films seen
average score
China - 36 years old
Alive and kicking
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Reincarnation Land

2022 / 83m - China
Fantasy, Action -
Reincarnation Land poster

More IQiyi genre fluff. Keep your expectations realistic, and their back catalog offers an incredible wealth of genre films. Reincarnation Land is another one of their action/fantasy hybrids, a continuation of the 90s Hong Kong films that topped the genre. Not quite up there with the best, but if you're looking for some fast-paced entertainment, this one delivers.

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A young girl is looking for her master, who disappeared one year ago. She enters a local competition that will grant her one question to the Ghost King. He shows her that her master is currently stuck in hellfire. Hoping to get another wish granted from the Ghost King, she helps him out with some odd chores.

The CG is subpar, though that's only a real issue at the very start of the film. The sets look pretty nice, the action is fast-paced, the fantasy elements are properly executed, performances are amusing, and the plot is fun enough. It's nothing you haven't seen before, but the short runtime and skillful execution turn this into tasty filler.

The New Painted Skin

2022 / 91m - China
Romance, Fantasy -
The New Painted Skin poster

Dai Yilin is one of my discoveries of 2022. Not that he makes the greatest films, but his quality is consistent, his output is insane and practically all his films are prime genre filler. His take on the Painted Skin legend (quite popular in Chinese cinema this past decade) is exactly what I expected from it.

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General Yang is sent to Mirage City, where the Demon Lord resides. He is to win his trust first in order to defeat him, but the Demon Lord has plans of his own. He uses one of his subjects to confuse Yang by impersonating his wife. Meanwhile, the woman has fallen in love with Yang and has to choose between Yang and her master.

There isn't too much action here, instead the film focuses more on fantasy and romance. The costumes are lush, the sets are great and the little action there is in done well. CG is still subpar and the extra 20 minutes don't really add much, but I had a good time with this latest Painted Skin adaptation. Yilin is the man to look for if you want to breach Chinese streamer genre cinema.

Forbidden Martial Arts: The Nine Mysterious Candle Dragons poster

A fine mix of fantasy and martial arts. The more I see of these recent Chinese genre films, the more I feel lost in the endless maze of releases. They all feel like they're part of bigger franchises (and I guess many are based on fantasy novels), but for an outsider like me there's just no way to tie everything together without guidance.

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Luckily, most of them are pretty basic fantasy tales. Take a dragon that threatens the neighborhood, a haunted general who protects the people from the dragon and an inn where most of the action takes place, and you have all the ingredients for a solid action film with strong fantasy elements.

The cinematography is beautiful, sets and costumes are lush and the action choreography is pretty impressive. The dragon lair is a bit of a bummer though, relying quite heavily on subpar CG to create a high fantasy setting. Performances are pretty decent and the short runtime is a definite plus. All in all this is great genre fare, the kind I can keep watching. It's a good thing then the market is being flooded with these films.

Monster Hunters

2020 / 76m - China
Fantasy, Adventure -
Monster Hunters poster

Dai Yilin strikes again. After having seen countless of these Chinese streamer films, I'm still struggling to make sense of the scope and magnitude of this niche. The only director who stands out for now is Dai. Not only is he extremely prolific, but he is also one of the most consistent directors of the bunch. Monster Hunters is just more proof that he can deliver fun and fast-paced entertainment.

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The story of Monster Hunters is nothing special. A talented Monster Hunter arrives in a town where he finds a master possessed by the Demon King and a young girl who can't control her Soul Power. They band together to exorcise some local demons terrorizing the town, a fight that will lead to a face-off with the Demon King himself.

The CG in these films is mostly functional, the nice thing about Dai's work is that he at least has the rest of the styling down. Settings, costumes, and props look good, and so do the camerawork and other practical effects. The pacing and length of the film are perfect. Good fun if you love the mix of fantasy and martial arts.

Golden Spider City

2022 / 86m - China
Adventure -
Golden Spider City poster

More tomb raiding fun, though this time we're going even more fantastical, with even some minor sci-fi elements thrown in. And a Lara Croft lookalike, so you won't be mistaken where this film got its inspiration from. The result is pretty amusing, though, as is often the case with these films, let down by some pretty poor CG.

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Sima Cong and Lisa form a strong expedition team. An evil businessman forces them to raid a tomb, as he is looking for the Golden City. Then Cong's dad turns up out of nowhere, claiming he knows the location of the city, and he's willing to take his son there. The three of them set out on an adventure to the depths of the Earth.

It's nice to see a bit more variation in plot and genre elements, but in the end their impact is rather minimal. The film feels a bit too fluffy for a bona fide adventure, and the CG can really get below acceptable quality levels. Still, thanks to the solid pacing and short runtimes, films like these are hardly ever boring. I just wish they paid a little more attention to the details.

Knights of Valour

2021 / 80m - China
Action, War -
Knights of Valour poster

Chinese historic war cinema on the cheap. It was only a matter of time before China would hark back to the glorious war epics that graced the screens almost two decades ago. The biggest difference with Knights of Valour is scope and budget. While director Yilin is used to making do with little, it's not easy when working in this particular niche.

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When Guan Xing's father is killed in battle and his weapon is taken by the leader of the Wu, Guan wants revenge. Two years later he gets his chance, when a map is discovered that leads right into a nearby city controlled by the Wu. With a small team, Guan is tasked to explore and infiltrate the city, but the closer they come to their goal, the more obvious it is they are running into a trap.

The CG is a little dodgy and the lack of massive battlefield scenes is hard to miss, but the focus on a small infiltration team is smart and the film looks pretty solid beyond its budgetary limitations. And so Knights of Valour is pretty decent filler, much like all the other short streaming fodder. Not bad, just don't expect it to stand out.

The Pig King

Da Tian Peng
2020 / 101m - China
Fantasy, Action -
The Pig King poster

Another take on the Journey to the West saga, this time by streamer king Dai Yilin. With a longer runtime and (presumably) larger budget, Yilin has a lot more trouble getting this film on the rails. The result is a gaudy CG fest that never impresses the way it's supposed to. It just goes to show that some directors benefit from imposed limitations.

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The Pig King functions as a prequel to the classic Journey quest, explaining how Tainpeng became the infamous pig character. After Wukong makes a terrible mess in the heavenly Palace, he is banished to Earth, to live on Five Finger Mountain. Tianpeng is sent after him to prevent any future troubles, but romantic woes will complicate Tianpeng's quest.

Like most other Monkey King films from the '10s, the CG is a real eyesore and kills most of the film's fantastical appeal. The background story The Pig King provides isn't all that interesting either unless you're really invested in these characters. Not the film I was hoping for, Yilin has made much better ones under more stringent circumstances.