The first original article comparing the Novel and the Drama adaptation. This is my first attempt in translating my thoughts to words and I am also not eloquent so… Please be kind… :p
Novels vs Adaptations: Nirvana in Fire
Warning: If you have not read or watch it and do not want to see any spoilers, please do not continue to read on… This is the final warning!!!
After reading the book twice and watching the drama thrice, I thought that this would be a good comparison to start off with since I really like both of them. For the synopsis, please head to ShuShengBar or Wiki page.
Novel Plot vs Drama Plot
The plot is basically the same in the books and the drama. It is still a story of revenge, of justice, of bromance, of loyalty, of the greater good and of determination. Romance takes a backseat on this drama. Basically it is telling the journey of how Lin Shu, under the alias of Mei Chang Shu (who went under another alias of Su Zhe), seek revenge of those who frame him and his family as traitors 12 years ago. He also work to get his then best friend to the throne since he would be the best person to inherit the throne (the crown prince and the next contender are corrupted and only think of their own interest instead of the nation). The ending in the drama and the novel remained the same which is consistent to the characters. Major spoiler: Lin Shu aka Mei Chang Shu decided not to live a longer life but took a medication to give him a normal healthy and fit body for 3 months to fight a war so that he can defeat the enemies and protect the nation, after which he died off screen.
I believe the main reason why the drama storyline could remain so faithful to the novel was that the writer is also the screenwriter of the drama. He did a very good job in weaving all the plots and schemes. The story sounds like a typical one where it is indicated that the main character suffered for countless number of years and have decided to seek revenge and right the wrongs. But the execution was done much better than all of those type of dramas or story, here you can tell that Mei Chang Su really put in a lot of effort in gathering information about the people he will be taking down and how he work the constantly moving situations by manipulating key figures just enough for them to formulate a way of getting rid of those he wants to be gotten rid.
To further elaborate, at the start of the drama the entire court was divided into two political parties, one with the crown prince and one with the Jing Yu. Crown prince camp consist of Xie Yu (a military Marquis in charge of the safety in the capital), the Ministry of Rites, the Minister of the Defence and the Finance Ministry. Jing Yu’s camp consist of another Marquis who has military power, the Ministry of Personnels, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Public Works. Before Mei Chang Su enter the capital, he got rid of the Marquis in Jing Yu’s camp and still manage to sell to Jing Yu that he is collaborating with him. Then he got rid of the Finance Minister when Jing Rui accidentally found skeletons in a dried up well in Mei Chang Su newly bought estate. Then next was the Minister of Rites through winning an debate of sorts and then the Minister of Justice and Personnel who stupidly dug their own grave. Mei Chang Su leak out the info to the opposing camp and thus able to kill two birds with one stone and kill with a borrowed knife. Then he got remove Xie Yu from power before working on removing the crown prince, Jing Yu and Xia Jiang away.
And THAT is just the main plot! All between it, there are so many on-going situations that could easily derail the plan but he turn EVERY situation around. Like when the crown prince and his mother planned to get Ni Huang ‘raped’ which Mei Chang Su spoilt their plans without getting directly involved. Or how he got Ting Sheng out from the being one of the slaves in the Palace. Or how he analyse the little information he has and decipher the plans of Marquis Yan. And how he actually plan to resist against Jing Yu when he rebelled and sent forces to kill the Emperor and frame Jing Yan. And my favourite arc was how he manage to rescue Wei Zeng from Xia Jiang but instead of having the arrow pointing at him and Jing Yan, it ended up as Xia Jiang and Jing Yu receiving the blame instead.
The novel and drama is smartly written and as the audience I am happy that the drama turns out exactly like the book but more fleshed out. There is no useless scenes or meaningless conversation. Every single information that is given will be used by Mei Chang Su to turn the table around.
Characters vs Actors
As you can tell from the plot twists, the book is not exactly the easiest book to read in addition to the tons of characters. Its actually hard to track of all the characters of the book since many have small roles and would only appear in a few scenes. I omitted some characters from my memory since they do not serve much to the plot. Thus when watching the drama, I have no complaints when I realised that drama have killed a number of small characters and merged their lines to other characters. Some of the minor characters gone were the Xie family youngest son (his lines were merged to Xie Bi’s) and the Zhou family only daughter (which is engaged to Xie Bi). It is a good call since audiences will feel confuse to the many faces on screen.
One of the supporting character that was missing in the drama was Nie Duo but his disappearance was done for a purpose. He is the younger brother of Nie Feng and in the novel, he and Ni Huang were in love. It was some sort of forbidden as Ni Huang is technically still engage with Xiao Shu (aka Mei Chang Su) and Nie Duo is one of Mei Chang Su’s current subordinates (also one of his generals when he was Xiao Shu). His removal meant that the ill-fated romance between Ni Huang and Mei Chang Su could be amped up to draw in the female crowd. I am actually sold on the romance and even though I knew what the ending was, I was still damn upset that they did not end up together. Mei Chang Su can’t just have a break and live his life happily. He just keep choosing the nation over everything even his life.
Usually the actors or actresses will not be able to portray the depth of the character as well as how the writer describe in the novel and we would be lucky if we watch a drama or movie adaptation that have leads that could portray more than 70% of what the novel describe. However, in this drama, everyone portrayed their characters perfectly. EVERYONE! From the leading cast (Hu Ge as Mei Chang Su; Liu Tao As Ni Huang; Wang Kai as Jing Yan) to the minor characters (Tong Lu and Prince Ji) played their roles very convincing that now I can only remember the roles they played in Nirvana in Fire and not their previous works. It is very amazing because this writer did not really penned down much of the feelings that the actors/actress is portraying. The actors brought it out all on their own.
The longing between Mei Chang Su and Ni Huang can be seen when they are thinking of one another and Ni Huang confront Mei Chang Su about his Lin Shu identity, she broke down and hugged him. Mei Chang Su who has been suppressing himself for so long hugged her back and one can tell that he really wanted to go back to his true identity to be with Ni Huang but unable to do so. And there was one part where he was staring at the lantern thinking about the past where a younger Ni Huang hung a similar one, the present Ni Huang appeared and even though it was subtle, Hu Ge was able to express the surprise and happiness through that one look when he saw her. This is Hu Ge’s best work. Period. The Disguiser (aired before Nirvana in Fire) or Happy Times (aired shortly after Nirvana in Fire) is not comparable to this.
Every single time when Jing Yan when he thinks of Xiao Shu, my heart breaks with him. Xiao Shu is not only his best friend, they are like brothers. Even though the other character in the book or drama mention that he is a stick in the mud but I felt that that is what made him endearing. The writer also wrote how fiercely protective Jing Yan is to Xiao Shu things, in the drama it was the bow and the pearl as big as an egg which Jing Yan promise to bring back for Xiao Shu. The book talks about this shared pet wolf they have which Jing Yan took great care of. The wolf is only on friendly terms with Jing Yan and Xiao Shu but too bad every time that Mei Chang Shu has an interaction with the wolf, Jing Yan is not around else he would have guessed that he was Xiao Shu faster. Wang Kai, to me a relatively new actor since I do not see him on screen before, is able to portray how much he misses his friend. When Jing Yan saw Mei Chang Shu doing something that reminds him of Lin Shu, you can see Jing Yan fell into a daze, like for that moment he is seeing Lin Shu doing the same thing in front of him.
Side topic: The book describe how the wolf and Fei Liu became friends with one another, through a game… Fei Liu bite the wolf then the wolf will have to bite him back then he will bite the wolf back again… Both of them will keep doing that till Mei Chang Su stop them which they will stop like errant kids and they will try to continue when Mei Chang Su turn his head. So adorable.
Other fantastic acting… The portrayal of Fei Liu’s innocence by Wu Lei, Guo Xiao Ran acting as the seemingly happy go lucky Yu Jin who is trying to cover up his loneliness and more… Even the so call “evil” characters are not that much of a villain. I got it why Xia Jiang did what he did and also understood why the crown prince and Jing Yu view things differently from Jing Yan and could make decisions to sacrifice lives of the innocent to attain their goal. Of course, understanding where they are coming from would not mean that I approve of their actions.
Missing and Additional Scenes
There are one or two missing scenes in the drama but it did not affect the overall storyline. The drama however intensify the fight between Mei Chang Su (and Jing Yan) and Xia Jiang which I totally love it! The drama further delved into Xia Jiang background to how he was capture and then how he continue to cunningly plot against Jing Yan (who at that time became the crown prince) by planting a seed of doubt in the emperor’s mind. Its very well done! The book totally skip that area and only mention that he is captured.
Another scene was that when the emperor know that Mei Chang Su was Xiao Shu, at the last confrontation he threaten him saying that he will never be able to return as Xiao Shu and he was surprise that Mei Chang Su agreed to that and the other conditions. Finally when Mei Chang Su left, the emperor broke down and went on his knees saying that he misses him and the times they spent together, where the emperor taught him to fly a kite and stuff. Mei Chang Su did not turn around or forgive him and walked away like a boss. Personally it felt good to see Mei Chang Su not giving the time of the day to the emperor when he talk about family with him (technically he is his material uncle) and I needed to see the emperor regretting it even though he will still do it if he was in the same position again.
The two things in the entire drama that could have added scenes were the reveal and also the elaboration of Rankings of Lang Ya.
One major difference there was between the novel and the drama was how was Mei Chang Su real identity (which was Xiao Shu) was known to Jing Yan. In the drama, it was when Xia Jiang confronted Mei Chang Su in front of the Emperor and Jing Yan. After which Jing Yan had a look of disbelief which verified that he did not know about it in which the Emperor then believe that Mei Chang Su is not Xiao Shu. It was only after that entire interrogation and when Jing Yan went to his mother’s palace that he broke down. He was upset that everyone knew and did not tell him about it and he also blame himself for not recognising that Mei Chang Su is Xiao Shu (great acting by Wang Kai as he express his grief so well).
However in the book, Jing Yan only knew it when Yan Que (Marquise Yan) mention that when he and General Lin was roaming Jiang Hu they both took up fake names so that no one will know their true identities. Upon probing, Yan Que made fun of the late General Lin as he pointed a tree and name himself after it thus becoming “Mei Shi Nan”. Recalling an incident where both his mother and Mei Chang Shu mention that they knew one another as Mei Chang Su’s father saved Jin Yan’s mother and both of them confirm the name, Jing Yan then ignored his guests and race over to Mei Chang Su but he stopped on the way there saying that since Xiao Shu does’t want him to know he will then not disclose that he knew.
Both reveals are actually not bad in terms of how the story flows but I felt that the book was actually better as it does provide indication that Jing Yan is very observant and actually find it out for himself instead of having someone saying it out. It also covers one more area which should be included in the drama. The part where Mei Chang Su finally realise that Jing Yan knows that he is Xiao Shu. This was totally removed in the drama reveal, since both of them were there when his identity of Xiao Shu was mentioned. In the novel however, when both of them was in a discussion with two other officials, Mei Chang Su absent-mindedly picked up a snack that he is allergic to and just as he was about to put it in his mouth, Jing Yan, who was watching him, quickly ran over to him and reach out to knocked it out of his hand. Everyone present was shocked and Jing Yan’s excuse was that the snack has been left out for a long time and has spoilt but Mei Chang Su knew that Jing Yan knew his true identity.
Another thing that could be better was the elaboration of Rankings of Lang Ya. The English title of the book and drama is Nirvana in Fire but the Chinese title is Lang Ya Bang, which direct translation is the Rankings of Lang Ya. I felt that the entire 54 episodes, the drama mentioned it so many times but I was disappointed that it did not elaborate how it come about.
The drama mention that Lang Ya Hall is in the business of answering questions and how does the process works. There is no question they cannot answer, it is the matter of if the person who pose the question can afford to pay for the answer. Thus when the then crown prince and Jing Huan went to ask the question of how to attain the throne, the answer was to enlist the help of Mei Chang Su.
On a yearly basis, Lang Ya Hall will do a service to the entire Jiang Hu by disclosing lists of top tens, its like a give back to Jiang Hu after earning their money. It’s like the modern day top ten lists from Forbes.
- Top 10 beauties (must be single) : [Novel] Yun Piao Meng (Was ranked since she was 18 years old to almost 30 years old, One sided love of Jing Rui, who then married Wei Zheng on that year of the story started)
- Top 10 gentlemen (must be single) : [Novel] Rank 1 – Mei Chang Su; Rank 2 – Xiao Jing Rui; Rank 10 – Yan Yu Jin (he was only ranked at no. 10 on the year the story started)
- Top 10 ranks of people with high levels of Martial Arts : [Novel] Rank 2 – Meng Zi; [Drama] Rank 4 Zhou Ding Feng (one of Jing Rui’s father); If I am not wrong, Ni Huang is the only female that is ranked inside but I am not sure of her actual rank
- Top 10 richest and most powerful : [Drama] Rank 7 – King of Medicine Su Tian Su (adopted father of Wei Zheng)
- Top 10 pugilists sect : [Novel] Jiang Zuo Alliance which was lead by Mei Chang Su has been ranked no. 1 for numerous years
Of these 5 lists, people tend to focus on the list of beauties and best martial arts and no one really bothered about the gentlemen list at all. [Novel] Yan Yu Jin was upset because its his first time being ranked and Xie Bi poked fun of him saying that most probably the next year he will be dropped off the list.
The list is consolidated by Lang Ya Hall’s masters and it only covers people that they seen or skills that they have witness. This meant that if there is someone with very high martial arts that were practised but he or she never showed the skills off or participated in a competition then they will not be included at all.
Having this up will help educate the audience what is it all the ranking of Lang Ya about since it is referred so many times in the drama… It is even the title of the show for goodness sake! I had to briefly explain to those who watched it upon my recommendation.
Both the drama and the book is fantastic! This is one of the best novel adaptation I have ever seen. Usually the adaptation will not be able to grasp the intensity or the flow of the storyline as well as the novel but for Nirvana in Fire is it different. Both of it is equally great! I was not disappointed when I read the novel or watch the drama.
A major plus point was that every single scene is tastefully decorated. The scenery and landscape are perfectly shot like we are watching a movie and every single frame, the camera was place in the perfect place to showcase the story and characters. The glamour and grandness of the set was not in your face but you can tell how grand it was. I also like the polished look of the entire show as it does not have much noises in the picture (not sure how to describe it but I am sure there is a technical term for it). The colours used are all muted as in they are not striking for you to focus on them instead of the actors but they are very detailed if one where to pay attention to it.
If you have only time to read one novel and watch one drama this year. This is the best drama and novel to pick up. I put my kdrama watching on hold to watch the entire 54 episodes and it is worth it.