao Zi Long, Princess Agents 

WHY?
Because Lin Yi (Mui) is often asked if he’s related to Lin Gengxin in anyway or not. His built+stature is perfect as the quietly powerful & intensely paternal character. He’d also make a powerhouse-CP with Ni Ni! He’s visually, as well as IRL, the same age as her. 


H U N   W O N,   T H E   E M P E R O R

He initially makes an appearance disguised as Nakbin, however, his ‘real’ appearance, as a man, is much like Hoo Ye (with darker hair). That’s because he’s both Nakbin & Hoo Ye’s father. He appears to be a few years younger than his older brother Shin Nong and his contemporaries Suh Wang Mo & Dong Wang Gong. He wears his hair long, like Hoo Ye.


Chibi’s pick

Vin Zhang

Age: 28, Height: 183 cms
Experience: I Will Never Let You Go, The Flame’s Daughter, The King’s Woman, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms.

WHY?
Because Huang Jun Jie (Hoo Ye) is sometimes credited to look like Zhang Bin Bin from certain angles. Plus, he makes a FINE ‘good-guy turned bad’ because of unrequited love, aka an unhinged ‘second-ML’ gone rogue! King’s Woman, anyone?  


Y O   H E E

Small-statured Yo Hee might be the only person who appears younger than Soah, apart from Habaek. She dresses unassumingly in girly-clothes & hairstyles. However, she is actually both Shin Nong & Hun Won’s mother, thereby making her the ‘Heavenly Mother’ & the previous ‘Divine Empress‘.


Chibi’s pick

Li Yi Tong

Age: 30, Height: 162 cms
Experience: Zhao Ge, Court Lady, Royal Nirvana, Sword Dynasty, Bloody Romance.

WHY?
Like Yo Hee, Li Yi Tong can look 22 & 32 at the same time, as per her styling. She’s the perfect built & has a blend of innocence & womanly grace of a powerful bad-ass Empress who appears to be a young girl!


Phew!! Tell us below if you think this casting works…. If not, who do you envision as your cast-members? And do you think Xianxias would do a justice to this wonderful piece of work, or do you still want k-entertainment to give this a second shot? 😀


Edited by:  SumiTheCat (1st editor)

c-drama
mythology
k-drama
live adaptation
manhwa
xianxia
yun mi-kyung
bride of habaek

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