Phew! I’m still not sure about how to go about the review with this one! There’s just SO much to it! This period drama is not for everyone but definitely one of my favorites and what I think is the best of the best in terms of theatrical elements. If you’re used to the light heart romantic period dramas, this is definitely NOT one of those. Nirvana in Fire is a very meaty revenge drama adapted from an existing novel; very action and story packed. Leave it to Hu Ge to be in such a high budget and thorough drama! I was never a big fan of Hu Ge’s dramas, but I really enjoy this one. All the actors did a fantastic job as all the characters are very emotional and have a difficult background they need to deal with. I love all the protagonists and the twisted relations the character share with each other. Awesome screenwriter.
Hu Ge plays Lin Shu, a man who pretty much rose from the dead. He was a part of the royal family until his father’s rival set them up. After surviving through a mass murder, he became Mei Chang Shu the leader of Jiang Hu, sort of like a mafia. I think the first and foremost surprise when I first started was the appearance of Meng Xiang (Wu Lei) from Far Away Love! In Nirvana in Fire, he plays Fei Liu, Mei Chang Shu’s autistic genius bodyguard. He beats most of the people that fight him even though he’s still a kid.
Anyway moving along, Nirvana in Fire circles around the group of princes who are vying for the royal seat to become king. Mei Chang Shu takes advantage of their greed and desires to achieve his own goals of revenge for his family and seventy thousand soldiers who were wrongly killed by the set up. He is known as the genius that could give you everything if you had him on your side which is why the crowned prince and Jing Huan keep on fighting to be his friend.
Mei Chang Shu moves into the kingdom and resides at Jing Rei’s (Cheng Hao Feng) family’s compound for a short amount of time under the alias Su Zhe. His excuse is that he is there to rest and take care of his health, but the princes find out that he is actually Mei Chang Shu and tries to befriend him. In the kingdom, he comes across Ni Huang, his childhood friend as well as his arranged wife before his family was betrayed. I really like the dynamic between them even after twelve years. Ni Huang instinctively has a feeling that Su Zhe is her supposed dead fiance and meets him often, trying to confirm his identity. I loved the scene when she confronts him about him being Lin Shu and states that the more he hid his identity, the more she was able to tell. Shu Zhe’s silence admits it as he realizes nothing he says could make her think otherwise.
Aside from Ni Huang, Prince Jing Yan (Wang Kai) meets Shu Zhe but does not make the connection between him and Lin Shu. Jing Yan and Lin Shu were best friends in the past. Over the past twelve years, Jing Yan is constantly in turmoil over the death of so many people and the news that it was Lin Shu’s family that betrayed them. He is someone who sticks to his principals and never wavers even if it gets him more benefits. His stubbornness and bluntness is scorned by many of his older brothers and he is scarcely rewarded by his father, the king. Jing Yan’s mother, Consort Jing (Liu Min Tao) is a low ranked concubine and also often looked down upon by the harem. Although the other princes are vying for the help of Mei Chang Shu, he chooses Jing Yan, his best friend. Jing Yan never thought of having the royal throne and is really confused by Shu Zhe’s decision but nevertheless follows. I’m still waiting for Jing Yan to do some fighting! He’s supposed to be extremely good at kung fu and battle since he’s out of the kingdom most of the time managing the army and fighting on the frontier.
Throughout the drama you just really want Jing Yan to realize Shu Zhe is Lin Shu. I keep waiting for that moment when Jing Yan realizes. Him and Ni Huang are the people closest to Lin Shu that was still alive and the two people that are most troubled by his supposed death and the reasons. I’ve seen Wang Kai act before in Love me if You Dare and never thought much of him, but after watching him as Jing Yan, he’s slowly becoming one of my favorites. Jing Yan is a rigid character with few expressions but Wang Kai is able to input so much emotion to such a character. I absolutely love all the parts with Jing Yan in it. ❤
Another character that I really want to cover is Jing Huan AKA Prince Yu. He seems harmless enough and a pretty decent prince especially compared to the incompetent, corrupted crowned prince. But despite his appearances he’s the scariest kind of people. He does things that makes you think he’s a good person and that he really cares but in reality he’s just good at using people to achieve what he wants. But luckily, his feigned innocent and kindness is an open secret and the audience gets the satisfaction of seeing him continuously tricked by Su Zhe. Su Zhe helps him on certain occasions to defeat the crowned prince but it’s all an act to help Jing Yan raise in the ranks and in the king’s mind. Su Zhe gains Jing Huan’s trust, even almost more than Jing Huan’s original strategist, Ban Ruo.
Another reason why I think this is awesome drama is because of the women in here. Most of the women are really smart and straight to the point. Ni Huang isn’t some princess that gets pampered in the kingdom. She’s a badass soldier that fights on the frontlines and takes charge of the soldiers under her. Even when some of the concubines try to screw her over, instead of staying silent to keep the peace or whatever, she directly confronts the king and tells him the truth. Jing Yan’s mother, Consort Jing is very gentle but extremely smart and as well as a doctor. She doesn’t fight for the king’s affections but because of her understanding and gentleness, the king comes to her often just to relax. She is great with politics and keeping peace in the harem. Ban Ruo who is Jing Huan’s strategist is extremely smart. The mighty Prince of Yu’s glory majority comes from her work and advice.
Throughout the show, Su Zhe’s health is gradually deteriorating. Most of the people not part of his gang think it’s just a sickness that comes and goes because of the winter but those that work for him are well aware of what a bad state he’s in. Su Zhe slowly peels away the secrets from certain people in the royal family. He manages to force Jing Rui’s father and mother, Princess Zhang to uncover the truth about the past. First is the fact that Jing Rui was never their son in the first place. I felt really bad for Jing Rei. He never did anything wrong, always so kind and caring towards other people but ended up tangled in this mess because of his elders. The reason why Su Zhe put them on the spotlight was because he knew Jing Rui’s father was related to the incident twelve years ago that got seventy thousand soldiers killed and put Su Zhe in the state that he was today.
Because Jing Rui’s father was one of the crown prince’s followers, the crown prince was falling more and more out of the king’s favor. Su Zhe is smart in that he uses Prince Yu/Jing Huan’s hostility towards the crown prince to help him shoo the crown prince away. Jing Huan thinks that Su Zhe is really trying to help him but in reality Su Zhe is getting rid of the crown prince for Jing Yan’s sake. Ban Ruo seems to realize that Mei Chang Shu isn’t completely on Jing Huan’s side but can’t say much because she lost a lot of his faith.
It’s so frustrating to watch Jing Yan catch on to Su Zhe’s similarities to Lin Shu only for Su Zhe to notice and find excuses for them. Even Jing Yan’s mother who only read a book from Su Zhe knew that he was the long lost Lin Shu. They eventually meet but she promises him to keep him secret, understanding his concern for the troubles that might arise if her son knew the truth. You also find out that whatever happened in the war twelve years ago caused Lin Shu to go through a very painful and laborious process of cosmetic surgery that was the ancient version of skin grafting. This leaves invisible scars in a body that slowly breaks it down, which is why Su Zhe is so weak and getting worse. Jing Yan knows there’s something his mother and Su Zhe are hiding but they are able to keep consistency when they lie to him about their secret.
I just want them to have a tear felt reunion. The bromance is SO strong between them it’s not even funny. They even have a hidden underground passage connecting each other’s homes! The passage allows Jing Yan and Su Zhe’s meetings and partnership to be a secret to the public so no one would bother Jing Yan, such as Jing Huan.
Phew sorry for the late updates. I finished the drama. A lot of things happened but basically with the help of Su Zhe, Jing Yan manages to gain the king’s favor and rise in the ranks, infuriating Jing Huan who feels threatened. At one point Jing Yan has a dispute with Su Zhe and for once, Su Zhe lashes out. It was sort of refreshing to see and hear him yell and scold Jing Yan. He’s always been so composed so it was satisfying to see him snap. Jing Yan is sort of taken a back and listens to him.
After a series of incidents and spying around, Jing Huan learns the truth about his birth and realizes the king would never put him on the throne and that his hard work was useless. He organizes a revolt against the whole kingdom. I really liked how during this time, Su Zhe had his Jiang Hu people help and Ni Huang being the badass she is calls her troops over to help them defeat Jing Huan. Jing Huan ends up in prison and then commits suicide.
Acknowledging Jing Yan’s hard work and being the only use prince, the king makes him crowned prince. Various things happen afterwards. Jing Huan FINALLY realizes Su Zhe is his long lost best friend, Lin Shu. BUT they didn’t have the heartfelt reunion I was waiting on this entire time!! You’d think that Jing Yan would give him a giant hug and they’d cry together but NO they just sort of talk it out and go on with usual business. I was so frustrated and massively disappointed. The ending was quite sad but comprehensive and logical. You kind of know from the beginning that Su Zhe is going to die, you just hope he won’t throughout the entire drama. It’s just sad because just when you think Su Zhe and Ni Huang and Jing Yan can be like old times, Su Zhe dies in the field while helping Jing Yan take care of business. Anyway after he dies, his family’s name which was tarnished from thirteen years ago is restored by Jing Yan who becomes king. GAH I love this drama very much but am so disappointed with Jing Yan and Su Zhe’s relationship. On a side note, I’ve completely fallen in love with Wang Kai. He’s one of my new favorites, he’s just got all the feels!
So if you’re watching this with no subtitles, then I hope your Chinese is somewhat good. The dialogue is no elementary shoujo script, this is some higher level Chinese that they’re using, especially because it takes place in the context of history. There’s still some parts that I don’t understand because of my limited Chinese but nevertheless, it’s an exhilarating watch that keeps you at the edge of your chair!