MOJIN: THE WORM VALLEY (2018) review

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A new term should be coined for films like Mojin: The Worm Valley. Based on Tianxia Bachang’s 2006 best-selling series of eight novels, Ghost Blows Out the Light, it thus exists in the same universe and follows the same characters as Lu Chuan’s Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe and Wuershan’s Mojin: The Lost Legend. Yet, being from the same studio as the latter film, it is not a rival adaptation per se. And it’s neither a sequel nor a prequel, as its events and depictions of characters do not fit with The Lost Legend‘s narrative. And it doesn’t seem to be a reboot, as there was word not so long ago of a Mojin Returns, with Chen Kun set to return to the lead. And while Wuershan’s film was a sizable hit – still the 12th highest-grossing Chinese film of all-time – The Worm Valley inexplicably scales things down both in terms of scope and in terms of cast, with Cheng Taishen the only recognizable face in the cast, let alone anyone of the A-list stature of Chen Kun, Shu Qi or Huang Bo. And as Fei Xing’s film looks set, after a few days on Chinese screen, to gross but a tiny fraction of The Lost Legend‘s box-office take, the whole thing appears quite a head-scratching way of managing a successful IP on the part of backers Enlight and Huayi.

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LEGEND OF THE DEMON CAT (2017) review

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Based on a best-seller by Japanese author Baku Yumemakura, this massive, 200-million dollars production – whose enormous sets are soon to become an amusement park – is a uniquely ambitious co-production between Mainland China, Japan and Hong Kong. It takes place in the year 805, as a mysterious black cat stalks the imperial palace in Chang’an, just as the gravely ill emperor Dezong dies from a violent fit ; the same cat appears to Chen Yunqiao (Qin Hao), captain of the imperial guard, and to his wife Chunqin (Zhang Yuqi), revealing to them a cache of money, but asking in return to be fed eyes – the eyes of any creature, including humans. Buddhist monk Kukai (Shota Sometani), who had arrived from Japan to meet the emperor and senses the presence of the black cat, joins forces with scholar, poet and newly-fired imperial scribe Bai Letian (Huang Xuan) to unravel the mystery: they soon realize it takes its root thirty years before, when Tang emperor Xuanzong (Zhang Luyi) had his consort – and legendary beauty – Yang Yuhuan (Sandrine Pinna) killed. A known historical fact, about which Bai Letian has been writing a poem for the past few years: and yet it may be a lie, as the personal account of Abe no Nakamaro (Hiroshi Abe), a scholar who knew the emperor and his consort, seems to reveal.

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EXPLOSION (2017) review

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Zhao Xudong (Duan Yihong) is a “blaster”, an explosives engineer working in coal mines, in the northern province of Shanxi. One day, one of his carefully prepared explosions goes wrong, and four miners die while Zhao survives, with a concussion. Mine owner Li Yi (Lu Peng) pays him off to keep his mouth shut about the incident, which appears to be linked to a current power struggle between Li and a local businessman, Cheng Fei (Cheng Taishen). But Zhao’s childhood friend, police detective Xu Feng (Wang Jingchun) is already sniffing around for clues, and soon Zhao is stuck in the middle of a turf war and a police investigation, trying to clear his name and protect his pregnant girlfriend Xiao Hong (Yu Nan), while a killer (Yu Ailei) is on his trail.

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NAMIYA (2017) review

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Mere months after the Japanese adaptation of Keigo Higashino’s best-selling novel The Miracles of the Namiya General Store, comes a Chinese adaptation directed by Han Jie, with input from popular novelist, blogger and director Han Han. Three orphans, Xiaobo (Karry Wang), Tong Tong (Dilraba Dilmurat) and Jie (Dong Zi Jian) burglarize a rich woman’s house on new year’s eve, then run away in her car. They decide to lay low in an abandoned general store, but strange things start happening: a letter is dropped in an old letterbox at the front of the shop, and seems to have been written by someone more than twenty years before. The orphans decide to answer it, and get an almost immediate, handwritten answer through the same letterbox, once again apparently from the past. They learn that the store used to belong to a kind old man (Jackie Chan) who would impart wise advice to anonymous people in need through letters dropped in front and behind the store.

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