I found it mildly amusing that the director’s name (Fei Xing) can literally be translated to “do not cross here”, because quite frankly, it’s almost like a warning to his production.
The Mojin franchise is based on the bestselling novels of Zhang Muye, about the colourful adventures of three tomb robbers that seek out legendary artifacts. It’s really a mixed-gender Lara Croft set in fantasy-game scenarios – hardly surprising given that one of the shareholders is Tencent, China’s leading gaming company. But this application peters out badly. Mojin: The Worm Valley for all its CGI, barely turns up any traction.
The film follows Hu Bayi (Cai Heng), Shirley Yang (Gu Xuan), Wang Fatzi (Yu Heng) and some other unmemorable characters to Yunnan province in search of a solution to the Ghost Eye curse. A mystical orb holds the key to the antidote, and the troop battles killer beasts to obtain the relic.
The story is as flat as it sounds. You might expect the process to be one of adventure, but it’s pretty much just multiple obstacles rendered in the form of either a single giant monster, or thousands of smaller ones that attack the group. Back and forth this formula goes, from fish to lizard to lobster, the mindless barrage soon numbs us to any of the proceedings that are actually going on.
Add to that, we’ve got a really unlikeable hero here. Cai Heng is a limp lead, who holds no charisma for any of the scenes to be believable. As the team bashes away at the monsters, his Bayi doesn’t seem to contribute as much as you would expect someone of his calibre to do so. A lot of the conflict is usually resolved by someone else in his team. In fact, his most significant stance is pretty much a lot of pregnant pauses before screaming: “Run!”
So yes there’s a lot of jumping and running that makes The Worm Valley feel more like it should belong on an app on my phone. The raiders here don’t inspire any sort of awe, because they feel more like victims of the circumstance. From one scene to another, the ensemble lands in a new situation involuntarily as they get chased by monsters, dropping any cred as they flee from river to forest to temple.
Which is why when Bayi stands up to the group at one point, espousing his grand speech on how he wishes to take ownership of his destiny (cue cheesy melodramatic background music), it’s too late to save this from being anything but comedic.
It’s true that there are plenty of gorgeous rendered settings, but just try to keep pace with the incongruent world. In one scene, it’s day when they jump off a cliff, but night when they land (how they did so when it’s hundred of feet, I don’t know). And for all the urgency, when one member passes, they apparently spent hours in the same spot as night turns to day again. In between, the decision that the raiders make is as baffling as their choice of weapons.
This CGI-fest is a textbook case of overcompensating. With a lacklustre cast, non-existent script, mediocre effects and a tired execution, this worm stays a worm.
This just goes to show that content matters. A visual journey means nothing when the plot and cast holds no weight of their own.
First published: www.movieXclusive.com