Friday, January 8, 2010

Shao Nian Yang Jia Jiang

Shao Nian Yang Jia Jiang (The Young Generals of the Yang Clan) is a 2006 Taiwanese Mandarin-language historical fiction drama about the Chinese Song-era warrior family of Yang, with both mainland and Taiwanese cast. As the title suggests, it focuses on romantic and martial exploits of the younger members of the family, specifically the four youngest brothers Silang, Wulang, Liulang and Qilang, as well as their relationship with their parents, General Yang Ye and Lady She Saihua.

Set in the reign of Song Taizong, when the Song empire was at war with the Khitan Liao dynasty to the north, the series opens with Yang Ye and his four sons thundering towards Yanmen, where they would achieve their first legendary victory against the series' noble antagonist Yelu Xie. I'm not sure, but this character was probably based on the actual Liao general Yelu Xiuge. He serves as the anti-hero character, while the real villain of the series is Pan Renmei, Prime Minister of the empire. Lord Pan is portrayed as a manipulative self-interested character who is happy to make concessions on national security when it comes to the Yang family. His emperor, Song Taizong, is wise and firm at times, but succumbs to Pan's conspiracy theories at other (an very inconvenient) times.

Since the writers had to take a minor historical/legendary story and stretch it out into dozens of episodes, some extended and historically questionable drama is expected. The series continues from Yanmen through two major battles, climaxing at the Golden Beach ambush, and featuring various court intrigue situations and adventures along the way. Much of it is heartwarming family drama and charming romantic comedy, with the Yang patriarch and matriarch playing the ultimate in spousal and parental dedication, and the sons and their love interests playing interesting and diverse character types. The youngest sister Bamei provides more comic relief and a steady supply of teh cyute.

Unfortunately, there are parts where the dialog drags a little. Some extra characters were a little unnecessary and awkward to fit in. The whole Tian Ling vs Cui Yinglong thing, for example, as well as Pan Ying and that WTF Liao princess at the end. And why, oh why, the ridiculous plot devices? I mean, hypnotic bells? Memory loss potion? Lost twin sisters? Furthermore, the background music was badly selected in a few scenes.

Thankfully, the series has much to offer apart from those. The opening and closing themes are a big plus. There are superb battle and martial art scenes (much emphasis on spear combat), beautiful (if not the most historically accurate) battle armor and civilian costumes, good acting from many characters (especially Weng Jiaming, Amy Chan, Li Jie and Eddie Peng), and excellent production values, camera work and cinematography. If one can block out the aforementioned shortcomings, it's a good watch.

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