Second, I actually want to insert this post under "Books on Screen" category. However, seeing that it is not actually and adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo but rather an adaptation from a novel of the same name, I can't really do that, can I?
So here we go.
Nirvana in Fire is a Chinese drama based on a novel with (let's way) the same title. The story is about the only survival of a whole family who was convicted of treason and exterminated who carries out his plan to avenge the dead and restore the reputation of his family and friends. This drama is so full of intrigue and emotion, politic and friendship, and through this drama, we see people with amazing personality, that make us love them despite their flaws. It has been quite a while since last I watched anything as amazing plot-wise. But we're not talking about this.
When I started watching this drama episode by episode, it dawned on me that the story - even the character - seemed very familiar to me. It's exactly The Count of Monte Cristo, and it's not just the revenge part.
In Monte Cristo, the story started when Edmond Dantes was imprisoned for years for something he didn't do. In Nirvana in Fire, Lin Shu's whole family was accused of treason and killed while in fact, guess what, they had nothing to do with it.
Edmond Dantes then returned from what he described as hell as The Count of Monte Cristo, a wealthy nobleman whose origin is mysterious and intriguing. Just as Lin Shu who returned from a literal burning battlefield as Mei Changsu/Su Zhe, a powerful leader of Jiangzhou Alliance - the most powerful and resourceful Jianghu sect in the country.
Then, step by step, Edmond Dantes executed a well-prepared plan, using everything and every one around him taking revenge on the people who had made him suffer until his conscience couldn't handle it anymore. In almost the same manner, Lin Shu executed a well-prepared plan to help his childhood friend and an unfavoured Prince to ascend the throne while taking care of those who stood in his way to readdress the case that got his family and friends killed.
In the end, both Edmond Dantes and Lin Shu chose to disappear, though in a different way. In the end, they left people they loved after making sure that things would be fine for them.
Let's get to the character.
Monte Cristo is always described as a cold, vampire-like human being. His calm, poised, and genteman-like manner is his charm and his best disguise. That is definitely not the cheerful, open, and warm Edmond Dantes when he was just about to marry and become a captain of a ship.
Mei Changsu is pretty much the same. Described as someone with "manners as cold as snow, like a dark fragrance fluttering on the river," he was no less a vampire than Monte Cristo. Being constantly sick, he had a pale and weakly complexion, but his mind was never sharper. Not even his closest friend could recognize him as the former Lin Shu, a smart, naughty General with amazing martial art and strategy.
Add to that the similarity in the way people treat them. As a count, Monte Cristo was served in a most satisfactory manner one could imagine. People came and did things he'd want them to do without even asking because "they knew his preference." Because of his charm, riches, and personality, even his enemies were forced to treat him with courtesy. Mei Changsu, being a sect leader, had people waiting on him to care for his every need. These people genuinely cared for him, and tried their best to make his life as comfortable as possible.
If Monte Cristo had Ali, the mute Nubian, Changsu had Fei Liu, a kid with extraordinary martial art skill. Monte Cristo's Bertuccio is pretty much Changsu's Li Gang and Zhen Ping. In place of sweet and exotic Haidee, there's Gong Yu, an accomplished songstress with one sided love for Changsu.
Let's move on to the villains. You won't believe me, even the villains are similar.
First there's Xie Yu, Nirvana in Fire's version of Fernand Mondego (is it his name?) or Comte de Morcerf. Ambitious and cunning, with personal envy towards Lin Shu's father, he plotted to get rid of him and stationed himself as the king's trusted advisor. Not just that, his child Jingrui "accidentally" met Changsu and they became friends, just so that Changsu could use him to move his plans forward. Sounds familiar? Yes, I am thinking about you, Albert.
Then there's Xia Jiang, another trusted subject of the king. He was famous for being just, disciplinary, rigid in his obedience to the law, etc. His was the head of the king's private intelligence bureau and never once broke his trust. However, he was the main instigator of the "treason case" that led Lin Shu's family and friends to their death. So, in short, he is Villefort. Also, his conversation with Mei Changsu actually reminds me of the conversation that Villefort and Monte Cristo had in the book.
One big difference between the two is actually the ladies.
In the Count of Monte Cristo, the ladies don't give too much impression at all, right? Unless when they are, as Monte Cristo (actually Shakespeare) said, frail. Mercedes was reprimanded for being fickle in her affection, the Madames of the other two families didn't fare much better. If there are praiseworthy ladies in the book, they are only Haidee and Valentine - both young and sweet, with happy ending.
|I waited 12 years for him, Mercedes|
In Nirvana in Fire, the ladies have strong presence and personalities. Some of them waited or mourned for they people they loved for more than a decade. The main female character is a general with an army of her own, able to physically and mentally support her beloved ones. Another is a mother and doctor, with wisdom to keep herself and her son out of danger. There's also a scary one, playing a strategist for the other party.
But the biggest and the most important difference for me lies in the motive of the main character. In Monte Cristo, the main purpose of the main character is to avenge himself and to bring justice to people who had made him suffer. In Nirvana in Fire, to my surprise, the motive is pretty far from that. The main character even let one of the perpetrators go because revenge is not his goal. In the end, what he wanted is just for his family and friends' name to be restored, and his country to return to its glory.
I am not saying that I love one more than the other. As I have said somewhere in this blog before, Monte Cristo is one of the books that changed me. I will always treasure it. Nevertheless, it's interesting to see the story told in another setting and another culture.
By the way, I highly recommend Nirvana in Fire for those who like Monte Cristo. If you can stand watching 54 episodes of Chinses drama, that is.