A Writer’s Odyssey (NC16)
Starring Lei Jiaying, Yang Mi, Dong Zijian, Yu Hewei, Guo Jingfei
Directed by Lu Yang
A Writer’s Odyssey is, well, basically a viewer’s ordeal.
Here’s the thing. Don’t see it if you have a headache because it’s likely to get worse.
Much of it is induced by the snazzy, overstuffed CGI of this The Lord Of The Rings-style action-fantasy overcooked in a messy, overlong Chinese blockbuster manner.
Silent crimson armour-plated killers on horses prowl the ravaged land looking like the relentless Black Riders from LOTR. An ancient city is set mercilessly on fire when it’s invaded and pillaged by a massive army of savages backed by a supernatural force. There’s even an one-eyed tree-like demon branching out deadly swords as its arms resembling a smaller version of the Tree Men in LOTR. Plus various unidentified characters pop up suddenly to show off their mad kungfu skills which you just know must have had their stunt coordinators clapping proudly off-camera.
But the overall numbness here is brought on primarily by this flick’s iffy, very perplexing main draw — a back-and-forth time-changing switcheroo of scenes that keep jumping between a modern city of buildings and people and a fantastical old world of mystical mountains and unwashed hordes where a giant godlike tyrant named Lord Redmane rules. Kinda like The Matrix, but with more Mandarin thrown in.
It's damn confusing and taxing since this real world-fantasy world interchange keeps happening like a merry yo-yo and because some folks play dual roles in both worlds here, you give up trying to figure out why this is occurring some time before you head for the loo.
By the way, this big bad Lord Redmane is certainly no Eddie Redmayne in that he’s a gigantic lumbering diety gone evil-nuts with four arms, red flame-like hair, pasty blue skin and a sword inserted into his forehead looking like a tiny toothpick stuck onto a cheeseball. At which point, I’m asking what’s next until somebody actually obliges by charging in with what appears to be a medieval machine gun.
Hey, guys, I just tell you about the show, okay? I didn’t write it.
Anyway, adapted apparently from a short story written by Chinese author, Shuang Xuetao, this movie has a lot of playthings for director Lu Yang (The Sacrifice, Brotherhood Of Blades), to dabble in. Too many, it seems.
The easy deal in A Writer's Odyssey is that someone wants a modern-day novelist assassinated. It’s a situation which may or may not be making a distinct socially satirical or political point in China that unfortunately eludes shallow old me completely.
The difficult bit here is that as this targeted nerdy young writer, Lu Kongwen (Dong Zijian from My People, My Homeland), writes his Godslayer novel which he narrates online wearing a weirdo's mask, somehow the storytelling makes a very powerful mega-conglomerate boss, Li Mu (Yu Hewei), channelling his inner sinister Jack Ma, very ill. Every time the villainous Redmane's power is challenged in the novel that’s depicted in the ancient world’s fight scenes, Li Mu nose-bleeds, goes weak or collapses to generally feel like crap in our modern time.
Now, in the fantasy world, Redmane’s domination is threatened by an untrained Frodo-with-a-sword nerd, also played by Dong, who’s seeking revenge for his murdered sister and who also has a kind of special power. His body has been taken over in a parasitic way by the said one-eyed demon with killer swords for arms. You know this because the dude walks around with a ridiculous bulging eyeball on his chest. Thus, turning A Writer’s Odyssey essentially into A Writer’s Oddity.
The sick Li Mu sends his formidable unsmiling henchwoman, Tu Ling (superstar Yang Mi), to hire a seriously desperate but tough fella, Guan Ning (Lei Jiayin from The Wandering Earth), to kill the writer to end his running story and hence, her boss’s strangely linked suffering.
Guan Ning has been searching frantically for six years for his missing daughter, Tangerine, kidnapped previously by cruel child traffickers. He becomes an accidental assassin because Tu Ling claims that her corporation knows where the girl is and besides, he somehow has a useful special power himself. He can throw stones, snooker balls and golf balls very accurately to strike his target as though he’s a star pitcher of the New York Yankees. I keep wondering what to call this superhero? Hurling Man?
“Your boss fears being written to death?” Guan asks Tu with nary a hint of crazy. Yep, it’s all very kookoo even as I tell this tale. Like I said, don’t look at me, I only saw the show.
Director Lu tries hard to make his main big picture — the scenes segueing between fantasy and reality — more connected. But it’s a search in ultimate futility as the more the mystery of the story goes on, the more the unveiling gets emptier, uninvolving and simply tiresome. There’s something to do here with long-gone fathers, the missing girl and her dad’s anguished dreams, but the linkage between reality and fantasy is so tenuous and flimsy even Trump and Biden are better joined.
We therefore abandon our collective quest for logic and submit instead to the film’s and director Lu's principal obsession — the big-a** visuals designed here to evoke utter awe.
Look, we get it. A China production can do great special effects. For sure, a prolonged CGI-ed fleeing sequence atop ancient tiled roofs when one crimson assassin chases the good guys outdoes even the rooftop battle in the Italian village in Aquaman. And there’s an insane flaming-balloons flying dragon battle scene high up in the night sky that looks Chinese New Year-spectacular.
Although you may wanna ask how it is that since events in Fantasyland move along according to what is written by the novelist, why the heck can't Lu, the geek, just pen in King Kong or Ant Man's Chinese cousin to pulverise the Godzilla-size Redmane?
Alas, unlike a good manga fable, there seems to be no big cosmic revelation or obvious allegorical purpose here in A Writer’s Odyssey. Except maybe a rage-against-the-system symbolism in the way the outmatched common folks in both real and imaginary worlds face off seemingly hopelessly against the prevailing omnipotent power.
“A mere mortal wants to slay a god?” the guileless young Frodo dude is questioned in perhaps the most political metaphor here.
Or maybe, like this lengthily exhausting movie itself, I'm just imagining things. (**)
Photo: Golden Village