The only redeeming factor in Er Yue Hua Kai 老九门番外之二月花开 is Lay Zhang Yixing and for very superficial reasons at that, one that stems from my newfound appreciation for EXO years after their debut. Even then, the web movie at an hour and thirty minutes short is needlessly long and any more would have been overkill to say the least.
It begins when Er Yue Hong (Zhang Yixing Lay) and Ji An (He Yu Jun) spar in the dead of the night until they come across corpses on the ground and another one at the bottom of a well.
They are ambushed presumably by the culprits and an intense battle ensues. They ultimately emerge as victors but the sequence is just an intro for the opening credits to start rolling.
Some time in the present, Ji An and his men attempt to infiltrate a a mine under Japanese control. They pretend to be workers delivering ice blocks to the site but it rouses the suspicions of a military officer who demands for Ji An to break the ice.
Ji An and his men comply, exposing their weapons in the process but their strength and numbers prove to be no match for a rain of gunfire. Ji An barely escapes after falling into an abyss and he survives only long enough to send for help.
Spoilers from The Mystic Nine (highlight to see the text). Er Yue Hong still grieves the loss of his beloved wife, frequenting brothels as a means to drown his sorrows away. A woman arrives at his doorstep and he asks for her to leave, stating that he wants nothing to do with the affairs of the Old Nine Gates.
Nevertheless, he changes his mind upon learning that the person needing help is Ji An who is likely no longer alive. For the sake of his friend, Er Yue Hong takes over Ji An’s mission to safeguard the treasures beneath the mines.
Er Yue Hong recognizes the general in charge of the mines as Qiu Shan, a longtime fan of his work in the Chinese opera so he spreads news of his performance hoping that Qiu Shan takes the bait. The bait works as Er Yue Hong and his team receive an invite to the military camp.
Upon arrival, they are horrified at the atrocities against their countrymen who are treated as human targets at a firing range. Even so, they feign indifference because the show must go on. After speaking with Qiu Shan, Er Yue Hong agrees to conduct a performance for the general.
Er Yue Hong then visits Bai Ye, the only opera singer in the country capable of being his rival. Bai Ye treats Er Yue Hong with contempt because of misgivings about the past that is worsened by Er Yue Hong’s decision to serve the Japanese but Er Yue Hong is able to explain his true intentions and he succeeds in rallying Bai Ye towards his cause.
As it turns out, the plan is for Bai Ye to pretend to be Er Yue Hong whilst the real Er Yue Hong raids the tomb. Before hitting the stage, Bai Ye reads a letter from Er Yue Hong deferring to him out of reverence. He is humbled at the gesture and adds that he should have been the one to write the letter instead.
The two make a pact to share the stage together and Bai Ye pleads with Er Yue Hong to come back alive. I’m not sure why there was all the fuss about Er Yue Hong when it looks like Bai Ye is taking the bulk of the risk by standing in the front lines. Sure enough, my fears are confirmed as the Japanese catch on and kills everyone in sight, saving the last bullet for Bai Ye.
Meanwhile, Er Yue Hong descends the tombs and conquers every obstacle to reach the treasure that Ji An protected until his dying breath.
The Japanese soldiers have also launched their pursuit and the skirmishes comes to a halt when Qiu Shan takes Er Yue Hong’s assistant as hostage. Outnumbered and outgunned, Er Yue Hong drops his weapon and agrees to hand over the treasure on the condition that they release his assistant so that she can help him retrieve the treasure.
It is obviously a ruse and it works such that Er Yue Hong and his assistant successfully escape, leaving Qiu Shan and his men to meet their end.
Rating: Downright Boring (1/5)
A spinoff devoted to Lay forces all eyes on him, highlighting flaws that would have otherwise been ignored had he been part of an ensemble cast. It rings true for me who liked Lay’s performance in the The Mystic Nine but not in the spinoff because try as he might, Lay is relatively green and his inexperience shows in scenes that require the rawest emotions.
Don’t bash me though because I like Lay as Er Yue Hong. In fact, the opening in all of its high flying choreography would fit right in with any respectable martial arts film. I would have wanted to see more but the intro doesn’t have anything to do with the story, which is a pity in hindsight.
That aside, the movie also fails in everything else, what with its bad acting, bad writing and bad special effects. And the sloppy ending pretty much puts the nail in the coffin because I simply laughed when the big bad agreed to let his one hostage go, literally sending her along with Er Yue Hong on their way to freedom.