The team behind “The Thousand Faces of Dunjia” — director Yuen Wo Ping and writer-producer Tsui Hark — have decades of experience in Hong Kong and Hollywood. Tsui was a mainstay of Hong Kong’s new wave in the 1990s; actionchoreographer Yuen brought that movement’s energy to the “Matrix,” “Kill Bill” and “Lethal Weapon” franchises. But their latest project is designed for the broader taste of the mainland-China market.
“Dunjia” is a comic adventure tale that jumbles myth, sci-fi, kung fu and lots of slick but cartoonish CGI. The plot, which owes a little to “Men in Black”. Pits a clan of guardians against aliens hidden among the population of pre-modern China. The prize is the Dunjia, a powerful doohickey that — as the title suggests — could be just about anything or anyone.
Leading the clan are Zhuge (Da Peng), whose skills include doctoring as well as fighting. And the fiery and fearless Dragonfly (Ni Ni or Nghe Ni), the only female member. They’re later joined by Dao (Aarif Lee), an earnest rookie constable, and Circle (Dongyu Zhou), a mysterious young woman whom Zhuge rescues from a hospital for the incurable (although her condition is not exactly medical). Only some of them have supernatural powers, but they’ll all procure some magic before the anticlimactic conclusion, which trumpets plans for a sequel.
The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (Ngu Hiep Tru Yeu) is exuberant and visually inventive, notably in the ways it incorporates text into the images. It also benefits from engaging performances. But the story is motley and not very involving, and the anything-goes CGI undermines the battle sequences. The physicality that makes Chinese action movies exhilarating loses its kick when so many of the moves are virtual.