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It took a long while for establishing scenes to find their footing and to do proper introductions, before you come to a compromise that the characters are in some form of perfect landscape ruled by an iron fist, where they are not allowed to love or reproduced, mentioned in passing that they drink from some magical fountain to impregnate themselves, and to accept the fact that they are fairies, not ghosts. Then the film develops into the usual ruler-is-evil flick with a rescue mission in tow when Xiaolian decides to probe around paradise to find the woman he put into trouble, and rescue her. This leads to more special effects opportunities involving giant turtles, flying beasts and such, while also allowing plenty of wire kung fu to happen during battles, where most of the best parts are already contained in the trailer.
Gordon Chan and his team of storytellers seemed to have lost it during the opening and first act, then stumbled around and finally found their ground with the narrative, only to lose it all with the final few scenes that couldn't decide how best to seek closure, even ending with a coda that added to the ridiculousness. Chan allowed the film to go all over the place, which accounted for its run time of over two hours, with plenty of wasteful scenes that could have been excised, or focus could have been put on its key characters. Instead you emerge with a feeling that some shots were in just to show off the special effects. Even Mark Lee Ping Bin's cinematography cannot save the day since the story gave way toward the end, which was a pity because it had found a gem to latch onto with regards to the more philosophical approach which was somewhat like The Wachowski's Matrix films involving the Architect and the Oracle being involved in some kind of grand plan and bet, but Mural failed to capitalize on that.
Instead we get constantly reminded on the types of men that exist in this world with regards to romance, like an instructional booklet for women anywhere there are some who are promiscuous as seen as the Longtan character, those who are the one woman type in Xiaolian, and those who are subservient, you know, in today's context the ones carrying their girlfriends handbags around. The three male characters here predictably falls into each of the characters above just so we know which are the kinds of guys we should aspire to be like, or from the opposite sex, which of the three are their flavour of the day. Andy On's presence only adds some much needed muscle for battles in its limited action scenes, since only him and Collin Chou are the bona fide action stars dutifully wasted in the film, whose true focus is on relationships that could have been done without the swords and sorcery. The actresses in the film, collectively, are some of the best flower vases in Chinese cinema, looking jaw- dropping and stunningly incredible in their costumes, and their call to order was how they each could act cool, coy, cute or shed tears on a whim.
Eventually Mural is that roller coaster ride you have been warned about, with highs when the narrative gets to what it wants to say, and lows when it suddenly decides to tangent off into something qutie implausible or ridiculous, fantasy film limits notwithstanding. And at the end there's no exhilaration when you step off, only that feeling of dread and a pitiful loss of potential when it had so much bubbling underneath in what it wanted to say, but couldn't decide on a climax, and further tanked itself with its coda. Like a lover who desperately wants your attention and does everything he/she can for that, only to be resoundingly rejected for trying too hard. I won't go as far as to say this is one of the worst this year, but it just barely stayed above that mark.
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