With China’s growing importance as an export market for Hollywood, it was inevitable that the Chinese film industry would start to eye the possibility of making some exports of their own.
“League Of Gods”, based loosely on the 16th Century Chinese novel Feng Shen Bang, brings a very modern, Marvel-ous take on the old Chinese legend, reframing the dawn of the ancient Gods as the assembling of a team of superheroes destined to battle the forces of darkness.
When King Zhou of Shang is seduced by Daji, an evil spirit posing as one of his concubines, it’s up to Jiang Ziya (Jet Li) to assemble a group of super-powered warriors and form them into a team to save the surrounding lands from the black dragon.
There’s a breezy, gleeful shorthand quality to the narrative, especially for Western tastes. There’s no pause to explain or exposition provided no matter how bizarre the development, you just kind of have to go with it, retrospectively seeing the story take shape. Never mind foreshadowing, you’ll be pining for shadowing, especially during some of the less impressive CGI sequences.
There’s a Lucasian sense of restraint when it comes to CGI in “League Of Legends” and while much of the work is breathtaking, some of it is a bit lacking. Visually ambitious in the way only possibly the Wachowskis have attempted, its operatic theatricality evokes “Dune”, “Lord Of The Rings”, “Men In Black” and even 1980’s “Flash Gordon” and it could be argued it’s the movie 1987’s “Masters Of The Universe” wishes it was.
Mangled slightly in translation, the dialogue is a bit hit and miss and you’ll be questioning the legitimacy of the subtitles more than the script but there’s a joyous, mischievous sense of humour that will appeal to anyone who enjoyed the 1978 series “Monkey”. Not so much ending on a cliff-hanger as simply stopping mid-story, there’s still a ton of fun to be had with this crazy slice of ancient Chinese mythology. After all, when a movie’s biggest set piece involves a roller-skating baby fighting off an army of mermaids with the power of flatulence and urination, what’s not to love?