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Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Zhong Kui fu mo: Xue yao mo ling

China 2015


Peter Pau
Zhao Tianyu

Aloys Chen Kun
Li Bingbing
Winston Chao
Yang Zishan
Bao Beier
Jike Junyi

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Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal

Story: Every thousand years the denizens of heaven, hell and earth are allowed to travel between realms. Moreover, you get the chance to be reborn into one of the other realms. Just then the demons of hell attack humans and steal their souls. Apparently, by doing so the lord of hell wants to boost the power of a dark crystal. Zhang Daoxian (Winston Chao) is a deity of heaven and wants to protect humans from the attacks of the demons. So he assigns the human demon hunter Zhong Kui (Aloys Chen) to steal the dark crystal from hell. He succeeds in his mission, but after that hell sends out Snow Girl (Li Bingbing), along with other demons disguised as beautiful women, in order to kill the residents of Hu and return the crystal to hell. But through the power of a magic fan Zhang grants Zhong Kui the power to take on the shape of a demon. Now, Zhong Kui seems to be almost unbeatable, but he isn't immune to the charms of Snow Girl. Especially not since he has already fallen in love with her three years ago and waited all the time for her to return...

Review: It seems as if it were just the beginning and yet I'm already fed up with all the cgi-loaden fantasy flicks from China. The reason is quite simple: Instead of using computer animation to conjure things on screen that belonged to the realm of imagination before, just everything is nonsensically generated on a computer, now. And this even in a bad way... The story around Zhong Kui is very well known in China and just begs for being made into a fantasy film. Yet, this is the first feature-length adaptation of the source material. Apart from a few liberties taken, like the fact that Zhong Kui is actually supposed to be extremely ugly, the most annoying thing is that the flick turns out to be enormously uninventive. A love story between human and demon isn't something we see for the first time after all and a pretty nice twist at the end just isn't enough to make up for this.

Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal - Film Screenshot 11

Don't deceive yourself: The movie's star is the CGI. And the performance it delivers is horrid. While there are even some critics who think that the computer animations look like Playstation 3 cut scenes (yes, I'm looking at you, Kozo!) I find such statements simply amusing. Even in-game scenes look way better on PS3 than what we get here! The choppy animation, the wooden faces of Zhong Kui in his demon form or Snow Girl are simply something that even ten years ago would have sticked out in a negative way. Here, it even destroys the whole movie, that's just how distracting it is. Wasn't there anyone responsible for quality assurance? Did really no one notice this? And where are the 8 million dollar that supposedly went into the cgi effects alone?

Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal - Film Screenshot 12

What? Peter Pau was co-director and also the one supervising the computer sequences? The same Peter Pau who was responsible for the wonderful cinematography in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Perhaps Love"? Now, nothing makes sense anymore... Although you have to give the movie credit that some locations are captured pretty nicely. And especially the lighting effects, the nature generated at a computer and the "magic" etc. manage to convince. But the rest is ridiculous. You can't take a movie serious that is so much focused on cgi effects and can't deliver a convincing product. Once again: As a big fan of fantasy flicks I'm just furious to see that fantasy is constantly presented as a colorful mess on the big screen where special effects don't serve a story, but the other way around.

The story could have been made into so much more! Granted, the parallels to "Painted Skin: The Resurrection" are obvious, not just because Aloys Chen starred in it, too, but where the aforementioned film managed to score with good drama and a decent romantic story "Zhong Kui" simply fails. The colorful special effects are more in the tradition of "The Monkey King". And like in that movie here, too, things revolve around heaven, earth and hell as well as the war between those realms. In fact, there is potential to be found in the plot, since it occasionaly becomes quite dark. However, in the end Zhong Kui isn't a real anti-hero. Actually, we don't even really care about him.

Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal - Film Screenshot 13

Li Bingbing ("Triple Tap") also gets only little room to give her character the necessary depth. So, is it really a surprise that the drama can't be engaging after all? There is also a lack of chemistry between the two protagonists like in "The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom", to which parallels can be drawn as well. But this may be the case with "Zhong Kui" also because the special effects have the charm of dead metal to them and thus destroy any kind of warmth. It's not an exaggeration to say that the film would have been twice as good, if it weren't for the special effects. On the one hand because the pseuo-epic action is just eyewash and on the other hand because then the focus could have been shifted more to the actually quite interesting story. If things continue into the same direction all fantasy flicks from China will soon look just the same (and cheap at that)...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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