Xiao Ping Zhang and Xiao Ping Jing are the talented sons of Xiao Ting Sheng, the Prince of Changlin and general of the Liang dynasty’s most powerful army. Ping Zhang is the eldest and heir of Changlin, while Ping Jing is carefree and receives teachings from the the master of Langya Hall in the jianghu.
The Changlin Manor exists, first and foremost, for the people of Da Liang. They are greatly respected and trusted by the current and past emperor and they act with high integrity and loyalty to the country. However, there are those who worry that the Changlin Manor is gaining too much power and favour, and there are those with old grudges to repay. As such, shadowy plots battle once again with righteous conduct in this sequel, as familial ties, moral values, ambition, and coming of age themes take the protagonists through a tumultuous road to finding oneself.
Cast & Credits
The story focuses on the family of the general of the Changlin Army (the army that was created in Mei Changsu's memory). Ting Sheng, the head of the family and of the army, was one of the slave boys that Mei Changsu had saved in the original, and was later adopted by Prince Xiao Jingyan. Ting Sheng's oldest son, Xiao Pingzhang, is his right hand man and the named heir, while his younger son has lived a spoiled and sheltered life (in the sense that his family lets him have a lot of freedom and not have to worry about the responsibilites of being in a military family) and spends most of his time on Langya Mountain. Both sons are supremely talented - Ping Zhang is an incredible military strategist and represents his family in court with the Emperor to navigate the political waters. Ping Jing, while young and a bit brash, has had his sharp instincts honed by his father and brother and has street smarts in spades. While very different, the two brothers are very close, and much of the first half focuses on their family's bond.
While the original story focused on one central storyline, the sequel follows the ups and downs of the Changlin family - because of this, the plot isn't as tight as the original as it is much more complex. The political stuff was a bit too much at times (and infuriating), but the reasons behind most of the conflicts were logically sound.
One of the pluses of the drama was that there was a strong focus on relationships - be it family (THE CHANGLIN FAMILY - ugh, I'm still recovering from all of the feelings), romance, friendship, the bond between a person in power and those who serve him, or the relationship between the past and future (sooo many name drops - it was kind of fun to figure out who was related to a character in the original story). The original had elements of this of course, but due to the story being about the Changlin family (who are also a military family), the emphasis on interpersonal relationships is much greater. The romance was also much better in this one than the first, in my opinion - Ping Zhang and his wife have such a great, healthy relationship and the mutual respect (and love) that they have for one another is wonderful to see. The younger couple was cute as well - and I liked the fact that while both could lead very independent lives, it was the times that they were together that made them the happiest.
Probably one of the biggest criticisms of the show is that it is centered around a boy/man who is barely 20 when the story begins - but to me, this is one of the best selling points of the shows. Perhaps younger viewers may not appreciate this, but the freshness and youthful enthusiasm of Pingjing was an absolute delight (more so because is he is played by someone who is right at that age), and watching him grow up and mature was both bittersweet and awesome. There are times where you wish he was more self-aware, but he's not a stupid character - just a very young one, and that's part of the charm. I can honestly say Pingjing is probably my favorite drama protagonist in the last...I don't even know how many years.
There's also this bittersweet satisfaction knowing that we are, in a way, watching what the 19 year old Lin Shu would have been like, because we never got see him go through that growing up process - we went straight to adulthood. It's noted by several characters that both Lin Chen and Xiao Jingyan, who were probably Lin Shu's best friends, were both incredibly fond of Ping Jing and spoiled him accordingly - in part because they are very similar in personalities, though obviously the roads they walked were very different. It's a subtle reference that I really enjoyed - they are not the same people at all, but the spirit of Lin Shu/Mei Changsu lives on through Pingjing.
I found in particular the discussion of nature vs nurture to be pretty interesting - this is a topic that is pushed pretty hard in the drama, as the debate follows multiple characters who walk on different paths. The idea of fate is also nicely interwoven in - no matter how much effort we put in, no matter what choices we make, are we always going to end up at the same destination?
(Edited after rewatch): This isn't the same story as Nirvana in Fire and if you're expecting that, you're already going to be disappointed. NiF was a story of triumph, of redemption (more so than revenge, in my opinion), mingled with bittersweet elements. Mei Chang Su set out with a specific goal in mind so he had everything planned out and the climax was when he obtained that goal at the very end of the series.
NiF2 is very different - it's more like a chronicle of the Changlin family, with a specific focus on Pingjing and the people around him. For some people, the climax of the story probably happened around episode 36, and I agree, to a certain extent. I think the point of the story isn't about the fall and redemption of the Changlin family - it's about family and bloodlines; it's about growing up and living with yourself and the choices that you make. I understand what people mean by the anticlimatic ending and the final arc (and I do agree that the writing was a bit poor towards the end), but to me, it felt right and matched everything we had learned about all the characters up to that point.
Huang Xiaoming and Liu Haoran as the two Changlin brothers exceeded expectations for me. This was also a heavily criticized decision when the production first started, because Huang Xiaoming is known as an idol actor, but like Hu Ge before him, he turned in a strong performance - if HXM doesn't overact, he has this natural warmth that comes from his real life personality and it worked so well for his big brother role. Seriously, never doubt these directors - they know what they're doing when they cast people (well, for the most part - see below for what I didn't like about the casting choices).
Pingjing was a really tricky role to play (and to cast for) and I feel like it has to be acknowledged - you're talking about a story that spans about three or four years and the character goes from a carefree, sheltered prince to a solemn, matured young general (this isn't a spoiler - it's in the synopsis). So basically your casting options would be: 1) Pick an older actor (early to mid 20s) - a la Hu Ge in The Disguiser - which...wasn't great. They would be able to handle the second half well, but you would cringe your way through the first half. If people already think (then) 19 year old LHR was a bit hard to watch acting as a 20 year old, I have no idea how they'd tolerate this.
2) Pick a younger actor (late teens, presumably) and hope that they don't look like a child pretending to be an adult when they reach the second half. In the Chinese market, there just simply aren't a lot of candidates that would fit all the criteria (age, looks, height, acting talent, public recognition, temperament, demeanor, and ability to pull off both arcs). As great as Daylight Entertainment's reputation is, they also have to have someone who has some degree of popularity as the main role. The word that is most associated with Liu Hao Ran on Chinese media is "youth" (even before NiF) - it's not his age, necessarily, but a spirit that he has in spades - and it served him so, so well in this role. He was able to rely on it to carry him through the first half, and then the natural contrast between his youthful demeanor and the burden on his shoulders really tugged at the heartstrings in the second half. I cried when he cried, I laughed when he laughed - he embodied the character perfectly for me. He's not a polished actor by any means - but he's got a good foundation and definitely grew as an actor throughout the drama. Again, he just turned 19 when he filmed this - 19!
The shining star in terms of acting though, definitely goes to Sun Chun, who plays the brothers' father. What a masterful performance by a veteran actor.The character felt 100% real and he really fleshed out every aspect of Changlin Wang - as a father, as a friend, as a brother, as a general, and as a loyal servant of the Emperor. The way he delivered his lines - oh man. If China actually did legit drama awards, he deserves one.
Sun Chun, Huang Xiaoming, and Liu Haoran also had phenomenal chemistry as father and sons which made some of the later scenes all that more emotional for me. (If you want something cute, go look at their weibo comments and posts to each other throughout the drama - it's like if the family lived in the modern age and could access social media, ha. Some of the other cast members also occasionally pitch in their opinions on where the story is at).
Squeals for Zhang Bo, who was great as the head of the Imperial Guard - I will never ever forget his performance as Sun Quan in Three Kingdoms about seven years ago and he was just as awesome in this role. He just has this natural charisma and gravitas that works so well on screen (and gets better as he ages). Why is he not more popular?! Tong Liya and Zhang Huiwen turned in decent performances as the main two female leads (though of course like the first one this is a very male-dominated cast) - Tong Liya in particular had some great scenes. I liked Zhang Huiwen's Lin Xi, but wish she was used more, particularly in the second half. Guo Jingfei probably had a blast in his role and I was torn between laughing because I knew he probably enjoyed the performance and also superbly creeped out because he turned in a very good acting performance.
I am conflicted on how i feel about Wu Haochen, who plays a pretty important role. I think his acting was solid (especially in the final arc - he was phenomenal), but somehow he just never visually fit into the part and it became distracting to a certain degree. I know that there's been a lot of comments about his appearance and I've never really been all that concerned about looks when it comes to acting, but the visual presentation took me out of his scenes more often than not. I had no issues with him in Ode to Joy, so I wonder if it's because he doesn't quite fit the "gu zhuang" look. I also just never cared about him - especially in the second half - I just wanted to see more of Pingjing - and I think that's because while Wu Haochen did a good job acting, he never made me feel anything about the character. In the original NiF, Prince Yu (played by Victor Huang) was definitely not a protagonist but I really felt for him (and part of that has to do with charismatic Victor was in the role).
If there is one criticism that I have of this production team, it's their tendency to reuse actors that they've casted in previous shows - sometimes I like it as it's kind of like spotting Easter eggs, but sometimes it can also be very trying. I wasn't fond of the casting choice of Qiao Xin (she was already in the original as the oh-so-memorable-for-bad-acting Nian Nian!!). It'd be one thing if they reused an actor with great acting talent, but Qiao Xin is definitely...not that. Also, you could have done away with her character completely and it would probably been fine - I just found all of her scenes completely unneccessary.
The cast overall (especially the veterans) weren't as phenomenal as the supporting cast in the original, but the main cast really carried the show well, so it was okay.
I love how the music is the same, yet just a tiny bit different. It brought back just the right amount of feels. The theme song has two different versions and has a much more stronger tone than Hu Ge's song in the original - probably due to the more military, war-bent nature of this one.
I took one star off because there were about ten episodes straight where I was just crying nonstop and I don't know if I can handle that again. But the emotional roller coaster is worth it, and I think I will definitely be rewatching very soon.
This is very different story than from the original Nirvana In Fire. As I mentioned previously, I think the first was a better production overall, but the second one has me invested way more in the characters, and if you don't mind a younger main character (and are interested in watching a growth arc), i think you may find the show a blast to watch.
Sequels are probably never going to live up to the original, but I love that they changed almost everything (the story, the cast) and still maintained that definite "Nirvana In Fire" vibe - it is definitely worthy of being considered a quality stand-alone show.
The story is much more different than the story of NIF1. In this drama, the theme focuses more around familial ties as well as loyalty and righteousness towards the emperor, the country, and the people in general. Overall I loved the story, although I must admit that the final few episodes were just a tiny-bit underwhelming.
I personally feel that the characters in NIF2 were much more "human" and relatable than the characters in NIF1. But the plot in NIF1 is a bit more complex since it focused more on the political aspect rather than the familial aspect. I sincerely ADORED so many of the characters. I loved Pingzhang's cautiousness and wisdom, Pingjing's playful and carefree manners, Lin Xi's calm and collected poise, Qianxue's love and understanding, Tingsheng's awesome fathering skills and loyalty to his brother and his country, oh I could go on with Xun Fei Zhan and Lin Jiu, and etc.
Plus every time they hinted at or mentioned someone from NIF1, the feels would really start to hit :')
I'm sure everyone was in doubt towards the actors when the casting was first announced. Much to my surprise, HXM did wayyyyyy better than I expected. LHR is very young (only 20 yrs old) and I think for his age, he did amazing and portrayed his character of Xiao Pingjing very well, from playful/carefree young lad to a changed/more solemn young man. I loved the female actresses too; TLY and ZHW both portrayed their characters very well. And of course, all of the supporting casts that Daylight Entertainment likes to reuse in all of their productions also acted very well.
Opening theme is a variation of the opening theme of NIF1, with a slightly more hopeful melody (as with the more happy ending than in NIF1). I love the ending theme song as well (both the female and male versions). Instrumental was good too.
There are A LOT of specific scenes that I think are very worth rewatching, such as a lot of the early wuxia-fighting scenes were wonderfully filmed. And of course, all of the deep and emotional family scenes (Tingsheng and Pingjing!) as well as the daily Xiao family shenanigans. I wouldn't rewatch the whole drama though, but there are a lot of scenes I will definitely rewatch.
Absolutely loved this show. Compared to all the sequels of movies/dramas I've ever seen in my life, this is a sequel that can almost be equal to its prequel. Both NIF1 and NIF2 are equal in my heart, and both have their pros and cons. Definitely worth giving it a shot if you've seen NIF1 and are debating or not whether to watch this!! If you haven't seen NIF1, then by all means, watch this, because this is still a very good quality drama on its own.