The knight of shadows: between yin and yang

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Sat, 9 Mar 2019ReviewsA Gan, Cheng Long, Choi Yeong-hwan, Comedy, Drama, Jackie Chan, Kiefer Liu, Lin Bohong, Lin Peng, Liu Bohan, Pu Songling, Qiao Shan, Ruan Jingtian, Yan Jia, Zhao Zhao, Zhong Chuxisinocinema

The Knight of Shadows: Between Yin and Yang

神探蒲松龄

China, 2019, colour, 2.35:1, 3-D, 107 mins.

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Director: Yan Jia 严嘉.

Rating: 5/10.

Costume fantasy with Cheng Long và competing storylines is a very mixed bag.

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STORY

Jinhua township, Zhejiang province, southern China, early Qing dynasty, c. AD 1700. Writer và demon-hunter Pu Songling (Cheng Long) lives in his mountain-top studio Liao Zhai with his menagerie of goblins (Piggy 猪狮虎, Fartie 屁屁, Happy 忘忧, Thousand Hands 千手), telling local children fairy stories & then trying to lớn sell them his books. When parents complain he’s been frightening their kids, young detective Yan Fei (Lin Bohong) is sent by chief constable Liu Quanzhen (Qiao Shan) khổng lồ find out what is going on. Among Pu Songling’s chickens he discovers artifacts from a jewellery-shop burglary he’s been investigating. Pu Songling says he knows who the thief is & transports Yan Fei lớn Jinhua township lớn arrest him. Liu Quanzhen, however, ends up taking the credit. Meanwhile, the demon Nie Xiaoqian (Zhong Chuxi) kidnaps Chu Pu (Jiang Yan), the impressionable daughter of county magistrate Chu (Pan Changjiang), by promising her eternal beauty. Wandering swordsman Yan Chixia (Ruan Jingtian), who has some kind of history with Nie Xiaoqian, tries khổng lồ rescue Chu Pu but fails. Nie Xiaoqian’s elder sister, the Mirror Demon 镜妖 (Lin Peng), tells her lớn forget him. Chu orders Liu Quanzhen khổng lồ find his daughter. In the meantime, Yan Fei, impressed by Pu Songling & fed up with Liu Quanzhen’s constant belittling, forces Pu Songling to lớn take him on as a pupil to lớn improve his abilities. Yan Chixia follows the Mirror Demon trang chủ at night & tries to lớn force her khổng lồ reveal Nie Xiaoqian’s whereabouts. During a battle between the two he’s saved by the arrival of Pu Songling who eventually imprisons the Mirror Demon in his book of spells. Yan Chixia rests at Pu Songling’s studio and next day Yan Fei bursts in with the news that Nie Xiaoqian is in Lanruo Temple. The three men mix off there but Nie Xiaoqian has heard that Pu Songling has “killed” her sister & thinks they have come lớn kill her too. After a battle, she escapes thanks khổng lồ Yan Chixia’s help. Next day, Chu appoints Yan Fei as chief constable to lớn find Chu Pu, while Yan Chixia – who, in a previous existence as Ning Caishen, had been in love with Nie Xiaoqian – tries to lớn rescue their former relationship.

REVIEW

A highly fictional version of classical tác giả Pu Songling 蒲松龄 (Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio 聊斋志异) lies at the centre of The Knight of Shadows: Between Yin & Yang 神探蒲松龄, an uneasy mixture of veteran icon Cheng Long 成龙 cavorting with CGI goblins and a more sweeping love story between a young swordsman and a female demon. With Mainland director A Gan 阿甘 (Don Quixote 魔侠传之唐吉可德, 2010; Brothers 钢刀, 2016) on hand as creative producer 监制, the patchily scripted movie is partly rescued by a light touch from Guizhou-born director Yan Jia 严嘉, 33 – who debuted with quái dị movie Bugs 3D食人虫 (2014) – some fine technical credits, và a charismatic female lead in Zhong Chuxi 钟楚曦 (so good in student sex comedy Dude’s Manual 脱单告急, 2018). However, Chinese New Year audiences were not impressed, with Knight taking only a weedy RMB152 million.

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The film’s Chinese title (“Detective Pu Songling”) promises a kind of literary version of Detective Dee, but the Qing-dynasty writer, whose fame rests on his huge collection of fairy/ghost tales published in the early 18th century, is trivialised into a Cheng-style cheeky chappie who’s always trying to hawk his books inbetween a second career as a demon-hunter with a menagerie of cute goblins. The main plot, which starts with Pu Songling helping an inexperienced young detective in a kidnap case, gradually gets sidelined by that of the kidnapper (a female demon, with an especially evil elder sister) và her onetime lover who’s trying khổng lồ patch their relationship up. This latter plot strand uses characters from one of Pu Songling’s best-known short stories Nie Xiaoqian 聂小倩 – featured in innumerable TV dramas và movies, especially the various Chinese Ghost Story 倩女幽魂 ones – but with no closer connection to the original story than many of them. In other words, Knight is a considerable mash-up on any level.

All that aside, the screenplay co-written by Liu Bohan (rural drama Knocking on Heaven’s Door 敲天堂之门, 2013; yuppie comedy-drama EX-Files 前任攻略, 2014) doesn’t make a very good case for itself, swerving this way & that while trying khổng lồ anchor the film round a major star. Cheng, who looks positively youthful in some shots and more his age (64) in others, veers between comedy và drama with fleeting kích hoạt pranks, while Taiwan actor-singer Lin Bohong 林柏宏, 31, doesn’t cut much of a profile beyond a clumsy young sidekick. Mainland comic Qiao Shan 乔杉 (the duplicitous husband in Kill Mobile 来电狂响, 2018) is amusing as the incompetent chief constable but Taiwan pinup Ruan Jingtian 阮经天, a variable actor at the best of times, is bland as the swordsman/lover. It’s Zhong, 25 – also notable as the dancer-narrator in Youth 芳华 (2017) – who gives the film some oomph as the red-robed demon, oozing evil sexuality and well-partnered by fellow Mainlander Lin Peng 林鹏, 22, the flashing-eyed Hun warrior in Cheng vehicle Dragon Blade 天将雄师 (2015), as her nastier big sister.

The whole package is helped by more consistent technical credits. Scoring by Zhao Zhao 赵兆 (Don Quixote) is light và lively, alert khổng lồ the changing moods & not just, as in so many fantasy movies, sonic wallpaper. Widescreen photography by ace South Korean d.p. Choi Yeong-hwan 츼영환 | 崔永桓 (The Berlin File 베를린, 2013; Veteran 베테랑, 2015) also enhances the light cảm ứng with its pastelly colours and textured look khổng lồ the costumes. Compared with other fantasies the final half-hour, though dramatically jerky, is not just solid VFX.

CREDITS

Presented by iQiyi Pictures (CN), Beijing Sparkle Roll truyền thông media (CN), GS Studios (CN).

Script: Liu Bohan, Jian Wen. Photography: Choi Yeong-hwan. Editing: Huang Hai. Music: Zhao Zhao. Art direction: Jiu Cheng. Styling: Guo Pei. Sound: Steve Burgess. Action: Ke Jun. Visual effects: Zhang Tao.

Cast: Cheng Long (Pu Songling), Ruan Jingtian (Ning Caichen/Yan Chixia), Zhong Chuxi (Nie Xiaoqian), Lin Bohong (Yan Fei), Lin Peng (Mirror Demon), Qiao Shan (Liu Quanzhen, head constable), Pan Changjiang (Chu, county magistrate), Yuan Jingdan (Mrs. Chu), Jiang Yuan (Chu Pu, Chu’s daughter), Liu Zhifu (Jiankang, constable), Liu Zhiman (Jianzhuang, constable) Liu Zhitang (Jianmei, constable).

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