Foxes are usually characterized as cunning characters in the media. This particular Fox, Hu Fei ("Flying Fox" in Mandarin), is different and comes from a family of heroes. Side Story of Fox Volant (2022) is an online drama adaptation of Jin Yong’s novel (also known as The Young Flying Fox). After years of Xianxia and heavily-romance focused Wuxia dramas dominating Chinese-language dramas, a more traditional Wuxia story is gaining traction and praise. Let’s go over the first three episodes (no spoilers!) and the background of the original novel.
Unlike Jin Yong’s other novels, Side Story was written as a prequel to the pre-existing novel Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain a year after the original was published in 1959. The original novel itself was very different from other Jin Yong works. At only 10 chapters, it is one of the shortest works by Jin Yong. It is also the first Jin Yong novel to be officially translated to English (sadly, the prequel was not officially translated). Rather than chronological order, it is told through flashbacks of multiple characters. Also, the main character does not appear until the reader is halfway through the novel, and the novel does not have a proper conclusion, which was deliberate on Jin Yong's part. While Side Story is a prequel, it is recommended that new readers check out Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain first, in the same vein that the Original Trilogy and Prequel Trilogy of Star Wars were produced.
Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain is about a man named Hu Fei wanting to avenge his father’s death. His father, Hu Yi-Dao, died in a friendly duel with his friend Miao Ren-Feng. Unbeknownst to Ren-Feng, his blade was laced with poison when he fatally slashed Yi-Dao. Ren-Feng denies any ill-intention but Hu Fei is raised to avenge his father regardless. Side Story is about Hu Fei’s adventures years before the original novel, along with more details on the other characters that appeared in the original novel.
All TV adaptations adapt both Side Story and Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain as one title due to the latter being one of Jin Yong’s shortest works. This drama deviates from that path, as it is solely based on the prequel novel itself (due to the producer only having obtained rights to this novel). With the passing of Jin Yong in 2018, and this being a 40 episode drama even given the missing parts of the original novel, there were concerns that there may be huge deviations. After all, the 1999 Hong Kong TVB and 2006 Chinese TV adaptations hugely deviated from the sources.
Based on the first three episodes, there has not been any major deviation. In fact, this appears to be building up to one of the best adaptations of this novel. While some recent Wuxia adaptations add lots of romance scenes that never existed in the original source, this one is very straightforward and has no unnecessary scenes. The characters actually look like warriors in Jiang Hu, rather than pretty boys who do not appear to have fought a day in their lives (very commonplace in recent Wuxia dramas). Also, the fights are not CGI-enhanced, so it is a real refresher compared to more recent Wuxia productions. Fights can get quite brutal, a real contrast to flashy fight scenes with little to no blood. Production and attention to detail is very top notch, as we can see the details on Hu Yi-Dao’s saber and the costumes. The lighting, colors, and camerawork elevate this drama to appear more like a theatrical film. Definitely looking forward to the rest of the drama!
While there is nothing wrong with Xianxia and romance-driven Wuxia, it is nice to see an adaptation that respects its original source and brings Wuxia back to its traditional roots. Hopefully, this will result in more adaptations like this. It’s been 16 years since the original novel was adapted, so let’s hope that producers will select another novel due for a remake to adapt like this. Jin Yong fans can rejoice; his works are still respected!