I wish I was a fly on the wall listening in on Nirvana in Fire's writer and director having a fireside chat about a possible sequel. Although sequels often don't match the splendor of the original masterpieces, the demand was so high for Nirvana in Fire 2 that it couldn't be denied. When the original leading star Hu Ge said there was no need for him to return, which new stars will you cast? What kind of story will you craft? I would like to share my first impressions after watching the first few episodes. 

<Spoilers Alert> I have watched 4 episodes of the new series.

A sequel is not a sequel if it doesn't have links to the original story. But given the constraints, especially when you can't have the legendary character Mei Chang Su (Hu Ge), what do you do? 

1. A new future that connects to the past

The new story takes place 50 years after Mei Chang Su (alias for Lin Shu) helped his friend, the neglected Prince Jing (Wang Kai), ascend to the throne despite vicious enemies and palace intrigue. 

The new Emperor established the Changlin Army to remember his best friend Lin Shu. Changlin is 長林 in Chinese, literally meaning Forever Lin, or alternatively, Long Forest, as 林 (Lin) is the character for Forest in Chinese as it is composed of two trees.

In the original story, the Lin family, along with the Blaze Army, was destroyed by betrayal in the court. Now, another military family that leads the new Changlin Army will be challenged by a new group of ruthless villains. The Changlin Army is headed by Xiao Ting Sheng (Sun Chun), who was originally an orphan saved by Mei Changsu (Hu Ge) and Prince Jing (Wang Kai). His relationship with the current Emperor is unique. His father was Prince Qi, who was executed when he tried to defend the maligned Lin family to the previous Emperor (aka Wang Kai's father in Nirvana in Fire). The orphan was then adopted by Prince Jing, the father of the current Emperor. Therefore, the brotherly bond is deeper than just subject and sovereign. 


2. A new intrigue:

The peaceful era that has lasted half a century for Great Liang is about to be fractured and perhaps even ruined.

To make a long story short, Xiao Ting Sheng has led the Changlin Army to secure peace for Greater Liang. But new and dangerous plots are brewing and raging inside the palace. The current Emperor has poor health, and his son is young. Queen Xun is the sister of the ambitious Minister Xun. When they say words can kill, it's especially true when it comes to historical dramas when conspirators can influence critical decisions. 

These potential problems are laid out clearly in the initial episodes. I remember I was quite bewildered in the early episodes of the original series. The new one's intrigue is easier to understand, and the villains are more clearly identified at this point. 


3. A new generation of heroes

Xiao Ting Sheng is assisted by his older son Xiao Ping Zhang (Huang Xiao Ming) in commanding the military. His younger son, Xiao Ping Jing (Liu Hao Ran), has been studying under the original Langya Hall leader featured in Nirvana in Fire. The two sons are destined for two different paths. The older son has been a heroic military commander but he will fall under attacks by enemies from within. It will be up to the younger son to revenge for his family's honor. This time, Greater Liang's existence will be at stake too.

The first episode where Xiao Ping Zhang fights in a bloody battle to hold a fort was quite effective in showing him as a stoic, resolute commander. He is ferocious in the battlefields but also gentle when you later see him with his wife (Tong Li Ya). It's a Huang Xiao Ming I've never seen before, but reportedly to be pretty close to his real personality that the director has said to perfectly match Xiao Ping Zhang.


4. A new revenge

Our new hero will suffer losses and return to seek revenge to restore honor and protect the country.

In contrast to Lin Shu-Mei Chang Su's return under disguise after he had endured the deepest losses, it's still early to see how Xiao Ping Jing will go through his trials and tribulations. He is much younger than Hu Ge's character in Nirvana in Fire, but he could be compared to the younger man who would later become the returning avenger. The new story will probably detail how the rash young man will endure losses and then mature into a strong warrior. Young actor Liu Hao Ran is certainly cute to look at, and his budding romance with Li Xi (Zhang Hui Wen) looks very promising too. She is a female physician who is calm under pressure and skilled in both medical care and martial arts, I have high hopes for this couple to be the new hero and heroine. 


5. Personal losses in real life 

When it was first announced that Huang Xiao Ming was going to lead the cast, there were a lot of discussions, both for and against. Huang is almost too famous because he has been one of the top Chinese leading men for a long time. Having a well-known star sometimes takes away from the freshness of a new story. However, Huang has definitely given the needed stature and convincing portrayal to Xiao Ping Zhang, the older brother who is expected to die midway in the drama and pass the mantle to the younger brother as the new hero.

You may know about Hu Ge's car accident that killed his assistant. He suffered through many surgeries that saved his life and his right eye but left visible scars. In Nirvana in Fire, his role of a battered hero who survived death to come back for revenge evoked strong emotional reactions from the viewers because of his personal losses. Huang Xiao Ming also experienced a severe injury. In 2012, he fell from a great height while filming a martial arts scene. His fractured foot took months to recover and he reportedly lost the opportunity to star in the original Nirvana in Fire. Although this accident can't compare to Hu Ge's, Huang Xiao Ming could have become permanently disabled.


6. A different theme for a different time

There is an old Chinese saying: "In trouble you learn who your true friends are, and in chaotic times you'll see real heroes emerge." One overriding theme in Nirvana in Fire was the brotherly bond and lasting friendship between Hu Ge and Wang Kai's characters, even though He Ge was presumed dead and Wang Kai did not recognized him during much of the drama. It was all the more touching when Wang Kai finally discovered Mei Chang Su was really Lin Shu.

With Nirvana in Fire 2, there is an emphasis on how a young person will overcome severe losses and emerge to fight as a warrior hero.

The new series is downsized in scale and complexity from the original, but it still looks grand and compelling compared to other Chinese dramas. Although I won't expect Nirvana in Fire 2 to match the magnificence of the original, I do think it will be a powerful story in its own right. 

So far I'm enjoying the new drama. I like that it's a traditional historical drama with strong doses of martial arts actions and that it doesn't veer off into fantasy and superfluous effects. Now, with new intrigues and new heroes in the making, Nirvana in Fire 2 is going to focus on its own brand of revenge and revival theme. It's also nice to have more romantic interactions. Beyond the connections with the first Nirvana in Fire, I would recommend viewers to regard the new story on its own. 

So far, it's a great new beginning!

COMING SOON

Nirvana in Fire II - 琅琊榜之风起长林

Starring Huang Xiao Ming and Liu Hao Ran

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Are you watching Nirvana in Fire 2? I hope this article has helped with how it connects to the superb original. Even if you haven't watched the original, I believe I have laid out the key information in this article to help viewers who want to go directly to the new series.

If you've never watched the Nirvana in Fire, it is a binge-worthy watch! As a matter of fact, after watching the first few episodes of the new drama, I've been bingeing the original and finding new moments to love. (Thinking of Wang Kai, I wish they found a way to bring him back even if they couldn't bring back Hu Ge. How about a surprise cameo?) 

BTW, in case you're curious, most of the stars speak with their own voices.

~ Find me at NancyZdramaland for more updates!

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