Zhong Kui: Snow Girl And The Dark Crystal(2015)
- RatedPG13 /GenreAction, Adventure, Fantasy
Zhong Kui is a well-known figure in Chinese mythology folklore, and so potent that the painting of his image is often hung in households and offices as a guardian spirit to ward off evil.
Traditionally known as "hell's king of ghosts”, Zhong Kui is in charge of policing and hunting evil wandering spirits, thereby maintaining order among the spirits belonging to the underworld and the human world.
Although the legend of this supernatural figure has been adapted into drama series before, ‘Zhongkui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal’ is probably the first movie adaptation for a contemporary audience.
It is largely an origins story of how he came to be a demon fighter.
Despite taking several poetic and artistic licences, the movie stays largely true to the backstory of this idealistic young man who was wrongly stripped of his top honours at the imperial exams and the tragedy that ensues.
Chen Kun, one of China’s top movie actors, sports a beard to play the lead character.
His good looks notwithstanding, Chen is a highly watchable actor with depth, and largely underrated due to the slew of bad material that he had to work with previously.
Here, he has room to flex his acting muscles with this complex character, who is at times unpredictable and ill-tempered, other times displaying emotional pathos when torn between love and duty.
His love interest is played by Li Bing Bing, last seen in ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’. One of China’s biggest movie stars, Li plays a demon named Snow Girl, with the ability to command ice and snow.
She has a relationship with the young scholarly Zhong Kui, and their love is later severely tested by his unwavering duty and stoic belief that humans and demons should not be together.
The two share a beautifully crafted and moving moment towards the end, and in between, there is much sexual tension and chemistry between them, bouyed by a number of teasing love scenes.
Other actors worth mentioning are Winston Chao (‘Wedding Banquet’) who is almost unrecognisable playing a rogue deity, and Yang Zishan (‘So Young’), who plays Zhong Kui’s sister, providing some light comic relief with her onscreen love interest Du Ping in an otherwise serious and ambitious epic drama.
TOO-FAMILIAR CHARACTER DESIGNS
Ambitious is probably an understatement for this movie with lofty Hollywood-like motivations. The producers have publicly declared that they wanted to make a Chinese superhero movie.
Taking an obvious cue from Hollywood's ‘Avatar’, all the demons and even Zhong Kui himself can transform into alternate personalities that are much more powerful than their human forms, each with their unique magical abilities.
The problem lies in the character designs: the demons and underworld creatures all resemble characters from dated video games, and at best, imitations of Hollywood ones.
Especially jarring is the all-powerful Demon King, whose character design seems to have been borrowed largely from the evil Balrog of ‘Lord of the Rings’.
It comes as no surprise when seeing the end credits that an army of South Korean CGI animators and Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop were responsible for the visual effects and designs of the creatures.
While largely well-executed, and probably tailored for contemporary tastes, it is a pity that the character designs do not lean more towards its Chinese roots and folklore inspirations.
The overdone special effects for the combat scenes failed to generate much excitement, and very soon, loses its initial novelty. And the Dark Crystal that is wanted and hunted by all parties is a distracting and confusing element.
DIRECTOR REDEEMS HIMSELF
Co-directing with Zhang Tianyu, Oscar-winning cinematographer Peter Pau (‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’) is more recognised for his technical mastery in filmmaking and was at first tasked to handle the cinematography and visual effects for this movie.
As co-director, he managed to strike a balance between the big action scenes and the more intimate and dramatic elements. This is a welcomed redemption from his last directorial effort, ‘The Touch’ (2002), which was a box-office failure and universally panned.
In ‘Zhongkui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal’, there is a blink-and-you-will-miss-it shot of Pau’s cameo, where he sits on the Heavenly Throne as the Jade Emperor.
With the movie already a box-office hit in China, Pau may find himself sitting on the director’s chair for more movies yet.
‘Zhongkui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal’ opens 12 March 2015