This series is an adaptation of Louis Cha (Jin Yong)'s second novel "Return of the Condor Heroes," within his "Condor Trilogy." While this story is fine "stand-alone," I do recommend viewing one of the various adaptations of the first novel "Legend of the Condor Heroes" as many, many characters are in both. I think part of the thrill of watching this series is seeing those previous characters show up within this story. It also helps you understand how powerful these figures are supposed to be, adding to their grand appearances. While by itself, the series does explain many of the important details of each respected character, you really don't get the full effect of how great some of these figures are supposed to be, without a complete understanding of their history.
While I did enjoy this series, I have to admit that the beginning is extremely annoying. If or when I re-watch this series, I don't even plan to watch the first disc again. The child Yang Guo is so annoying, it makes you angry. He is also somewhat out of character. Even without any knowledge of his character, he's just plain annoying. Even worse is when Huang Xiaoming takes over as the young adult version of Yang Guo and he still remains annoying. But luckily, as the series moves on, he matures, and is much more enjoyable to watch, and by the end of the series is very likable. I understand this progression is on key with what a normal viewing of Yang Guo as a character should be. But there is a difference between dislike and almost unwatchable. So I would advise to just be patient, after about the 10th episode, it gets really good and the story is great. You just have to muscle through the first few episodes or better yet, if you know the story, just skip them.
Unlike Yang Guo`s character, Liu Yifei's (Crystal Lau) portrayal of Xiaolongnu (Dragon Girl) is simply perfect, even getting the approval of Jin Yong himself. She has a natural beauty and demeanor that really embodies Xiaolongnu and realistically conveys Xiaolongnu's cold, expressionless, anti-social, ghost-like behavior almost flawlessly. Even her love to Yang Guo seems very much in tact with how you would expect such an introverted character to act. I feel that if Liu Yifei had no spoken lines in the series, you would know exactly what emotions she is expressing while remaining expressionless (I know this sounds like a strange thing to say, but you just have to see her to understand), which really tackles the very root of what Xiaolongnu represents.
For the most part, I thought all of the fight scenes were pretty good and enjoyable. Similarly to most shows in this genre these days, there was a good amount of CG used and all were far from great, but bearable compared to most Wuxia series I've seen. You might recognize many of the music used in the soundtrack to many Hollywood productions, but you have to understand that this was made for Chinese audiences, who are less familiar with American works, so this aspect didn't bother me as much as some people. Although, I would have preferred that they just stuck to a pure original soundtrack. The original music they did use on the other hand, does fit very well. So I would have to say that overall the music is a good accent to the series.
Another negative aspect in my opinion is that the series is too pretentious at moments. While I'm not totally opposed to artistic imagery within any film or show, I think the duration becomes tedious. Certain scenes will be these beautiful environments which at first are very appealing, but they last way too long, to the point of pointlessness. Still, as mentioned earlier, this was still a very enjoyable series as it went on, as with all of Jin Yong's works you really get to know the layers in the many characters in his stories. Although some aspects might be beyond modern expectations in terms of themes of love and loyalty, it is this unrealistic view that attracts us to these stories. Even without the great CG work of Hollywood or with the almost cliché, sometimes predictable revelations, there is still something that the Chinese produce so well in this type of production, and is unique beyond anything else in visual media.