Wisdom prevails as martial arts drama boosts genre

The series comprises a total of 36 episodes, each discreetly representing one of the 36 strategies derived from The Art of War, written by Sun Tzu.


A scene from The Ingenious One, which continues a revered tradition of Chinese martial arts genre. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

July 18, 2023

BEIJING – When veteran scriptwriter Liang Zhenhua read novelist Fang Baiyu’s best-selling franchise Qianmen (A Thousand Doors) in 2018, he was fascinated by the unconventional hero amid a world of swordsmen.

Traditionally, Chinese martial arts novels feature protagonists who possess unparalleled fighting skills. However, Fang’s franchise has shattered the traditional mold by introducing a unique character whose most formidable weapon is wisdom.

Liang got assistance from two co-writers and dedicated three years, between 2018 and 2020, to adapt the books into The Ingenious One, a popular TV series that has recently garnered a rating of 7.3 points out of 10 on the influential review aggregator Douban.

The series comprises a total of 36 episodes, each discreetly representing one of the 36 strategies derived from The Art of War, written by Sun Tzu, a prominent military theorist and strategist during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC).

Starring A-list actor Chen Xiao as Yun Xiang, the most highly regarded disciple of a mysterious sect that excels at using strategy, the series follows Yun as he embarks on a quest to investigate the truth behind a decade-old massacre that claimed the lives of all his family members. During the tumultuous journey, he forges friendships with several martial arts heroes, encounters a woman who will capture his heart for a lifetime, and ultimately foils a conspiracy that poses a grave threat to the emperor’s regime.

“I have been a passionate fan of wuxia (martial arts) tales since childhood and, during my pursuit of a doctoral degree, I delved even deeper into the study of wuxia literature”, recalls Liang.

“However, I had never been approached by television production companies to write a martial arts script before The Ingenious One. It was a dream that I had nurtured for decades, and finally, it became a reality”, he adds.

A native from Shaoyang in Hunan province, Liang, also a professor of Chinese literature at Beijing Normal University, started to write his first television series, the espionage-themed Mi Zhan (The Secret Battle), at 30 years old. With the show garnering 8 points out of a total 10 on Douban, Liang quickly rose to fame for his captivating storytelling, despite being a newcomer to the television industry at the time.

Wisdom prevails as martial arts drama boosts genre

The popular series stars actor Chen Xiao as an unconventional hero, who relies on his wisdom to face off enemies, and actress Mao Xiaotong as the protagonist’s romance interest. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Since then, Liang has divided his time between teaching college students and writing scripts. He has penned more than 20 television and online projects, including Faith Makes Great (2021), an anthology series that explores the 100-year history of the Communist Party of China, and Macao Family (2019), which portrays the development of Macao in the 20 years since its return to the motherland through the perspective of a local family.

Speaking about his research focusing on modern Chinese literature, as well as the art of movies and TV series, Liang explains that his experience in scriptwriting and participating in TV show production has greatly enhanced his ability to teach his students.

Wisdom prevails as martial arts drama boosts genre

Mao displays her combat skills. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Wisdom prevails as martial arts drama boosts genre

Yun Xiang, the hero played by actor Chen (center), is set to leave from where he was trained as a strategist to embark on an adventure. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

A seasoned scholar, who has published more than 20 books and over 60 academic papers, Liang reveals that he once immersed himself in the rich tapestry of martial arts tales. The genre, somewhat exclusive to China, boasts a host of acclaimed writers, from Li Shoumin, better known by his pen name Huanzhu Louzhu, to Wang Dulu, whose novel inspired Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Louis Cha, the late master who became a household name writing under the moniker Jin Yong.

Noting that martial arts tales written by these novelists have been adapted many times on screen, Liang analyzes that the new wuxia stories by the younger generation of writers, mostly in their 20s and collectively referred to as “Chinese mainland new wuxia novelists”, have not yet gained sufficient influence, partly leading to a decline in the popularity of the genre over the past decade.

Wisdom prevails as martial arts drama boosts genre

A poster for The Ingenious One. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Moreover, according to Liang, there is the rise of another, hybrid genre, xianxia, which combines elements of fantasy and martial arts to portray immortal heroes and celestial beings, that has also significantly affected the market share previously enjoyed by traditional martial arts tales.

“Deep within the hearts of most Chinese wuxia fans lies a vast realm of chivalrous righteousness. If The Ingenious One can prove that martial arts literature still possesses vigor and vitality, then it will justify the effort and dedication we have put into its creation,” says Liang.

A sequel to the drama, featuring the same cast of characters, has been scheduled for production and scriptwriting is currently underway.


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