Poison, Love & Honour: My favourite Nirvana in Fire scene

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For over a year, this post has been sitting in the back of my brain, wanting to be written, but somehow and for some reason, I never wrote it. Recently as I was thinking about Prince Jing and Lin Shu and Nirvana in Fire, my eyes welled up with tears and again tonight as I was walking home from work, thoughts kept on coming about my favourite scene in Nirvana in Fire.


Last year in October, I started Nirvana in Fire, and quickly fell in love with the story, the characters, and of course Prince Jing. While some might find the story slow and incredibly intricate with a million details you miss on a first watch, I was enthralled. Watching Nirvana in Fire was like feeling the slow burning warmth of a raging bonfire. It is just so intensely lovely. And of course, when one is so deeply involved in caring about these characters onscreen, one can’t help but feel intense emotion. So when episode 49 came around, I had 48 episodes of intense emotion built up, and a feeling behind my eyes that a dam of tears was about to burst.

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As Prince Jing, the Emperor, and Mei Changsu stood there around the poisoned wine cup, and as Jingyan slowly realised that Su was Lin Shu, I started to sob. The weeping, hysterical kind. I had to pause the video for about twenty minutes before I continued watching actually and even then I think I cried through the remaining episodes of Nirvana in Fire.

Why did this scene make me weep so much?

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I’ve thought a lot about that question over the past year, and I’m still not fully sure why, but I think that so much of it had to do with Jingyan growing into the emperor he was to become. As he challenged his father with his dedication to wanting truth and honour, you could just tell that he was ready to face his father and take on the role of protector and guardian of the kingdom. His metamorphosis into a leader, his regal manner and bearing, all filled with the throaty, sonorous strains of the cello, just made this scene so beautiful. It was like watching the birth of something precious and beautiful. I felt so proud of Jingyan in that moment.

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And with that metamorphosis comes the realisation that Su is in fact Lin Shu. While Jingyan is rightfully calling his father on listening to Xia Jiang’s evil lies, underlying that is this intense emotion of Jingyan acting on his gut – he knows deep down that Su is Lin Shu, and in that reckless, reckless, beautiful, and lovely moment when he takes the poisoned cup of wine from Su’s hand, you can tell it is the heart of Jingyan who loves his brother, his friend, his cousin, and his desire to protect, that motivates that moment. Yes, it is about justice and truth and telling his father that those things are important, but it is also very much a moment when we see the Jingyan that we love – the Jingyan who loves fiercely, defiantly, and with his whole heart.

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Even though Jingyan thought that Lin Shu was dead, even though Prince Qi was dead, even though he doggedly and stubbornly remained an outcast for his stalwart dedication to wanting honour restored to the Chiyan Army, even though he risked his life to make sure Tingsheng survived, even though he did all this things with an air of quiet rebellion, it is in this moment that he stands up to his father in a way that his father has to stop and listen. Jingyan stands up for what is right, and so much so that we see his soul burn brightly. He might be rough in so many ways, but he is bright and true and good. He is not perfect, but he is good. I know, I know, I’m totally romanticising Jingyan, but that nobility is beautiful to see. It brings hope to me. I know he is so stubborn, but he is also so loyal and true. And it comes from love and devotion. I think sometimes, and far too often, television shows, novels, and films focus on romantic love and turn everything in to a romance, while forgetting that there are other kinds of love that are as deep and as strong and as beautiful. And for Jingyan, that love, the love he has for Lin Shu, and for Prince Qi, and the love he has for truth and honour, it makes this moment, this scene, more beautiful than many a romantic scene. It is the sort of love that moved me to tears, to sobbing.

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And in the act of pouring out the poisoned wine, it is as if a thousand armies stand up to the Emperor. Wang Kai’s eyes were burning with intensity in that scene, lit by a thousand fires of burning passion and a desire to protect his friend and his country. And there is also a sense of loss because in Su’s eyes you can see that he knows that Jingyan no longer needs him as Mei Changsu, and he knows that Lin Shu cannot stay. And so watching that scene also breaks my heart into a million pieces. It is almost as if Lin Shu and Mei Changsu have already died, and only just when Jingyan has barely found his friend again.

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As I watched this scene again, I was also struck by how beautifully chosen the music for this scene was. There were the deep and sombre strains of the cello, so sad and playing out the pain of the scene, and then moments later, the airy, almost, almost hopeful notes of a flute, and then again, the cello weeping again, and then as Jingyan walks away, the full orchestra comes in, almost martial, but with this fulness of a regal tone, fit for an emperor. It was just so beautifully done. It added so much to the scene.

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So I’m still not sure exactly why this scene above all others in Nirvana in Fire sticks with me and comes to mind so often. However, I do know that Wang Kai shines as Prince Jing in this scene, and that is always a beautiful thing to see.

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