Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal directed by Peter PauSnow Girl and the Dark Crystal directed by Peter Pau

Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal directed by Peter PauI always enjoy a good wuxia-fantasy, and Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal ticks the expected boxes of the genre: noble warriors, beautiful maidens, impressive stunt-work, a twisty-turny plot — but despite its length, it doesn’t quite have the emotional heft it should have.

The city of Hun is ruled by the lesser god Zhang Diaoxian, who protects its people from the demons of Hell by turning a simple scholar called Zhong Kui into a mighty demon-slayer. The two of them have kept Hell’s demons at bay for many years, but now the fifteenth of July approaches, a day in which the Earth is vulnerable from attack.

After the theft of the Dark Crystal from the underworld, and the arrival of Zhong Kui’s former lover – a mysterious maiden called Little Snow – to the city, Diaoxian gives his protégé an elixir that transforms him into a demon warrior, insisting that it’s the only way to defeat the evil that has infiltrated Hun in the attempt to steal back the dark crystal.

So with a warrior that’s torn between good and evil impulses, struggling to find where his true allegiances should lie, the battle between Earth and Hell begins. It’s an interesting story, with plenty of difficult choices and hidden agendas along the way, but it doesn’t have any emotional resonance to go with it. I wanted to believe in the love story between Zhong Kui and Little Snow, but they’re not given many scenes together and have no real reason to fall in love beyond both being very attractive.

Likewise, Zhong Kui must grapple with betrayal from a trusted source, but the scam he’s embroiled in is so obvious that the audience spends most of the movie just waiting for him to catch up. The CGI is especially disappointing. At times it looks like you’re watching a video game, with badly-rendered monsters awkwardly fighting each other with no real sense of danger.

These problems aside, the movie has its strengths: an epic scope, some beautiful costumes and set-pieces, strong acting from most of its leads, and a sense of ambition in the story it’s trying to tell. I’d rather watch a flawed but unique effort than yet another regurgitated Hollywood clone, and in that sense Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal was something quite different.