Friday, August 05, 2016

League of Gods

I joke every year about needing to pull out of Fantasia slowly, and it's not really necessary; I just wanted to see the new Jet Li movie in 3D and it's going to be down to one 2D show a day when I get back to Boston. I wound up with a pretty big theater nearly all to myself for a thoroughly goofy movie.

I liked it, though it took me until a couple hours later to realize that I like it in the same way as Gods of Egypt, only a bit more so because Alex Proyas's movie backed off the insanity a bit toward the end, and this thing is crazy to the finish. One thing I wonder while watching it, though, is if we're ever going to get to the point where we admit to liking goofy CGI things.

One of the things we had at Fantasia this year was an early-1980s Shaw Brothers movie, Holy Flame of the Martial World, and it's goofy as all get-out, with some obviously fake effects work, but people enjoyed the over-the-top nature of its artifice, sometimes liking it because it doesn't have the budget to realize all of its ambitions. I see that all the time at the Boston Sci-Fi Festival, too, with folks talking about how charming old movies with effects that were laughable even for their time are. It continues right up into the 1980s and 1990s, but as soon as you get to CGI, it's like people can't enjoy a stretched visual effects budget any more. They know better, but they think of any people involved with CGI as just pressing a "do it" button rather than coming up with concept art and models that are as detailed as any mechanical ones. they lament the lack of compromise that allows someone using CGI to fall short at a more ambitious level than someone using models.

Maybe we're still a generation away, and fifteen or twenty years from now there will be people who remember League of Gods and Gods of Egypt fondly as the ambitiously absurd things that they are, coming from the same place as Zardoz but just using different technology.

Feng Shen Bang (League of Gods)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 August 2016 in Cineplex Odeon Forum Cinemas #4 (first-run, RealD DCP)

While a great many other folks in line were catching the day-early screenings of Suicide Squad, I opted to catch League of Gods while I still had a chance. Folks, I can't speak for the thing Warner Brothers is putting out, but if you're going to spend some money at the theater and put on some 3D glasses to watch superhumans battle, check and see if the import from Hong Kong is playing in your area. It is, by most reasonable standards, not exactly a high-quality movie, but it is so dedicated to having something utterly bonkers on screen at all times that it at least demands some attention.

It starts out with a shot of flying battleships laying seige to a stone city, but zooms right past that to introduce King Zhou (Tony Leung Ka-fai) of Zhaoge and his royal consort, Daji the Nine-Tailed Fox (Fan Bingbing) as they plot world conquest, although an army from the Ji Clan led by Ji Lei (Jacky Heung Cho) - the last orphaned child of the Wing Clan who also has "Adept Powers" - and foster brother Ji Fa (Andy On Chi-kit) is coming to rescue the Invisible Tribesmen and their Grand Elder (Lee Chi-hung), though the latter requires the powers of Master Jiang (Jet Li), who gets hit by Daji's Reverse Aging Curse. Both sides wind up with one of the Elder's magic eyes that can lead to the Sword of Light, perhaps the only thing that can kill Zhou, who has traded his body for that of a dragon, though both he and Daji look human enough most of the time.

There's more - good golly, there's more; there are about four or five things about Lei's sidekick Naza (Wen Zhang), who is usually but not always a CGI kung-fu baby that are completely insane. Though Ji Fa misses out on most of the excess until the end, the film hs what seems like a couple dozen noteworthy characters that show up as Ji Lei quests for the sword, and none of them are just one thing; they're all got twice as much going on as they need, and all that eventually just gets the movie to a cliffhanger. At times, it feels like the three credited screenwriters figure that they are not likely to make this kind of FX-driven fantasy again, and they pour every wacky idea they have into it, and the producers accommodate them by putting together a pretty spiffy cast.

Full review on EFC.

No comments: