Romance of the Three Kingdoms, or as I like to call it “ROT3K”. A Guide for the modern audience.

4 09 2010

My experience with the Three Kingdoms as a kid was a intriguing one. I never took much interest. Growing up as Thai descended from Chinese, I often saw the Three Kingdoms and its influence as a sort of relic. In places I would go, Chinese restaurants and homes, there would be a statue of a long, bearded man with a red face. These statues would range anywhere from about 1/4th scale to 1/3rd with life-sized or larger-than-life ones being viewable in museums or Chinese historical sites. This was the statue of Guan Yu. Never having come to my attention as to why he was revered, I had posed the question lately, to my Aunt, the answer “His Integrity”. Having read most of the 1st volume, there being 4 volumes each with over 1000 pages (you do the math), I have come to learn that, yes, Lord Guan was highly respected, even in the novel for his integrity and loyalty to his brother “Liu Bei” also known as “Liu Xuande”. [More after the break]

Thailand also had a show whose title roughly translates to “The True Type of Fan” or Phaen Pun Tae. It’s a game show where people who are proclaimed to be experts in a certain subject, niche, or thing are invited to compete and show off their knowledge. The winner of the Romance of The Three Kingdom one just so happened to be a kid of no more than 13 years old. It’s true, and Thailand is filled with child prodigies, and takes grand interest in the subject.

This novel is indeed one of the 4 great classics of Chinese literary history, along with Water Margin, Journey into the West, and The Red Chamber. Typically named Three Kingdoms, it’s a Romanticized version of what happened at the End of the Han Dynasty where the Empire fell apart into three kingdoms, a period of extreme violence, deaths, betrayal, deception, abuse of power, and uncertainty.

Lately, there have been many attempts to modernize the novel for a modern audience. In 2008, two films were released: Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon; and John Woo’s Red Cliff (Chi Bi) (and Red Cliff II released in the later 2 years) inexplicably not linked to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms in the title. The former dealt with Zhao Zilong, a hero under Liu Bei, and the latter dealt with the climax of the novel the battle of “Chi bi”. Both dilated themes that are more appealing to a modern audience, and made them palatable so to speak instead of the suppository that is the original novel.

Things have gone too far in one instance, although this is debatable, for certainly I feel that extremes exist for the purpose of establishing boundaries. In Japan, there exists a franchise called Ikkitousen or “Battle-vixens” that replace the bulk of the characters with combat-able bouncy breasted anime girls where fighting power shares a correlation to breast size. Revolving around 3 high schools and keeping only the core characters, the anime series (I have not yet read the manga) manages to denotate and adapt the basic plot of the novel into what I can only call an anime that is LOOSELY-based on the novel. Although this certainly should not be a way to try and “understand” or “read” the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, I won’t blame you if you watch it after reading it, for kicks, or if it piques your interest and you end up reading the novel, like I did… Yes, that’s what got me reading it.

As a result, my recommendation would be to watch John Woo’s Chi-bi, because Chi-bi II is the epic conclusion of the events set up in Chi-bi I. It is the climax of the novel, as stated in Ikkitousen Dragon Destiny. They’re all set up the same way, every adaptation I’ve seen to date. Cao Cao is the bad guy, some people like him, some people love him, and I don’t understand that. I hate Cao Cao, but I digress. The original novel has many quirks that if read by a modern reader will detract from the reading experience, for instance, people who die in the next sentence’s entire name is introduced, people betray everyone, some people never die (or so it seems), and every notable suggestion seems to magically work somehow. Chi-bi (I&II) are movie adaptations of the climax and avoid the problems of the book while packing a cinematic punch without the filler of the stuff that isn’t the climax of the book. Resurrection of the Dragon is a commendable movie adaptation, but not one I would recommend to a person not too familiar with ROT3K, unless they want a straight-up action film.




One response

4 09 2010
World Wide News Flash

Romance of the Three Kingdoms, or as I like to call it ?ROT3K?. A ……

I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

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