21 May 2020 | david_rudy_lee
Solid Remake with Updated Effects
This was a film that I obtained when I was trying to get the original one. I decided since I already had it to go ahead and check it out anyways. I did end up digging the original and I believe at the time of writing this it's been roughly a year since that viewing. The synopsis for this one is tax collector Ning (Shaoqun Yu), a clumsy and easily frightened man, decides to help a village by going up the nearby mountain. When he and his crew decide to stay in what they think is an abandoned temple, they discover a supernatural evil.
First off, if I credit the wrong character to the incorrect actor/actress, I apologize. The Internet Movie Database names are slightly different from the subtitles on what I watched. We do start this off with a demon hunter, Yan Chixia (Louis Koo). He falls in love with a demon he is supposed to kill, Nie Xiaoqian (Yifei Liu). It turns out to be a test from the master demon hunter, Ha Suet Fun Lui (Siu-Wong Fan). They are trying to destroy a Tree Demon (Kara Wait). Because of Yan's delay, Ha loses an arm. She is banished, threatening to return.
It then shifts into the future. We have Ning Caichen (Yu) as he makes his way through the wilderness. He tries to use a well and is taken prisoner, dropping an amulet. Ti Nga (Jing Li) finds and grabs it. Ning is being treated as a thief by the village chiefs, Elvis Tsui and Hark-On Fung. Ti arrives just in time and they free him. Ning is confused to be help from the capital as this village is experiencing a drought. He is supposed to go up the mountain to fix the water supply. No one will come with him though, out of fear of something supernatural. They're very quiet about what though. Ning is accompanied by Ti and a group of prisoners that are forced.
They come to a large tree and Ning believes there must be water nearby. He finds a small white fox inside of it and gives it a piece of candy. A storm rolls in and the men must seek shelter. They use what they think is an abandoned temple. There's a pool inside of it and Ning starts to test it, to see if this is the answer he is looking for. His men are enticed away by demons that take the form of women. Ning also encounters Nie. She comes on to him pretty aggressive and he rebuffs her. He is smitten though.
All of the men are killed and Yan, who is much older now, arrives and killing many of the demons. Nie and Ning flee from the temple. Ning thinks he is a psychopath. The Tree Demon needs Ning to free herself, but Nie is torn on what to do. Yan tries to prevent her from taking Ning and releasing herself from banishment. The water from the pool in the temple also poisons the town and Ha must come back to destroy the Tree Demon for good.
There's where I want to leave the recap and I should point out there's quite a bit of things that I left out. This movie runs around 100 minutes, but I will say that it never really drug for me. Visually this movie is pretty great if I'm going to be honest. I'm glad that they kept what was done in the original, but just used more of the technology that is available to them.
Since I'm a story guy that is where I want to go first. I'm interested in Chinese history, especially the Three Kingdoms era, but aside from that, I'm pretty green with their lore. Now since I've seen the original and this version, this story is told in very similar ways. It is interesting that their take on demons are just beautiful women that steal men's life-force. We do see that they harbor the more monstrous take that we get in the western world as well. That doesn't come out until provoked or they're killed. It is cool though having the Tree Demon that is powerful and wanting out.
There's also this social commentary here about forbidden love. It starts with Yan whose job it is to kill demons. Nie and him do fall in love in the beginning, but they know they can't be together. That prevents him from killing her though. The Tree Demon toys with this when dealing with Nie when she falls for Ning. With how it plays out in the end, it really does kind of feel like a love story that doesn't have a happy ending. I feel this can be correlated to things like marrying outside of your financial circumstances or race or a multitude of factors. Those are just the more common ones.
Even though I really liked this movie, I still think that it is too long. I'm on board for the set up that we get here. They don't go really that deep into the mythology, but we really don't need it. I do think there are some parts that just run a little bit long without adding a whole lot to the overall product. It does culminate with a pretty epic battle scene, which I'm not going to lie, runs almost 20 minutes. We do get quite a bit of action throughout, but there are just some things that could be tightened up in my eyes.
Shifting this over the acting, I thought it was pretty solid. Koo is great as this demon hunter that has a sense of duty, which I know is important in Asian cultures, and wanting to be with his forbidden lover. He becomes a bitter older man which he does really well. Liu is quite attractive and I liked her in a similar vein as Yan. Yu does great as playing this bumbling guy. It really feels real that he is that guy and there's also an innocence about him that works. Wai is also really good. I love how villainous she is, but I don't hate her completely for whatever reason. She's a demon and she is doing what she is supposed to. She is also utilizing men and their desires which I can't blame her. The rest of the cast is fine in rounding this out for what is needed.
That will take me to the last thing I really wanted to go over which are the effects. Since the original came out 30+ years prior, they decided to use CGI here. I will say there were only a few times that it took me out of things. For the most part, I think they use to enhance aspects and it makes for some beautiful shots. It seems they couple it with the wire work that they were known for. I'm not the biggest fan of it, I will admit that, but I've come to appreciate what they're doing with it. I like the look of the 'demon essence'. The tiny little fox is adorable. Even though there was a few times that I could tell it was CGI. Overall the effects are pretty solid. The cinematography is also beautiful as well.
Now with that said, I'm glad that I decided to actually watch this movie, because I'll be honest, I ended up really enjoying it. It has an interesting story with some commentary behind it. The visuals are pretty amazing even if all of the effects don't necessarily work for me. I'd say the performances from all of the stars were pretty solid and the supporting cast helped to build what they needed. It does run a bit long in my eyes and there's some stuff that could have been trimmed to tighten it up. Aside from that, the soundtrack fit for what they needed as well. I would say that this is above average and a lot of fun. Be warned, this is from China and Hong Kong so I watched it with subtitles on. If that is an issue, avoid this as I don't think you'll enjoy it. If not, it is a fun little film for sure.