Nirvana in Fire 琅琊榜 - Episode 1 (Recap)

Yes. I'm doing it - and lovin' it. Nirvana in Fire is this year's 54 episode miracle drama and I simply have to recap it. With a little help from my friends, I hope! It's set in 4th century China and in a nutshell, is the story of a wronged man's skillfully executed revenge for his family, Monte Cristo style.
JoAnne: I do love a good revenge story...except the person getting revenge never comes out well, you know.
Don't say this!!! TT_______________TT
Dewaanifordrama: Yes! Please don't say this *starts sobbing* 
This drama has taken all our hearts by storm. The cast is phenomenal, the sets bombastic, and the script one of those in which every word matters. People are already crying that they're nearing the end of it (viki subbers are so fast!), which is the perfect time to start these recaps! Episode 1 is a difficult one - lots of characters are introduced and the background is established. If you are confused, that might happen, this post is very helpful (also for future reference). I will take the liberty to un-confuse things a bit below, by providing additional information that you don't get just from watching the drama.
Always so helpful, our sensei. That page is very useful though, do check it out.

Episode 1

A bloody battle rages - soldiers die like flies. A boy named Lin Shu (Zhang Zhe Han) is severely wounded by Xie Yu (Liu Yi Jun - we are briefly shown his face). He then dangles from his father's hand, at the edge of a steep cliff. Before their hands separate, the father (General Lin Xie) begs his blood soaked son to stay alive ... for the Chi Yan army. And with that, the boy falls into the abyss, screaming "faaaather!!". This was when General Lin Xie was framed for treason and then perished with his seventy-thousand men.
I know it was very thrilling and epic and all but I could not stop thinking about The Lion King.
*giggle* Now I've got the Lion King stuck in my head. 
In the here and now, a man jerks awake from the nightmare-memory he just had - it is Lin Shu, now a grown man, but of completely different appearance. Whoever worked his magic on him did well to give him Hu Ge's face.
Right? Fall off a cliff all burned up and cut, age twelve years, and still look better than you did going in?
That mountaintop retreat looks gorgeous and so peaceful. I think I will steal away there to visit Lin Shu and make sure he's comfortable.
We're at Lang Ya Hall, located on the peak of Mount Lang Ya. It is a mysterious and fabled place, a hub for all information of importance. In the book by 海宴 (Hai Yan), it's described like this: "The people only know that no matter what one wants to know, as long as one brings enough silver coins to the hall one would get a satisfactory answer". Lang Ya Hall also compiles the famous "Lang Ya List" (hence the title of this drama!). It ranks several things ever year, such as top martial arts experts, but also top ten "gongzi" (especially extraordinary young men). Year after year, one person tops that list: the leader of the “Jiang Zuo Alliance,” which is the number one pugilists’ union in the world, Mei Changsu (Hu Ge).
It's like The Guinness Book of World Records, the Fortune 500, and world tennis rankings, all in one. And if you go by the costumes in this drama, the best-dressed list, too.
Mei Changsu!!! I'm actually really curious if there was a real list like this historically or if the idea was solely developed for the novel. I couldn't find out with an initial Google search; I shall have to dig deeper.

Leader of the Lang Ya Hall is Lin Chen (Jin Dong), who gets word that Northern Yan has a new Crown Prince (the 6th Prince). Their filing system is phenomenal, by the way, where can I get it?
That was fascinating to see, I agree. Does anyone else feel like this is almost a fantasy?
Definitely fantasy like, but in that way where you have to wonder if perhaps it really exists/existed. And can we just mention how effortlessly the camera breathes and moves. The director and cinematographer and editor have put together some truly gorgeous cinema here.
Cut to prince of Yu, Xiao Jing Huan (Huang Wei De / Victor Huang), fifth prince (and NOT the crown prince). He is on official business in some remote place (Jiangzuo) ...
... from where he reports home to his daddy, Emperor of Jiang (Ding Yong Dai) there with his mommy, Empress Yan (Fang Xiao Li). She adopted him.
So his real mother is a concubine, then?
So far it seems that way. And ah! Those robes! Is it just me, or don't you want to dress up in gorgeous silk robes like all these people? Though I'll skip the heavy headdresses. 
She takes the opportunity to praise her son's virtues and calls him the only hardworking one in the palace, which raises Noble Consort Yue's (Yang Yu Ting) hackles. She is the Crown Prince's mother. Beware, battle of the head pieces! These two women HATE each other.
One time they passed each other in the hallway and their head pieces got tangled together and neither would take them off, so they had to stand there like that all day until their retinue were able to get them apart again.
*giggles* If these two were cats, they'd be spitting and hissing at each other - very elegantly though of course. 
The Emperor is pleased with his son's work and he promises to reward him with two more royal pearls. That's more pearls than the Crown Prince has, outrageous! There's many very beautiful people in this universe, but Crown Prince (Gao Xin), certainly isn't one of them. He is vicious too, because he sent a person to kill his brother, Prince Yu. Well, send somebody better next time, Crown Prince, cause the assassin ends up dead pretty quickly.
Ugly deeds from an ugly soul. Neither Five nor Six are very attractive. Come on! 5th has his great moments. Dare I hope that One, Two, Three, and Four will be better?
He does have a nice robe there's that?
Prince Yu is told that the reason for Crown Prince's success in securing the right to the throne is due to his visit to Lang Ya Hall, where he received information ("to the gifted scholar, to have knowledge is to have the world"). Prince Yu doesn't get it - so he decides to personally go visit Lang Ya Hall.
If this place is famous, why is it such a puzzle to him?
Well, I meant he doesn't get the note. But he probably never visited before either. 
I'm guessing that the note is deliberately cryptic/amibiguous and could have multiple meanings. In the Viki subs it was translated as "To possess the Divine Talent is to have the world", so in that case possessing/owning the person called the Divine Talent is to get it all and not just knowledge.
His movement are observed by Zhuo Qingyao and Zhuo Dingfeng, Master of Tianquan Manor. They're after Prince Yu too. They'll be back, so don't forget them! They're also related to Xie Yu - who married his oldest daughter to this good looking man to the right - who, I can tell you without it being a spoiler, is one of this stories arch villains.
So Xie Yu, who wounded Mei Chang Su back when he was Lin Shu, is the father-in-law of this guy on the right, and for some reason this guy is against Yu, Prince Five. Okay. Evil runs in the family, even if it's just through marriage.
The young Zhuo is super cute though. Just saying
He's waaaaaaay cute!!! That family has some complicated relationships, but don't worry, they will be unfolded over the course of the drama. This drama. If you were to draw a relationship chart, it might look like one of those psychological ink dot tests. 
It is then established that Lin Chen is very cool and very beautiful. And that making gifs from 1080p files is bringing my computer to the edge of a collapse.
Mine. Mine, mine, mine.
Sadly he isn't in most of the drama T___T (but yes, he's all yours Jo).

Thank you for this, Kakashi

Lin Chen has already prepared a pouch for Prince Yu (yeah, that should make him suspicious), which he is to open once he returns to the capital. The same answer will be given to the Crown Prince. So wait, Crown Prince hasn't even been here? Hehe, feeding everybody the wrong info, are we? 
Oh, sweet. I completely missed that when I watched it. But this doesn't make Lin Chen a bad guy, right?
No, only somebody's good friend...
Can I just say, that this drama should probably be re-watched a million times just to appreciate the intricacy of the plot and how everything is connected.

We are now formally introduced to Xie Yu, Marquis of Ning, who is on the Crown Prince's side, but secretly. Yes, he is VERY BAD.
He's got the same eyes as Terrence Howard, so he must be nuts.
Well, we know what he will become in his later life, in The Disguiser, so this is where his madness comes from, I guess
How is it that you can just tell the character is a bad guy? Man, he has such bad guy vibes. 
He has secured a pouch for his Prince too. The note that both princes received reads: "The first on the Lang Ya List, Sir Mei of Jiangzuo".
Yes, but at this moment I can only imagine him saying, 'I have secured the pouch of my prince!' and then I start giggling.
And we meet Prince Yu's strategist, the beautiful Qin Ban Ruo (Wang Ou), who knows about the Lang Ya List that records the "talents of the world". The one indicated here is the Chief of the Jiangzuo Alliance, Mei Changsu. We learn that he himself "knows no martial arts" but is a hugely powerful man due to his wisdom nonetheless. And now, both princes want this man by their side.
Make each prince think the other got special secret advice, but actually give each the same advice. Okay, got it.
Sometimes it's really hard to comment because I just want to write: Oh my goodness!!! Mei Changsu is so frickin' smart!!!! Ah I love him!!! I will try and restrain myself. Qin Ban Ruo is so gorgeous!
There's a little problem, too: A top official (the Duke of Qin), who happens to be one of the Crown Prince’s supporters, has been accused of bribery. The Crown Prince wants to cover it up (he can't afford to lose this supporter) and the Marquis is helping him by sending the Zhuo family after the servants who want to testify.
We are verging on too many top knots to keep straight.
I think the key to enjoying the drama is just to let it unfold. Even if one misses out who's who, eventually it starts to become a little easier to tell. So readers who haven't started watching yet, don't stress too much if you're struggling a bit. 

The servants are on a boat with the young Zhuo and are being chased by Prince Yu's men on huge ships. He sees this as an opportunity to weaken the power of the Crown Prince, of course. However, the ships trespass... into Jiangzuo Alliance territory. That's a big no no (well, I think Zhuo knew this would happen and deliberately fled there). A flute playing wonder of a man appears on a mysteriously moving boat: it's Mei Changsu!
Who knew that I would fall in love with that beautiful flute playing man?! I find it incredibly thrilling that an armada of ships knows full well that they had better not mess with a man playing a flute. It's such a great juxtaposition that let's us know: Don't mess with Mei Changsu!!! 
Seeing to it that his master does not catch a cold, young martial arts genius and Mei Changsu's personal bodyguard Fei Liu (Wu Lei) flies through the air and deposits some fur on his master's shoulders. Mei Changsu says he is willing to negotiate in this fight if necessary. But don't forget: no fighting on his territory. Well, one of the guys does not get it, so he's sent swimming by Fei Liu - where he is abandoned by his previous friends out of fear of Mei Changsu.
Did you know that Wu Lei is only 15 years old? That kid has some serious martial arts skills!!! He's also completely adorable. And Hu Ge. He is so beautiful it hurts. (Issy if you read this, I promise I know he's yours ;P)
Want to know something? When I first watched this, I didn't really think Hu Ge looked good, as styled. He looked... blank. Generic, somehow. Now, after a few episodes of The Disguiser, his face is so much more individual, somehow. At least, it is for me!
Back in the capital (young Zhuo has just ushered in the servants), the Emperor is sighing about his two boys and their rivalry. He also knows that both of them sent out great gifts to some "Divine Talent". Rumor has it that who can acquire him can acquire the empire. He finds that ridiculous - he's just a scholar!
Hehehehehehe. Just a scholar. Little does he know that his kingdom is about to get shaken up by our Divine Talent, Mei Changsu.
Seems odd to me that the Emperor wouldn't already be intimately familiar with such a powerful figure.

The Divine Talent's first-in-command, Li Gang (Wang Hong), reports on some things he has done, when Li Chen arrives (Fei Liu hates him, haha, because he teases him). Lin Chen reminds Mei Changsu that he is too sick to leave for the Imperial City. He wants two years? Only if he brings ten doctors with him - or takes some devilish pills. Yes, he is the man who gave Lin Shu Hu Ge's face. Well done!
Oh noes!!! Our Divine Talent is ill? Ill enough that you can see Li Gang is NOT happy about his plans to head to the Imperial City. I'm already starting to get worried that this is not going to end well for Mei Changsu. 
I just assumed from the beginning that he wouldn't be alive at the end of it, I guess. Illness or battle, one or the other, no difference - I did assume battle, though.
And we meet two other characters, Xiao Jing Rui (Chen Hao Feng) and Yan Yu Jin (Guo Xiao Ran). Jingrui is the eldest son of Xie Yu (but beware! Birth secrets!) and Yujin is the son of Lord Yan and nephew to Empress Yan. The former is a very skilled martial artist and number two on the list of Gongzi right after Mei Changsu, the latter a funny little playboy. 
I love these two! Just looking at them makes me want to hug them. These two are important, so remember them. 
I like the one looking directly at us. The other looks like a worried seal.
They have come to escort Mei Changsu to the Imperial City. They know he is ill and think he will be able to recover there, because it's less cold. Jingrui thinks of Mei Changsu as a friend (they met earlier) and Changsu calls them "not involved in politics" and "most suitable", even though Jingrui's father is the Marquis of Ning. He needs an entry way if he does not want to enter the city as one of the princes' strategist. They are it.
Every protagonist needs some worthy and loyal sidekicks and these two are just that. Noble and loyal and you can tell they care about their friend Mei Changsu. Did I mention that I love them? ;)
And totally being used by Mei Changsu, apparently. I wonder if they stay friends? Bound to be awkward for them all when Jingrui learns his father orchestrated the destruction of Changsu's family, and probably with the blessing or direction of Yujin's uncle.

And so, to Jinling City Mei Changsu goes ... in a little carriage, wrapped in his furs. Just as they reach the gates, Princess Nihuang (Liu Tao) comes galloping in. She is a niece of the Emperor by blood, but has gotten a title of Duchess due to her great military service. Also, she has passed the control of her troops to her younger brother very recently (we will meet him later). When she sees the two noblemen, she immediately starts fighting with them. I like her! So does Mei Changsu, because this used to be his fiancée when he was wearing another man's face. He keeps himself hidden, all of a sudden looking very sad.
Nihuang!!! Something that I love about Nirvana in Fire is that right from the get go we've got strong, fiesty women (there are more coming, which is why I used the plural). Nihuang is no pushover and you can tell that there's a reason MeiChangsu/Lin Shu feels sad to realize what he has missed out on. Her armour is completely gorgeous by the way. I also completely ADORE the lighting and costuming decisions for this drama. The filters used, and the colours paired for each scene are lovely.
She's so cool! Yes!
I can't breathe he's so beautiful
Once inside the city and inside the house, Mei Changsu tells Jingrui that he wants to go by the name of Mr. Su / Su Zhe here. We then meet Jingrui's second brother, Xie Bi. He is friendly enough, even though he is Xie Yu's son. Well, genetics isn't everything! 
Um, another name?! It's not like we don't have enough characters to get to know Su Zhe-Mei Changsu-Lin Shu. 
We could just call him Precious.

Nihuang is meeting with the Emperor, who is planning a martial arts competition to finally find her a husband. Nihuang reluctantly agrees IF she can fight the top ten one on one. She'll marry the winner. She is on the Lang Ya List for her martial arts skills, haha, fat chance anybody will win against her! And anyway, she still has Lin Shu in her heart. Leave her alone.
Haha. I love Nihuang so much! Not only is she feisty enough to set the terms for finding her a husband, but she wants to fight them in combat. LOVE her! I wish I could pull off that shade of lipstick as well. 
You just have to wear a turquoise headpiece to balance it, Dewaani.
Joining them is Xia Dong (Zhang Ling Xin), the leading official of one of the three law enforcement departments (Xuan Jin Department) - she also happens to be friends with Nihuang. The Emperor tasks her to find out about what's behind those allegations against the Duke of Qing. 
Xia Dong! Another wonderful character to love. Seriously! I love this drama so much! 
Did the Chinese really have women in such positions of authority back then?
Xiadong wishes Nihuang luck with her husband search and Nihuang sadly comments that Xiadong will never become true friends with her until she can forget Lin Shu. Turns out that Xiadong lost her husband Nie Feng, a commander in Lin Xie's army, at the Battle of Meiling - due to the Lin family's betrayal, as she thinks. 
I do appreciate that even though there is tension between the two friends, they still have an affection and respect for each other. I also appreciate that even though they have experienced deep loss, they aren't pining away, but instead are moving forward and just being awesome. 
Finally, some grown ass women.


If you think we've met all the characters you're sadly mistaken :) But we have many of them and that is good, because they story is going to start for real in episode 2 and it will not let you go. I must admit I didn't get all the nuances the first time I watched - yeah, overwhelmed with too many characters and info I did not know where to place. So I'm glad I'm getting to watch again and recap. For example, it took me a while to realize just how clever the trick to make both princes go crazy over the same man actually is. Of course you would never think that the Lang Ya Hall is feeding people not "the truth" but information that is part of one man's big revenge plan!
That's the thing, Kakashi. Where was Lang Ya Hall 13 years ago? When did it become the be all/end all of advice? Who decided the Lang Ya Bang was 'It?' The place just appeared out of nowhere, and Mei Changsu rocketed to the top of the alliance without anyone knowing anything about him?  The Emperor has this massively powerful man in his kingdom, and he hasn't researched every detail about his past? Had him come to court? I hope this gets explained. Is it that Lin Chen and Lang Ya Hall/Lang Ya Bang were always around, but now somehow Mei Changsu has co-opted them for his revenge? How'd he make THAT happen?
Lang Ya Hall and its lists were always around - it's an "ancient" kind of institution. Wthen the massacre happened and the Lin family was wrongfully accused of treason, Lin Shu was saved by Lin Chen (who probably was a friend of the Lin family). After his recovery, he started to plot his revenge. Because he is TRULY super capable, he became the leader of one of the most powerful Alliances. The Emperor simply does not care because he is too self-centered and self-important. He has his son(s) and niece(s) do all the war-stuff for him
This drama is amazing! I love it more with each episode. I haven't watched something like this in a long time, where every moment and every line of dialogue matters. And not only does it matter, but it's delivered with elegance, beauty, and precision. The trick to make the two princes go crazy is so clever! So clever! In researching about the drama, I discovered that the writer of the original novel also wrote the screenplay, which I'm really glad about. And something interesting about Chinese novels is that apparently each edition can be quite different from the previous version, so there are a few variations on the story. I'm glad though that the writer is so fantastic.