The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (Review)

The Thousand Faces of Dunjia

aka 奇門遁甲 aka Qi Men Dun Jia
Thousand Faces of Dunjia
Written by Tsui Hark
Directed by Yuen Woo-ping

Ni Ni Thousand Faces of Dunjia
The Thousand Faces of Dunjia isn’t just another martial arts film, it is a wuxia fantasy with science fiction elements, including alien invaders in search of weapons of ultimate power. It’s directed by Yuen Woo Ping,a remake of his 1982 The Miracle Fighters, except it is completely different, more of a remake in concept only. The script is by Tsui Hark, and it stars some great actors like Zhou Dongyu and Da Peng. The film should have worked, which makes the fact that it didn’t even more disappointing.

Ultimately The Thousand Faces of Dunjia falls into the same trap that has ensnared so many other Chinese films, it becomes as soulless as the big budget blockbusters it tries to live up to. In a weird example, the best scene in the entire movie is a mid-credits scene where they basically roast on some of the more ridiculous concepts that happened earlier. It’s the kind of heart and good-natured ribbing the rest of the film should have been filled with. There were some humorous scenes, but mostly slapstick style humor, nothing that is basically on the same level.

Despite the group of heroes being made up of a solid core of actors, the villains are largely CGI creatures. They mind control a few martial arts masters into their bidding, but it is largely just CG villains arguing with each other and vaguely working against the heroes. Basically the entire villain side of the film completely fails, and that sort of sucks. Of the CGI monsters, the initial fish monster is the most fun, largely because they designed it to look like a crazy stop motion creation running around. When the larger villains show up, one is made of a bunch of red tendrils while the other is like a gargoyle. One of the heroes also turns into a CGI character, a blue phoenix that is vaguely symbolic.
Zhou Dong-Yu Thousand Faces of Dunjia

The heroes are part of a secretive clan in the shadows that protects the world from alien artifacts that are dangerous and those that would wish to control them. It has been a long times since they have faced a serious foe, but now forces from beyond are threatening the entire planet and everyone is in danger.

Rookie police officer Wan Yizhang (Aarif Lee) gets yanked around by his corrupt peers (who want him out of the way so he doesn’t disrupt their schemes), but keeps bumbling into fantastic situations of monsters attacking. As a giant fish rampages through the city, a mysterious woman also fights against it, but she can change her face. She’s Dragonfly (Ni Ni), and her and Wan’s paths will continue to cross despite her repeatedly erasing his memory. Also they drop the face changing fairly early on, which sort of pees in the cornflakes of the title, but whatever.

Fellow secret member Zhuge Qingyun (Da Peng) poses as a blind doctor to get access to a mysterious girl with no name (Zhou Dongyu, This Is Not What I Expected) that he dubs Circle. She uncontrollably turns into a gigantic blue phoenix and has a circle tattoo on her arm that marks her as destined to be the new leader of their clan. The rest of the group is less than impressed with Circle, who doesn’t seem to know how to act around people (thanks to her being locked up her entire life!) The second in command of the group is played by Wu Bai, and he’ll occasionally appear but is mainly said to be off on important missions, so the group largely acts autonomous.

Eventually they figure out that the aliens have teamed up to get a hold of the ultimate weapon, which can only be assembled by each of the head of the five martial clans working together, which they do, because they are all secretly being controlled. Which means fighting with martial clans, fighting aliens, lots of fighting, some scenes being cool while others just being annoying.

Dragonfly is great as the protagonist who knows it is her duty to deal with all this alien threat stuff but spends most of the film annoyed at Zhuge Qingyun because of his obvious attraction to Circle, but also annoyed at her own obvious attraction to Wan Yizhang. The film does something brave by brutally injuring Wan early on, but still keeping him as a major character. Da Peng is also fun as Zhuge Qingyun, having fun with the more ridiculous parts before he’s bogged down by the story. By far the best character is Circle, Zhou Dongyu committing fully to her role of an innocent, including a hilarious scene where she is confused by makeup and then later tries to apply her own makeup. She’s basically Hulk if Bruce Banner was a young girl who was locked in a closet all her life, but now in charge despite not knowing what is happening and everyone seething over her being anointed as the leader.

As much as lots of that sounds like it should be fun, it is drown between the more complicated parts of the plot, the annoying scenes where the alien bosses yell at each other, and battle scenes where CGI flies across the screen with little consequence. Just a little bit better in the script and I’d be much more forgiving, but alas, The Thousand Faces of Dunjia has far to little faces and too much bloat for my taste. The time for science fiction and fantasy martial arts films to finally be united in name as they basically are in spirit is now, so let’s hope something cements that soon.
Thousand Faces of Dunjia

Rated 6/10

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Thousand Faces of Dunjia

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