Mongolian border, 1979: soldiers are exhausting themselves digging a mine, but damn do they believe in the cause. They believe it so hard they break into song when they’re not collapsing of altitude sickness. Is this a propaganda movie? Wait: a rumble. Our hero, Hu Bayi, turns toward the tunnel in time to get hit by the force of an explosion, an explosion seemingly caused by the recent unearthing of gigantic fossils.
Many are dead, but the explosion has opened up enormous caves that lead down into previously unknown parts of the mountain. What are the fossils? What secrets does the mountain possess? A brave few volunteer: Hu Bayi (Mark Chao) of course, the venerable Professor Yang (Wang Qingxiang), and the professor’s beautiful daughter, Ping (Yao Chen).
The expedition encounters a footprint of enormous proportions. They haven’t seen yet what we’ve seen: a dragon or dinosaur or big reptilian animal of some sort. Yikes. They march on, tracking the prints, when a flock of pink bats suddenly attack. The bats can change colour, and dodge bullets, and also dive into humans and incinerate them from the inside out.
With fewer and fewer survivors, the stakes get higher, the surroundings more treacherous and the CGI more ludicrous. Slo-mo avalanche deaths? You betcha. Super slo-mo avalanche deaths? Why the hell not.
And that’s when things start to get super messed up. When they stumble upon a temple, they open up a portal the releases…well, I’ll call them hell bats for the sake of argument. We can debate the semantics later. Net result: Hu is the only one left standing. Years later, present day: Hu lives in NYC and spends his time studying demonology. And this is when shit gets EVEN MORE MESSED UP.
Directed by Chuan Lu, Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe (Jiu ceng yao taIt) feels like the genetically modified bastard child of Indiana Jones and X-Men Apocalypse, only without the budget. Asia doesn’t really do sci-fi the way we understand it, but they do love the supernatural and they love love love a monster movie. Put them together, subtract reason and logic, multiply by two hours of subtitles and what do you get? A movie I regret watching.