Science fiction and fantasy


The Thousand Faces Of Dunjia

directed by Yuen Woo-Ping

This film starts as it means to go on: ridiculous, colourful, and a little bit slapstick. In The Thousand Faces of Dunjia, a constable called Dao Yichang (Aarif Rahman) investigates an unusual fish only for his search to take on a crazy turn as he realises he's not chasing an ordinary fish or even necessarily a creature from this world. After some fancy martial arts and acrobatics he encounters Dragonfly (Ni Ni), an expert in disguise and martial arts with magic of her own.

Dragonfly is part of a secret clan of martial artists led by Big Brother (Wu Bai), the Wuyin clan. They fight battles against demonic aliens that ordinary people seem scarcely aware of. The unusual fish is the first sign that something is wrong. Matters escalate when demonic creatures turn up in search of a powerful object that will help them to take over the world.

Posing as a blind monk, Zhuge (Da Peng) infiltrates a rival group in order to free a young woman called Circle (Dongyu Zhou) who is being held in a dungeon. He takes her with him, but the snag is that although she looks like a harmless and rather dim young lady, she can transform into something else altogether. She gets quite attached to Zhuge, much to Dragonfly's disapproval. But Dragonfly is in no position to judge others when Constable Dao tags along on their adventures, and rather than letting him go his own way she finds reasons to keep him around.

The Wuyin clan aren't the only clan of note, and they encounter a number of members of other clans with magical abilities. So glossy martial arts moves combine with slick effects, interesting costumes, and various types of fearsome creatures. It's quite the spectacle. Apart from a few rare times when the imagery is hideous for effect, this is a beautiful film.

At the same time it's a lot of fun, with lighthearted and goofy moments taking place regularly. Whether this involves courtesans who aren't quite what they seem or the complete naivety of some of the characters, this movie revels in silliness. Much of the humour though is based on women's appearances, which reflects some outdated attitudes. However, the movie is extremely feelgood. Another aspect is the love stories, which are very chaste and restrained, with some hugging but no kissing and definitely no heavy petting. But for all of that restraint, the actors put across strong emotions that reveal their jealousies and loves.

The understated love stories contrast with outrageously showy fight scenes, and with the big, bad aliens that have no sense of subtlety in their nastiness. The tight-knit Wuyin clan and their new friends are sympathetic. The heroic Dao is in over his head and in the dark about what's going on, whilst Circle is clingy and as undomesticated as a toddler, with not much more clue, but she does grow as a character. Dragonfly and Zhuge challenge each other, sparring verbally because they can't easily speak of softer feelings.

This movie is daft, fancy-looking, lighthearted, shallow fun that doesn't require deep thought. To sum up, it's total escapism.

10th June 2020

4 star rating

Review ©

Source: streaming on Netflix

Film Details

Year of release: 2017

Categories: Films

Classification: 12

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