• Film reviews

    #463 – Alien Invasion (2020)

    Alien Invasion (2020)

    Film review #463

    Director: Yun Xiang Lin

    SYNOPSIS: Private detective Xu Siwei is hired by Yang Lin to investigate the disappearance of her Father. They are led to a secret underground facility where they encounter a strange portal to an alien world. Barely escaping the alien horrors within, Xu is haunted by strange dreams that relate to this alien species, and heads to the town where Yang Lin was raised to find answers…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Alien Invasion is a 2020 science fiction film. The film starts off in a secret laboratory where an experiment on an alien portal goes wrong and a creature escapes into the laboratory, forcing it to be sealed to prevent the alien’s escape into the world. Next, we are introduced to private detective Xu Siwei, who after capturing a thief returns to his home to find Yang Lin, a young woman who wants to hire him to find her Father, who went missing fifteen years ago. The two are led to a secret laboratory where they stumble upon the alien portal from the opening of the film. They manage to escape, but Xu starts having recurring nightmares about the aliens, and seeks to unravel the mystery further by visiting Yang Lin’s hometown, where strange things are happening. The plot of the film is inspired by the Cthulhu and other such eldritch horror, as the alien in the opening scenes shifts its amorphous form and impales people with its tentacles. The film is essentially a science-fiction thriller, attempting to build tension in the mystery it creates and the environments in which it is set. The film struggles to do this successfully because the whole tone of the film is very inconsistent: at the start there’s some more action and quirky light-heartedness, as Xu is clearly emulating Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. The film leans more towards a horror theme as Xu and Yang investigate the laboratory, and more of a slow-paced thriller as Xu and Yang investigate what happened to her parents in the town she grew up. With these constant shifts in tone, the flow of the story is constantly interrupted and it it becomes difficult to maintain engagement in the story.

    The film centres around the two main characters Xu Siwei and Yang Lin, who investigate Yang’s father’s whereabouts after he disappeared some fifteen years ago. As mentioned, Xu is clearly ‘inspired’ by Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, but that part of his character doesn’t really factor in after the first act when the film shifts to a thriller and the mystery overshadows any character quirks. Yang has plenty of mystery about her, but there’s nothing too special about her character. The chemistry between the two is alright, but could probably have been pushed further to increase the stakes. Overall they’re pretty standard characters from the genre, but still fairly likable, and supplemented by decent acting on behalf of the actors.

    The film is very much on par with other Chinese science-fiction released around the same time in terms of production, which means in terms of the CG is that it doesn’t look too bad, but it also typically looks like someone put it together in After Effects in an afternoon. The colour is one thing that I think stands out, as it is vivid without making the scenes lose their tense atmosphere. The practical effects look pretty daft, particularly the aliens which are obviously people in very silly looking masks that are quite distracting. The fact that we don’t see any of the aliens for a good majority of the movie again breaks the sense of flow, as we are treated to this set-up at the start, then nothing really comes of it for most of the movie. The whole mystery surrounding Yang’s mother and father also never gets a satisfactory payoff, as everything is delivered in cryptic riddles and not explained properly. Overall, Alien Invasion is a fairly standard Chinese science-fiction film of its type, and is unremarkable in terms of story, characters or production. It’s inspirations are obvious, and does little to develop or explore them in any unique way, making it a fairly forgettable experience.#movie#movie review

  • Film reviews

    #351 – 10000 Years Later (2015)

    10000 Years Later (2015)

    Film review #351

    Director: Li Yi

    SYNOPSIS: Ten thousand years after advanced civilisation was wiped out and the world reverted to a pre-technological state, Joma and Yalayam of the Ballad tribe are travelling the western region to tell the tale of the fall of civilisation. Unfortunately, Wugreb, who once tried to steal the ancient powers to rule the world, has returned, and Joma alongside her new friends must find a way to stop Wu before he releases the ancient civilisation’s power back onto the world, all controlled by him…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS10000 Years Later is a 2015 Chinese animated film. It is a mix of post-apocalypse, science-fiction and fantasy elements, as it is set (as the title suggests) 10000 years after civilisation suffered a catastrophe that sealed away all of its advanced technology and left the world in a pre-technological state. The world is now separated into various tribes, which include anthropomorphic animals and various mutations brought about by the catastrophe. Joma and Yalayam are from the Ballad tribe, who wander through the western region telling the story of the fall of the ancient civilisation to the other tribes. They also tell the story of Wugreb, who once tried to steal the ancient technology that is sealed away and rule the world with it, warning that anyone who tries to do the same will be met with the same fate. However, Wugreb (or Devil Wu, as he is also known) has returned, and is attempting to once again take the technology of the ancient civilisation for his own. The story relies a lot on this extensive world-building, and how the world has changed since the fall of civilisation as we know it. Sometimes it is easy to follow, but at some points it gets overly complicated, and for a film that is just over ninety minutes long, the explanations and exposition it gives do seem a little excessive. Nevertheless, it is an interesting world that is built, and the variety of locations and characters give it a unique sense of life and vibrancy. The people refer to famous people throughout history (Einstein, Beethoven etc.) as the “Gods” of the old world, and it is an interesting way to interpret history’s most pivotal figures. There are these odd scenes which play out quite nicely, but they are mostly used to explain the state of the world, and when the film returns to the main characters, they seem much less interesting.

    Joma goes to see an oracle, who tells her that she is the only one who can stop Wu, and she must go to Kuger, the tomb where Wu was imprisoned, to stop him. Along the way Joma is joined by a cast of characters from different tribes who all inject their own personalities into the film. The film very much has a Lord of the Rings feel to it, with the group travelling to their destination to stop the oncoming evil, and all the perils that they encounter. But again, there’s a lot of backstory and exposition that disrupts the flow of the film, and you really have to focus and pay attention to follow what is going on. The characters on the whole, though, are distinct enough to be able to follow, but for all the explaining and exposition, don’t really do much, so it’s hard to get to know them as characters. At once point the film deals with the meeting of the Gods which I can’t really make sense of; and whether they are actual Gods or not is anyone’s guess. Joma as the main character is also a bit bland and uninteresting: even though she is marked as the chosen one, she doesn’t really have any defining traits or character defining moments that make her stand out, and she is often very passive to the events of the film. The ending of the film also does little to elucidate the significance of Joma’s role, and makes little sense. The designs of some of the villains, with their multiple faces or limbs and other bizarre features are both scary and creative, and the somewhat imperfect animation actually helps exemplify their grotesqueness.

    This film is entirely CG animated, and for the most part it creates a world that has immense scale, colourful diversity and interesting locales. We see ruined versions of recognisable cities such as New York and Sydney, which add some interesting shots and perspective on the story. There are some moments when the animation gets a bit clunky, and facial expressions and movements sometimes look a little stifled or flat, but otherwise it doesn’t distract too much from the film. It’s not cutting edge in terms of its graphics, but it is passable for a kids film. Apart from the Lord of the Rings influence mentioned above, there is also a certain amount of ‘inspiration’ taken from the Marvel Avengers films. When I say inspiration, that often becomes blatant copying, such as the five stones that Joma carries containing seeds from across the western region clearly being based on the “infinity stones” in the Marvel universe, and there is a shot which copies exactly the iconic shot from the 2012 Avengers film of all the superheroes together for the first time on the streets of New York City. All this copying does cheapen the film’s overall image, but being a Chinese film, where these films would not have seen much of a release, the audience probably won’t even know they are being copied. The editing of the film also feels quite choppy in parts, such as when the big final battle begins, the enemy soldiers slowly emerge, and it instantly cuts to the whole army appearing, which really interrupts the flow of the film (though it probably saves on the animation costs).

    One more significant aspect of the film is the amount of gore and violence throughout. I can’t really tell what the ideal age range is for this film: it seems mostly kid-oriented, but even from the opening, there are people being sliced up, bloody battles with people being cut in half and stabbed, and so on. I’m not sure what the standards are for Chinese cinema in terms of violence in children’s films, but it definitely wouldn’t be a child-friendly film in the west. Overall, 10000 Years Later creates an interesting and colourful world with a rich back-story, but the focus of the story and its main characters are often lost in the overly complex world and narrative that can be difficult to follow. The character designs are creative and unique, but again the personalities of the main characters are dull by comparison, and often get lost in the grand scale of the world. The large-scale battles are impressive and entertaining, but it is obvious that they are copying from the Marvel films and Lord of the Rings, which obviously do them much better, and make the film feel like a cheap imitation…which, let’s be honest, is exactly what it is. There are some emotional moments (there’s a scene right at the start which pulls you in instantly…you’ll know it if you see it), and the gratuitous use of gore and violence really gives weight to the fighting scenes, but ultimately there is no real pay-off to investing in this world, and it offers very little that is unique.