21 May 2010 | yyzett
Enjoyable to Western Audiences, not for true Three Kingdoms Fans
Romance of the Three Kingdoms is probably one of the greatest (if not the greatest) pieces of historical fiction ever written. It has the equivalent appeal of the Iliad and Odyssey in Western Culture.
Granted that there are numerous audiences who might not have read the book or understand its significance. It is safe to say that they will enjoy this TV series. The dialogue is easy to understand and the action is absolutely terrific.
However, for anyone who holds Three Kingdoms to high esteem, this series will present a disappointment. The problem with simplifying (or modernizing) dialogue, morals, and appealing to mass audiences (when there is no reason to do so) is bound to leave the true fans asking: why? If that wasn't enough, the series is pitted against an older cousin before it was even made. A 1995 adaptation already set an impossible standard in terms of casting, authenticity, and acting. Trying newer stuff when you already have a high minimum bar is suicide, and obviously, this new series tried, and failed.
First is the casting: Many claim that casting is unimportant, but when many views have preconceived notions of the majority of the characters, it is absolutely vital. Looks are the first thing that comes to mind, but voice is equally important. For example the cast for Zhang Fei has the "look" but the man was suppose to sound violent and intimidating, a feature the actor didn't have. Guan Yu, not only does he not look like the generic Guan Yu who had really intimidating eyes, thick eyebrows and a beautiful beard, he also completely lacked the deep and booming voice that echoes his presence (he is suppose to resemble a god of war). The list goes on and on for the major characters.
Second is Authenticity: A lot of this series is completely made up. It doesn't follow more historical sources or the romantic novel. I'm not going to spoil anything but do expect some good confusion from time to time.
Second is the fact that so much screen time has the presence of women in this series. The romantic novel mentions women by name and what they did; if they had dialogue, it was spoken in a very direct and feminine way. The historical writings features even less women. So naturally what one expects from Three Kingdoms TV series is a minor presence of female characters. Instead what we get is long and tedious scenes of made up soap opera dialogue that not ruins the pacing, but also any authenticity of the misogynistic society of that era.
I could go on about weapons, armor, building designs, and more, but I think most people get the point that if you don't make novel adaptation authentic, it defeats the purpose.
And finally the acting: This is the worst part of it, and I envy those that don't understand mandarin Chinese that can ignore it. I mentioned earlier that Zhang Fei and Guan Yu didn't even sound like their roles; well while you can argue that looks can't be changed, certainly the intensity and tone of voice can. It is probably easier for an actor with a deep voice to play the role of Guan Yu, but this actor doesn't make any attempt to bring out that godly character. The same is with everyone else, who recites almost everything with monologue, and when they do yell or scream it becomes obvious that it was part of a script.
Keep in mind that in the novel the characters are sometimes mad, sometimes desperate, sometimes overconfident; they are not going to talk in the same tone of voice. A key element of the 1995 series was that the characters had depth because they had a lot of emotion in their voice. While some can argue that the characters are keeping their cool at all times (what men those days tried to do), it is just a sorry excuse.
And a note about the action sequences: I was actually one of those who enjoyed the action in the 1995 series more than the action scenes in this series. The reason is that all of the action in the 1995 series was live action, and although the producers did their best to make it "cool" what they actually came up with is something very realistic because well: everything was real (no-one gets thrown 30 feet in the air, no-one is super-fast with 100 kg weapons etc). This is especially evident in the duels, which were usually shot from a distance. This series seems to keep the camera on the character's faces at all times when they are dueling
why? However the action scenes of the grunts storming castles, the field battles, and especially the fire attacks are very cool spectacles that even the most zealous hater would like.
In conclusion: All in all this series is catered to the masses and has delivered. However it has great massed action scenes that even the most disappointed fans can enjoy.