LEAGUE OF GODS
(Feng Sheng Bang)
League of Gods received some bad reviews domestically, which may well have contributed to its poor performance. Contrarily, I liked it. It is a film that is determined to visually dazzle us at every opportunity. The opening sequence alone blows away anything that Hollywood fantasy has done recently the armies of Xiji advancing on Zhaoge in a flotilla of trapezoidal flying vehicles; some incredibly fast-paced action as the ninja-clad fighters invade the jail area, hopping between the irregularly shaped blocks of the cells; the throne room where we meet Fan Bingbing outfitted in gold jewellery and costumery so lavish it makes the jaw drop; and the climactic escape from the city via the sewers with the fighters surfing out on their shields while engaged in combat along the way. Everything about the film seems determined to grab an audience by the collar and wow them with the sumptuousness of costuming and set dressings, the kinetic pace of the action sequence and the sheer spectacle of the CGI.
There are other epically dazzling scenes the fight around a desert city with Jacky Heung and Wen Zhang wielding their superpowers against a guardian; the fight for the sword around the ruins of the city of the Winged People, which has been reduced to shattered boulders floating in mid-air; and the massively scaled climactic battle as the forces of Xiji invade the city of Xhaoge. The costuming budget for the film alone must have been astronomical. Every landscape we see seems to have been CGI-retouched into a work of hyper-real beauty. The downside of this is that the consortium of principally Chinese CGI houses are not yet operating at the levels that Hollywood studios are and the CGI effects look obvious. This is something that may well have been hidden by watching the film in 3D but seen flat here it becomes easily apparent.
The other downside of the film comes whenever it slows down from the epic CGI action to tell a story and have character-interaction scenes. The film is based on a book Fengshen Bang (which translates as The Investiture of the Gods) that was written sometime in the 16th Century. This is an epic that interweaves real historical figures and battles with intervention by gods and demons. Not having a familiarity with the story or historical context when I sat down to watch League of Gods, it was often confusing to work out what was going on. It is never clear who some of the characters are you are not able to work out if the hero is human or god, for instance even what type of rules the universe we are in operates according to. The film proceeds at such a fast pace that there is little room for explanations. The few scenes it slows down are filled with the sappy romance and comic relief among the supporting characters that infect much of Chinese fantasy. The films silliest sequence (which should have ended on the cutting room floor) is a side trip to an underwater kingdom where Naza tries to avoid capture by the merpeople by power-pissing and farting them into submission.