- Overall 10
- Story 10
- Acting/Cast 10
- Music 10
- Rewatch Value 10
Nirvana in Fire is, to date, the only drama series out of every single drama series I have seen, whether in C-drama, J-drama or K-drama world, that has surpassed all expectation on every front, for me.
Aside from an initial round of confusion when watching your first run of the first 3-4 episodes, there is nothing further I can think of that really mars the perfection that exists for this drama read more - storywise.
And may I just say that even the initial confusion of the first 3-4 episodes which is mainly due to the large number of characters being introduced, and the fact that you are thrown literally right into the show without any prior setup of what's going on, no longer exists upon re-watching. In fact, you will actually realise and appreciate just how intricate and how detailed the writer has been because lots of foreshadowing and information actually exists within the first 3-4 episodes which would have flown by your head upon a first watch, but which makes complete sense upon re-watching.
It really gives you a sense of respect for the writer who has clearly and thoroughly thought through how her story would flow, and has been diligent in embedding subtle but key information throughout the episodes so that as the series progresses towards the mid-way mark, those individual and seemingly disparate threads then come together to form a brilliant picture which then takes your breath away.
The story appears simple - a man who survived a tragedy returns to the capital 12 years later under a new identity to re-dress the horrific wrongs committed. The execution of the story, however, is FAR from simple. Like a grandmaster, this man kick-starts things into motion which will change and transform everything, and the way he does it is simply masterful and marvellous to watch.
The pacing of this show is, neither fast nor agonisingly slow. The show takes its time to dwell on certain threads longer than others, which may come across slow and a little boring for some viewers, but patience is a virtue with this series and if you patiently keep on watching, it will become evident that the time spent on those disparate and seemingly unconnected threads will bear much fruit when things come together. You will find yourself marvelling at the level of care and craft that has gone into the storytelling, I promise you. The best analogy I can give is that of a master sculptor working with a block of wood or ice. At first, all you see is a block. Then, he starts hewing and hacking at certain parts of the block and slowly, a rather vague shape is being formed. As you keep watching the sculptor at work, seeing how he starts to focus on first this section, then that section, the vague shape becomes more discernible and you're able to get a glimpse of the art he is producing. Keep watching and observing and you will see that what was once a block is starting to be transformed into a beautiful piece of artwork and at the end of it, as he puts on the finishing touches, the little carvings here and there, you then marvel to yourself at how amazing it is that he is able to visualise and produce such an outstanding piece of work from just a block of wood or ice.
Since there isn't a section that talks about the cinematography or the sets or the camera-work, I will mention it here.
The cinematography, the scale of the sets and the camera-work is just beautiful. I was informed by friends conversant with the chinese netizen community that some of the directors for the show were art/photography directors, which explains why almost each shot being framed can be screenshotted into a piece of art in itself with its colours and its composition. This makes the show an incredibly beautiful one to watch with every frame and shot a feast for the eyes.
The costumes and the sets were apparently incredibly faithful to the time period in which the show is set, down to the bronze teapots and hand warmers. Court etiquette and forms of greeting and respect were appropriate and in-line with the time period too and apparently the actors had been rigorously trained by experts so that their carriage, their conversation and their movements all conformed accurately and naturally. A great deal of care and diligence had been put into producing the series and it shows.
The show being so large and sprawling with its cast of characters, there is insufficient time to dwell on the merits of each one of them. Suffice to say that each supporting character played their parts to perfection, nary a redundant character or scene in this series. Every conversation bears some significance or the other.
Another marvel is that, in most drama series, supporting characters, even those that pitch up for maybe just an episode or two, tend to been given short-shrift in terms of their characters or personalities. Not so here. There is hardly a one-dimensional or caricature personality here. All come across real and believably alive in this series whether they be a passing character, or an antagonist, or a protagonist.
This show is alive and full of layered, nuanced and complex characters whose motivations, goals and actions are believably real and understandable, if not sympathetic. You understand where they are coming from and why they behave the way they do as more about them gets unveiled. This is a brilliance of not only the writing, but also the acting of actors playing those characters, in being able to bring them so wonderfully alive and to come across amazingly real.
Spotlight on the main lead.
Hu Ge, playing the main protagonist of the series is simply outstanding in his subtle, layered and nuanced portrayal of his character, Lin Shu/ Mei Changsu/ Su Zhe - why does he have so many names? Please do watch to find out, and no, it is not confusing in the slightest. Powerhouse performance from Hu Ge who has to play a sickly, restrained and controlled man who, for good reasons, have to hide his true self and keep many secrets and cards close to his chest. His quiet and subtle responses to events and news which directly affect him but which he cannot allow to give him away is mesmerising to watch, and utterly heart-breaking to see.
Simply stellar stuff which I've not been able to see the equal of since.
There is not a lot of soundtrack for this series. 3 songs with vocals, and all employed sparingly but impactfully throughout the series. Most of the series is carried by brilliant moments of silence and traditional chinese instrumentals which heighten the tension where it needs to be heightened, and gives poignancy to the scenes which require poignancy. Another masterpiece in music direction as nothing detracts from the scenes but only enhances. Beautiful.
Can i just say that this show is an absolute MUST for re-watching. Not only because it is just THAT GOOD, but also because of the level of intricate detail and storytelling that goes in it. A first watch will never really allow you to fully unpack and appreciate the masterpiece that you have just seen. Scenes, conversations, camera close-ups on objects that seem inconsequential, all of these which did not make too much sense upon a first watch will make complete sense upon a re-watch, causing you to marvel even more at this show.
Seriously, if you have time to watch episode after episode of some sub-par K, C or J-drama, why not spend that time re-watching Nirvana in Fire instead?