Warrant the Reborn
China, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 89 mins.
Director: Zhou Xiaopeng 周晓鹏.
Run-of-the-mill Mainland horror keeps threatening to get better but never does.
Qingfeng mountains, Sichuan province, southern China, the present day. A professor, Zhou Yunfeng (Zheng Qiang), reveals to his students a treasure map of the Qingfeng Mountain Fortress that was lost during the chaos of the Early Republic. The area is reputed to contain hidden defensive weapons and the group of four – Zhou, psychic Zhao Caiyun (Jiang Yiyi), Qian Yuan (Lu Enjie) and her boyfriend Sun Guang (Chen Weidong) – hire a local (Liu Zhenyou) to be their guide. After a detour because of a collapsing footbridge, they reach the ruined fortress, but their guide disappears in the mist. Zhao Caiyun has premonitions of death if they continue through the forest, but the others overrule her fears. They come across a small ancestral temple that is not on the treasure map, and then an underground tunnel that leads them back to some stone piles they found earlier. Eventually Zhao Caiyun finds a hidden tunnel that leads to a booby-trapped underground maze that in turn leads to the final door before the treasure. But there are more surprises in store.
A run-of-the-mill Mainland horror – which is to say, not much good at all – Warrant the Reborn 催命符之劫后重生 keeps threatening to get better but, despite its flashy VFX opening, never really does. Part treasure-hunting adventure, part spooky mystery, it takes a professor and three students into the Sichuan hills to explore a ruined fortress and then loads most of the plot into the final half-hour, with backstory, revelations and surprise appearances as everyone meets up in a booby-trapped maze of tunnels. Unfortunately, the story is borderline chaotic, the action is poorly staged, and direction by young journeyman Zhou Xiaopeng 周晓鹏, who’s made occasional features between TV dramas, is only average.
Performances are routine, including those by Chen Weidong 陈伟栋 and Lu Enjie 卢蒽洁 who also played a couple in Zhou’s romance Youth in the Air Outlet 风口青春 (2016), shot after Warrant but released before. As the psychic of the group, Jiang Yiyi 姜怡伊 (also in Youth) has a dark, sexy presence but is under-used by the script. The film’s Chinese title, which refers to a written Daoist voodoo that is meant to hasten someone’s death, could roughly be translated as “Death Curse: Reborn from Disaster”, which is preferable to the current gobbledygook English title.
Presented by Beijing Jiahe Pictures Film Culture Media (CN), As The Holy Tianxiong (Beijing) Culture Media (CN), Beijing Jin Heart Full Culture Media (CN). Produced by Beijing Jiahe Pictures Film Culture Media (CN), As The Holy Tianxiong (Beijing) Culture Media (CN).
Script: Wang Xi, Zhang Jixiang. Photography: Liu Han. Editing: Gao Yunpeng, Hao De. Music: Qu Peng. Art direction: Guo Tingtang. Costumes: Tuo Ya. Sound: Liu Ling. Action: Feng Yuxi. Visual effects: Ma Mingjun, Yang Liheng. Postproduction direction: Liu Zhao. Executive direction: Dai Xifan.
Cast: Zheng Qiang (Zhou Yunfeng, professor), Lu Enjie (Qian Yuan), Chen Weidong (Sun Guang, Qian Yuan’s boyfriend), Jiang Yiyi (Zhao Caiyun, psychic), Yu Menglong (Qian, master), Liu Zhenyou (Li Jin, guide), Li Yaojing (Qian, steward), Wang Yonggui (fortress manager), Wang Gang (Qian, professor), Liu Bainan (Sun Guang’s father), Wang Yanjiang (Li Qi, son of original fortress owner), Qi Jianzhen (female guide), He Qiang (Zhao, tomb designer), Tan Xiaoxi (Li Qi’s wife), Liu Anqi (young Zhao Caiyun), Peng Youqin (Zhao Caiyun’s mother), Liu Pei (Zhao Caiyun’s father), Chen Shenglan (Zhao’s wife).
Release: China, 29 Jul 2016.