I read the webmistress' comments that the 1994 Taiwanese version of Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre was the WORST version. While I respect her personal opinions, I would like to share why I feel the contrary. I will not discuss the 1993 movie version as it was incomplete and the 2000 version as I did not watch it.
The webmistress mentioned she dislike that the 1994 Taiwanese version used an alternate plot line without changing the ending and involved a lot of unnecessary scenes. While I agree that some of the "additional" scenes were redundant, poorly scripted and dragged the series longer (1994 version consisted of 50 episodes), it was the best ending for me. If you watched TVB's 1978 "first" version of HSDS, it had the WORST ending and was inarguably the WORST of all versions. In it, Chiu Ming was forced off a cliff by the Ming Sect's members and was presumed dead. Cheung Mo Kei was rejected/"sacked" as leader of Ming Sect and lost everything. While the series tried to create an open ending by making Chiu Ming's presumed death ambiguous (she appeared and
disappeared like a ghost when Cheung Mo Kei went to her grave to grieve), it did not end with the lovers re-united. Many people praised the 1986 TVB version of HSDS as their favourite because it stuck close to the novel without making big changes to the plot.
However, if you read the written Chinese novel (1973 edition), it was ambiguous at the end which girl ended up with Cheung Mo Kei. The last section of the novel describes Chiu Ming asking Mo Kei to use a brush to draw her eyebrows as her third and final request. However, when he picked up the brush, Chow Chi Yerk appeared and claimed that Mo Kei also gave her three promises. The novel ends by stating Mo Kei hesitated and dropped the brush, looking back and forth at the two ladies at a loss. While the author Jin Yong might want to let us readers to use our imagination, I felt it was too ambiguous. Mo Kei could have married BOTH women for all we know. After so many sacrifices the women made for him (especially Chiu Ming who made the most sacrifices. She gave up her princess status and suffered a lot), the very least he could do was to choose the one he loved the most DECISIVELY. I think maybe Chinese are comfortable with the concept of polygamy and so could accept a man with two wives. But after watching the series, I believe most neutral people would definitely want to see Cheung Mo Kei and Chiu Ming be together against all the odds. The 1994 Taiwanese version was clear cut: Cheung Mo Kei CHOSE Chiu Ming as the woman he loved most and they lived in seclusion away from the celebration of the overthrow of Mongol rule and founding of Ming Dynasty by Zhu Yuanzhang.
HSDS as a Love Story
The webmistress criticised the 1994 Taiwanese version for being too tragic (Chiu Ming cried a lot) instead of focusing on the kung-fu plot. I must remind you that in the written Chinese novel (1973 edition), the author Jin Yong added his comments on the plot at the end of the last volume. He said that although HSDS was wriiten as a kung-fu novel, it was ULTIMATELY story about love. Romantic love as well as brotherly love and parental love. In the case of romantic love, no other version brought out the trials of love as well as the 1994 Taiwanese version of HSDS (remember that love is not a bed of roses. Lovers must undergo tests and struggles to prove their love.) The 1986 TVB version of HSDS did not bring out this aspect of romantic love as well as the 1994 Taiwanese
version. The 1978 version did not flesh out the love chemistry between the various characters at all (actors were too stiff in portraying romantic love). But the 1994 Taiwanese version could make us feel the love between the characters: Cheung Mo Kei and Chiu Ming, Sung Ching Su for Chow Chi Yerk, Yeung Siu and Yan Lee Ting for Ki Yee Fu, Cheung Choi San and Yan Soso. As for brotherly love, the bond between the members of Ming Sect after Mo Kei becomes leader, the bond among the 7 Disciples of Wu Tang Sect, the bond between the blind Tse Sun and Chang Choi San who would rather die than reveal his whereabouts. As for parental love, it was very touching to see Cheung Sam Fung grieve for Choi San just like a father grieved for a dead son (although the former was only the latter's teacher), Sung Yan Kiu grieve over the death of his son Song Ching Su. I acknowledge her claim about the 1994 Taiwanese version being "tragic" and had too many crying scenes. But please remember that this was a TAIWANESE production. Taiwan serials are famous for weeping scenes and the concept of long-suffering lovers. I concede that sometimes the serial went over the top with the "sad" element. But this was a small defect in terms of overall evaluation.
It is true that words can be touching and convey the mood of the plot. I don't know whether viewers who watch
the serial translated into their own languages could feel the mood of the plot as imperfect translations may remove certain emotions. But the Mandarin and Cantonese dialogue (both written in the same Chinese characters) was superb in the 1994 Taiwanese version of HSDS. The dialogue raised questions about the difficulty in defining good versus evil, about how societal values constrains an individual's choices. I liked the parts when Mo Kei told Chiu Ming about the need to expel the Mongols because they were cruel to the Chinese people. Chiu Ming replied that even Chinese emperors killed more Chinese than the Mongols. It was the Chinese government's own fault that brought about their weakness and allowed Mongols to conquer China. It really brought out the racist
values of the Chinese against Mongols well. There was the part when Cheung Choi San told Tse Sun that as a kung-fu expert, he should defend the people to overthrow the Mongols and uphold justice. Tse Sun replied that Chinese emperors were just as harsh on Chinese people as the Mongols were and that there was no justice to uphold when good people were killed and evil people triumphed. One must really pay attention to the dialogue to appreciate the various philosophies.
Rebellion Against Convention
Many people argue that the novel "Return of the Condor Heroes" glorifies the rebellion against societal values and conventions. The hero Yeung Gor was the typical anti-hero who flouts social traditions in contrast to his more
orthodox "uncle" Kwok Jing. Although in HSDS, Cheung Mo Kei was portrayed as a conventional, conservative hero, the 1994 Taiwanese version fleshed out the theme of rebellion against convention more than the other versions. This always pleased me because I have always objected to the oppression of the majority society against individual choices. In fact, my FAVOURITE character of all Jin Yong novels is Wong Yek Si aka "Wicked East", the father of Wong Yung (who was the wife of the hero Kwok Jing in "Legend of The Condor Heroes"). Among the top four kung-fu masters of his day (the rest were Hung Chut Kong aka "The Northern Beggar", Yat Dung Dai Si aka the "Southern Emperor-turned-Monk" and Ol Yeung Fung aka "The Poisonous West"), he was neither evil nor good. He simply believed in individual choices and despises oppresive societal norms, superstition, flattery and hypocrisy. He chose to live far away on an island away from the evils of human civilization and did not affiliate himself to the "good" kung-fu fraternity against "evil" unorthodox sects. But back to the 1994 Taiwanese version of HSDS. I like the portrayal of the rebellious individual against societal norms when Yan Soso constantly mocks Chang Choi San for his conservative values e.g. man and woman should not be in close
company to avoid public rumours. I like the idea of Tse Sun as a "Heaven Cursing" hero who is not afraid to criticize God/the gods for his pitiful fate. Most of all, what differentiates the 1994 Taiwanese version of HSDS from other versions was the ending. In other versions, it is true that Mo Kei gave up his leadership of the Ming Sect and retired from the kung-fu world. But in the Taiwanese version, he not only gave up and fought against his former comrades to save Chiu Ming. He chose love explictly over career. He defended her when the villagers in a certain town wanted to rape Chiu Ming in revenge for the Mongol rape of Chinese women inspite of being criticized as a traitor to his own people. He refused to kill Chiu Ming when the Ming Sect members tied her up and accused her of being a spy for the Mongols. He even injured Yeung Siu when he tried to kill her. Although most people would think he was stupid to sacrifice glory and national honour for the sake of a women (he could have become the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty if he had not retired), somehow the idea of sacrifice for love was a romantic ideal although I admit it would be unrealistic in real life. But what struck me most was the ability of love to overcome national prejudices and racism, of individual choice over societal values. And none of the other HSDS versions brought out this aspect better than the 1994 Taiwanese version.
Cecilia Yip Tong as A Brilliant Actress
I don't know what the webmistress meant by "desperate expressions" but I felt that the star of the Taiwanese version was undoubtably Cecilia Yip Tong. Her portrayal of both Yan Soso and Chiu Ming was the all-time best among previous actresses in those roles. She brought out the cunning, mischevious but intelligent aspect of both characters better than all previous actresses. Yet her characters were also passionate and self-sacrificing. Superb. Sad news is that most of the other main characters were lame. The only other credible ones were the portrayal of Chow Chi Yerk by Kathy Chow (the all-time best Chow Chi Yerk) and the portrayal of Tse Sun by Lau Dan. Steven Ma Ching Dao was admittedly lame as Cheung Choi San and Cheung Mo Kei.