THE NEW ADVENTURES OF CHOR LAU HEUNG 1984
Number of episodes: 40
Michael Miu as Chu Liuxiang/Chor Lau Heung
Barbara Yung as Sang Xiaojing
Chan Wingchun as Hu Tiehua
Simon Yam as Yuan Siuyun
Chu Liuxiang (Chor Lau Heung in Cantonese) is the hero of a series of novels written by Gu Long. He is famous for his skills as a thief, and also for his curious, rational mind, which some would call unorthodox. The 1984 TV series takes the characters and basic plots from two Chu Liuxiang novels - Legend of the Phantom Lovers and Legend of the Bat - and combines them with TVB's own original story. I'll try not to spoil anything, or at least not too much.
The series begins with two men who have harbored hostilities toward one another for years, and their daughters who have both fallen mysteriously ill. Although Chu Liuxiang is able to solve the puzzle of the double illnesses, another problem already awaits: the Snake Sword, a well-known weapon, has been stolen and used to kill members of various martial sects. At the same time, an organization called the Bat Palace begins to make itself known in the pugilistic world. It thrives on trading secrets, some of which result in the deaths of prominent pugilists. Chu Liuxiang, in his investigation of the Bat Palace and its lord, Master Bat, keeps running into an impulsive girl who goes by the name of Sang Xiaojing. The series ends in typical wuxia fashion with a few twists.
I'll start with the good first: the novels' actual plots undergo a number of significant changes, and this adds to the element of surprise - even if you've already read the novels, you will still be left guessing what's going to happen next. I'm not saying everyone will agree with the changes, just that it's a not unreasonable move to keep the audience interested. TVB's own original story is nothing new - predictable at its best, tedious at its worst.
The minuses are mostly to do with the characters and the acting. Not that the acting in general is disappointing, but there are a few weak spots. To me, Barbara Yung and Chun Wong are simply rehashing their roles in Legend of the Condor Heroes 1983; unfortunately, their characters here lack the mercurial intelligence shown in their LoCH roles, and thus much of the charm. The actor who plays Ouyang Fei is usually cast as an evil character with a status, and he looks unnatural and awkward as a good guy. There are also some painfully two-dimensional characters, like the Fourth Prince and Gu Dapeng.
A note on the female characters: in this series, it seems that an ideal woman is one who would willingly give up everything for the sake of love and search for happiness in love. Therefore, my favorite female character is Ku Mei, not despite of, but because of, her spiteful and unbending attitude. She's clearly meant to be a character we ought to dislike, but she's so much her own person I can't help but admire her. The actress also gives off the powerful, haughty aura of a Queen Mother, and displays seasoned acting skills. What happens to Ku Mei toward the end of the series, while rather cliche, is (probably sadly) necessary for the plot.
Michael Miu (Chu Liuxiang)
Michael, when not doing pronouncedly tragic characters, often infuses a little bit of playfulness into his interpretation of a role, which is what he does here. This is not at all to Chu Liuxiang's detriment; on the contrary, it makes his character even more attractive. Add this to Michael's versatile acting and athletic movements, and you have the quintessential Chu Liuxiang.
Barbara Yung (Sang Xiaojing)
It is said that Barbara takes part in this series because fans like seeing her paired with Michael. To me, though, their chemistry is under-utilized, mostly because Chu Liuxiang is a man surrounded by a lot of women. Compared to the other female characters, Sang Xiaojing spends more time being a damsel in distress, which is not a characteristic I usually find endearing.
Chan Wingchun (Hu Tiehua)
Hu Tiehua is Chu Liuxiang's close friend, and is famous for his penchant for wine. In the manner of traditional sidekicks, he's the opposite of Chu Liuxiang: impetuous, outspoken, and unlucky when it comes to love. Chan Wingchun handles the comical scenes pretty well, though during the more emotional scenes he seems a bit restrained.
Simon Yam (Yuan Siuyun)
In these 80's wuxia series, Simon often appears as a gentlemanly character while neatly avoiding that trap called typecasting. Here he is Yuan Siuyun, the current head of the reputable Yuan family, and there's much more to Young Master Yuan than meets the eye. I used to think Simon should be more expressive in his acting, though it might just be that he likes delivering an understated performance.
So is it an enjoyable series? Yes, even if the pace leaves something to be desired in the arc where Chu Liuxiang & co. nail corrupt officials. My beef with the female characters mostly comes from the perspective of a different decade and probably even a different culture. If you like TVB's wuxia series from the 80's, Chor Lau Heung 1984 is one of their best.