The Scorpion Monster (2020)

Rating: C

Dir: Yang Langcong
Star: Cat Liu, Zhang Yinan, Jie Shiming, Zhang Linyue
a.k.a. Yan Chixia – Five-Tailed Scorpion or Yan Chixia and st. scorpion

Take your pick. The main title is the Tubi one. goes with the “Five-tailed Scorpion” name while the print itself uses “st. scorpion”. In any case, the original expectation was to file this one under When Chinese Animals Attack, based on the title and the poster. However, it proved not to contain the required amount of monster scorpion. Oh, it exists: but it doesn’t properly show up until seven minutes are left. There are still elements of merit, and it’s better than some WCAA movies. But it’s more of a magical fantasy than a creature feature. The hero is Yan Chixia (Liu), a freelance monster hunter, who can absorb the powers of his captures. His last such was Red Wolf Demon (Zhang Y.), who is now his woman partner, until he agrees to let her reincarnate back into her wolf form.

They are conscripted into service by Ye Tianqing (Jie), an imperial officer who is part of the Monster Killing Bureau. He orders Yan to investigate the mysterious case of a village that supposedly disappeared, with Ye believing a giant demonic scorpion was responsible. They head to the area, but encounter a mysterious dark-robed woman (Zhang L.). She begins to whisper in Ye’s ear, things such as Yan being responsible for the death of Ye’s father. Meanwhile, Yan finds the lost village, only for the inhabitants to be less than helpful. It turns out, the scorpion is less a threat to the village than its guardian. So who is the biggest danger to the locals?

To be honest, I’m ending that sentence with a question-mark, because I’m not entirely sure of the answer myself. Matters weren’t helped, in my general level of viewing comprehension, by Tubi subtitles which drifted increasingly out of sync. So as well as having to pick through non-native English, I also had to try and figure out who was saying it. This was quite a process, and definitely distracted me, taking away from the overall experience. It’s a bit of a shame, since there were elements I liked. Red Wolf Demon, re-incarnated temporarily as a woman, is a lot of fun to watch. She still retains a number of wolf attributes, such as a fondness for meat, which keeps poking through. I likely preferred her to the hero, whose comic mugging, especially early on, was a grind.

From a technical viewpoint, one aspect stood out: the makers enhanced a lot of the action with optical effects, adding swirls of colour to magical gestures, for example. It was surprisingly effective, and felt like a throwback to those (largely terrible, in many ways!) Taiwanese fantasy films of the eighties. The rest is not particularly memorable, and when the scorpion finally does show up, it’s neither very impressive, nor does it do much. MyDramaList says the hero is from the same source which inspired A Chinese Ghost Story. Somehow, I doubt Tsui Hark is impressed.