Director: Koan Xu
Cast: Jet Li, Jacky Heung, Fan Bingbing, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Louis Koo, Huang Xiaoming, Angelababy, Andy On, Wen Zhang
Runtime: 1 hr 50 mins
Rating: PG (Some Violence)
Released By: Encore Films and Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 29 July 2016
Synopsis: An imaginary time zone parallel to the Shang Dynasty, 1000 BC: The kingdom is in trouble. The autocratic King Zhou (Tony Leung Ka Fai), entranced by his favourite concubine Daji (Fan Bingbing) who is a vixen spirit in disguise, oppresses the people and banishes all opposition. A band of rebellious warriors from the Ji clan unites allied forces to overthrow the tyrant. Amongst them is Ji Lei (Jacky Heung), an orphan of the Wing Tribe who was rescued as a child by the powerful Wizard Jiang (Jet Li) on the fateful day of his Wing initiation into adulthood, when his parents were massacred by King Zhou. Haunted by his loss, Ji Lei is sent by the Wizard on a mission to seek the Sword of Light that will awaken the courage to spread his hidden wings and help restore balance to the world.
Before attending the preview of this Chinese summer action fantasy blockbuster, this writer came across an online article about how the movie is being billed as a “Chinese X Men”. Next, he watched the trailer and had a nagging feeling that he will have nothing good to say about this star studded production (if you are not the hugest fan of overdoses of special effects and computer generated creatures, then you are on this reviewer’s side).
True enough, the 110 minute movie throws scene after scene of pompous action sequences at its viewers. There is nothing particularly original about this production – it is really a messy mashup of things you have seen elsewhere.
Based on the Ming Dynasty novel Fengshen Yanyi (Investiture of the Gods) by Xu Zhonglin, the story starts of with a tyrannical king (a bored looking Tony Leung, who had seen better days in movies like the recent Cold War 2), who is also bewitched by a beautiful empress (Fan Bingbing, who is the best part about this movie), who is in fact an ancient fox demon (watch out for her giant tentacles!). Just as the evil duo are about to kill off a good guy who is holding the secrets to destroy the ultimate baddie known as the Black Dragon, good guys in the form of a righteous young man (an earnest Jacky Heung who can’t save the movie) and a powerful sorcerer (Jet Li, who can definitely do much better than this).
Elsewhere, there is a villainous general who rides on a CG black panther (Louis Koo, who probably is happy from earning some easy bucks), a rebellious warrior who flies around on CG fire wheels (Wen Zhang, who took over the role from Cecilia Chung after she was fired for poor behaviour) and a righteous warrior who yields CG weapons (an underused Huang Xiaoming). Oh, there is also the love interest character (Angelababy, looking as pretty as ever with her big dreamy eyes) who looks really happy when she sees CG blue butterflies. The good guys are supposed to hunt down a mighty sword which is supposed to save the world (but of course).
To be honest, the story does have quite a bit of potential to capitalise the characters’ campy abilities and the demons’ out of this world powers to produce an entertaining piece of work. Unfortunately, when you have HK$300 million to blow on a movie, budget is spent on trying to impress the masses with CG scenes (this columnist might have been more impressed if there were animatronics on display). Money was probably also spent on “foreign talents” like composer John Debney (The Jungle Book), animation director Randall William Cook (The Lord of the Rings), sound designer Brent Burge (The Hobbit) and editor Wayne Philip Wahrman (I Am Legend).
The result? A mess that can hardly be salvaged. We just need to mention one scene for you to know what to expect – A CG Nezha invades an underwater palace and destroys CG sea monsters with CG fart. Yup, you read it right. We rest our case here - till the sequel comes along (yup, there will probably be one).
(Even the star studded cast is not enough a reason for us to recommend this soulless mess of a movie)
Review by John Li