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April 28, 2016

Mojin: The Lost Legend

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Wuershan - 2015
Well Go USA Entertainment BD Region A

I'm not sure what a non-Chinese audience will make of Mojin. The basic story of a trio of tomb raiders seeking a lost treasure, in a film laden with special effects, can't help but make an audience think of Steven Spielberg and the Indiana Jones series. With special effects being computer generated, there is nothing special about the effects, as anything imagined can now be rendered with enough sense of realism that any sense of magic is lost.

There is an unexpected aspect to Mojin that raises questions about content and context, based on what is allowed in a film made primarily for a mainland Chinese audience. The film initial takes place in 1988, with a flashback to 1968. The two male lead characters, Hu and Wang, are lured into returning to Mongolia to seek out the Equinox Flower. The reason these two men are sought is because they encountered the Equinox Flower as Red Guard youths. The flashback involves the two, part of a truckload of youths traveling in Mongolia, singing the praises of Chairman Mao. The truck is stuck. The youth see people in the dark that turn out to be statues. There is a debate regarding whether the statues should be left alone as they represent the proletariat of the past, or if they should be destroyed as symbols of feudalism. A young woman, Ding, indicates knowledge of the site as being spiritually significant. The majority of the kids decide to knock over one of the statues, which opens up a pathway to a cave.

Here's where the cultural aspects go into overdrive. There are more statues in the cave, and as far as these young believers in the "Little Red Book" are concerned, more artifacts of the past to be destroyed. The cave also is revealed to have held an underground bunker for Japanese soldiers from World War II. The bones of the soldiers are lying around. Disturbing the statues awakens dead spirits, and the Red Guard youth discover that real battle with zombies is a greater threat than imagined imperialists.

The idea of presenting anything considered supernatural has been, if not banned, at least extremely limited in mainland Chinese films, to be found in those works that take place in a mythical past. Maybe it has to do with three major Chinese production companies banding together here, or a possible acquiescence to popular tastes by the censors, but we have Japanese zombies and other apparitions taking place in a not so distant past. That this key scene takes place during the height of the Cultural Revolution is not simply a gimmick. A summery of the Cultural Revolution includes the concept of "sweeping away monsters and demons", symbolically those representatives of Confucianism or anyone else considered anti-revolutionary. Not only are there monsters and demons found in the underground cave, but it should not be considered a stretch to think that the filmmakers are also setting out to exorcise the monsters and demons from a notorious era of fifty years ago in China.

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Posted by peter at April 28, 2016 05:39 PM