Starring: Chen Kun, Shu Qi, Huang Bo, Angelababy, Yu Xia, Cherry Ngan, Liu Xiaoqing
Based on one of the best-selling Chinese novels of the 2000s, Mojin: The Lost Legend follows a group of grave robbing adventurers; Hu Bayi (Chen Kun), Yang (Shu Qi), and Wang (Huang Bo) collectively known as Mojin. After a failed excursion that breaks up the business, the team finds themselves in dire financial straits when a mysterious religious leader (Liu Xiaoqing) and her followers task the Mojin team to obtain a legendary item; the Equinox Flower. While at first hesitant, the artifact has a special connection to the past of Hu and Wang, as well as with that of former friend Ding Shitian (Angelababy). As the team sets off to recover the artifact, they will face possible death at every turn and an unnatural force as they tackle the most notorious grave robbing expedition of their careers.
One of the biggest films set to be released all year in China, Mojin (formerly The Ghouls) is a sprawling and quite entertaining action adventure that hearkens to Indiana Jones but the modern influences of media like the Uncharted and Tomb Raider video game series. Director Wuershan paints a dark and dynamically visually film; set direction is terrific and the effects are among the best to come out of China in years. Chen Kun should win even more fans with his turn as the skilled but moody Hu. He’s a believable lead with charisma enough for days. Shu Qi continues her amazing year with probably the most interesting role of the picture. Her character, Yang, is probably given the most nuanced performance and she is undeniably equal parts sympathetic and kick butt. Huang Bo deserves extra credit (his hair especially!) for his energetic and humor filled turn. His performance helps to temper the sometimes surprising bits of violence and seriousness with just the right amount of levity for a blockbuster action film of this ilk. The colorful cast is rounded out by Yu Xia in a mostly comedic turn that misses as much as hits, Liu Xiaoqing as the guru-esque religious leader, and a very charming turn for newcomer Cherry Ngan in a stylish role. Angelababy is relegated to a minor role as well despite her high cast listing; she’s lovely as always but with much less breadth to her character despite being the main reason for the adventure.
The action in the film is varied with close calls, narrow escapes, and the occasional bit of fisticuffs which are all competently done with a mix of wires and physical stunts. Not a martial arts film by any stretch, there are a number of acrobatic stunts that really stood out to me among the generally poorly shot fight scenes of a number of Chinese action films in recent years. The score is very good with composer Koji Endo, a veteran of a number of Takashi Miike films, handling the various dark and upbeat transitions well. It is actually somewhat reminiscent of his work on The Great Yokai War in its ability to not overwhelm the scene but masterfully accompany instead. The licensed music however fares less well, with a generally out of place sensibility for songs like The Dragon Formula by the film’s lead Chen Kun. I understand that he’s one of the biggest stars right now but I couldn’t help but think a better selection could have been made than the easy tie-in.
Despite not having read the novel on which the film is based, Mojin is a wholly enjoyable film that truly works to create a world that exists just under the surface and should, without a doubt, be the start of a franchise. With winning performances from the principal characters and a fast pace full of adventure and mainstream appeal, Mojin just might be the Chinese crossover film of the year.
Special Thanks to Well Go USA for providing access to a screening copy of the film!
See Mojin in theatres in China and the United States on December 18th, 2015!