Director: Han Yan
Cast: Li Yifeng, Zhou Dongyu, Michael Douglas
RunTime: 2 hrs 12 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 28 June 2018
Synopsis: Muddling along a path in life without any aim, Zheng Kaisi (starring Li Yifeng) lands himself in debt, with his mother in a vegetative state relying on him and his childhood sweetheart Liuqing (starring Zhou Dongyu) for survival. In order to repay his debts, he boards a gambling ship called “Destiny” to attend a mysterious gambling party. If he wins, all his debts will be cancelled. The game rules seem very simple, however, any tricks can be used in the game. Kaisi is soon overwhelmed by the countless traps and schemes. He must survive the game well-planned by Anderson (starring Michael Douglas), the leader behind all the tricks at the gambling party…
We had many questions when the trailer of this action fantasy thriller surfaced online. Why are the characters travelling between alternate realities? Why are there clowns fighting scary monsters? What is Michael Douglas doing in this Mainland Chinese production?
In this adaptation of a Japanese manga (a rarity for Chinese films), the story takes place on a cruise ship aptly called Destiny, where a young man gets involved in a dangerous bet to save his ill mother. Things get messy when the antagonist doesn’t play by the rules, and our hero travel from one universe to another battling strange creatures which spurt gooey liquid.
Sounds absurd? Things are not going to be that easy to understand throughout this 132 minute movie. The protagonist is a disillusioned teenager one moment, and before you know it, he is a terrifying clown who gives Pennywise the Dancing Clown a run for his money. You aren’t sure whether he possesses superhero powers, but the wildly imaginative scenes are so engaging, you won’t be too bothered by the unrealistic setup.
Things don’t get any simpler as the screenplay attempts to introduce you to a game the protagonist has to play to get the happy ending he deserves. You try your best to understand the developing plot, but the well choreographed action sequences distract you. As a result, you do not realise you haven’t fully grasped the storyline. This is not surprising, considering how the original concept was from Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s manga Ultimate Survivor, which was previously made into two movies in Japan. And viewers who are familiar with films adapted from manga would know that there are countless twists and turns in the story.
Fortunately, the confusing screenplay isn’t a critical flaw of this film because the scenes manage to maintain your attention. The production design is gorgeous: the psychedelic colours are generally splashed across the screen, the editing is fast paced and the music score is epic. The special effects aren’t too shoddy either – the budget dedicated to this movie that opened the Shanghai Film Festival earlier this year must have been huge.
It also helps that the cast is likeable. Li Yifeng (The Founding of an Army) takes on the role of the protagonist, and he is earnest enough to pull off the character of a hero who is shortchanged in life, and righteous without being irritating or whiny. Zhou Dongyu (This Is Not What I Expected) plays a nurse and is her usual sweet self. Before you see Douglas returing to the big screen as Hank Pym, he does what he does best here by playing a snarky villain. With limited screen time, the veteran Hollywood actor manages to leave an impression.
Will this movie helmed by Chinese writer director Han Yan (First Time) work make a mark in cinema history? The effects are dazzling and may leave the less impatient viewers dizzy in their heads. But somewhere out there, there is definitely a demographic who will embrace this adrenaline pumped brave new filmmaking approach from China. While we can’t be sure whether the general masses will lap it up, there is definitely room for a sequel and we are hoping to see it materialise.
(The dazzling fantasy action thriller is entertaining enough for you to see beyond its sometimes confusing plot)
Review by John Li