Lost in the film's thousand faces

The film is convoluted but contains a surprising amount of humour, with Hong Kong actor Aarif Lee delivering some of the funniest lines.
The film is convoluted but contains a surprising amount of humour, with Hong Kong actor Aarif Lee delivering some of the funniest lines. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

By the end of the movie, it is still unclear who or what Dunjia in the movie title refers to, let alone the meaning of its thousand faces.

That is how convoluted the film is, as multiple sub-plots and numerous side characters are constantly thrown into the overstuffed script.

Still, the journey to the end, though bumpy, is mostly an entertaining one.

There is a surprising amount of humour as none of the cast members appears to take the project or himself too seriously.

Hong Kong actor Aarif Lee - who is known not only for his good looks, but also for being completely wooden in films such as the thriller Cold War (2012) - shows that he is more suited for comedy as he delivers some of the funniest lines here. His usually stoic demeanour works well when he is expected to be deadpan.

The same goes for Taiwanese rock star Wu Bai, who is clearly having fun here as the mysterious leader of the Wuyinmen Clan. One can almost see the corner of his lips twitching upwards every time he recites a pseudo-poetic line.

His handful of action scenes is weak, but that does not really matter because the gongfu action was never intended to be the focus.

Rather, director Yuen Woo Ping appears to be influenced by his producer Tsui Hark, who has been obsessed with special effects in recent years.

  • REVIEW / FANTASY ACTION

  • THE THOUSAND FACES OF DUNJIA (PG)

    113 minutes/Opens on Friday

    2.5/5 Stars

    The story: Young constable Dao (Aarif Lee) stumbles upon a mysterious warrior group known as the Wuyinmen Clan, whose members possess supernatural powers. As he tries to uncover their secrets, the clan members struggle to fight against the sudden return of two powerful villains.

That means heavy use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) here, in fanciful battles where a martial artist can shoot millions of metal rings; and in a chase scene where Dao leaps across rooftops in pursuit of a mutant demon fish.

The most elaborate special effects are, however, reserved for the two main villains, who look straight out of a sci-fi movie. While the designs of these characters are unique - one is made up of thousands of squirmy worms and looks particularly gross - the CGI technique requires a lot more finesse.

It is heartening to see director Yuen, who is known for his action movies, attempt something new, but it will be a while before he masters the art of making a CGI-heavy film.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2017, with the headline 'Lost in the film's thousand faces'. Print Edition | Subscribe