I am a sucker for fantasy films. Especially the Chinese ones with characters gliding through the air using their kung fu skills. The periodic dramas set in ancient China are themed around kung fu, magic, wizards and demons—with more than a touch of the otherworldly. As someone who grew up watching Hindi-dubbed Chinese kung fu soap operas on Home TV, I’m sure anyone from my generation can relate to this. Chances are that any ardent movie lover will have at least one Chinese fantasy film in their list of favorites, even if it’s only “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” (2000).
Released on Netflix this February, “The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity” is styled in the classic Chinese fantasy film format where the protagonists battle sinister forces with magical abilities of their own. The film is based around the ancient Imperial City of China, in an unknown timeline centuries ago. Directed by Guo Jingming, The Ying-Yang Master is adapted from the novel series Onmyōji written by Baku Yumemakura.
Four demon-fighting master wizards—Hongruo (Jie Dang), Longye (Jessie Li), Bo Ya (Deng Lun), and Qing Ming (Mark Chao)—who come from different parts of the country gather in the Imperial City that houses a malevolent serpent demon. Their predecessors had captured the snake demon and confined it in the City, sealed within the body of a woman and protected by four stone guardians. Despite its confinement, the masters feel the threat of the evil serpent rising again and they want to awaken the four stone guardians to forever imprison the serpent demon within the City.
Staying at the Imperial Palace, the four masters encounter evil spirits as soon as they gather to make plans. At the Palace, the Empress, Princess Zhang Ping (Olivia Wang), and the palace priest, He Shouyue (Wang Duo), greet them with mixed feelings. As it is, there is a sort of rivalry between the masters that is fueled by a mysterious murder within the Palace, with everyone becoming suspects. As the strength of the snake demon and other smaller demons in the City increases, the state of mistrust between the masters themselves, and with the Palace, decreases their combined strength.
The story of The Ying-Yang Master comes with its fair share of twists and turns but from a broad lens, it feels kind of cliched. There are many predictable moments, lessening the story’s impact. But, honestly, who watches these fast-paced, visually delightful movies for their storylines?
In this day and age, watching a movie is not only about acting and directing skills. Visual effects and animation can play a huge part in shaping the audiences’ movie experience. The same is true of The Ying-Yang Master. Although there is no mention of it on its IMDB page, the film feels like it was shot for 3D screens. Right from the beginning sequence where a battle ensues between a demon and a Ying-Yang master, the audience is in for a visual treat.
In a film with as many mystical characters as real ones, fitting them into the same screen without the film looking like an animation is probably the biggest challenge for filmmakers of this genre. The Ying-Yang Master has managed to create a parallel universe of earthly beings fighting the supernatural in a background that is the replica of the real world. There are momentary lapses when the film feels like a video game sequence but, overall, the VFX, SFX and CGI in The Ying-Yang Master are in a class of their own.
Who should watch it?
Even with a run-time of 2hr 12mins, The Ying-Yang Master feels short with so many things happening simultaneously on screen. Meaning, this is a movie that will entertain most audiences. So unless you are only into serious movies with realistic storylines, The Ying-Yang Master is an out-and-out entertainer.