THE YINYANG MASTER (侍神令) (NETFLIX) (2021)
SYNOPSIS: Yin Yang Master, Qingming, is in peril as a result of the covenant he made with the monsters and the disturbance considered to be his fault. Meanwhile, the evil Monster Emperor forces are coming back to the human world to retrieve the Scale Stone and stir up colossal trouble. The world is on the verge of a devastating war with human's future at stake. At this turbulent and volatile moment, Qingming suddenly finds out that the key to all the calamities is his hybrid identity of both human and monster.
Tsui Hark laid the groundwork for wuxia, fantasy movies with Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain decades ago and in addition the recent Detective Dee series. If you love all of the above, then you will surely find there’s lots to rave about in The YinYang Master.
Not to be confused with The Ying Yang Master: Dream of Eternity which is based on the novel that inspired the videogame “Onmyoji”, The YinYang Master instead is the direct adaptation of the mobile game. Sounds confusing but it’s not something to be concerned about really.
Half-man, half-demon Qing Ming (Chen Kun) is now a disgraced member of the Bureau after he is suspected of betraying them by killing his fellow disciples and releasing an evil demon dubbed Snow Queen (Cici Wang) seven years ago. The Bureau who is in charge of keeping the peace in the human realm is now led by Qing Ming’s friend, Baini (Zhou Xun). With the scaling stone which contained a demonic presence going missing, Baini’s first intuition is to confront Qing Ming. Even though Qing Ming is living in exile with a bunch of friendly spirits, he reluctantly has to team up with a city guard, Captain Yuan (Qu Chuxiao) to venture into the demon realm to retrieve a magical sword before helping Baini in her quest to get the scaling stone back.
The YinYang Master comes from writer Chang Chia-Lu and producers of the Detective Dee series so there’s some slight similarities on how things worked with the obvious exception of a less complicated narrative. The movie fares more like a supernatural actioner than a murder mystery with plenty of CGI to go around. The premise mostly revolves around Qing Ming on whether is he a trustworthy soul or has he made a pact with the demon to destroy human beings. The narrative keeps you guessing but it’s not that hard to speculate who is the real demon if you look through the cast list.
Despite the recurring theme, there’s no explanation or a backstory on how Qing Ming turned out to be a half-breed. There also seems to be a hint of romance between Qing Ming and Baini but their relationship and feud is never clearly resolved in the end. While Dream of Eternity has Mark Chao in the lead, The YinYang Master benefits from the casting of China’s two biggest stars, Chen Kun and Zhou Xun. Chen Kun is perfectly cast as the mysterious Qing Ming, aloof, dashing and cool. Probably what you would expect from a Yin Yang master. Top-billed Zhou Xun however is kind of short-changed given that her character’s screentime is surprisingly limited.
Still, being a supernatural martial-arts blended movie with its source material originating from Japan, the movie’s production design is heavily influenced by both Chinese and Japanese mythological folklore resulting in rich CGI and physical sets. The demon realm is also populated with all kinds of demons in all shapes and sizes which makes Mos Eisley Cantina seems like a kids playground.
The YinYang Master is a big budget CGI spectacle boasting the presence of two big stars. In some ways, the lush visual effects and rich production design have stolen the limelight out of the generic storytelling of good versus evil. Well, it doesn’t stop us from loving this one from director Li Weiran given the fascinating combination of magic, martial-arts and demons. You got to seriously give this a chance.
Review by Linus Tee