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June 28, 2016

Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe

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Gui chui deng zhi jiu ceng yao ta
Lu Chuan - 2015
Well Go USA Entertainment BD Region A

Another Chinese special effects driven movie, that was seen in 3D by the mainland Chinese audience. And similar to Mojin, which I covered a couple of months ago, there a some similarities in the basic set-up, with the discovery of an ancient, alien civilization, hidden in a remote are in western China. There are also scenes that take a jaundiced view of China's more recent past. Somehow, the two films, adapted from the same literary source, were produced almost simultaneously, though Lu's film was the first to be in the theaters.

And it's the presentation of China's past that are intriguing. The opening scene introducing the hero, Hu Bayi, takes place in 1979. We see a man singing the kind of song that might have been heard in a musical approved by Mao or the Gang of Four, extolling the virtues of working hard on behalf of China. Lu cuts to a shot of Hu, exhausted, moving dirt from an archeological excavation site. A young woman follows Hu, acting as a kind of coach. Even shouting at someone on behalf of the revolution can take it toll as she faints, only to be replaced by another young woman. What I liked about this scene is that it initially appears as the imitation of a revolutionary musical, the kind that idealized Mao's proclamations, only to reveal a harsh reality.

A later scene, taking place a few years later, is of a China that has opened its doors in a very limited way to the west. Hu is taken to a restaurant that is primarily for westerners. The place is virtually empty. The main entree is steak. And there's a chubby guy, energetically singing in Chinese, dressed up like Elvis Presley. As it turns out, the Elvis impersonator is a long-lost friend of Hu's. But the scene is also of interest in what it shows of China's first faltering steps to accommodate westerners following the Cultural Revolution.

The exteriors were filmed in Gansu, in northwest China. Shots of the actors traveling by camel across desert and mountain regions are gorgeous. It's the countryside of China that is more awe inspiring than any green screen special effects.

The ghostly tribe are the descendants of people who were part alien and part human. Hu is revealed to have some kind of connection being the descendant of the prince who stopped the aliens from taking over earth about 10,000 years ago. There are these creatures that looks like a combination of wolf and stegosaurus that terrorize several characters, as well as little bat-like creatures. There are also some very large creatures that make brief appearances. Yet none of this is as compelling as the scenes of China still very much under the influence of the Red Guard.

Chronicles is Lu Chuan's first deliberately commercial film after a string of mostly critically acclaimed work. Of the two films adapted from the 2006 Chinese novel, The Ghost Blows Out the Light, Lu's film is marginally better. One of the unexpected credits is with the screenplay, with former independent filmmaker Bobby Roth, and his son, Nick, as collaborators. More riveting, is Lu's low budget debut, The Missing Gun, which bears some resemblance to Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog. While contemporary Chinese audiences apparently can't get enough green-screen mayhem, there's more genuine excitement in following Jiang Wen as the small town cop in search of a thief.

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Posted by peter at June 28, 2016 02:53 PM