“The Yinyang Master” is a fantastical, fanciful new sword-and-sorcery franchise from China. It doesn’t matter that it’s a violent, hilariously wearying and cluttered collection of tropes, character “types” and action beats. Its sequel has already come out (“Dream of Eternity”) and is on Netflix, too.
So, in for a fen, in for a yuan I guess.
There’s a lot to take in — flying martial artists, spectacular brawls, “Scale Stones” and sigils, fantastic beasts, CGI demons in the Demon Realm and a villain with a transgender edge.
I think that maybe the dismembered hand monster is my favorite, although the cuddly Red Ghost, sort of Hellboy as Sumo Wrestler, is a close second.
The plot? Um, where does one begin?
The emperor of the demon realm wants the Scale Stone, badsass Qinming (Kun Chen) and his ferret minions steal it from Captain Boya (Chuxiao Qu) of the Imperial Guards. Chief Baini (Xun Zhou) of The Defenders considers Qinming a traitor. But as they used to be a couple, maybe there’s more going on there.
Boya is disgraced for losing that stone, and to recover it and arrest Qinming he teams with the first fighting pixie (Shen Yue) to tell him he’s “full of s–t!”
There are fights with the Red Ghost and Raven Hound Twins, this startling, black-hooded four-armed warrior with a porcelain face mask turns out to be ferrets standing on each other’s shoulders inside a cloak, and the Snow Queen (Cici Wang) flings ice darts and fights dirty.
The dialogue is redolent of every other fantasy tale, East or West.
“You will help me return to the mortal world. That is your destiny!” (in Mandarin with subtitles, or dubbed into English).
The occasional flash of humor helps lighten this smorgasbord of sword-and-sorcery. “I can’t watch you fall any more. So for now, I think we’re done.”
A lot more could be done with that, but maybe the translation is leaving that light touch out.
“I used to get my demonic goods from Yanyan Le,” is a line George Lucas could have concocted to show a very old “universe” where business is business.
It doesn’t matter where films based on video games come from, they’re always most fascinating to players of the game –this fight getting you to that “level,” and so on. This has a “only for fans of the game” vibe. Even by origin story standards, it’s a mess.
The rest of us have to sit through two hours of endless “Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings” exposition, a parade of creatures, characters, talismans, spells, old grudges held by dark forces, flashbacks that pointlessly add a backstory, and challenges.
Outsiders can dive into this colorful, splashy mayhem for the costumes, critters and set pieces. But while the acting is competent, the only moving “death” is an animal’s and the only interesting performance is by the villain expressing his character’s feline-feminine side.
MPA Rating: TV-14, bloody violence, profanity, fart gags
Cast: Kun Chen, Xun Zhou, William Wai-Ting Chan, Shen Yue, Chuxiao Qu, Cici Wang
Credits: Directed by Li Weiran, script by Chialu Chang and Evan Jian, based on the “Onmyoji” video game. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:01