A Writer’s Odyssey, 2021.
Directed by Lu Yang.
Starring Lei Jiaying, Yang Mi, Dong Zijian, Yu Hewei, and Jingfei.
The narrative unfolding in a fantasy novel series starts affecting reality in unusual ways.
A Writer’s Odyssey is a mishmash of a multitude of films. Whilst for the most part functioning as an effective throwback to Peter Jackson’s sprawling The Lord of the Rings epic, there are shades of other movies like Marc Forster’s existential dramedy Stranger Than Fiction and Guillermo del Toro’s dark escapist fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth also in the mix, albeit to a lesser degree.
The ambitious VFX laden action-adventure follows the story of Lu Kongwen (Dong Zijian), the timid bespectacled author of a series of fantasy novels featuring a valiant teenager, on a dangerous quest to end the tyrannical rule of the demonic Lord Redmayne. Guiding Kongwen’s journey into the heart of darkness is a sentient, cynical humored Black Armor (Guo Jingfei) which is eerily reminiscent of Vampire Hunter D’s wisecracking symbiote Left Hand. I mean I thought that Left Hand was weird enough back in the day, but the Black Armor certainly takes the cake in terms of blurring the line between creepy and endearing. Yet no amount of impressive CGI animation or imaginative world building can trump the human element, and that is where lead actor Lei Jiaying acting chops comes into play.
His emotive performance as Guan Ning, a desperate father searching for his long-lost daughter, is convincingly heart rending and adds a much-needed layer of realism that balances out the more stylized fantastical aspects of the film. To say he’s the heart and soul of the proceedings, would be an accurate assessment. Dong Zijian plays a typically awkward millennial who indulges his passion for blogging stories. We later find out that this particular habit is a coping mechanism the writer utilizes to overcome a past trauma. Zijian instills Kongwen with the right amount of humor, silliness and heart that will have you rooting for the character as he’s navigating the madness unfurling around him with Guan Ning, who becomes something of a surrogate father figure to Kongwen at the latter half of the narrative. Performance wise the rest of the supporting cast aren’t really fleshed enough out to leave a lasting impression, merely going through the motions and fulfilling the script’s requirement.
The primary antagonist who comes off as a twisted version of Ali Baba CEO Jack Ma was particularly forgettable, possessing neither strong motives nor grandiose designs for world domination. But the most glaring weak point of A Writer’s Odyssey is the convoluted plot which fails to neatly tie up the movie’s various sub-plots, which didn’t contribute much to the overall story. For example, the protagonist has the power to hurl objects with surgical precision in real life, whilst a few of the evil henchmen hunting him also possessed similar powers. What was all that about? Is the existence of minor-superpowered beings a normal thing in the context of the story? No clear answers are given to these questions, but they do afford an opportunity for filmmaker Lu Yang (Brotherhood of Blades) to get creative with the fight sequences set in the real world.
However, it’s with the breathtakingly beautiful martial-arts action set pieces that take place in the fantasy realm, that Yang really shines. Not being overly familiar of his previous efforts, it would seem that this director has a penchant for infusing his outputs with stylized visuals and impressive CGI as evidenced by A Writer’s Odyssey. There is an almost Lord of the Rings type sense of scale and scope that makes one wonder what Yang would be able to accomplish with a stronger script and a bigger budget. DOP Qiming Han should also be commended here, for his outstanding contribution to crafting the exquisite visuals we see, transpiring onscreen.
China proved that they’re more than capable of churning out impressive VFX driven Hollywood-esque extravaganzas of their own with the debut of 2019’s big budget sci-fi epic The Wandering Earth, and it looks like they aren’t showing any signs of stopping any time soon as seen by A Writer’s Odyssey. The production values, worldbuilding and CGI are on par with some of the best Hollywood offerings and that’s certainly saying something. So, watch out world ‘cos China is shaping up to be a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry as well.
A Writer’s Odyssey has its faults, but don’t let that deter you from seeing this emotionally engaging, visually ambitious epic. It’s one hell of a wild ride, that’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.