Nirvana in Fire

nirvana-in-fire1-bannerSomewhere I saw this referred to as the Chinese Game of Thrones, which startled me because if anything I see it as the opposite of Game of Thrones—that is, the rape-infested, amoral violence that made me drop the first novel halfway in has only the violence of war in common with this 54 episode masterpiece, which sucked me in so hard I was skipping sleep in order to keep watching.

I think of the tone closer to Noblebright, a type of outlook that the Chinese made popular a couple thousand years ago.

Though I think Martin is a terrific writer, it seemed to me with Game of Thrones (as far as I got), he set out to give the readership all the sex and violence he could possibly stuff into one story, with scant attention to a sense of history or cultural interplay, or the loyalty and tenderness, sorrow and laughter, the tension of moral struggle and the torqueing distortion of power that ensnared me in Nirvana in Fire. The awareness of the distortion of power.

On the surface Nirvana in Fire is about revenge, but that’s far too simplistic. It’s about justice. I suspect, especially these days, if Hollywood had made this story, they would probably have climaxed it when the Big Bad was taken down, and ended with the heroes trotting off for celebratory whoopie.

Don’t think the final sequence taking down the Big Bad isn’t nail-bitingly intense, because it most definitely is, but the true climax is even more powerful—everyone, especially our hero, risking absolutely everything to gain justice for people not just killed but whose reputations had been destroyed thirteen years ago.

lin-shu

And those who did the deed—who begin the story arc wielding imperial power—don’t cynically shrug off the past. They will do anything to keep their secrets, which—one picks up through the subtleties of phenomenal acting, because the subtitles are at best adequate—haunt them.

It’s tense, passionate, romantic, full of great battle and ninja action as well as complicated political gamesmanship and quiet, tender moments. It’s funny, tragic, more tense, and always, always visually stunning.

And here’s the thing. The female actors don’t have to strip in order to convey sexual politics or relations. And we don’t have to see graphic torture scenes for those dungeon scenes to be breathtakingly intense.

First off, I have to warn you to take anything I say with a couple trainloads of salt, because I don’t speak Chinese, I’ve only read a handful of Chinese novels translated into English, and while I’ve read some Chinese history, the emphasis is on the ‘some’—a tiny fraction of the hundreds of books I’ve read over sixty years about European history.

queens

China has such a long, fascinating, complicated history, which furnishes an equally long-view historical outlook that we just don’t find much of in the USA.  When I compare this to those bits of early episodes of Game of Thrones that I saw, with the generic faux-medieval design and actors who seemed uncomfortable in their tunics and gowns, while I understand there was some fudging-for-modern-audience about the design of Nirvana in Fire, the characters wear the clothes naturally, their interpersonal customs flow naturally, even when rigidly constrained into ritual. Everything feels authentic, to the tiny steps mandated in court to the way men and women played their fans, and held aside their sleeves when pouring tea.

But that’s window dressing. What compelled me was the paradigm. Reputation is important—and not just to the good guys—especially family reputation, for it lasts beyond death. Friendship is important. Loyalty is vitally important. There are some things worth dying for.

better-general-meng

The series apparently comes out of the wuxia tradition— the word “wuxia” being a compound composed of the elements wu (lit. “martial”, “military”, or “armed”) and xia (lit. “honourable”, “chivalrous”, or “hero”). And this genre of story has been popular for at least two thousand years; Chinese literary tradition mentions a critic making fun of wuxia back in the third century B.C.

When comics and film came along, wuxia spread into those media, and flourished. During my lifetime, the USA has  important tons of low-budget Chinese martial arts films, most of which more or less fall under the wuxia umbrella. On the plus side, these include badass female warriors who whirl through the air like balletic chainsaws, gracefully wielding as much power as the males—though female non-warriors still represent the traditional submissive female, whose power is covertly expressed.

This seeming contradiction isn’t contradictory to the Chinese, who have grown up with the jianghu tradition, which runs parallel to wuxia in a way I would love to understand better, but it seems even older. My still-tentative take is that the jianghu world is the world of the outsider, always fascinating to a complicated, repressive cultural order.

The jianghu world exists amorphously within the rest of China, in some stories with actual lands (formidably defended by martial artists, as in this story), and in others existing as a type of roaming martial art outsider. They paid no attention to the various governments, and dealt with high and low without any distinction, except maybe a preference for the latter, which made them popular, especially when they adhered to a code of honor.  In most English translations, jianghu seems to be rendered into the somewhat quaint ‘pugilist’ as in Pugilistic World.

mei-changsu

So Nirvana in Fire is set in the 600s, during the time of the Wei and Liang dynasties, in the north and south respectively. It will help you get into the story to know that the pugilistic world when this story occurs is represented by the Jiang Zuo Alliance, with its headquarters high in an amazing place called Langya Hall, which was the Google of the 600s.

People can climb the billion steps to ask any question by putting a slip of paper in any of a number of boxes in a wall, and within a period of time get an answer, while overhead pigeons are constantly bringing messages from all over the world, keeping otherwise isolated Langya Hall up to the minute on all world happenings, great and small. We only see the data archive for a few seconds, but it is mind-bogglingly awesome.

The series opens with a gigantic battle, Chinese against Chinese—we will find out that these are in fact the Chiyan warriors, loyal defenders of Da Liang, attacked by their own people because of politics at the top levels. After some gruesome fighting we see General Lin Xie holding his son, Lin Shu, by the hand—then telling him to survive before he drops him into the abyss . . .

nightmare

And Lin Shu wakes up. We know that this is memory as we get our first kind-of peek at him, his hair hanging down, and nothing but stark reddish eyes peering out.

Here’s the thing. That first episode moves fast in getting the story going—judging by how much the characters say, and how little gets subtitled, there is probably a lot that falls between the cracks. The new viewer has no idea who a lot of these people are, especially as their names change a lot.

We briefly meet Lin Chen, the master of Langya Hall while he practices his sword drill high on a very narrow mountain top. He is a doctor and sword-master as well as head honcho to the data collection, having taken in our hero, Mei Changsu, chief of the Jiang Zuo Alliance—and in secret, Lin Shu, now son of the “traitor” General Lin Zie.  (And Lin Chen, wisecracking badass, nearly steals the show in the last five episodes.)

emperor

But we’re still back in episode one.

Specifically the foreshadowings: early on the emperor is strolling along in his palace with his head eunuch, and he chuckles over the latest crypic message from Langya Hall that He who possesses the Divine Talent possesses the world. The emperor is comfortably amused, and the first-time viewer lets this slip by while trying to memorize yet another pair of characters . . . but on the second viewing those words actually made the hairs stand up on my arms.

Well, the emperor’s two eldest living sons are taking those words very seriously indeed as they battle for power in the imperial court. A Divine Talent is nothing more or less than a super-powered military strategist and an elder statesman rolled up in one, an eminence grise, or Richelieu, to those who know Western history.

nirvana-in-fire-prince-yu1

The Crown Prince and Prince Yu, have been struggling against each other for precedence in court. The Crown Prince is the heir, but that could change, and Prince Yu intends to achieve just that. After his brother sends an assassin right into his private hall in an attempt to take him out, he decides to go himself to Langya Hall to invite Mei Changsu, the Divine Talent, to the capital and thus secure him.

We learn in this brief fight that Prince Yu, while no ninja, has iron control as well as enough training to avoid the blade, though he takes a bad slice to one hand. When he gets to Langya Hall, he’s given a silk pouch that contains an answer that he is not to read until he gets home—which he does.

The Crown Prince receives the exact same message at the same time, and starts conniving with the powerful and sinister Marquis Xie.

While these two are making their plans, Mei Changsu is already arriving at the capital, as guest of the blithe, cheerful Jingrui, whose father is the Marquis Xie. That’s right—the same powerful, sinister eminence grise behind the Crown Prince.

mei-and-jing

Two important things happen before they arrive at the Xie manor: one, they meet Princess Mu Nihuang of Yunnan outside the gates. She attacks Jingrui and his buddy Yan Yujin, and defeats both, but compliments them on their learning. She wants to know who is inside the closed carriage with them, and they explain that it’s a sick friend coming to town to recover. She glances curiously, but inside, Mei Changsu/ Lin Shu listens with an expression of yearning, and we wonder if he and this gorgeous fighting princess have a history. Oh, boy, do they have a history.

The second thing is, Mei Changsu asks the boys to introduce him as Su Zhe, a sickly traveling scholar. Because the thing is, Lin Shu, you will find out, in recovering from that terrible fall off the cliff, survived because of a deadly poison that not only changed his looks, but is slowly but surely killing him. He’s unable to defend himself—some days he can barely walk. The actor playing him does an astonishing job conveying this weakness with the utmost gravitas—then unleashing verbal fury and passion that is again quickly hidden. (One of the remarkable bits is how everyone, including Mei Changsu’s deadly enemies, make certain that he gets warm blankets.)

feilui

He is not without resources (besides all the pigeons constantly bringing him messages): most notably, Fei Liu, the young teenage boy who seldom speaks, but who is the toughest martial artist on site . . . except for honest, straightforward General Meng, head of the Imperial Guards, who is the strongest warrior. Oh yes, and Langya Hall keeps a list of who’s who in the martial arts world.

Okay, so we’re still in episode one and Mei Changsu now has three, count them three, identities: Lin Shu, the blithe warrior youth friend of the dead and disgraced Prince Qi (and that story gets explicated with maximum drama), nephew of the emperor; Mei Changsu, powerful chief of the pugilist world Jiang Zuo Alliance; and Su Zhe, sick scholar and guest of Jingrui. He is sometimes also referred to as Xiao Shu, which appears to be a kind of honorary title, as Xiao is the royal dynasty’s name. [EDITED TO ADD: correction to this assumption below in the awesome comments]

nihuang

And within a day or so, he is already embroiled in high politics when the emperor hosts a martial arts tournament in order to find a suitor for Princess Nihuang. Prince Yu wants to annex him, the Crown Prince (and Marquis Xie) want to kill him, and Mei Changsu/Su Zhe navigates successfully between them all as he zeroes in on his real target, the true-hearted, unregarded Prince Jing.

prince-jing-2015-new-tv-play-lang-ya-bang-nirvana-in-fire-male-court-officer-sword

Who hates court connivers, and doesn’t trust this so-called Divine Talent. Watching the evolving relationship between these two (especially as Prince Jing starts to suspect the real identity of his advisor) is one of the most compelling pleasures of the series.

At this point the story really takes off. If I started describing some of the amazing, stunning, visual treats and dramatical heart-grabbers, this already long post would stretch out into chapters. Just believe me that the tension builds, and builds, and when you think it can’t get any more tense and amazing, it does.

What I suggest for Western viewers is to just watch the first four or five episodes, and pick up the general flow and names. Then watch them again, because you’ll pick up a whole lot more. In fact, as I went through the entire series, I sometimes came back and watched that first episode yet again, until I discovered that every single line and image lays down important tracks.

It’s become a huge phenomenon in the Asian world—and is spreading rapidly in both directions from there.

Until it reaches the USA market in a professional form, you can find it at Viki.com here:

And at YouTube, Here: 

I do recommend the German subtitles at Viki.com if you can read German—they are better than the English (definitely better grammar and spelling), but the English are okay. Watch the characters, and you can sift out plenty of meanings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith's website and Book View Cafe ebooks.
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48 Responses to Nirvana in Fire

  1. V. O'Neill says:

    Curious, I looked up the author who wrote the book, Hai Yan, and found an article with an interview. He says he writes bleak, hopeless books. That doesn’t sound like Noblebright!

  2. Pilgrimsoul says:

    Wow! This sounds fascinating. I’ll look for it.

  3. There are DVD sets from Malaysia that have English subtitles. Based on Japanese movies that I’ve gotten before, the subtitles are probably not very good but understandable. You would need an all-regions DVD player though.

  4. egelantier says:

    (i love your write-up and i’m so happy you’ve watched this! this is such an essentially your show).

    just several nitpicks:
    – lin chen is unrelated to mei changsu in a family way (he and his dad just picked him up in meilin, and i think his father was mcs’ father’s friend), and langya hall (led by lin chen) and jiangzuo alliance (led by mcs) are affiliated but not the same. jiangzuo is one of the strongest sects in jianghu, but not the only one; langya hall is an independent, sort of auditor-like entity.
    – xiao-shu is a nickname for ls, not a honorary royal title (I KNOW, the names on this show!): it literally means “little shu”. it’s how jingyan used to call him when he was a kid, and how grandma empress calls him.

    • Thank you for the corrections!

      • egelantier says:

        when i was rewatching, i was STUNNED by how much stuff is already packed into the first episode (and how much of it goes directly over poor watcher’s head). like that mcs casually overturned the succession in the neighbor country as a proof of concept trial run; or that it’s ninja the youngest ferrying the old witness couple across jiangzuo waters; even li gang shows up for a bit, to disappear until the assassination scene mid-series! this is really the show that should be watched twice.

        (honestly, i’m not above the third rewatch, too -_-)

  5. mango says:

    This drama is indeed a masterpiece! Thank you for this Great review! But Lin Chen and Lin Shu are not cousins, Lin Shu was borned from a noble family while Lin Chen comes from jianghu. Their last names are similar in pronunciation but different in Chinese character. Their fathers were lifelong friends, that’s why Lin Chen’ father, the old master of Langya Hall, saved Lin Shu who then became close friends with Lin Chen. And “Xiao” of “Xiao Shu” is not the same character as “Xiao” the royal family’s name either. The former meaning “little”, “young” , which is just a term of endearment, just like Lin Chen often calls Fei Liu “Xiao Fei Liu”.

  6. Foxessa says:

    “… except back in my day, no one offered Chinese classes.”

    California institutions did. El V deliberately chose to take Cantonese instead of Mandarin Chinese classes when at UCSD because, as a musician, he wanted to dig into a tonal language up close and personal.

  7. Cat Kimbriel says:

    This sounds as fascinating and crazed as a Russian novel. I remember having lists so I knew how many names people had, until I got the hang of it. No TV or Internet right now, but I can tell I will look for this! Thank you for sharing–

  8. Joyce says:

    Regarding the author, HER name is ?? (Hai Yan). She is often confused with ??(Hai Yan) by English speaking ppl due to their name being the same when romanized using pinyin, the more famous drama writer who wrote all the rather bleak stories (generally related to drug abuse and consequences).

    • Yep–that’s a mistake I made, too. There is so very little in English about the author and the book! I am grateful for the fantastic data provided by a commenter below.

  9. Sen H. H. S. says:

    Oh man, Mandarin Chinese is my mother-tongue, and I watched this after I moved back to Taiwan, while it was on TV for a third round of rebroadcast. (Well, for the first couple of weeks, then I caught the fever and watched all of the rest in a week from online sources…) Given the wealth of information I have accessible in Chinese, my raving comment about this show is probably going to be an essay. Plus, a study of NIF is a great way to gain insight on both popular literature and popular TV in East Asia, as well as into modern Wuxia literature.

    This was a fairly personal show for me, as my legal name shares the same surname as the royal family (not unusually, it’s among the top hundred most common), and my father also has a lot of brothers…just like in the show. Some of them even share a part of their names! And to make matters worse, my mother’s surname also appears phonetically! I tried not to get too distracted, but sometimes it became too unbearably funny. (“Dad, someone just tried to mess you up!” “Mom, why is uncle betraying us?”) I know my father loved the show, but felt a little embarrassed about the only emperor in Chinese history ever to share our surname being dragged through the mud. Otherwise, we like to think of most of the coincidences as an honor.

    Some behind the scene trivia I think people would like to know (Spoilers below!):
    1. Nirvana in Fire originated as an online web serial story, published in chapters on a blog-like platform. At its conclusion, about all but the last few chapters were available for free, with the rest behind a paywall. This is not an unusual route for novels to start out nowadays in the Chinese pop lit sphere, and web novels have been a regular part of Chinese literature for decades now, starting at first with forums and personal blogs. Works of high quality/reputation such as Nirvana in Fire are then presented to or picked up by traditional publishers, and then the rights are sold to the studios for production. This is also not restricted to wu-xia genre. Currently, the print version of NIF is available in both simplified and traditional Chinese, and also Korean (that I know of).
    2. Because of its origins as a web serial casting of the TV show actually involved input from the fans. The author herself (Hai-Yan is female) acted as the screenwriter, deciding what elements should be kept. Many of the minor cast members also worked as directors, martial arts instructors, props manager, etc during the project, which is a norm in China’s TV industry.
    3. It’s common for dramas to undergo dubbing in China. Usually, in the west, this is used to improve sound quality and clarity. In China, it is done more for acting purposes, such as assigning a more suitable voice. Sometimes this necessitates the need of a separate voice actor. Thus, behind the scenes clips can be jarring at first.
    4. NIF is popular for several reason, such as an eagerly waiting fanbase and a dream cast, but like TV series that star two male characters as their focus, part of what drives the popularity is the massive amounts of SHIPPING! *rainbow hands*
    As shipping is never demeaned nor demeaning in East Asia, the promotion team were entirely too eager to fuel this fire.
    5. It’s not unusual for people to watch the series twice or more. In fact, many watchers in both China and Taiwan found it difficult to follow along at first. This is also why there have been so many rebroadcasts, as there is a constant demand.
    6. A sequel is currently in production, but as there is no story left to base it off of, we have no idea what it’s going to be about. Fan expectations are high.

    I would say, the TV series, though it has been perhaps the best and most popular historical wu-xia work in the recent decade, it isn’t without flaws. I personally had three major grips:
    First, too many of what happens in the story can be attributed to “Mei Chang-Su planned for this”, so watching became a waiting game for the reveal of how, rather than both how and who.
    Second, because they were eager to cover the entire series, and also had to cut several side plots, notable and actually threatening antagonists were dispatched off too early, leaving the climax with the Emperor….unsatisfying. I was also rather disappointed that the catalyst of the entire story (the conquest and absorption of the matriarchal Hua tribe) did not become a major player.
    Third, the protagonists, outside of looming threats, never actually suffered a loss that would have challenged them. This last point, however, is very likely a culture-based complaint, as I’ve consumed more western media at this point than eastern. It’s tradition for protagonists in wu-xia stories to have at the very least a bittersweet ending. Plus most protagonists are usually pretty young (late tens to early thirties, unless you are not human), so writers and audiences usually prefer a more optimistic outcome, which is the case in NIF. That Mei Chang-Su does not have a lot of years left and dedicated it to restoring justice and revenge IS actually bleak by Chinese standards. If one of his allies truly died, the fandom might not be able to stomach it and complained that if they wanted to be punched in the gut, they would have went and watched GOT.

    • Thank you so very much for this terrific info and discussion!

      I agree about some of the . . . I don’t want to say flaws, as perhaps that is too strong a word for so terrific a work. But there were times when I thought that Mei Changsu’s bird info network was a tad too powerful–on the other hand it was rarely, and set up the next sequence nicely. Like, he knew all about Baili Qi the suitor? Really? But then I thought, this is setting up just how long range his planning is. And it has to be to in effect take down an emperor without raising a weapon.

      Shipping! Yes! Oh my, the shipping in every direction!!!

      I thought the ending was just the right amount of bittersweet and hopeful. Otherwise, yes, too bleak and I would have felt cheated. Though I would have liked to see for certain that Fei Liu was content with Lin Chen, etc. (And I really, really would have liked the Hua to be presented as more complex and less evil.) But these are small things–and I want to see it again,, to pick up all the bits I’m still missing. It’s so difficult with subtitles, though I am grateful to the teams of volunteers who worked to put those on. It has to have been a monumental job.

      • egelantier says:

        i thought hua was dealt with fairly sympathetically, as it is? they have a conflicting agenda, but they’re not mustache-twirling evil: they want to restore their kingdom and/or have revenge, and it continues with the theme of the emperor creating enemies out of his allies via paranoia and preemptive betrayal. (plus the implied tragedy of prince yu’s birth mother, who was either unfairly seduced or raped, and whom the narrative clearly sympathizes with). there’s even this scene with gong yu in the end where it’s pointedly added that it’s a political conflict but not a personal or ethnic one; not all hua people are taken as evil by default.

        • Yeah, but our main spokesperson was Banruo, and when the Hua were rooted out, it was presented as a triumph. It could be there is more finesse in the actual dialogue. This was one of the frustrations (for me) of the limitations of the subs.

      • Sen H. H. S. says:

        The entire Fei Liu-Lin Chen interaction is rather…well, particular, and ties a bit into Fei Liu’s backstory. Fei Liu was a surviving member of a group of super child soldiers created by a secret society. When that society broke apart, he became a wanderer and was picked up by Mei Chang-Su. As he was probably rather sick from exposure and starvation, Mei Chan-Su took him to Lin Chen, the best doctor available at the time.

        Now, Lin Chen has this slight… problem. Being the son of a very powerful figure in the Jianghu sphere has made him a bit of a spoiled brat. Whenever he is consumed with boredom, he’ll take it out on someone via teasing, usually by putting them through something humiliating or scary. Fei-Liu became one of his favorite “victim” while they were at Langyage. Understandably, Fei-Liu became a little traumatized by the experience. So while he does recognize that Lin Chen is a good person at heart and a valued friend of Mei Chang-Su, he definitely keeps his distance and begrudgingly interacts with him, and runs like the wind when he sees Lin Chen bored out of his mind again.

        Not that running away actually helps, because Lin Chen is just as entertained chasing Fei Liu across the roof tops…

        Fansubbers are definitely the heroes of promoting this work outside of the Sinosphere. Enjoy the second watch-through! It definitely becomes different when the relationships and schemes are clearer.

        • Thank you for this! Oh yes, now it will become different, but makes me want to know even more what happened to Fei Liu. His determined “Su-gege not sick” broke my heart.

          Another resolution I wish we could have seen was between Jing and Lin Shu after Jing finally knew who he was. Especially after that traumatic scene with his mother. We get a little bit when Jing brings the pearl, and accuses his old friend of giving him Mei Chang-Su instead of Lin Shu, but there seems to be something missing, at least for a western audience. I couldn’t understand MCS’s odd teasing when he took the pearl at all. I wish the subtitles had been better. There is a lot said that isn’t translated.

          • Sen H. H. S. says:

            Hm… I went back and watched it really quickly, the scene between Prince Jing and his mother was episode 49 and the pearl scene seems to be ep 52. Yes, there’s isn’t anything more dramatic post 49, probably because they meant for that scene to be the pinnacle. Jing’s had plenty of clues and moments of deja vu that he should have figure out long ago who MCS was, but had always pushed them aside. Considering that this is his best friend who might as well be a brother to him, that he desperately wanted to be alive with to begin with, he’s completely guilt-ridden over the fact that he, of all people, was the last to discover who MCS actually is. Hence the breakdown.

            He does also question why he wasn’t told, which his mother explains: if he had known MCS was Lin Shu, he would have been overprotective of him, and it would be impossible for any of the schemes to have worked, as some of it does require MCS to put himself in danger. MCS himself also said it at some point waaaaaay back in the series. And almost everyone unanimously agreed to this and thus kept the charade up.

            It’s like everyone agreed that Prince Jing would be overprotective of Lin Shu, even more than Ni Huang. At this point, it was dramatic enough that they decided to wind things down and give the side characters a moment to shine. So Jing gets boggled down with work, and MCS becomes bedridden.

            After that, here’s the list of important plot points covered in what is basically one long afternoon of conversations, spanning ep 51 and 52:
            1. When the two finally are able to meet, MCS explains why if the treason conviction was cleared, it wouldn’t be proper for him to return to being Lin Shu. To summarize, MCS explained that as MCS, he’s built a reputation of being a ruthless strategist who is underhanded. Given that overturning the conviction would essentially mark the beginning of Prince Jing’s rise to the throne, and a new regime that is supposedly free of such devious deeds, MCS sticking around would tarnish that otherwise perfect (at least on the surface) reputation.

            2. From the same scene, MCS also said that he has been associated with every major political upheaval since he moved into town, which in itself is unbelievable. Revealing that he is actually also Lin Shu would make things even more ridiculous. And from a historic point of view, disbelief invite speculation, and speculation produce uncertainty. If overturning the treason charges may be contended historically because of this uncertainty, then they would have failed at their original goal of completely restoring the innocence of those that died. Of course, MCS is being a perfectionist on this, but that’s kind of how he operates.

            3. Now in ep 52, MCS requests that Jing invite him to the feast where the showdown will happen. Jing is more upset about him still being MCS when in private.
            MCS wearily calls Jing by his name, and not “your highness”. (And in that awkward silence, the shippers squeed!)

            4. Another break, same conversation: Jing asks if MCS intends to move out of town once he’s place on the throne is secure. MCS says it’s about time to let him take a break for a year or two, or three. Jing of course suspects his health. They banter over it, alluding to the past when LS can wipe Jing completely during spars.

            5. Jing and MCS discuss Ting Shen’s future and though the kid can never be named an heir as he was born into disgrace, he can still be adopted and titled as prince and serve in court. (Ting Shen is one of the three boys rescued from the palace that held those disgraced from their royal or noble stations. He is the surviving son of the eldest prince, and technically would have be second in place for the throne once his father’s name has been cleared.)

            5. The pearl. The last conversation they ever had before Lin Shu “died” was him challenging Jing to bring back a pearl as big as a pigeon’s egg from Dong Hai, where Jing was being dispatched to. That was twelve years ago. Jing kept his promise, and then kept the pearl after ALL. THIS. TIME.
            MCS plays it cool, says that it’s was something Jing owed him anyway. Jing himself is confused and exasperated by the lack of gratitude.

            So…all in all, nothing emotional, or dramatic at all. But the scene right after with Lin Chen reveals why: MCS’s health has already passed the breaking point. He’s been living through sheer will just to see his plan through. Once that wish is fulfilled, he won’t have long to live. He’s intentionally distancing himself so that his death would have as little impact as possible on his friends. And as much as Lin Chen is a miracle worker, he still has no guarantee how long he can keep MCS alive for.

            Hopefully that fills in some holes of what the translations didn’t covered. The last few episodes were fairly sparse in terms of tension, so a lot of plot points might have slipped through. There’s also a lot of conversations, so it’s easy to fall asleep to.

            • Sherwood Smith says:

              Thank you so much! I watched that scene in 52 three times, and I pretty much came to the conclusions you have here translated. I could never have fallen asleep–the situations were far too intense for that!

              • Angie says:

                Another possible interpretation on the giving of pearl part is that we are given a glimpse of Lin Shu’s arrogant personality (which jingyan mentioned before) when he arrogantly take the gift without a word of thanks and just said this was what jingyan owned to him. That is why jingyan smile after that statement as that would be probably be typical LS answer.

  10. thistleingrey says:

    Ah, using German subtitles hadn’t occurred to me! Thanks for the idea. (I knew of the show–haven’t made time to be sucked in past the first episode yet.)

  11. Sara Stamey says:

    Sherwood, thanks for this recommendation! I clicked on your link to Viki.com, but have never used it before and can’t figure out why the screen is showing all these comments by viewers as it’s playing. Is there a way to turn that off? Another way to access the series? Looking forward to watching!

  12. Thank you, thank you for this!! For the recommendation, and for the helpful introduction. It sounded very confusing when I read it, and when I watched the first episode I was still pretty confused, but re-reading your description helped me make enough sense of everything to keep going. And then I was hooked! I’m rewatching the whole thing now. Amazing how it just keeps getting more and more intense.

    I definitely agree that I wanted the scene between MCS and Jing after he realizes who he is! I thought we were going to get it when they were both going to that party, but we didn’t even get their eyes meeting across the room! (This really is a shipping thing, isn’t it.)

    Is there anyone else who thought the last episode felt contrived? I thought things were in a pretty good place at the end of episode 53, and then—as though there were a few narrative conventions that hadn’t been fulfilled yet—suddenly episode 54 happens.

    But I’m not complaining!

    • Sherwood Smith says:

      I am so glad you discovered it! That beginning is just so very packed that one has to go back and rewatch it. And rewatching it again after seeing the entire thing lights up every single line. It’s just amazing.

      Yeah, it could have ended with 53 for me, and one more scene with MCS and Jing. But it’s still truly great.

  13. Helen says:

    I find re watching the second time was better than the first time.
    I am so happy to see many people, other than Chinese, liking this drama.

    Just want to fill in a few things about this drama.
    The story first came out on internet before published as a book (I heard it consists of 3 volumes).
    Fans of Hu Ge who played MCS had a big roll in convincing him to take up the role.
    The scares seen on MCS around his right eye are real scares. Hu Ge had a terrible car accident back in 2006.
    Fans thought that there is some parallelism between the two where both had near death experience.
    The plot where Prince Jing got mad on MCS for not saving his mother during his absence at the palace was actually suggested by the actor who played Prince Yu (Victor Huang).
    In the book, the character Fei Lui was rescued by MCS from an assassin group (ninja) from the East (Japan). Because of the dramatic and inhumane experience he had since childhood, he can not speak properly.
    Prince Jing, played by Wang Kai, had been around for quite some time (>10 years). Not until this drama and the recent drama “Disguiser”, he finally got the popularity.
    I was surprised to see the actor who plays Xia Jiang in other CN drama. He looks much younger in real life.
    The production team did a lot of research and pick a certain time in the Chinese history so that they can make references to the costumes, mannerism, rituals….etc. They hired specialists to just train actors how to greet one another at different occasions……

    Some people describe the world of Xianghu as modern day’s mafia or triads. Except there is drug/human trafficking involved. They live with their own set of rules and principles that do not conflict with the government’s laws. And by rules, they do not get involve politically.
    WuXia is a category of story that involved martial arts that take place in Xianghu.
    Stories are similar to the Robin Hood, Zeros….etc.
    There were a number of good historical dramas that were made in the 80’s base on real history. Great quick way to glance at Chinese history. However, WuXia stories are just stories, although a lot of them do make some historical references.
    I think I will re watch this drama annually.
    I have not found another drama that is better than this to watch since last year.
    The LYB 2 is in the making. The character MSC will not be there and Hu Ge had made the announcement that he would not be in it.

    • Thank you for all this information! I am sorry that Hu Ge won’t be involved at all, but I still look forward to the second one. I love Nirvana in Fire so very much–I think it’s the best television series I’ve ever seen.

  14. andi says:

    Several of the NIF co-directors also played supporting characters in NIF:
    evil Xia Jiang, two of MCS’s warrior/caretakers, and the love-struck deliveryman.
    The main actors MCS (Hu Ge), Wang Kai (Prince Jing), and Liu Tao (Nihuang)
    each sang the three title songs.

    Like so many fans, I’ve viewed NIF multiple times. Sure hope it gets noticed and picked up by Netflix and Hulu for a wider audience.

    • Oh, me too, me too!!! I would so love to see it on the screen, not the computer, and without commercials. (and with better subtitles, though I am grateful to the fans who provided what we have.)