Sunday, September 13, 2020

Exorcism Master – review

Director: Xiang Qiu-Liang

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

A recent Chinese film this is one that carries a central monster that looks a bit more zombie than kyonsi and, in truth, the subtitles I saw use the word zombie all the way through. However I was firmly of the opinion that it fell much more on the vampire side and there are several direct giveaways that I’ll point out in the review.

Beyond this, we have a fantasy fare that could have withstood more character exploration as the good guys, especially, are interesting as is and could have stood for some more development.

Tan Xin-Zer as Tiancai

We start at an archaeological dig (or more properly a tomb raid). One of the first characters we see is a sinisterly giggling old man who seems to be the aid to the stoic Lord Ma. Stood, waiting but uncomfortable, are two men who offer a prayer for forgiveness. As the giggling man questions their prayer, the older one (and experienced tomb hunter who has never seen a tomb like this) decides to run away and is killed for his trouble. The younger man, Tiancai (Tan Xin-Zer), gets to work but, as soon as he approaches a mechanism in the floor, living roots seem to appear, thrusting out and start killing (mostly) guards.

the cavern

Ma’s sorcerer, Jianghzi, casts a spell and makes three figures reveal themselves and names them illusions. Tiancai goes to the mechanism, and fiddles with it. One by one the illusions vanish, though pieces of statues and roots assail Lord Ma’s entourage. Tiancai deactivates the trap and the ground gives way, causing him to fall into a huge cavern, catching a root as he falls. This is the tomb of an ancient general, who sits cocooned in the centre surrounded by his dead, zombified men. Jianghzi has revealed that his (abandoned) order had suppressed the living dead army and the means of controlling the “suppression tower” is a relic contained within the general’s body.

apprentice and master

Tiancai is paid off (the giggling man persuades Lord Ma not to kill him as he may be useful) and they take the cocoon (which has already started to break down, the viewer notices). Before we see Tiancai get home, we see a singing swordsman from Jianghzi’s old order and his apprentice, a whip wielding young lady called Qin Yu (Karena Ng Chin-Yu). She has refused to practice, saying its boring, and instead is preparing smores at the campfire. They get a whiff of putrefaction and he realises that evil spirits are about and says they’ll stay in the area longer.

the wife turned

Tiancai lives by a lake in a house he shares with an older couple called (by the Honorific) Aunt Hua and Uncle Jin, with Uncle a pleasant drunk who is always awaiting the return of his son (and who is building a tunnel system and is convinced enemies are due to attack). Also, there are a group of (orphaned) kids that they look after. Tiancai is an inventor and is drawn as an all-round pleasant guy (his work for Lord Ma is to support his adopted family). Of course, the General awakens and attacks a nearby town. When the family are found dead Tiancai investigates, the victims reanimate and he is rescued by the Master and Qin Yu – but not before he is bitten by one of the restless corpses.

kyonsi general

To cure him, before dying and becoming the living dead, they hunt down the general to get a tooth (to make the cure). They track him to a wedding that he slaughters, but so does Lord ma’s henchmen. So, vampire aspects? Of course, they are the restless dead but, before he is cured Tiancai develops fangs – which was the first definite vampire nod. The second is in reference to the general. When being fought it is caught and wrapped in a string with coins along its length, which seems to burn him – this is out of the kyonsi playbook.

with fangs

Recaptured by Lord Ma, the general is chained and immobilised with similar red string forming a curtain around him and prayer scrolls hanging on the strings (rather than being attached to his forehead as is normal). Jianghzi tells Lord Ma that due to the fact that the general has ingested so much blood and essence (indicating energy vampirism as well as standard and perhaps hinting to blood being the conduit for such transfer) he is now invulnerable. They will force Tiancai to extract the artefact – but will he comply?

Tiancai and Qin Yu

This was fun. There was a good chemistry between Tiancai and Qin Yu, which added a nice layer but the characters were interesting in their own right and we could have done with more. Indeed the film (which is a mainland China produced film) relied on stereotypes that both Western and domestic viewers will recognised having been taken from a long legacy of Hong Kong cinema. Nevertheless, it worked well, looked slick enough and was entertaining. 6 out of 10.

At the time of writing there is no IMDb page.

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