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Leizhenzi: The Origin of the Gods

2021 / 93m - China
Fantasy, Adventure
Leizhenzi: The Origin of the Gods poster

Another solid Chinese fantasy. Seems like this one had a slightly higher budget than most, sadly they spent it on more not-quite-perfect CG rather than flesh out their decors. The bottom line is that it feels just a tad more accomplished, but doesn't get near the masterpiece it tried to be.

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The plot is a basic good vs bad guy/save the world affair. It finds its origin in Taoism, people familiar with Chinese religion and folklore may get a bit more out of it, but you're basically watching two brothers (and a childhood friend) battling each other to determine the fate of our world.

Settings and costumes are lush, the action looks solid and the CG isn't terrible. There's simply too much of it. Pacing and runtime are perfect for a film like this. The biggest problem is that there are so (so) many of these films nowadays that it's becoming really difficult for directors to differentiate themselves from all the others. Good genre fun though.

Monster Hospital

Yao Yi Guan
2021 / 78m - China
Fantasy, Action
Monster Hospital poster

China's quest to create the most efficient genre-producing film industry continues. And apart from some flaky CG and an obvious lack of star power, they're getting frighteningly close to producing a genuine masterpiece. Monster Hospital is one of the best films yet in this peculiar niche, and a clear recommend for those who loved the Hong Kong action/fantasy/comedy blends of the 90s.

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Together with two disciples, Hong Niang runs a hospital where demons can come to get better. Things get a little rough when she welcomes a pregnant man who has a demon pill inside of him. It's dangerous to let it get born, but Niang's attempts to get rid of the thing turn out to be futile. To make things worse, an evil force also has his eye on the demon child.

The presentation is polished, flashy and fun. It should be clear from the start that the film doesn't take itself too serious, but that doesn't mean the film feels in any way sloppy or rushed. The action is on point, the cinematography is nice and the comedy is appropriately odd. If you're interested in the current state of straight-to-streaming Chinese genre cinema, this is a perfect place to start.

Strange Stories: Book of Six Realms

2020 / 88m - China
Fantasy, Action
Strange Stories: Book of Six Realms poster

A fun little streamer epic. It's one of the many and people who've had their eye on the Chinese streamer market will certainly recognize the type of film they're dealing with here. Don't expect a blockbuster-type production, but a swift and genre-centric film that aims to please. If you're okay with that, Cong Zhao delivers a mighty fun flick.

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The plot is like an umpteenth mix of familiar elements from like-minded films. The monster realm and the human realm are in constant battles with each other. This time around we're dealing with a bad guy named Cheng Shang, and his plot to rule the world. Enter some heroes who are tasked to save the world, and that's about it really.

The CG is less than great, but it is often used in a rather aesthetically pleasing way, so it's definitely not as bad as some of its peers. The demon worlds are pretty fun, the action is solid and the pacing is perfect. It's another solid genre film, the kind China is producing en masse these days.

Fatal Girl R

2022 / 84m - China
Fatal Girl R poster

China doing cyberpunk. It's a shame they're trying a little too hard to copy the modern Blade Runner vibe (though on a much smaller budget). It's both lacking in cyber and in punk, which results in a setting that isn't quite appealing enough to carry the film. Not that this was a terrible attempt, it's just that a lot more could've been done with it.

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A group is experimenting with putting chips in humans, trying to unlock their full capabilities. When a scientist sees the danger, she sacrifices her own life to safe her daughter's. She can escape the facility and goes to live with her grandma in the slums, but the group wants her back and will do everything in their power to return her.

For a low-budget film the setting looks properly fleshed out, the plot is pretty fun and the short runtime plus strict pacing make sure things never get dull. It's just that nothing about this film feels very original or special. I guess China is still trying to find its own sci-fi signature. It might be awhile before they find it if they go about at this pace.