'Mojin: The Worm Valley': Film Review
Tomb raiders in search of the cure for an ancient curse battle a series of monstrous creatures in this fantasy adventure based on the Chinese best-selling book series 'Ghost Blows Out the Light.'
In the sequel to the 2015 fantasy adventure Mojin: The Lost Legend, a band of intrepid explorers battles a series of fantastical creatures. The monsters include killer fish as well as giant lizards, crabs and snakes. It's enough to make you hungry for sushi after the movie. But what's truly strange about Mojin: The Worm Valley is that there doesn't seem to be a worm in sight.
This film, like its predecessor, is based on Zhang Muye's best-selling, eight-volume fantasy book series Ghost Blows Out the Light (don't go looking for it, it's not available in English translation). although it features an entirely different cast. To make things even more confusing, there's another unrelated pic, 2015's Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe, based on the same source material.
The story, such as it is, is set in motion by an ancient queen's curse whose sufferers bear a large mark on their shoulder and face the prospect of an early death. The latter aspect is obviously the most disturbing, since the mark looks like a really cool tattoo. Among those afflicted are a group of adventurers, led by Hu Bayi (Cai Heng) and Shirley Yang (Gu Xuan), whose specialty is tomb raiding. It's a skill that will come in handy for their latest excursion, which involves heading deep into the heart of Worm Valley, located on a remote island. There they intend to search for the Tomb of Emperor Xian, which supposedly houses a mystical orb that can lift the curse. Among the group is Professor Sun (Cheng Taishen), because every mission of this sort requires an expert who can answer all the questions, of which there are many.
The feature is essentially comprised of one action set piece after another in which the group engages in battles with the aforementioned creatures, including the blade-toothed "viperfish" and deadly "flameflies" that look much more harmless than they are, all rendered in alternately impressive and godawful CGI. Director Fei Xing stages the violent mayhem in exuberantly giddy fashion, although it all has the feeling of a group of randomly assembled film clips rather than a coherent narrative.
There are plot elements, to be sure, including a budding romance between two of the more attractive members of the group, but they're not exactly given substantial treatment. The paper-thin characterizations and hackneyed dialogue (the latter especially painful since non-Chinese speakers are forced to read it via subtitles) serve as little more than narrative lubricant between the breakneck action sequences. More problematically, the performers lack the necessary charisma to fully involve us in their characters' fates.
Nonetheless, it all goes down fairly easily, although the film will necessarily be more appealing to fans of the books than neophytes. There are certainly more than enough of them in its native country, since Mojin: The Lost Legend is twelfth on the list of China's all-time highest grossers. And you can definitely expect another sequel, since this edition features a cliffhanger ending that all but promises one.
Production companies: Dream Author Pictures, Huayi Brothers Pictures, Tencent Penguin Pictures
Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment
Cast: Cai Heng, Gu Xuan, Yu Heng, Chen Yusi, Ma Yuke, Cheng Taishen
Director: Fei Xing
Executive producers: Wang Caixia, Wang Zhongjun, Wang Zhonglei