Side Story of Fox Volant (2022) First Impressions
Set in the Qing dynasty during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, the world of jianghu with its various martial arts sects and renegade pugilists have become the target of the ruling class who are jittery about the power that the alternative sphere holds as well as the potential threat that it poses to the throne. After speaking in riddles, the emperor lets loose one of his ministers to shake things up. So it’s a game of divide and conquer that the pigtailed poseurs decide to play and with all the sectarian rivalries going on… who knows, they might just win. In the midst of all the behind the scenes skullduggery are some decent human beings who just want to get on with the business of revenge… and maybe good doing time permitting.
This adaptation of JinYong’s The Young Flying Fox centres around the doings of two men in particular. Although with a cast of thousands, what “centres” mean is definitely up for grabs. One man is jianghu’s greatest swordsman Miao Renfeng (Lin Yushen) who wisely eschews the pigtail for a wandering pugilist’s life in search of the one responsible for the death of his sworn brother Hu Yidao and his wife. That is until he meets a pretty lady who is willing to risk her life to save his. The other is Hu Yidao’s only son Hu Fei (Qin Junjie) who grows up believing that Miao Renfeng is the man who killed his parents.
When Hu Fei is of age and has completely absorbed his family’s martial arts his hero’s journey begins just outside a city known as Foshan when he encounters a highly skilled female pugilist. From there he is led to Foshan (which makes me think of Wong Feihong for some reason) which is under the tyranny of the powerful Feng family aided and abetted by the local magistrate. Hu Fei and his newly acquired ally Yuan Ziyi (Liang Jie) fuelled with righteous indignation takes matters into their own hands. The self-appointed vigilantes - freedom fighters make quite an impression on the locals but especially on the family that is at the centre of an injustice. The head of the Feng family however has a few more tricks up his sleeve and Hu Fei learns the hard way not for the first time, mind you, that people aren’t always what they they appear to be. There are really evil people out there who would stoop to anything to consolidate their position and maintain a stranglehold on power.
Jianghu is and always has been a complex place in the hands of a good writer. The so-called martial arts community is riddled with egos, competing agendas and secrets waiting to be uncovered by any who dares. It seems to me that Hu Fei must navigate shark infested waters to find out the truth about his parents’ untimely death all those years ago because there would be plenty of people who would have wanted both Miao Renfeng and Hu Yidao dead just so they can be the last man standing in an unwritten battle royale. The title of being the best in that world is an obsession with some because the prestige potentially brings with it untold power and wealth.
In the martial arts realm those who are less skilled as pugilists might take to other tactics to achieve their goals. Some like Tian Guinong (Peter Ho) who seem amicable on the surface and does his ingratiating best to maintain some degree of respectability among his peers uses his gift of the gab to talk his way out of all kinds of morally dubious situations of his making. He is very much a type of jianghu villain who looks a good guy to those who don’t know better but is little more than a grifter hiding in plain sight. He is an opportunist that has just enough cunning to be dangerous. Interestingly enough, he is juxtaposed with another villain Feng Yimin who also before being unmasked before the world and chased out of town, is essentially a local warlord using his business interests to dominate and oppress the townsfolk. In front of Hu Fei he feigns humility and remorse but there are those who know better.
It’s almost refreshing these days to watch a classic wuxia which is true to its source material and roots — a narrative that is unabashedly filled with elegant sword fights and skirmishes that are gripping to watch and actually isn’t backwards in showcasing the legendary prowess of the show’s protagonists. Showing is definitely high on the drama’s priorities not only in extended action set pieces but in the world building. Jianghu is less about place than it is people who live by codes that go beyond the monarchy of the day.
What also makes this something of a stand out is the character of Yuan Ziyi, a clever resourceful and highly skilled young woman who can easily have her own spin-off series. I can’t say for certain if she’s set up to be Hu Fei’s love interest or as just a very loyal bosom friend although it seems to me that they like each other enough and work together well. Besides he’s mentioned marriage once before not entirely in jest I would have thought. I’m also not sure what to make of the scene where she’s seen dragging Hu Fei’s unconscious body up a really steep flight of steps all the way to Weitou Sect’s HQ with flashbacks playing and a romantic ballad blaring in the background. It begs the question: Am I suppose to root for them or not? Because accordingly to trailers there’s some other love interest in the offing and it’s confusing the heck out of me.
Alas, Jing Yong and his harems.
To be honest I usually avoid men in pigtails like the plague. But then I caught a glimpse of Lin Yushen (most people will remember him from Dating in the Kitchen) in the trailer with his flowing locks doing a nice bit of dash and slash. I was hooked practically from the first episode. Lin Yushen’s tortured look is an art form which I totally dig in whatever show he happens to be in and he’s right at home here as Miao Renfeng. However Miao Renfang isn’t exactly designated a lead character although he too should have his own movie because quite frankly he is the most outstanding character in the show so far. That whole taciturn, softly spoken thing that he does destroys ovaries and leaves behind a trail of swooning women.
So far so good. It’s only been 10 episodes and the the show has moved right along very nicely in my estimation. While there can be a multitude of characters at any given moment, I don’t find it difficult to keep track of the main threads of the the story’s plot points. The show also boasts of the best fighting choreographed fight scenes I’ve seen in a long time even when the fray involves multiple parties on the attack and dodging blows or strikes. There’s an exquisite coordination in the chaos.