Last year I got back into Asian cinema after taking a pretty long break from it. Like most things that I nerd out about, they rotate in and out of my life catching my interest at different times. If I didn’t run a comic website, this would have already happened a few times with comic books as well. I didn’t see anything that was really worth a damn last year and almost fell out of interest as quickly as I fell in.
Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe was a step in the right direction for me. It reminded me of a lot of action intense films that I first watched when getting into Hong Kong cinema. Heavy on the CGI, interesting concept, but not a very deep story. One thing that Ghostly Tribe has going for it is the fact that it has a cast that can act.
The story is spread out across several years, but it starts in the 70s as a special expedition is exploring a cave that’s producing some interesting skeletons. After an explosion is triggered, an even smaller expedition is gathered to venture beyond the cave. They end up finding large animal prints and continuing their journey to follow it. Along the way they run into danger. Over and over until there’s only four of them left. Hu Bayi, Ping Yang, her father Professor Yang and another dude who is protecting Hu Bayi as much as he can. They find an alien created cave and shit gets weirder. Eventually only three make it out and they’re scattered to the wind until an event brings them back together.
What’s really actually interesting about the story is that it’s a big monster movie hidden behind history and aliens. The three play well together as writer/director Lu Chuan not only creates a very convincing secret history for China, but then sneaks in aliens and monsters. The pacing of the story is pretty typical of Hong Kong cinema. There’s a lot going on in the beginning, then it slows down in the middle and speeds up at the end. It’s not bad when you consider that Hong Kong/China cinema follows its own storytelling structure. There is a scene at the end that basically reveals why we saw everything at the beginning and it actually works. If most other movies did that you’d be upset that they waited to tell you the point of everything right at the end, but really the rest of the movie stands on its own and if it weren’t setting up a series of movies/stories then this scene wouldn’t even be needed.
The acting again is actually really good. I only had a problem with the type cast fat guys since one of them is nicknamed “Fatty” and it was just the most overplayed gag ever. He was still a good actor and he never went over the top with the “funny fat friend” role, but it was still kind of disappointing to see that they’re still writing that character after all these years. I mean Hollywood is still doing it so I shouldn’t be that surprised, but still disappointing none the less because his weight never needed to be brought up and he actually served as a well-balanced supporting character.
The cinematography and CGI were the strongest aspects of the film. The film looks great from start to finish, I couldn't get over how great it looked. I don’t know why, but even though it was obviously CGI, it matched the world and looked better than a lot of CGI I've seen in American films lately. And there was a ton of it. The monsters, the caves, hell there’s even a scene in which a library is recreated in CGI and in the moment it’s very convincing. There was a great deal of attention paid to the CGI, especially when the monsters were running amok. At one point, a monster claws several seats on a bus and the rips appear in CGI. It’s a small detail, but I can’t tell you how many movies I’ve seen where they missed stuff like that. It gave the impression that this movie was given the time it needed to be the best version of itself possible.
That’s not to say that the film is perfect. One problem I had was actually on the back of the box in which the synopsis incorrectly states the story ends up in Modern Day New York. I only caught this part since it’s bold and in large print so I kind of wondered when the movie was going to jump to the modern era. It never did. It spans several years, but the story intentionally stays in the past and it definitely doesn’t go to New York. Another gripe if you will, is that in the closing scenes of the movie it sets the story up for a strange sequel in which our main character must look for another character, one that I had zero interest in finding. It was a bit of a head-scratcher as to why another movie would be dedicated to finding this “B” list character, but hey, not my movie.
My last “issue” with the film isn’t really an issue because I don’t know enough about the director’s vision. It’s tough to say if he was trying to capture an era in Chinese history accurately or if he was simply encouraged to put the material in the film. That is to say there’s quite a few scenes that I can only describe as propaganda due to the hokey nature of the material and the fact that everyone takes it seriously and never questions it. Again, tough to say if it was just being historically accurate or if it was imposed on the movie in some way. Since I don’t know, I definitely don’t want to assume, but it’s worth noting.
At its core, Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe is a popcorn flick. It’s not going to open our mind or make you feel a wide range of emotions. It delivers on the action and intensity and so I’ll be rating it on that. On being a really enjoyable and fun action movie that I might actually watch again and even more so watch the sequel too, even if I don’t care about the character they’re searching for.
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Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe
Writer/Director: Lu Chuan
Distributor: Well Go USA