With the Starring Wang Ta-lu and Zhang Tianai. This CGI spectacle largely transcends its genre clichés with a relentlessly earnest desire to please.
Legend of the Naga Pearls (Cuu Chau Thien Do Thanh) brackets the opening and ending of the film with a story about the world of old, where the Winged Tribe once ruled over much of the world, only to be upset by the humans when the Winged Tribe got a bit too big for their britches and tried taking control from the rest of the 6 tribes (the only ones mentioned are Humans. Merfolk and the Wing Tribed, but there are hints of Ape men as well as dwarves as well). Years later, the old capital of the Winged Tribe has fallen from the heavens and is now ruled over by men.
The rest of the peaceful winged creatures of old are still around. But most either serve the human emperor, or are in hiding, biding their time till they can strike again. Vlad (Simon Yam, in a TON of makeup) is one of the few winged warlords left. And he finally decides to step out of the shadows as he has found several hidden artifacts that once combined will create a weapon of IMMENSE power. A weapon that can return his people back to the days of old.
Only thing is, he needs one more artifact. The Naga Pearls, which just so happen to be in an underground cavern. When the “saint of thieves” (Darren Wang). Finds out about the cave’s whereabouts during a heist. He steals the Naga Pearls in hopes of gaining some coin. A winged tribe member now working for the human royal guard named Raven (Tian’Ai Zhang) has plans of her own for the peals, and that includes keeping them out of Vlad’s hands. After both of them get arrested for trying to steal a treasure, the Saint. Raven and a mysterious benefactor band together to find a way to destroy the pearls before Vlad is able to get his hands on them and end the world as we know it.
Legend of the Naga Pearls takes a lighthearted approach to the whole fantasy story, with the Saint of Thieves parading around the place with a goofy grin and a little CGI Armadillo who has a penchant for farting. There’s almost a “Disney’s Aladdin” vibe to his strut, stealing from those around him to eat. But also a has the ability to deftly dance and leap his way around the palace guard. I had way more fun with the film than I was initially expecting, and the first half is really engaging. It’s not until the second act. When the trio are off to the “Port of Tortuga” style casino that things get a bit wonky.
The editing suffers greatly as scenes are pushed up next to each other without much in the way of logical connection. And there are whole areas that feel like a scene or two is missing. Usually leaving you feeling like they could have added in a segue between the two scenes instead of just abruptly jumping there. Then there’s the final act that just tries to cram too much into a short amount of time. Don’t get me wrong, I really did enjoy the lighthearted romp that it was. But like many Asian fantasy films (phim than thoai). Too much gets left on the drawing board and the editing leaves much room for improvement.
The film’s cheeky humor are all well and good. But Darren Wang really steals just about every scene he’s in as the self proclaimed Saint of Thieves. That goofy grin of his elicits a warm smile from this reviewer and the high flying martial arts is incredible. When the film gets bogged down with backstory and scene editing issues. It more than makes up with some amazingly choreographed fight scenes. The battle where the Saint is luring the guards into the same chamber as Vlad’s henchmen is a blast. And they actually let you SEE what is going on in a fight scene. Instead of falling prey to the more modern technique that Paul Greengrass spawned with The Bourne Identity. E.g. using tons of quick edits and cuts to make it seem like an action scene so that you can cut down on actual choreography.