Another trip to the Far East for the Comica Obscura Marathon, they do put out a lot of comic books ya know!
Written By: Chi Leung ‘Jacob’ Cheung
Directed By: Chi Leung ‘Jacob’ Cheung
Mo Gong is to use a popular phrase, a house divided against itself. The director, Chi Leung ‘Jacob’ Cheung, is working within an anti-war message while glorifying war. Those two polar extremes never coalesce in a way that I found satisfying. Ge Li, and many other characters, participated in a lot of speech making and a lot of it was about the ills of war. Yet, when it was time for battle Cheung Xiānshēng pulled out all the stops to make the battles as dramatic and beautiful as possible. I didn’t find that the film was honest to its anti-war message, and that while decently filmed the battle scenes helped to undermine the films attempts at honest emotion.
Though they may work against the anti-war message Mo Gong would like to espouse, the battles did for the most part look good. I had some issues with time and place within the battles. I didn’t feel that the film always did a good enough job of letting me know who was who, where they were, and what they were doing during a few of the battles. I was always able to reorient myself, but just about every battle sequence had at least a moment or two where I was confused. Still, when salient the battles were something to behold and they were home to the films greatest strengths, its visuals.
In the penultimate battle the forces of Zhao attack via some sort of hot air balloons, and that was, pardon the hyperbole, fucking awesome looking. The usage of the hot air balloons on their lonesome was awesome, but the way they were lit and the way they were framed within the screen was what made them fucking awesome. Cheung Xiānshēng and the cinematographer, Yoshitaka Sakamoto, peppered Mo Gong with many such beautiful moments. The lighting was also very impressive, especially the way open flames were used to great effect.
Going along with the cinematography were the costume and set design. Both were lavish features of Mo Gong, with lovely attention to detail shown by both arts. The costumes were realistic, and appeared to have a healthy level of functionality to them. The sets were monstrous, and filled with so much surface level detail that I was often in awe of what I was seeing. The flood filled city that the film puts forth near the very end is an amazing feat. The construction of the scene brought a twinkle to my eye, and was the final dose of the sort of detail in the design of the film that gave the production a truly epic look.
As my writing has let on so far, I’m of two different minds when it comes to Mo Gong. There were certainly aspects that didn’t work for me, but there were other aspects that worked terrifically. Much like the film I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. Unlike the film I am going to take a stand and say that Mo Gong falls just short of what I look for in a good movie. The production of the film, the set design, the costumes, and the cinematography are all very, very impressive. On the other hand the characters are too preachy, the story is too disjointed, and the filming of the battle scenes suffers from moments of confusion. Mo Gong ends up like a fancy restaurant meal my wife once bought. It looks great on the menu, it smells good when the waiter is bringing it over, but by the time you’re finished eating it you’re still hungry and wish you had gotten something a bit better.
Now go and check out Edgar’s review at Between The Seats.