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Demonstrating that China can produce a lavish, mindless fantasy epic as effectively as Hollywood, Wuershan’s (Painted Skin: The Resurrection) adaptation of a novel from a best-selling series should prove a blockbuster in its native country. Receiving a day-and-date release in the United States, Mojin: The Lost Legend should also appeal to American audiences raised on a diet of Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. Heck, there are even zombies, because really, what’s a lavish, mindless fantasy epic without them?
Arriving just a few months after an earlier Chinese film (Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe) based on the same source material, the film is set in the late 1980s with its trio of tomb raiders, or Mojin — Hu Bayi (Chen Kun), Wang Kaixuan (Huang Bo) and Shirley Yang (Shu Qi, recently seen in Hsiao-Hsien Hou’s The Assassin) —retired and, for some reason, living in Manhattan. They’re lured back to their original vocation by a mysterious, businesswoman/cult leader (Liu Xiaoquing) who wants them to find the ancient tomb of a Mongolian princess. They eventually learn that what she really wants is to possess a famed artifact known as the Equinox Flower that allegedly has the power to raise the dead.
RELEASE DATE Dec 18, 2015
Upon finding the burial ground, the intrepid tomb raiders realize that it’s familiar; a flashback reveals that twenty years earlier they had entered it when they were all members of the Communist Youth League. The excursion was a disaster for reasons that won’t be revealed here, but which add a surprising political context to the otherwise pulpy material.
Once the action gets going, it really gets going, with the Mojin encountering a vast array of deadly obstacles and demonic creatures that give the proceedings the feel of a comically tinged video game. And the comedy is broad indeed; when one of the tomb raiders is forced to carry a less than svelte colleague, he asks him, “Do you ever poop?”
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Still, the martial arts-laden action is fast-paced and often thrilling, and the lavish CGI effects (which must be even more impressive in 3D, the format in which it’s being seen in its native country) are consistently superb. As with many Chinese spectacles, the film is overly long, convoluted and repetitive. But the charismatic performers — who include Angelababy as a woman at the center of a past love triangle with the two male leads — are engaging from start to finish.
Production: Wanda Media Company, Shine Asia, Huayi Brothers Media, Enlight Pictures
Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment
Cast: Shu Qi, Chen Kun, Huang Bo, Angelababy, Xia Yu, Liu Xiaoquing
Screenwriters: Tianxi Bachang, Zhang Jialu
Producer: Chen Kuo-Fu
Executive producer: Tao Kun
Director of photography: Jake Pollock
Sets and costume designer: Hao Yi
Editor: Du Yuan
Not rated, 127 min.
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