The highly anticipated Chinese summer film season has kicked off, including the long-awaited release of a film that had been shelved for six years, "Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms". From its inception, this film has garnered much attention and discussion. Director Wuershan, known for his distinctive style in supernatural fantasy films such as "Painted Skin: The Resurrection" and "Mojin: The Lost Legend", has established himself as a prominent figure in the Chinese film industry.
The cast is also extensive, featuring over 30 actors including Kris Phillips, Huang Bo, Li Xuejian, Xia Yu, Chen Kun, Yuan Quan, and many more. Moreover, the film has collaborated closely with New Zealand-based creators from "The Lord of the Rings", aiming not only to capitalize on star power but also to create a grand ambition of building China's epic film comparable to "The Lord of the Rings".
However, this new epic film that has generated both buzz and controversy since its early stages faced mixed reviews upon its release. Simultaneously, the movie's box office growth has been less than expected compared to the huge investment. As the first installment in the Fengshen series of films, does "Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms" deserve a watch?
Wuershan's aesthetics still possess distinctiveness
To be on par with Hollywood entails aligning oneself in terms of art direction cinematography special effects music; there is no doubt that "Creation of the Gods: I Kingdom of Storms" accomplishes precisely that. Wuershan as a director with an exceptional personal style can always infuse movies with synthesizes hunting and history.
Particularly adept at constructing beauty within characters by endowing humans with genie qualities or bestowing genie with human emotions. Whether it be Xiao Wei portrayed as pitiful yet dangerous in "Painted Skin 2" or the vast deserts and surreal ancient cities depicted in "Mojin: The Lost Legend", all exhibit Wuershan's unique cinematic style and aesthetic qualities of fantasy with a Chinese touch.
In "Creation of the Gods I", Wuershan blends multiple stylistic elements into a grand macro-aesthetic. The juxtaposition of gruesome and exhilarating violence, reminiscent of splattering blood, coexists with an oriental allure that evokes the spirit of Pu Songling's strange tales but without compromising on its sensuality.
The beginning of the film, in the midst of a snowstorm, Su Quanxiao, the son of Su Hu from the northern region who was plotting rebellion, was slain as a show of force to the audience. The camera then shifted its focus to Zhao Ge City, which appeared prosperous and grand yet lacked any sense of liveliness. The elaborate and magnificent special effects modeling revealed a sense of sorrowful anticipation for an impending collapse.
In one particular scene depicting the sacrificial altar, the stark contrast between the colossal elephants and the small enslaved lower-class people created a vivid juxtaposition. While creating a stunning spectacle, even without extensive dialogue, King Zhou's cruelty and extravagance were vividly portrayed on screen. At the same time, through meticulous research into Wu culture, the director fully showcased his imagination for this distant era and its lost civilization.
That scene that Bao Yikao playing his flute while Daji dances gracefully in her red attire amidst rain-induced madness or bewilderment. This banquet scene where King Zhou revels can truly be considered one of the film's highlights.
Although there is an historical inconsistency with transverse flutes appearing during Shang Dynasty period, their expressive and dramatic melodies instead give it an aesthetic allure without causing significant detriment. Combined with our perception through a audience perspective perspective on these three characters' destinies only serves to evoke a kind of cruel beauty.
It can be seen that whether it is fascination with spectacles or obsession with colossal entities or even rewriting legends themselves are all done in order to create an epic quality imbued with both grandeur and destiny that should be expected from such large-scale productions.
At least on an aesthetic level focused on extracting essence, "Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms" has achieved this goal spectacularly well. With IMAX screens and Dolby sound effects enhancing its impact，it remains an audiovisual feast showcasing China's imaginative and creative prowess in the film industry.
The performances of numerous stars
The performances of over 30 celebrities serve as a selling point, while also acting as the final defense against "Creation of the Gods I" becoming just another mediocre or outright bad film due to its weak storytelling.
At age 62, Kris Phillips sheds his idol image and once again showcases exceptional discipline in both physique management and acting skills, carrying the role of Yin Shou with an air of magnanimity that coexists with brutality.
His convincing interactions with veteran actors such as Huang Bo and Li Xuejian demonstrate compelling. The scenes where he first encounters Daji, bathes together with her, and watches her dance are also filled with sexual tension. The hairstyle design perfectly transforms this former idol into the true embodiment of King Zhou.
Jiang Ziya is one of the most iconic characters on Chinese screens and provides abundant room for creativity. From his initial portrayal as a reliable immortal figure characterized by celestial grace to a male heartthrob who has mastered eternal youth techniques，and finally evolving into an affable persona capable of facing personal hardships, he undergoes a rich transformation throughout history. In this work, Huang Bo's portrayal naturally presents Jiang Ziya in a breakthrough manner，depicting him as an elderly mischievous character imbued with comedic elements.
Amidst Huang Bo's versatile performance, Jiang Ziya not only avoids disrupting immersion but instead possesses subtle yet profound characteristics akin. His infrequent comedic moments along with black humor serve excellently as seasoning to enrich the rhythm of the film. Together with Xia Yu's portrayal of Shen Gongbao's madness, they provide breakthrough points that make this commercial film captivating.
As for prince Yin Jiao, the future King Wu Ji Fa, the various vassals from all directions, and Daji herself，newcomers were boldly chosen for these roles. Each actor, be it in appearance or the spiritual essence of their characters, endows them with a certain charm and vitality. It can be said that every cast member's acting is exceptional.
The Flaw of "Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms"
Regrettably, despite with 30 A-list stars lending their support and genuine intentions to create a grand Chinese-style film, "Fengshen" has not completely won over the majority of its audience. The primary reason for this is the storyline. Director Wuershan is extremely skilled in cinematic aesthetics, and his experiences on the grasslands have endowed his camera work with breadth and a vastness reminiscent of Terrence Malick's style.
Although "Feng Shen (Investiture of the Gods)" is an IP and cultural symbol that resonates strongly within China and even globally, it seems to be under some sort difficulty of adaptation.
Currently, among the films and TV dramas directly titled after or related to "The Investiture of Gods," only two versions have gained recognition from audiences: the 1990 TV drama directed by Guo Xinling, starring Fu Yiwei, Lan Tianye, etc., as well as the 2001 TV drama directed by Hong Kong's Liu Shiyu, featuring Chen Haomin, Wen Bixia, etc.
Upon closer examination of these reasons for such lukewarm reception lies not in an inability to tell the story effectively but rather because it is inherently challenging. As a typical ensemble novel with numerous characters who possess both good and evil qualities themselves - each highly distinctive - bringing all these characters vividly to life becomes an arduous test for narrative logic as well as clarity and distinctiveness in every plot point.
Moreover, injecting novelty into multiple instances involving "Investiture of the Gods" requires penetrating into the true essence behind this tale - including imaginings about power dynamics; identification with one's nation; as well as narratives tracing civilizations transformation. However, many adaptations still fixate on humanity's most primal desires: sex, violence, and bloodshed.
The allure of the extravagant debauchery of King Zhou and Daji's pleasure gardens, coupled with their cruel punishments such as branding and burning at the stake, along with the satisfying feeling brought about by divine intervention aiding King Wu's clan - these elements have proven to be almost foolproof.
Yet in the current narrative of "Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms," we can observe how diligently the director strives to balance visual beauty with narrative depth. By modifying King Zhou's image, elevating him from a one-dimensional portrayal as a "foolish" ruler to a victim caught in a power game, his kingly qualities are magnified. But the storytelling falls into chaos and alterations. Although "Creation of the Gods I" disrupts traditional stereotypes associated with Daji being merely a seductive temptress, attributing all tragedies to alienation during pursuit for power.
On another note or aspect, patriarchal thinking is reestablished as both thematic core and narrative framework. The obsession with father figures and male-dominated discourse systems results in an intense male gaze that drains female characters of any remaining value or worthiness while rendering Queen Jiang's hasty departure and Daji's inexplicable independence feeble and laughable endeavors.
The fanatical devotion towards fathers leads every scene down paths towards ruin; nearly every "son" of King Zhou goes through moments of doubt, rebellion before ultimately succumbing weakly to conventionality. This disintegrates the fantastical story structure of "Creation of the Gods I."
Additionally or Furthermore, within this filmic narrative system lies its most romanticized yet shining moment: "Homecoming," which unfortunately only reaches its pinnacle within the last ten minutes without allowing enough time for it to simmer; the story concludes prematurely.
Therefore, the first installment of "Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms" commits a mistake often made by many fantasy and epic films: it prioritizes visual splendor while lacking substance in its content.
With the "Creation of the Gods" series adopting a production strategy that involves filming once and releasing in three parts, continuing this story has become inevitable. All we can hope for is that subsequent editing will yield a clearer central concept, more gripping conflicts, more vivid characters, and a more coherent narrative - allowing China's fantastical mythological to truly stand tall.
Ji Fa, Jiang Ziya, and Nezha shall transform into fleshed-out heroes; King Zhou and Daji will also become charismatic antagonists who are typical yet not clichéd - an outcome befitting of the efforts put forth by countless filmmakers who dedicated 3 years to planning and 6 years to perfecting this work.