By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
- Spoiler Alert
Anyone who has arachnophobia is best advised to avoid Seven Guardians of the Tomb, an Indiana Jones styled adventure wannabe horror film starring Li BingBing and Kelsey Grammer. It wants to be like Tom Cruise’s hackneyed take of The Mummy. The sad part is that I was buying the idea when I first heard about this work. I thought the story might follow along the lines of Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. The hunt was on ever since I happened upon mention of this film in a newsletter. It’s finally available on video and on-demand outlets—with my TV service and elsewhere Amazon Prime.
Star power helps draw attention to the film. BingBing is a wonderful talent not only on stage but also on screen. Her role is underutilized with this product. Grammer, no matter what role he takes on, always lends perfect gravitas. He’s amusing as Mason, a character with strong ties to Jia’s (BingBing) family. She has more than enough reasons to not be happy about this fact. When he contacts her to say Luke (Korean superstar Wu Chun), her brother, went missing during an archaeological dig, they form an uneasy alliance.
The plot is simple: find him and get out. Everyone should forget about how the Ancient Chinese alchemists sought to discover the elixir of life. They screwed up and made gunpowder instead. Not even the Terracotta warriors could save them when they were alive. With this moderately budgeted film, I was not sure if these stone guardians, hence the film’s name, would come alive to give the heroes grief.
My fondness for Asian horror began with the original release of A Chinese Ghost Story back in the 80’s. When a film is set in the Orient, there’s a look which makes the work distinctive. Sadly, with this Australian-Chinese production, it feels too Western. The cavern sets and the edifices they found within were distinctly Asian in design but that was not enough. The set design of the caverns made me think of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.
The introduction, namely the back-story, had a unique design which drew me in. However, when the heroes realize they are dealing with spiders, they need to keep a flamethrower handy. One or two cans of hairspray and lighter makes for a perfect a makeshift weapon. The fact the film errs on the side of Michael Bay logic made my brain hurt. Just how does everything explode and where did that fire come from?
Despite this problem, the CGI or puppetry used were remarkably good for those close-ups of these eight-legged critters. I am sure no real funnel spider can perform on cue. But if I was to encounter a whole lot like the group did in this film, even I would freak out. One I can handle and consider BBQing for dinner, but many—everyone will hear me shriek.
3 Stars out of 5