Mojin: The Lost Legend (China 2015)

Rating: ***
Alternate Titles: "Ghoul", "The Ghouls"
Review Date: 5/30/16
Music: Koji Endo
Cast: Chen Kun, Huang Bo, Shu Qi, Angelababy, Cherry Ngan

Hu Bayi (Chen Kun), Wang (Huang Bo), and Shirley (Shu Qi) are specially trained treasure hunters known as Mojin Xiaowei, descended from 80 generations of grave robbers who stole gold to feed their countrymen during war time. While living a life of exile in New York, a mysterious stranger offers them a job to locate the tomb of the Equinox Flower, which is rumored to have the ability to resurrect the dead. They get more than they bargained for when their employer turns out to be a psychotic lunatic parading around as a revered prophet, which puts everyone's lives in danger. Things get even worse when they discover the tomb, which is loaded with traps, mazes, feng shui puzzles, and zombies. Hu Bayi and Wang also have to contend with a ghost from their past (Angelababy), which puts a considerable strain on their friendship.

As the Chinese film industry continues to battle Hollywood for cinematic supremacy, the end product has become bland and uninteresting. While it's overflowing with beautiful scenery and great ideas, the characters are annoying, the humor is grating, and the overall presentation is tedious. The art direction and set design are superb, but the visual effects tend to suffer from bad compositing and jerky animation. Koji Endo provides an appropriately rousing music score that punctuates the heroic action and lighthearted humor, and is definitely one of the film's strongest points. What's interesting to me is that this film is a far better adaptation of the "Tomb Raider" video game series than either of the Angelina Jolie films were, and the story feels like it could have easily been lifted from any of Lara Croft's adventures (which makes me wonder why Hollywood has such a hard time with the material). Veteran actress Shu Qi is by far the best part of the film, and she makes an excellent Lara Croft styled adventurer. The film would have been much better if it had focused solely on her, rather than the obnoxious antics of the two male leads. It's not a terrible film, but the annoying characters, distracting visual blemishes, irritating dialog, and sluggish pacing left me disappointed and emotionally flat.