In the midst of a paranoid emperor and power-hungry royals, Nirvana in Fire enriches a tale of revenge and redemption with a narrative of love and friendship.
We know this trope well: man wronged by someone in power returns on a righteous quest to set things right. This was a wrong of epic proportions. The Emperor (Ding Yong Dai), giving in to his own suspicious nature and a few forged documents, executes his own son Prince Qi and his household, the entire Lin family, and the Chiyan army (that’s 70,000 people!). It’s not like anyone was actually plotting treason. Nevertheless, this is the Emperor’s greatest mistake. He knows it, but he nevertheless forbids anyone to even mention it. And if he has his way, he’ll never have to revisit it.
The last member of the martial Lin family and Chiyan army, Lin Shu/Mei Changsu (Hu Ge) is our man with a plan, slyly manipulating the court. It’s not hard. The Crown Prince (Gao Xin) and his nemesis Prince Yu (Victor Huang) are idiots, so wrapped up in one-upping each other that it’s not hard for Lin Shu to get rid of both. However, I don’t think that even Lin Shu envisioned that Prince Yu would go completely off and actually rebel.
But there are a couple of things different about Lin Shu’s quest. Interestingly, Lin Shu is only concerned with revealing the truth and reinstating his family’s honorable name, even at the cost of his own life. He is not interested in continuing the family name by continuing his family line. He’s the last Lin, but he has no children to carry on the family name (that we are made aware of).
In addition, Lin Shu is a hero(?), a complex character that elicits contradictory emotions. On one hand, you cheer him on as he battles his illness to accomplish his goal. He is determined. Lin Shu rarely breaks his zen-like composure as he methodically puts his plan into action. Even when he meets with the emperor in a final verbal showdown, he just says what he has to say, drops the mic and walks out like a boss! Woo-hoo!
On the hand, you kinda cringe at the way he treats people, ultimately feeling sorry for Lin Shu and the people around him. Sometimes, he utterly disregards the feelings of those around him, sacrificing everything for his mission. He’ll hang out in the cold, visit the prison, throw friends like Jingrui (Cheng Hao Feng) under the bus and walk straight in to traps because he feels he has too. At other times, he’ll straight up lie to his friends about his illness. I mean, when you see the puppy dog eyes of Lin Shu, you’d believe him too! In doing so, he prevents himself from having true relationships with those around him. He keeps them at a distance, which prevents him from enjoying their support and affection. Meng Zhi (Chen Long) finally voices his frustration and snaps when he takes Lin Shu to task for not revealing the extent of his illness to his closest confidants. Basically, Meng Zhi is like, ‘WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL US?!!!”
But no one bears the brunt of the Lin Shu lie more than Prince Jing/Jingyan (Wang Kai). Somebody needs to give Lin Shu an Oscar for how long he lies to Prince Jing. To be fair, Prince Jing is incredibly dense about recognizing him. The ladies, Nihuang (Liu Tao) and Consort Jing (Liu Min Tao), put it together quite easily. Prince Jing treats Lin Shu like a dime-a-dozen strategist and loves to characterize him as someone who just plots and doesn’t think about people. Lin Shu takes Prince Jing’s not-too-veiled insults and suspicions with grace. Once Prince Jing finds out, he just breaks down. *snif*
Nevertheless, Lin Shu not only inspires people in his cause to right the wrong done to his family, he must be the most loved man on earth. Nihuang, who thought he was dead, is willing to let him work himself to death to clear his family’s name even as she discovers his true identity. She’s willing to basically give up her own happiness for his quest. Consort Jing is an “iron orchid” who never bats an eye at anything, but literally breaks down when she realizes Lin Shu’s condition. Yet, she never misses a beat to help him. Meng Zhi is willing to give up his trusted position to help Lin Shu. Every time the doctor tell his underlings not to let Lin Shu do things, they turn around and do the complete opposite. They don’t do it out of duty or pity (let’s face it, he can be pitiful at times), but out of affection for Lin Shu.
While we are meant to really feel for Nihuang because she’s the love interest, I think the most compelling ties are between Lin Shu and Prince Jing, and Lin Shu and Lin Chen (Jin Dong) (man with the fan!). The drama does a really good job of inferring the friendship between Lin Shu and Prince Jing. Rather than making us endure their childhood years, we see glimpses of them growing up and teasing each other. Prince Jing and Lin Shu were BOYS, and Prince Jing carries the scars of his friend’s “death” for years after. It turns him into the surly punk that the emperor treats him as. Prince Jing wasn’t always this way. As a teenager, he seemed happy, and happiest hanging out with Lin Shu. So you feel for Prince Jing every time he has interaction with Lin Shu in his Mei Changu persona. There is his beloved friend right in front of him and he doesn’t know it. It breaks your heart when he finds out. And then your heart breaks again when Lin Shu goes off to war. They won’t have any time to rekindle their friendship, because the country is going to pot unless Prince Jing takes over and Lin Shu is on his last leg. *SNIF*
You might miss it given how much snark is involved, but Lin Chen and Lin Shu’s relationship is equally compelling. Lin Chen shows up briefly at the beginning, and then re-emerges during the last episodes. We get no flashbacks with their relationship, so we don’t know the circumstances that created and sustained their friendship. It is clear that Lin Chen is seriously concerned about Lin Shu, even coming down from his mountain retreat to care for him personally and keep his promise to be with him until the end. Lin Chen is a fool, always joking and messing with Fei Liu (Wu Lei), but he turns serious when he looks at a possible herb that could prolong Lin Shu’s life. Nothing shows the depth of their friendship more than when Lin Shu insists on fighting the latest invasion of Liang. Lin Chen is truly mad at his friend, basically saying: “Dude, I spent all this time trying to keep you alive, and now you want to go and do this?!! There is always something you have to do.” Just when you think Lin Chen is just going to leave him, he asks where the recruitment office is. Lin Chen is going to join the army for his friend! (Really, who thinks Lin Chen would make a decent officer? NO ONE!). That’s a friend.
Nirvana in Fire is one of the most compelling Chinese dramas is recent times, drawing on relationships within the context of court politics.
Relationships and Justice in Nirvana in Fire by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.