Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms

Feng Shen Di Yi Bu: Zhao Ge Feng Yun
2023 / 148m - China
Fantasy, Adventure
Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms poster

Wuershan is one of those directors who earned a lot of credit with his first film. He hasn't been able to match it as far as I'm concerned, but whenever he has a new project I'm there to give it a fair shot. When I heard he was going to do Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms [Feng Shen Di Yi Bu: Zhao Ge Feng Yun], the first part in a multi-part fantasy epic, I got quite excited, as it's been a while since I'd seen one of those. Wuershan isn't reinventing the wheel here, but with the little direct competition out there at the moment, that isn't that big of a deal.

screencap of Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms [Feng Shen Di Yi Bu: Zhao Ge Feng Yun]

Epic fantasy/martial arts epics used to be the staple of Chinese blockbuster cinema, but then the entire Chinese film industry went through a big transformation, and they ended up preferring more contemporary settings (next to the obvious propaganda stuff). The genre hasn't disappeared completely though, the streamers jumped on it and started making low-budget derivatives. Fun and entertaining genre cinema, somewhat reminiscent of their Hong Kong counterparts, but ultimately lacking the scale and budget to do proper justice to the material.

Looking at the Chinese title, "Feng Shen" should give you a good indication of what to expect here. Much like Journey to the West, Fengshen Yanyi [The Investiture of the Gods] is an ancient Chinese collection of stories and characters combining mythology, folklore, and religion. There have been many adaptations in recent years, sporting a good amount of gods, demons, and fantastical action. It's a genre that is hard to do well when the money isn't entirely there, so I'm happy that Wuershan took it upon himself to do (at least part of) the book justice.

China is a political mess. To avoid further turmoil and save the Earth from more harm, the gods of Kunlun decide it is time to bring the Investiture Scroll to Earth. The scroll has the power to bring peace to the land, but only when given to the right person. The gods pick a young monk to complete the task, even though that means he'll lose his chance at immortality. Once on Earth, the monk and his two fellow disciples aren't quite sure who to gift the scroll. Meanwhile, the current king is being seduced by a fox spirit, who wants to take control of the kingdom through the king.

screencap of Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms [Feng Shen Di Yi Bu: Zhao Ge Feng Yun]

The quality of CG in Chinese films has increased tremendously in recent years, but it's still not without fault. For the most part, the film looks very polished in this regard, but some scenes felt lacking (one dragon sequence in particular looked almost unfinished). The lavish costumes and sets make up for it, add to that spectacular camera work and lots of visual flexing and you have a film that does justice to the reputation of its predecessors. Wuershan rarely disappoints on the visual front, and this being the first part in a trilogy, he clearly didn't want to leave anything to chance.

The score, as is tradition, finds itself on the other end of the spectrum. The line between epic and overly cheesy and sentimental is thin, and Wuershan crosses it more than once. Fans of Hollywood spectacles probably won't mind too much, personally, I would've preferred a more distinguished and distinguishable score. It's mostly just loud and blaring away, which works as long as you don't focus on the actual music. I wish they'd go a different route, but directors seem to think these bombastic scores are somehow obligatory (or they don't care enough and pick whatever's the norm).

Even though there's quite some heavy drama and personal vendettas, this isn't a film that requires subtle performances or a weathered cast, so it's not a huge issue that there aren't any major stars present. That's not to say the cast isn't any good. There aren't any obvious weak links and the actors all do a pretty solid job with their assigned roles, but I don't think there are any performances here I'll be remembering for very long. It's all about big gestures and epic grandstands, and they ended up with a solid blockbuster ensemble, so no complaints about the casting.

screencap of Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms [Feng Shen Di Yi Bu: Zhao Ge Feng Yun]

This is only the first part in a series of three films, but I felt the story worked well enough on its own. Trilogy setups (a planned trilogy with a first film testing the waters) like these are quite common these days, so they're bound a bit more balanced than the old Lord of the Rings trilogies. There is a lot of lore to wade through though, so it's best to pay some extra attention during the first half of the film when a smorgasbord of characters and factions are introduced. Once all the pieces are on the board the plot becomes a lot easier to follow, but the first half is quite information-heavy for a blockbuster.

Even though I've been having a lot of fun with all the iQiyi (and similar) films, Creations of the Gods was a good reminder that the full blockbuster treatment is still preferential when tackling these fantasy epics, and Wuershan proves he was the perfect man for the job. The film feels delightfully maximalist, with sprawling sets and costumes, bigger-than-life performances, an epic storyline, and some eye-popping visuals. If you weren't a fan before this film won't sway you, if you were you're going to have a good time for sure, while knowing there will be more to follow.