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of shooting condors and red snow
In a world where good
always triumphs over evil...

It is 10:30 pm on a Thursday evening and my dad is propped before the TV, all ready for his favourite gongfu show "The Snow Is Red". What devious plot will our ruthless protagonist Nie Xiaofeng, demoness of the evil Ming Yu sect, hatch this week to dominate the pugilistic world? What will become of her love-hate relationship with the righteous swordsman Luo Xuan? And what about the love triangle between her twin daughters and the new-generation hero Fang Zhaonan??

Vengeance, feuds, love triangles, chivalry vs. evil confrontations spanning three generations, and of course plenty of impressively-named martial arts skills, including a miraculous snow-inducing swordplay (to freeze the opponents?) - all the good ole ingredients which make a good swordfighting drama are present.

No wonder my dad is hooked. So am I.

After a hard day's work battling deadlines and people alike, it is good to relax and indulge in a bit of escapism before sleep catches on and arrrgh... the next working day arrives.

Most of us, average Singaporeans, live in a none-too-exciting world of routine - dividing time between work, family or social activities, sleeping and not forgetting eating, the favourite Singaporean pastime. Certainly, there is no time to go hunting for some long-lost pugilistic manual and then becoming an instant martial arts exponent with no equal.

The people we meet in our daily lives are rarely as obviously good or plainly wicked as the story characters we see. In the wuxia world, you can always tell the good guys by their nicer headgear and uprighteous gait when they walk. The bad ones will snarl, squint their eyes and heavily made-up eyebrows, and then cast that loud mocking laughter at their hapless victims. Predictability and familiarity breed a certain attraction.

Which is what makes swordfighting sagas such an absorbing watch. Cliches are a-plenty but it is precisely these that people want to see. Who can resist that good-triumph-over-evil theme, no matter how tried - and trite - the plots may be? Or that hero-gets-heroine and live-happily-ever-after ending? The cliches provide a certainty, a comfort, that things will turn out well and that good will beget good. In real life, we are never quite sure.

Furthermore, we mere mortals need alter egos once in a while. Watching the drama allows one to relive the hero's trials and tribulations, often climaxing in some pugilistic meet where the hero ultimately (and inevitably) wins the duel, in the process avenging his father/teacher/lover and/or ridding the pugilistic world of some evil sect leader. How noble.

Lovers in fighting shows also tend to be steadfast - "till death do us part" exists - unlike us normal beings or even TV characters in contemporary serials who are ever so fickle (Qiong Yao heroines excepted).

The setting in "gu dai", an ancient faraway era (usually the Song or Ming dynasty with that ponytail-on-top hairstyle I like best), helps us to become immersed in the story. The longer ago, the better. That way, we are not "hampered" in our room for imagination by historical details, which tend (unfortunately) to be more vividly known the more recent the history.

Hence, jumping up roofs with qing gong and immobilising people with dian xue are as natural as can be (in fact, it would be downright offensive for the characters not to perform such acts!) All kinds of mountain-moving nei gong and fantastic gravity-defying feats become believable.

What's more, there is no such thing as an incurable disease or ailment. You can count on the shen yi - literally, godly physician (there is one in every story) - to concoct a cure. Our hero Luo Xuan recovered the use of his legs, after some twenty years of paralysis, when his disciple transferred his leg tendons to him. Even modern medicine today has not gone so far! Isn't the wu xia world simply wonderful?

Back to the "The Snow Is Red" which is (sob) nearing the end of its long run. No need to fret. News has it that "The Condor Heroes" will air on Sunday nights. My dad is all ready to be glued to the goggle box. So am I.

Ong Hwee Yen 1999

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