What were the producers of League of Gods (封神传奇) hoping to achieve with this outrageous retelling of the classic Chinese saga?
League of Gods Synopsis
A modern retelling of the Chinese literary classic The Investiture of the Gods, League of Gods follows the adventures of Leizhenzi, the last surviving member of the Wing Adept Tribe. In a desperate move to counter the forces of the tyrannical King Zhou and his demonic fox concubine, Leizhenzi embarks on an arduous journey to recover the mythical Sword of Light. To assist, advisor Jiang Ziya gifts Lei three sachets, each of which brings forth a new ally.
As much as I adore the Chinese Monkey King and his antics, I’ve long felt the best Chinese fantasy saga ever written is not Journey to the West, but Investiture of the Gods.
Choked full of colourful characters wielding wondrous artifacts, and with the main story itself involving an era-changing conflict, the saga fulfils every requisite for awesome fantasy storytelling. As a kid, I was endlessly fascinated by the fantastical weapons depicted, and once computers came into my life, I snapped up every game adaptation released. To me, it’s just incredible how author Xu Zhonglin knew exactly what readers centuries down the road would look for in his genre, and what marketers would expect when it comes to game adaptability. Had Xu lived in our times, wouldn’t he be China’s version of Tolkien or G.R.R. Martin?
The producers of League of Gods (封神传奇) must share my views to an extent, particularly those regarding game adaptability of the story. This Asian movie on Netflix is a game-like condensation of the original saga, structured as an extended quest and with each new “stage” establishing a new companion. While literary purists would balk, I thought this was creative, and hereby let me add that I found it refreshing too that Leizhenzi was selected as the protagonist. A relatively minor character in the original story, it’s great that the limelight is finally on him, and not Nezha who has been the main hero in too many adaptations.
Sadly, novelty and potential are soon wasted by what I can only describe as terrible execution. By this, I don’t just mean the amateurish CGI (by western standards), or weak acting, or bland depictions of main characters. I’m referring to the whole looking for a “Sword of Light” device.
Not only was there no such sword or quest in the original story, the whole ring of it is so un-oriental, so not classic Chinese fantasy fiction.* Perhaps the producers felt this move would appeal to a newer generation, or even the western market. Personally, I felt it wiped away the entire Eastern appeal of Investiture of the Gods. Simply put, had I wanted a sword quest, I would have watched a western film. I wouldn’t have gone for a Chinese production, or an Investiture of the Gods adaptation.
* To elaborate, swords do not feature heavily in Investiture of the Gods. Neither were there any memorable ones in sister works like Journey to the West. Within Investiture, the most powerful artifacts were things like the dioramas, glided trees, seals, a GOURD with a hideous secret, etc. All artifacts also had lyrical, abstract names. None were so-and-so of light, of freedom, and so on. The latter is so western in feel.
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