Saturday, August 1, 2015


I was inspired by this article at Wuxia Edge to address the topic of getting into wuxia series and continuing to enjoy them. 

If you were born in an English-speaking country like me, most likely you are more familiar with wuxia films than with television series. The shows are considerably longer and more faithful to the books that they are based on but they can be a challenge to figure out if you've never seen them before. In my own case, I waited some time before viewing series because all seemed quite lengthy and the way some quarters of the internet spoke of them, came across as pretentious to me. So I kind of avoided them for a bit. But in hindsight that was a mistake. 

The first thing I realized about wuxia and other Chinese series was they are pretty much the perfect for me and there really isn't anything comparable to them in English. You get all the action from the films plus they explore the storylines more so it is actually easier to understand. Both the movies and series are often based on the same material (but not always) and because the series have more time to work with, they don't have to make as many adjustments to the stories. 

Series are basically the perfect length to adapt a long book to the screen. They are quite different from what we have in the states. I can't really think of shows that have this kind of structure or release schedule. Basically the series are usually self-contained, like a mini-series, but up to 50 episodes each (some can be even longer). I believe most are aired an episode a night until they are finished. 

All of the things that make series unique can be intimidating to viewers who are less familiar with them. These are my suggestions for approaching wuxia series and continuing to enjoy them over the years. Note that these go by a number of different labels on the net (Dramas, Chinese Ancient Series, etc). They are also broader than just wuxia alone. There are shows based on myth and legend, detective series and historical series. 

When I first started watching wuxia series, I binge-watched. This allowed me to see a lot of material but I realized with binge-watching you start to blur episodes together in your memory. I also felt that being 30-50 forty five minute episodes each, that was a lot of time I could be spending on reading or other things. So I started watching them more the way they are aired: 1 episode a night. I usually watch 2 each night because that is about the same length as a movie. This will take you longer to finish, but I find it actually makes them more enjoyable. Occasionally I will still binge-watch if the impulse strikes but usually I keep it to one to two episodes a night. I recommend taking this approach if that works for you. 

There is no wrong way to watch a series of course. If you enjoy binge-watching, then absolutely do so. This is just making the point that I've discovered I appreciate series more if I stick 1-2 episodes a night. 

When you finish a series, it can be tough to know what series to watch next. You don't need to watch the first thing that crosses your feed. Do some searching, find out what the show is about, how people are responding to it, and try to get a feel whether it is of interest. Once you do settle on a show, give it 3-5 episodes before deciding it isn't for you. There were a couple of great shows I would have missed, like the 2006 Return of Condor Heroes, if I let my impression of the first or second episode stop me from continuing. They take time to set up, to introduce characters, so expect the first few episodes to provide context rather than pull you in right away. 

A lot of times when you are into movies or shows, it is common to have friends in your life you enjoy them as much as you. With wuxia series, I've found these are pretty niche. So if you see an episode that does something really interesting, you'll probably have to go online to talk about it with other fans. 

Sometimes I get the sense there is a split between people who enjoy the movies and the series. People should watch what they like without worrying about what others think, so if you like one over the other, by all means just watch that. But you can watch both. They are pretty complimentary and bring very different things to the table. I usually watch a few movies in between series. 

I'm not big into reading fan translations of things, but it is definitely worth reading some of the wuxia translations and getting summaries of the storylines. Most series are pretty good about being clear, but these are stories that their audience knows well. If your from another culture, it can be a bit tricky to understand and it really helps to arm yourself with some knowledge before hand. A lot of the literary sources for the series have been translated by fans, a few have been published by translators. My favorite is The Eleventh Son by Gu Long, translated by Rebecca Tai because it is such a well written translation. But there are also other books out there like Louis Cha's (Jin Yong) The Deer and the Cauldron, The Fox Volant of Snowy Mountain, The Book and the Sword, etc. While only a handful of wuxia novels have been translated officially into English, a lot of the classic literature has been translated and is relevant. The Water Margin: Outlaws of the Marsh is worth checking out. If none of this is of interest, then I recommend getting some quick summaries online. 

Ultimately these shows make a lot more sense the more you know about the periods in China during which they are set. Each series is usually set during a different Dynasty (except in the case of shows like the Swordsman that are aiming for a timeless quality or some of the mythic series). Over time you eventually pick up basic distinctions just from watching (you start to see the visual shorthand for Ming Dynasty versus Song for example). But there are also a lot of other things to know like the social mores, the surrounding cultures, etc. I suggest picking up some history books on China from time to time. It can also be helpful to know a little bit about Traditional Chinese Medicine and Kung Fu. No need to become an expert but with a cursory understanding these shows make a whole lot more sense. 

This is where some of the pretentiousness I mentioned earlier comes in. Once you do know a thing or two, don't lord it over others (that just turns people off to wuxia). Don't make people feel like they don't know enough to have fun watching a show about Kung Fu. Be nice to people just getting into the series and be nice to people with different tastes than you. It is fine to have an opinion and express it, but I don't think it is helpful to tear people down for liking this you don't like. This by the way is one my favorite things about Wuxia Edge, Susanna (the person behind the web site) makes a point of being positive and I think that goes a lot further than if she took a negative approach. 

By the same token, let people have their opinions. If someone does have a negative opinion on a series you happen to like, why go to war over it? People won't all like the same things. I've found that every fan community has some of this to a degree, among wuxia and martial arts fans it can get heated on occasion. It is something I hate to see because the genre brings so much positivity to my life. 

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