Mystical demonlore and harrowing adventure are the continuing themes you get with Mojin: The Worm Valley, the latest from The Man Behind The Courtyard and Silent Witness director Fei Xing. You also get some new blood for this latest sequel reprising roles previously played by Shu Qi, Chen Kun, Huang Bo and Xia Yu, though it also helps that we have a cast that can carry the weight of the first film.
Xing’s sequel leads off flashing back 1000 years ago when a princess invokes a deadly curse among her subjects – a curse that lingers and affects descendants for generations. In present day and with one/half of a major remedy already in their possession to produce a reversal of the curse, the Mojin, a band of tomb raiders, adventurers and professors, group once more to take the lead for a quest to find a majestic orb hidden atop an ancient temple beyond a cave in Yunnan.
Newly-added Guan Xu and Cai Heng lead the rotating cast of the franchise for the respective roles of Shirley Yang and Hu Bayi, the alphas of the Mojin group. Actors Marc Ma and Yu Heng also add to the new talent on set succeeding previous actors for the roles of Big Gold Tooth and Bayi’s child good friend, Fatty, the latter whose loyal and living girlfriend, Linglong, is played by Chen Yusi. Actor Cheng Taisen joins in as Professor Sun who we meet at the top of the film as he analyzes the literature inscribed on the Dragon Bone Celestial Tome to locate the orb.
Xing’s The Worm Valley is one of at least two reportedly current Mojin productions following the 2015 film with the next, The Dragon Ridge, supposedly already in tow; a key scene shows Yang at a mental hosptial to interview Chen Yulou, played by Tuo Zhonghua; Dubbed with the nickname Blind Chen and later demonstrating the chilling horror of what that truly entails, he and, seperately, actor Tang Zhiwei making his entrance as Mr. Zhou, Linglong’s father, become intergral in bridging the connection to the Dragon Ridge.
The first fifteen minutes provide more than enough exposition prior to the opening credits as the adventure begins, whereas things finally take off by the half-hour mark. The six-person unit are slowly immersed in the murkey underbelly of a cave and are forced to survive man-eating fish, toxic worms housed in carcasses and giant lizards before they can reach a floating island.
Of course in a lot of these adventure films there’s a character that somehow happlessly triggers such a catastrophe that leads to these epic battles. Thankfully, just shy of becoming the weakest links, the group in its entirety become an exciting feat to watch, deploying strategy to overpower monsters through quick thinking and agile endurance. Assuredly, Yang and Bayu are the most exciting to watch as the alphas of their group aside from their otherwise dormant feelings for each other.
The trip isn’t all danger and death-defying as the film does manage to take a breather and bask in the fantastical beauty encompasses in the hybridized visuals, and even a dose of romance and reflection. Cheng’s Sun induces much of that reflection in a conversation with Heng’s Bayu, lending strongly to the notion that after all the adventures he’s seen, his mortality is finally catching up with him.
Flameflies are a thing in this particular universe, and ultimately prove pivotal by the third act, along with swathes of visual effects shots – some of which impress. The film also definitely lends its share of tragedy with the loss of a key character, a precursor to one other key revelation to package enough sympathy to keep rooting for our heroic adventurers.
Wuershan’s The Lost Legend was a mild family fun-oriented thrill and in comparison, I would say The Worm Valley measures about the same. It’s an exciting piece of work that hosts a veritably strong cast for its IP treatment, and it’s entirely understandable to be frustrated at the revolving door of acting talent seeing as there are reportedly two more films in the works – The Dragon Ridge and Mojin X with Celina Jade previously cast.
I’m looking forward to hearing more updates about this franchise going forward. For now, unless you have any inhibitions about CG-heavy films or suffer from any number of phobias related to crustaceans, lizards or insects, Mojin: The Worm Valley should serve as worthwhile PG-13 entertainment.
Mojin: The Worm Valley releases on January 4 in select theaters from Well Go USA.