HEAVEN SWORD DRAGON SABER 2009
Number of episodes: 40
Deng Chao as Zhang Wuji
Ady An as Zhao Min
Liu Jing as Zhou Zhiruo
Ken Chang as Zhang Cuishan
Wang Yuanke as Yin Susu
CCTV and the producer Zhang Jizhong started adapting Jin Yong novels as TV series in 2001 with Xiao Ao Jiang Hu and finished with Heaven Sword Dragon Saber 2009. HSDS 2009 being based on the third version of the novel, several events and the ending of the story differ from those of previous adaptations.
As is customary in a Zhang Jizhong adaptation, the locations are breathtaking, but here some are used over and over: for instance, the huge stone arch, the cluster of bamboo trees, the pair of white gates, and several other landmarks. I thought this sort of setting limitation is only reserved for those old TVB series. Be that as it may, the locations contribute greatly to creating the grand, sometimes fantasyland atmosphere of HSDS 2009.
The series has uneven pacing - some parts are too long, while some are unsuitably shortened. This is a weakness that has dogged Zhang Jizhong's Jin Yong series since Return of the Condor Heroes 2006, although arguably HSDS 2009's pacing is a bit better compared to that of RoCH 2006.
A few of the cast, notably the males, show weak acting skills. Song Qingshu's actor is only expressive during dramatic, high-tension scenes and looks indifferent the rest of the time; the Wudang Seven and He Taichong come across more as fussy old dudes than daxia; Wang Baobao turns into a totally incompetent prince. Since one of the reasons I like HSDS is the characters, including the Wudang folks, seeing them poorly acted is definitely, to me, a drawback. Most the female cast, thankfully, doesn't disappoint.
When it comes to animated animals, the CGI department tends to go wild (see He Zudao's appearance and the Butterfly Valley), to the detriment of the natural sceneries. As for the fighting scenes, I personally find the combination of CGI and the actors' physical movements in those scenes to be just at the right level, each complementing the other. I'm satisfied with the fights at the Lion-Killing Meeting: this version's Elders of the Da Mo Hall might be the most badass yet, and the duel between the two White Bone Claws was gracefully fierce. It's true that the Bright Peak battle, a pivotal scene in the story, is too short, though it doesn't really disappoint me either. The battle against the Mongolians in the final episode, however, doesn't leave much of an impression, despite the explosions, colorful smokes, and soldiers running around. The blame may be laid on poor editing - another weakness in Zhang Jizhong's more recent Jin Yong series.
Deng Chao (Zhang Wuji)
HSDS 2009 takes a rather different approach in portraying the main character compared to previous versions. Deng Chao's Wuji shows more self-confidence, less indecision, and even a little more aggressiveness. While at times Deng Chao looks more like an ordinary teenager than the leader of a large sect and an exponent of powerful martial techniques, he has onscreen charisma and a masculine presence that's not easy to dismiss.
Ady An (Zhao Min)
This version goes to some length to showcase the different aspects of Zhao Min: the princess with military powers, the strategist, the daughter who's not above teasing her father. Ady seems to always keep in mind that Zhao Min is a girl with a strong, almost forceful personality. Even in her "cute" acts, the bossy, self-opinionated miss in her Zhao Min is still pretty much visible.
Liu Jing (Zhou Zhiruo)
Liu Jing being a newcomer, her acting is raw in spots, but she improves toward the end. Her Zhiruo is written as an ice maiden who doesn't have much personal contact with Wuji prior to the Divine Snake Island incident. Another point against her is that she's decked out to look more like an auntie than a young girl. It's almost like the series deliberately doesn't want the audience to feel for her.
This is a decent adaptation with a few minus points, some more obvious than others. I recommend it to those who want to watch HSDS in a majectic, wuxia-like setting, and for the intense performance of the two leads.