Being a massive film geek and an even bigger fan of epic adventure yarns set in cool, exotic locales, I’ve been looking for something to help wipe the stank of the disappointing Tarzan reboot off my shoes for weeks now. And thanks to the hugely entertaining, action-adventure-sci-fi hybrid Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe, I think I finally found it!
Based on the bestselling 2006 novel Ghost Blows Out the Light, which was so popular that it was adapted for the bigscreen two separate times last year in China – the other version, which I have not seen but is supposedly vastly different in style and tone, is entitled Mojin: The Lost Legend – the novel has also spawned five literary sequels. And if that doesn’t make you want to see this big barrel of popcorn movie perfection, wait until you hear the story.
Set in 1979, Chronicles opens, quite literally, with a bang after a mysterious explosion rocks an archeological dig on China’s Mongolian border just as the team – led by the equally mysterious Professor Yang (The Grandmaster’s Qingxiang Wang) – unearth the remains of a massive, previously unknown creature from a giant cave. Discovering a deeper, darker cavern in the mountain after the explosion, Yang leads a smaller team comprising his brave, hard-charging daughter Ping (played by Monster Hunt’s lovely Yao Chen), a love-struck soldier with a thing for Ping named Hu Bayi (So Young’s Mark Chao) and a handful of others into the bowels of the mountain to investigate.
Once inside, the team faces off with killer bats, giant wolf-like creatures bent on their total destruction and a fiery intradimensional portal built by a prehistoric alien race that may or may not hold the key to the future of all mankind. And that’s just the first act, wait until you see how this thing ends! Oh, and did I mention the tragically beautiful, if somewhat confusing, time-and-space-hopping romance that blossoms between Ping and Hu Bayi? So good! It’s like someone poured all the best parts of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lost Horizon, Stargate, and Doctor Strange into one really big pot and brought it to a rolling boil. Really great stuff all around!
And while Chronicle director Lu Chuan is probably best known to international audiences for his grittier, socially relevant art house fare like The Missing Gun, City of Life and Death and The Last Supper, like Hollywood hotshot du jour Colin Trevorrow – who was hired to write and direct Jurassic World and the still-untitled Star Wars: Episode IX based on the success of his micro-budgeted indie Safety Not Guaranteed – Chuan proves here that he is definitely a blockbuster talent in the making.
Featuring a fun, fast-paced screenplay by Chuan and American father-son screenwriting team Bobby and Nick Roth (Berkeley) and top-notch CGI by some of the best visual effects talents in the world – including Weta alum John Sheils (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Frighteners) who surely had a hand in crafting the film’s bloodthirsty hell hounds! – Chronicles wanders a bit in the middle, but in the end proves to be one big, Mandarin-language adventure that is well worth taking.
Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe is now playing (with Traditional Chinese and English subtitles) on select United, Emirates and Qatar Airways flights worldwide.