Review: Chen Kaige’s entertaining fantasy ‘Legend of the Demon Cat’ casts a spell

The Chinese calendar may indicate otherwise, but onscreen, it’s looking a lot like the Year of the Cat.

First there was Goose, “Captain Marvel’s” scene-stealing, shape-shifting Flerken. Now, there’s the formidably fearsome, vengeance-ridden title character of the visually sumptuous Chen Kaige supernatural fable, “Legend of the Demon Cat.”

Going back more than a millennium to the Tang Dynasty, the lively fantasy concerns the efforts of Bai (Huang Xuan), a palace scribe and aspiring poet, who joins up with Kûkai (Shôta Sometani), an unflappable Japanese monk skilled in performing exorcisms, to investigate the appearance of a savage talking kitty that has been wreaking havoc on the imperial court.


In the process, they untangle a densely woven mystery linking back to the demise of a stunningly beautiful concubine (Sandrine Pinna), believed to have been strangled to death decades earlier.

Contending that there is always an element of truth residing within an illusion and armed with a hefty $255-million budget, veteran filmmaker Chen (“Farewell My Concubine”), who adapted the Baku Yumemakura novel of the same name along with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” screenwriter Hui-Ling Wang, certainly doesn’t skimp on computer-generated spectacle and wild intrigue.

Although the often humorous film may not quite rank among Chen’s best and that CGI-enhanced feline isn’t always convincingly up to scratch, the buoyant yarn nevertheless casts a beguiling spell.


‘Legend of the Demon Cat’

In Mandarin with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

Playing: Starts Saturday, Downtown Independent, Los Angeles