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Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe (2015)

Well Go USA
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/5/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/1/2016

It's summer-time again and with it, as with so many things in life, comes pros and cons. On the con side, I'm sick of the news telling me that it's hot. I know that it's hot. I step outside and I'm suddenly covered in sweat and wondering why I bothered showering. On the plus side, if you're a fan of big-budget, blockbuster movies, then summer is your favorite time of year, as the cineplex is flooded with loud, brash, action-packed movies. I think that most of us consider this a distinctly American thing. And, given that, when we picture foreign movies, we imagine high-brow dramas. But, filmmakers in other countries also have the desire to bring popcorn movies to the screen. And foreign entries like Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe show that people outside of the U.S. like for their films to have a big scale.

The year is 1979. A group of archaeologists, soldiers, and workers are excavating and exploring a series of caves on the China/Mongolia border. After an explosion rocks the site, a group of volunteers, including Hu Bayi (Mark Chao) and Ping (Yao Chen), agree to accompany Professor Yang (Wang Qingxiang) into a cave. As they explore, they find another world which is inhabited by strange creatures. A series of accidents hits the group and only Hu Bayi makes it out. He goes to live in a village where he works in a library with Mr. Wang (Chen Li) and reunites with this old friend, Fat Wang Kaixuan (Li Feng). Hu Bayi's attempts at a normal life are interrupted by mysterious clues which point ot Professor Yang's work and the secrets of that strange world. Soon, Hu Bayi finds himself on an adventure which will expose him to many dangers.

Chinese cinema is mentioned on a regular basis in the trades, as in how well American films have done in China. The Chinese market has become very important to the success of Hollywood movies. We rarely hear about Chinese movies. A few decades ago, Hong Kong films were all the rage, but they don't have the same influence which they used to. So, this all raises the question -- What is a Chinese movie like? If Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe is any indication, movies from China can be similar in scope to their American counterparts. And similar in quality as well.

Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe is a big special effects epic which contains opulent sets, lots of extras, and a generous amount of CGI. There are monsters, sweeping vistas, and battle scenes. The movie has the feel of the recent Journey to the Center of the Earth films, with a little Raiders of the Lost Ark thrown in. While I'm sure that there was an abundance of green screen at work, the sets look very good, especially the cave and the tomb. The CG viewed in the third act is somewhat sketchy, as the scale of the creatures is off at times and they aren't always seamless. Speaking of the creatures, they look like a cross between the werewolf from An American Werewolf in London and a Terror-Dog from Ghostbusters.

The technical issues aside, the big problems with Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe lie in the story and the pacing. This is one of those movies where the story is all at once simplistic and yet overly-complicated. The tale spans years, but, if it weren't for on-screen titles telling us that time had passed, I don't think that we would have been aware. Character development is basically non-existent and I never had the feeling that I knew who anyone was or what their true motivations were. (Hu Bayi is motivated by love in the second half of the movie...but that still doesn't explain what he's doing.) The plot involving aliens and an ancient world never comes together and the amount of supernatural material involved here remains too vague at times. (Does Hu Bayi have powers or not?) I don't think that this is a cultural thing -- the movie simply bites off more than it can chew and doesn't know what to do with much of the story.

Are there more Chinese movies like Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe? I don't know. (A film called Mojin - The Lost Legend reads as if it may be a sequel, but as it doesn't have the same actors, I need to research this.) I liked the film's ambition and scope, but it simply fell apart when it came to telling the story and the movie really drags at times. I can say that it was interesting to see a movie like this, as it was very different from the Hong Kong fare which I knew from years ago. (There are several pro-government moments which really stand out.) Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe has some good elements, but when they are put together, they don't click and we are left with a (seemingly) big-budget action movie which is just as dumb as the ones which are made here in the U.S.

Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe doesn't tell us if the stage show at the restaurant is weird or commonplace on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Well Go USA. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The picture is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. Again, this looks like a big-budget movie and the picture shows off a true crispness. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The image shows an impressive amount of depth and the level of detail is good. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.3 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We are treated to some nice stereo and surround effects during the action sequences. The final battle in particular delivers detailed sounds which highlight action occurring off-screen. The subwoofer effects aren't overpowering and add to the monster attacks. The subtitles are easy to read.

The Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe Blu-ray Disc contains only two extra features. "Making Of" (2 minutes) is a very brief promotional piece which shows the actors working on the massive sets, the use of green-screen, and how the visual effects were layered. The other extra is a TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long