Cast: Kris Phillips, Li Xuejian, Huang Bo, Yu Shi, Chen Muchi, Naran Fong
Runtime: 2 hrs 28 mins
Rating: NC16 (Violence)
Released By: mm2 Entertainment
Opening Day: 28 September 2023
Synopsis: The first installment starts the story with the collusion of villainous King Zhou and his consort fox spirit Su Daji, which causes the wrath of heaven. The mystic sages at Kunlun Mountain are aware of the coming chaos and send Jiang Ziya down the mountain with the “Fengshen Bang” (a list that empowers him to invest in the gods of Heaven) to find the lord of the world and save people. Prince Ji Fa, a diplomatic hostage of a client state trained by King Zhou from an early age, gradually discovers the true colors of King Zhou, though King Zhou used to be his hero. Ji Fa decides to escape the capital Chaoge to his hometown and plans an attack on King Zhou with the help of Jiang Ziya. The forces of all parties are surging, and the situation is changing.
This epic fantasy film is one of those movies where a character’s name is flashed on screen whenever someone you’ve not seen before is introduced in the story. Are you going to remember all the names? Unlikely, because there are really too many of them in this 148 minute movie (new characters are still appearing in the post credit scene). Does it matter? Probably not, because the story is engaging enough for you to be emotionally invested throughout the two and a half hours runtime.
The movie is on the 16th century Chinese novel The Investiture of the Gods (more affectionately known by its Chinese names “Fengshen Yanyi” or “Fengshen Bang”), the work attributed to Xu Zhonglin and Lu Xixing has elements of history, legends and fantasy, and consists of 100 chapters. No way this writer is going to read the novel, so he is thankful for the many TV and movie adaptations of the novel which have allowed him to enjoy the story’s rich folklore and history.
The latest version directed by Wuershan focuses on the rise and fall of Yin Shou (Kris Phillips), the tyrannical final ruler of the Shang dynasty. He is a man who yearns power, and this ambition is fueled by the appearance of an evil fox spirit who has possessed the body of his concubine (Naran). Elsewhere, his son Yin Jiao (Chen Muchi) is trying to get him to see that he is being manipulated. The young man is aided by his friend Ji Fa (Yu Shi), Yin Shou’s hostage son (yes, this is a thing in history) and royal guard.
The deities are not going to let humans mess things up and destroy themselves. Along comes Jiang Ziya (Huang Bo) and his two disciples Yang Jian (Cisha) and Nezha (Wu Yafan), who descend upon the mortal realm to deliver a sacred investiture scroll to restore order and prevent a curse from happening. Alas, Yi Shou realises the power of the scroll and becomes even more maniacal in his ways, causing a series of riotous incidents that involve humans, immortals and spirits.
Drawing from his experience in directing Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012) and Mojin: The Lost Legend (2015), Wuershan has delivered a very entertaining first instalment to the Fengshen trilogy, the most ambitious and expensive production in Chinese movie history, and definitely China’s answer to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Despite the heavy use of CGI, the story succeeds in showcasing the human stories of good versus evil, filial piety and the destruction that can be brought about by power and lust.
Phillips, the 62 year old Chinese American pop star and singer delivers a solid performance as the deranged ruler. His towering physique commands screen presence and serves the brutal leader’s personality well. With his well built physique, thks Daddy isn’t going to let his younger co stars Chen and Yu steal the limelight just because they appear topless in some scenes. With his experience in formal vocal training and musical theatre, Phillips is the right person to cast as Yin Shou, and his enigmatic charisma will definitely leave a strong impression.
This first instalment of the trilogy also features a heartfelt performance by veteran actor Li Xuejian, who plays Ji Fa’s aged father. A sequence of the old man realising a horrible truth may leave viewers teary eyed. There are also blink and you miss it appearances by well known actors like Chen Kun, Feng Shaofeng and Wu Hsing Kuo.
The movie is a promising start for the trilogy, with the sequel due for in 2024 and 2025, and we can’t wait to see the mythological showdown gods and humans.
(A visual spectacle featuring an unapologetically charismatic performance by Kris Phillips, this breathtaking blockbuster is a promising entry to the Fengshen trilogy)
Review by John Li