Length: 113 minutes
Director: Li Wei Ran
Writer: Even Jian
Cast: Chen Kun, Zhou Xun, Qu Chu Xiao, Shen Yue, William Chan Wai-ting, Wang Li Kun, Cici Wang
Release details: Streaming on Netflix
Score: 3 out of 5 stars
Not to be confused with The Yin Yang Master: Dream Of Eternity by Guo Jing Ming, director Li Wei Ran's Yin Yang Master is a totally different demon altogether. Based on the popular mobile game Onmyoji from China’s internet giant NetEase, the fact that Netflix picked up an almost identical title a few months after the first speaks volumes of audiences' appetite for the rich, fictional universe of the game as well as the novel it's based on.
While Dream Of Eternity fixated on unresolved master issues, petulant boys’ love and a relationship doomed to fail, Li's debut attempt at promulgating the fictional universe of Onmyoji is a stunning breath of fresh air.
The Yin Yang Master is not as flashy with magic CGI like its predecessor. What it makes up for lies in its colourful, easy to follow storytelling and immersive universe. It is also clear that director Li and his team have attained a proper understanding of the game and its storyline, and have faithfully adhered to the game’s lore and characters.
There were some creative licenses taken with this film, although not in a bad way. Traditionally, Qing Ming is the almighty and revered Yin Yang Master, possessing powers beyond mortal comprehension and legions of potent demon spirits at his beck and call. Here, Qing Ming is an outlier with a chequered past, played by Chen Kun.
He is discriminated against by his teachers and fellow disciples for having both human and demon blood, accused of trying to steal the Scale Stone which could resurrect the giant nine-headed serpent Xiangliu and king of demons, and murdering his senior disciple, Cimu (William Chan), in the process.
If you’ve played the game, you’ll also recognise the trademark courtyard that Qing Ming resides in, with a magnificent sakura tree that arches over the compound. Players will also be stoked to be able to name his spirit servants or shikigami bound to his command, like Yamausagi (a rabbit on a frog), Kamaitachi (three weasels in a costume) and Kappa (Lake Demon).
There is even a Demon Realm straight out of a Tsui Hark movie, where all the spirits and demons congregate and live together under the watchful gaze of the Port Master, a portly demon resembling a beluga whale obsessed with hoarding human valuables.
The spirits wear fish-eye earrings, eat snot-spun candy and consume freshly pooped buns from a giant maggot demon, much to the disgust of Yuan Boya (Qu Chu Xiao) who finds himself there trying to apprehend Qing Ming, after his captain rank was stripped from him when Qing Ming’s spirits stole an imperial tribute he was supposed to be escorting.
Qing Ming may be a pariah, but his dignity and poise as the greatest Yin Yang Master is commandingly imperious, a stark contrast to the bumbling and gawkish Boya, who has eschewed his trademark long bow for a plain sword and taken to chasing after Qing Ming like an angry puppy.
More glaringly obvious is the romantic red herring between Qing Ming and Bai Ni (Zhou Xun), the young and brash leader of the Yin Yang Bureau, who harbours feelings for Qing Ming but yet holds a tremendous grudge against him for supposedly stealing the Scale Stone from the Bureau and causing the death of Cimu.
Despite the intense combat scenes, rambling reminiscing and shared near-death experiences, nothing really blossoms from the two main leads of the show, which is a pity.
Li Wei Ran’s Yin Yang Master really delivers in terms of storytelling, a sturdy plot which isn’t too predictable and fleshing out a vibrant world suffused with the thematic music and themes of the ancient Edo period. For fellow players of the Onmyoji mobile game, it’s just like coming back to the familiar sights and sounds of home.