• Jiu ceng yao ta / Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe (2015) - Atmosphere, pace and special effects compensate for a predictable story and average acting performances - 7/10 (30/05/17)

    Jiu ceng yao ta / Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe (2015)

    Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe is a fantasy movie based upon Tianxia Bachang's novels about a nurse and a soldier that team up to raid tombs. It's interesting to note that another movie about the novels entitled Mojin: The Lost Legend was released less than three months after this movie. There are actually two different production companies. One owns the rights for the first few novels, the other for the more recent novels. That's why both movies aren't directly connected and even slightly contradictory at times. This movie here focuses on the first novel and shows us how the two main characters actually meet.

    Many contemporary Chinese fantasy movies suffer from terrible special effects that look extremely artificial and wooden. This isn't the case for Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe. The action sequences are captivating, the costumes, landscapes and relics look stunning and even the monsters look rather scary.

    The movie has a very strong introduction that develops a mysterious atmosphere that makes me think of Indiane Jones or Tomb Raider video games. Our two main characters discover the remnants of a mysterious and dangerous civilization in an ancient tunnel system in northern China. It's quite gripping to watch our main characters discover creepy skeletons, face aggressive butterflies and run away from a massive avalanche in a very fast-paced way.

    The movie loses some significant momentum after these opening sequences. The story shifts several years forward multiple times which is slightly confusing. The story also gets quite predictable. Some terrifying monsters related to the mysterious civilization have escaped and attack an oil town in a desert. Our main character will go on the mission to find a mysterious professor, fight the monsters and prevent the evil ancient civilization to break its curse and enslave mankind.

    The last third of the movie quickens up the pace a little bit. The fight scenes in the oil town are gripping and the clashes between the ancient civilization and those who accompany our protagonist are entertaining, intense and include a few minor twists. The conclusion itself is somewhat disappointing though because several questions are left unanswered. Since the movie is based upon a novel that had numerous sequels, it seems probable that there will be more movies about this story line in the future. If you want to watch a single movie with a coherent story line from the introduction to the conclusion, you shouldn't watch this film in the first place.

    While the movie has a mysterious atmosphere, a solid pace and great special effects, it's lacking in the acting department. Mark Chao's acting performance as the protagonist is average at best as it doesn't leave a deeper impression. Chen Yao as female lead isn't quite convincing even though her character has more depth. The romantic relationship between the two characters happens so quickly and unexpectedly that it's not credible. The supporting actors and actresses are doing a solid job but there isn't one performance that really stands out.

    Despite the movie's flaws concerning the acting performances and a story that is too closely inspired by numerous other archaeological fantasy stories, Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe is still an overall entertaining and convincing film thanks to its atmosphere, pace and special effects. The film should get more praise than it gets. It might not be the most innovative genre movie but it's clearly more interesting than Hollywood's fantasy reboots in the key of Kong: Skull Island and other shallow flicks.

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