With a title like Legend of the Demon Cat, I was uncertain what genre the narrative belonged to until I had already viewed a majority of the film. From the word ‘Legend’ one might assume martial arts or action of some sort, while the phrase ‘Demon Cat’ certainly brings to mind the horror genre. In reality, the film belongs to neither. There are sequences of action and a few gruesome deaths, but this film owes more to period costume dramas than either action or horror. The most difficult thing about the film is managing expectations, both brought from the title and expectations from Chinese epics. Well, that and the often unconvincing CGI cat.
Perhaps the confused identity of the film has as much to do with the presentation of the plot as it does the title. At its narrative core, Legend of the Demon Cat is a mystery film. It shares much in common with the Detective Dee film series, though with far less martial arts spectacle. In some ways it also resembles a serial killer film, as the demon cat takes out targets before anyone has even realized who or what is doing the killing. And at the center of the film are two benevolent characters who serve as the film’s investigators uncovering the secrets of the mysterious cat. That their interactions are often subtlety humorous may also lead some to find parallels to the buddy cop comedy.
This cat arrives in a time of peace in Chang’an City during the Tang Dynasty, killing a high official in a mysterious way. A poet named Bai Letian (Xuan Huang) and a monk named Kukai (Shôta Sometani) are the first to notice the cat prints at the murder scene, and begin their own investigation into the matter. When the murders continue, they are able to connect all of the victims to the death of the emperor’s concubine. Although it is somewhat complicated by unexplained supernatural events, at the center of the film is a revenge narrative following a broken heart.
The melodrama of the film is effective, despite being reserved for the final act. Wisely, director Kaige Chen does not weigh the film down too early on, instead allowing the positive (and often humorous, as mentioned) dynamic between Bai Letian and Kukai to lighten the narrative. While this adds additional characters who serve as little more than narrative tools in uncovering the heart of the story, they are welcome additions, however unnecessary. Some of the other supporting characters are not quite as significant, and often it feels as though the narrative has given us an impossible number of players to keep track of. By the end of the film, I was struggling to keep up with each of their significance in the overall story. That it was such a struggle says that perhaps the film would have had more impact with a few less faces needing to be crammed onto the cover art.
The Blu-ray release has no special features, although it boasts trailers and an English dubbing as an option for those too lazy to read subtitles. The real reason for the Blu-ray is the presentation of the film. While it doesn’t fix all of the CGI cat sequences, it certainly enhances many of the other colorful elements in the film.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6.5/10
Historical Significance: 3/10
Special Features: 1/10