The Thousand Faces of Dunjia 2017 Review: An irresistibly appealing cast
Every day while CFI’s Hollywood readers take in the business of the Chinese film industry. The actual movies can sometimes seem exotic or remote. But in major US cities, mainstream Chinese films are increasingly available: thanks to Wanda’s purchase of AMC and distributors like China Lion.
They get American theatrical releases practically simultaneous to their premieres at home. Though they receive virtually no publicity outside the non-Chinese community. These films are more than worth seeking out by anyone serious about engaging the Chinese industry. Understanding the Chinese sensibility and familiarizing themselves with China’s talent pool. Periodically, CFI will review and point readers in the direction of noteworthy US releases of contemporary commercial and independent Chinese titles.
Warriors battle demons who threaten Earth in an effects-laden fantasy from Hong Kong legends Yuen Wo Ping and Tsui Hark.
Either a daring effort to visualize an ancient ethos or a brazen cashing in on the special-effects craze sweeping the Asian movie industry. The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (Ngu Hiep Tru Yeu) is first and foremost a Tsui Hark joint. If you like his style of dense plotting, mysterioso set-pieces and weird sex. So Dunjia is a blast—but with a lot of holes in it.
The movie, co-written, co-produced and co-edited by Hark, takes off from Qimen Dunjia. Shown as a frankly baffling form of divination whose secret, horoscope-like codes give its practitioners superpowers. Like Hark’s 1993 movie Green Snake, which turned a Buddhist creation story into a sex romp that destroys the world. Dunjia explains its theory of divination in terms of a band of martial-arts heroes who fall in and out of love while battling CG enemies.
In some ways The Thousand Faces of Dunjia is like an unauthorized remake of Stephen Chow‘s Journey to the West. Which put Buddha into a Warner Bros. cartoon. (Hark directed a much-less-successful sequel.) There are the same slapstick transformations, the same lethal but tenderhearted heroines. The same physical mutilations—only with a greater emphasis on edgy sex. Lovers here slap each other silly as foreplay. And are constantly angling for threesomes with demons.
You’ll like Dunjia if, in your world view, well-meaning but none-too-bright tough guys get taken advantage of by beautiful but scheming women, many of them actually demons. Or if you find it plausible that a disorder in the cosmos has permitted aliens to stride hidden across the Earth. So looking for magic weapons to destroy something or other.
What’s missing is an emotional or intellectual core. A sense of an inward journey to enlightenment. The themes here don’t progress much beyond a fundamental battle between yin and yang. Seen as water and fire demons duking it out in the skies.
What you won’t find in Dunjia is the kind of action. That made director Yuen Wo Ping such a revered name in martial-arts circles. Since his work on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix trilogy. Yuen has put together elaborate choreography in stunt-heavy movies like The Grandmaster and Ip Man 3. Main cast: Da Peng, Ni Ni (Nghe Ni), Zhou Dongyu, Aarif Lee Rahman, Wu Bai, Liu Yan.