Director Haolin Song, Liqi Yi
Starring Leon Chan, Li Xian
Alternative Names 赤狐书生

The end of 2020 is seeing the release of some massive Chinese fantasy movies. LORD2 is already out and between Christmas 2020 to Easter 2021 will see the release of two movies based on the Onmyoji Yin Yang Master IP.

In the middle of that all, is this film, from Executive Producer Bill Kong, the man behind some of the most popular and well-loved Asian movies from the last two decades, such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero, Fearless, Lust Caution, Cold War, Disney’s Mulan and the Monster Hunt series.

With it’s impressive visuals and outstanding music, can this movie carve out its own niche in the Chinese fantasy movie space?

What's this Movie About?

Xiao Bai, affectionately known as thirteen, is on a quest for immortality. He is a fox spirit and to pass his exam he needs to acquire the white elixir, which can be found in his human target, a scholar called Zijin.

The scholar is on his way to complete his exams to be a Government official, and is also looking for his long-lost brother who also went to complete the exam.

Xiao Bai runs into Zijin in a small city where a mishap results in Zijin’s donkey being confused for Xiao Bei’s target, and an amusing chase sequence occurs that begin their friendship.

Xiao Bai decides to accompany Zijin on the way to his exams, and during their journey he places and rescues him in a series of dangerous situations to earn his trust.

However, Zijin discovers that Xiao Bai is a fox spirit, and eventually realises that he wants the elixir in his body to become immortal.

This is a tale of friendship, sacrifice and trust, all of which get tested throughout the film

Is it Worth Watching?

This is the first movie I’ve seen in the cinema since Ip Man 4 at the end of 2019, and this movie reminded me of why going to the cinema is such an enjoyable experience to watch movies.

A 2K HDR digital video presentation with Dolby Atmos sound really immerses you into the experience, which is then topped off with lush impressive and colourful sets and beautiful score by Japanese maestro Joe Hisaishi, well known for his work on Studio Ghibli hits Spirited Away and Ponyo as well as one of my favourite video games Ni No Kuni 2.

The movie is a visual and aural feast for the viewer, which is good because at times the story can get a little lacklustre and disinteresting.

What are Some of the Memorable Moments?

As mentioned, visually the movie is a feast for the eyes.

The sets especially. From the opening in the cave where all the fox demons students meet, to the bamboo forest of the ending. In-between you’ll be witness to other sets that include the eerie academy where we meet Xiao Bai’s partner who transforms into a toad, and the spectacular looking bordello in the main city where Zijin meets Ying Lian, the ghost he falls in love with.

They’re all colourful and packed with details, with lively environments where there is always something going on.

While this isn’t a horror movie, it actually has some impressive horror effects and at times feels like the best Chinese horror you’ve ever seen. It explores the themes of ghosts and spirits far more liberally and with more detail than a traditional Chinese horror film, and the effects in the horror scenes, such as during Zijin exam where we are witness to the spirits of the dead students who haunt the exam room. Those effects are quite good.

And to top it off is that music score. Part times reminiscent of American cinema from the 60’s with the haunting violins, to the big scores of the more popular 90’s movie where music was king in films, this movie blends in Chinese and oriental instruments to create some memorable pieces. And then its topped off, as is tradition in Asian cinema, with a catchy pop song in the closing credits performed by our two male leads, with Leon Chan who plays Zijin well known in Taiwan for his singing.

What's Not So Hot?

But there are some issues with the film.

The first was that there was never going to be a good way to end this film, and certainly the ending we got proves it. There is essentially a double ending, and neither of them are satisfying. Having said that, it was always going to be impossible to create an ending that would have satisfied everyone, and these ones didn’t work for me.

Additionally, some of the visual effects were a little average. If you’ve seen the film, you specifically know that scenes involving the fox, including the ending, look really, really average. The aim for realism, to match the tone of the film, just didn’t work.

Overall Impressions

Issues aside, the movie is still a fun watch. Two great male leads, and a beautiful female supporting character played by Hani Kyzy, carry the movie on their shoulders, and a little easter egg for people on my channel who watch my Chinese horror movie reviews, Qing’an Ren from Ghost In Barbers plays a very minor role. I’m sure I am the only person who will pick that up!

My decision on if you should watch this: recommended for a cinema viewing. It’s a feast for your eyes and ears who may have been starved of that cinema experience like mine were.

If you’ve seen it, what did you think?