Various Artists

Three Kingdoms [Special Boxed Edition]

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The Romance of the Three Kingdoms belongs to the established canon of the "four great classical novels" within Chinese literature; while tradition assigns it to Luo Guanzhong and dates it to the end of the 14th century; recent scholarship argues that a date about a century later is more likely. It deals with an era in which China was divided three ways between the Wei, Shu and Wu Kingdoms in the wake of the Yellow Turban Rebellion of 184; this era ended when the three kingdoms were reunified under the Jin Dynasty in 280. While Guanzhong's novel is in some respects highly fictionalized, it touches strongly upon traditional Confucian values held in Chinese society, including the value of loyalty to one's family and friends, and trusting the judgment of one's superiors and rulers.

Guanzhong's novel is an enormous work, running to some 750,000 Chinese ideograms and containing a number of subplots and secondary characters. This has hardly discouraged adaptations in the form of feature films, television miniseries, comic books and other means of exploitation; sometimes these versions only pick up on one aspect of Luo's story and embellish it with emphasis, similar in manner to Cecil B. DeMille's biblical adaptations. Producer Ye Yunchuan and composer Wang Ning decided on a purely musical adaptation after hearing a Japanese single based on some aspect of Three Kingdoms which Ye describes as "gloomy and weird"; it took Ye and Wang some three years to produce the deluxe Rhymoi Music set that resulted, entitled Three Kingdoms. Certainly Ye and Wang's timing was opportune; not long after Rhymoi issued Three Kingdoms, filmmaker John Woo released his film based on the novel, Red Cliffs (2008) which became the highest grossing film in Chinese history.

Ye and Wang decided in the end to illustrate 12 events in the familiar story, including the book's main climax, the legendary battle of the Red Cliffs. Perhaps not surprisingly, the music is strongly cinematic in feel throughout, but is serious in tone and makes for a very successful merger of traditional Chinese instruments and Western orchestral scoring. At no point does this suite feel like travelogue music or slip into a new agey "East meets West" vibe; it is substantive, strong, colorful and eminently listenable, though some familiarity with the story helps to orient its chain of events. Three Kingdoms is available in two different versions, one in a candy box format and the other as a standard digipak with an especially thick cover. The candy box is preferable, as it is equipped with a Gold CD and a taller format book, which is easier to read, although the text and illustrations are the same as in the standard, XRCD version. As Three Kingdoms is one of the most read and beloved novels in all of Asia, one suspects there would already be a considerable audience for Ye and Wang's worthy effort here, and it is not so obscure or uncomfortably ingratiating a statement that Westerners couldn't appreciate it also.