|Top Left: Qiao Feng tries to comfort a very ill A'zhu ; Top Right: Qiao Feng protects A'zhi from danger|
Bottom Left: Qiao Feng and A'zhi during their days in Liao; Bottom Right: Qiao Feng and A'zhu share a loving moment
Describing the complicated relationship between Qiao Feng, A'zhu, and A'zi can get rather convoluted. Qiao Feng technically does not have a semblance of romantic feeling for his so-called "little sister-in-law," A'zi. While Qiao Feng and A'zhu share mutual love and understanding for each other, A'zi's romantic obsession for Qiao Feng is bordering psychotic and possessive in nature. A'zhi's love for Qiao Feng stems largely from Qiao Feng's unquestioned love for her sister. She fell in love with someone's love story and wished be the receiver of that profound love.
Prior to the 2003 adaptation, I always had a great dislike for A'zi. The behavior and attitude she exhibited could simply be summed up in one phase: an excessively cruel and unappreciative brat. A'zhu is the absolute antithesis of A'zi's in disposition. The sweet and kindhearted A'zhu is one of the most popular female characters in Louis Cha/Jinyong's wuxia universe. The polarized personality of A'zi and A'zhu bring up the century-old debate about innate quality of the human being: nature versus nurture. Both sisters grew up as orphans. A'zhu was brought up in a rich household as a maidservant while A'zi was poisoned by the the man-eat-man world of the Xingsu Sect.
As I grew older, I surprisingly became more empathetic of A'zi character. Although she committed some horrendous acts (e.g. the disfigurement and torture of You Tanzi), A'zi is not completely without goodness. She is willing to sacrifice everything for Qiao Feng. One Chinese netizen concluded that the person that Qiao Feng loves most is A'zhu, but the person who seems to love Qiao Feng most is A'zi. I may not completely agree with this statement for past adaptations. But for the 2013, it certainly seems to be true.
Past adaptations had always cast different actresses to play the two sisters. In the 2013, Director Lai decided to have one actress, Jia Qing, portrayed both characters and transformed the sisters into identical twins. Contrary to popular rumor, this decision was not a consequence of financial difficulties. LOL. Because the 2013 version is putting heavy emphasis on the role of Qiao Feng (later changed to Xiao Feng), the director wanted to strengthen the dramatic "tragic" elements in the already tragic life of Qiao Feng.
Jia Qing explained in an recent interview that Director Lai wanted Qiao Feng to be more conflicted and tormented than before. Having accidentally killed the love of his life with his bare hands, Qiao Feng is set up to be pretty damn depressed from the beginning. Not only does he have to deal with the tragedy and guilt of losing A'zhu, now he has to endure the torment of having a A'zhu 's twin in the form of troublemaker A'zi. Qiao Feng utterly despises A'zi's malicious behavior but feels a strong obligation to care for her because of A'zhu's dying words. With his dead lover's twin constantly by his sides, Qiao Feng is constantly reminded of the "what if" happily-ever life he could have shared with his beloved A'zhu. It is the director's intention to have A'zhi served as a character foil to demonstrate Qiao Feng's firm loyalty toward A'zhu. Despite seeing A'zi as a semi-rebirth of A'zhu, Qiao Feng never reciprocates A'zi's love. In the original novel, Qiao Feng still thinks about A'zhu even moments before his death,
I think one of Qiao Feng's most admirable traits/character appeal is his unwavering love for the dead A'zhu. I read somewhere that in the original novel, Qiao Feng supposedly teared up over 15 times. More than half of those times were attributed to Qiao Feng's lamenting over the loss of A'zhu. Since I'm such an ardent fan of the Qiao Feng/A'zhu story, I'm totally supportive of Director Lai's ideas transforming A'zhu/A'zi into twins as long as he doesn't deviates too much from the original canons.