A Writer's Odyssey is probably one of the oddest big-budget movies of the year. It's a mish-mash of several high concepts when any one of them could have sustained a single movie by itself. It's like what you get if a bunch of ideas are thrown into a blender along with a bunch of exotic spices for fear that the smoothie is going to be too boring.
The story follows a man named Guan Ning (Lei Jiayin) searching for his missing daughter. After fighting some child traffickers and getting arrested, smarmy tech billionaire Li Mu (Yu Hemei) frees him and says he has found his daughter. All Guan Ning has to do to get his little girl back is murder a young web novelist named Lu Kongwen (Dong Zijiang) before he can finish his serialized fantasy novel "Godslayer." Why? Li Mu is convinced that he would die once Lu Kongwen reaches the final chapter of his novel and kills the villain Lord Redmane.
Meanwhile, we also see the fantasy saga that's "Godslayer": a man (also played by Dong Zijiang) and his cursed, living armour sets out to avenge his warrior sister and kill Lord Redmane, who has ruled the land like a brutal god who sets the people warring against each other on a whim. He meets a refugee girl hunted by one of Lord Redmane's elite soldiers in red armour and tries to protect her while making his way to Redmane.
"Godslayer" seems to be seeping into the real world, infiltrating Guan Ning's dreams, and Li Mu suffers physical injuries whenever Lord Redmane is challenged in the book. Li Mu insists Guan Ning has to be the one to kill because he has a superpower: a telekinetic ability to control the speed and direction of any object he throws.
The Writer's Odyssey has So Many Different Genres
It's hard to hate a movie that works this hard to be entertaining and keep your attention. It's at least three movies in one. It's a fantasy epic, a conspiracy thriller, a superhero movie, and a drama about a grieving father. Each element is derivative of other movies we've seen before, but director Lu Yang seems determined to show us things that feel new. The fantasy segment is filled with lavish design and epic action sequences. The strand about Guan Ning unhinged by the search for his missing daughter is overwrought and reminiscent of Old Boy. The theme of fathers rescuing daughters is a weird recurring motif in Chinese and Korean movies these days where the mother is conveniently absent.
The most interesting strand is the present-day segment that seems to offer pulpy commentary about contemporary issues like child trafficking, the power tech companies have in surveilling people, and the corruption and narcissism of tech billionaires. One of the highlights is a superpower battle between Guan Ning, a man with super-strength, and a giggling psychopath who uses electricity in a library that's inventive and surprisingly smart, like something out of an X-Men movie. The "Godslayer" fantasy segment has a video game-like progression where the hero's demonic armour essentially levels up as he goes through the battles until he reaches his boss fight with Lord Redmane. The way the fantasy world and the contemporary world bleed into each other is deliberately meta in ways not seen since Mario Vargas Llosa's classic novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, only with more pulp and wuxia action.
Who is This Movie For?
The actual meaning of the movie's Chinese title is "Kill the author." Its English title was originally Assassin in Red, referring to the Redmane soldier in red armour that's Guan Ning's counterpart in the fantasy novel before it was changed to The Writer's Odyssey. This might be a sign of the movie's schizophrenia.
In the end, The Writer's Odyssey may not know exactly what movie it wants to be, so it decides to be three or four movies. The question is, who is it really for? The FX-leaden wuxia fantasy is usually aimed at teens and twentysomething, as are the superhero parts. The movie ultimately becomes a middle-aged father's journey towards redemption and reunion with his daughter. This movie wants to be something for everyone but is so overstuffed that it might end up being for nobody, but it's never boring when you watch it in amazement and confusion.
A Writer's Odyssey is now in select theatres in the US and will be on VOD soon.