'The Thousand Faces of Dunjia': Film Review

The Thousand Faces of Dunjia Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Well Go USA
A peppy but generic fantasy with action too reliant on CG.

Martial arts legends Yuen Wo Ping and Tsui Hark step away from their roots for an effects-heavy fantasy adventure.

Members of an ancient clan of do-gooders must retrieve an all-powerful magic orb in order to restore peace and order to the — well, you know the drill — in The Thousand Faces of Dunjia, a lively if very familiar-feeling fantasy adventure from writer/producer Tsui Hark and director Yuen Wo Ping. Those two names will ensure attention in the West to this aspiring franchise-starter; but Americans who know Yuen for his thrilling fight work in Kill Bill, The Grandmaster, Drunken Master and countless other films will not see his signature here. Viewers with a high tolerance for computer-generated fantasy are the target this time, and may well enjoy the ride.

Hong Kong pop star Aarif Lee plays Dao, an enthusiastic rookie constable who is being hazed by his elders — sent throughout the countryside pursuing villains who don't exist — when he encounters a real challenge: a magic, three-eyed fish that can swell to the size of a man and appears to be part of some evil conspiracy.

The ensuing fight introduces him to a mysterious woman called Dragonfly (Ni Ni, of The Flowers of War), a member of the Wuyin clan. Despite her efforts to avoid him, the two continue to cross paths, and when a monster chops an arm and a leg off Dao, Dragonfly is forced to introduce him to her brother Zhuge and the rest of the Wuyin team. (Tsui's screenplay invests little in this motley handful of associates; aside from Zhuge and Dragonfly and the leader Big Brother, the warriors get little to do.)

As it expands on the hunt for the eponymous Dunjia, your typical Orb of Infinite Power, the film makes extensive use of its CGI departments. Three main baddies are pure CG creations, and the powerful leaders of rival clans are distinguished solely by their various video game-like powers. (One creates infernos, one whooshes vast streams of water around, and so on.) Action choreography by Yuen Cheung Yan and Yuen Shun Yi, therefore, consists largely of moving the humans around a green screen; the chopsocky or swordplay we might expect from Yuen Wo Ping is not to be found.

Opening action sequences project a cartoony comic flavor that has promise, but that peters out as the battles grow increasingly cosmic. Instead, the pic starts milking mild double-entendres for comic relief and focusing on gags involving an adolescent girl, called Circle, who may be destined to become the Wuyin clan's new leader. More than once, the action contrives to have her fall, topless, onto the prone Zhuge, and her clinginess to the adult who has rescued her is a little uncomfortable in this season of revelations about grown men with a taste for young girls. With luck, Circle will be an adult before filmmakers get around to the sequel they promise in closing scenes.

Production companies: Flagship Entertainment Group, Gravity Pictures, Heyi Pictures
Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment
Cast: Aarif Lee, Da Peng, Dongyu Zhou, Ni Ni
Director: Yuen Wo Ping
Screenwriter: Tsui Hark
Producers: Tsui Hark, Nansun Shi, Wei Junzi, Jiang Wei, Anthony Wong
Director of photography: Choi Sung Fai
Production designer: Wu Ming
Costume designer: Shirley Chan
Editors: Li Lin, Tsui Hark
Composers: Li Ye, Tsui Hark

In Mandarin
112 minutes