Michaele Jordan Review: The YinYang Master

By Michaele Jordan: The other day my husband and I were snuggled on the sofa, thumbing through the offerings on Netflix, and we alighted on The YinYang Master. We’d never heard of it, but the title plainly communicated a Chinese historical fantasy, so we clicked on it. And we LOVED it!

It is a 2021 Chinese film directed by Li Weiran and starring Chen Kun as Qingming and Chan William as Boya. It is based, I blush to admit, on a game called Onmyōji – which in turn is based on the novel series, Onmyōji by Japanese author Baku Yumemakura.

That series of novels must have been very impressive, judging by the wealth of films, tv series, games and anime (not to mention sequels to the novel) it generated. As I mentioned, the author is Japanese, and the book, along with some of the early films, is set in medieval Japan. So, naturally, the main characters, Abe no Seimei and Minamote no Hiromasa, are also Japanese. In fact, Seimei is an actual historic character.

Somehow, along the way (and I did not do enough research to determine exactly how or when), the story migrated to China, and the protagonists became Qingming and Boya. Despite the change of venue, they still proudly claimed to be derived from the novels. I really wanted to read one of those novels, but found them hard to track down.

Back to the movie. Qing Ming is (wrongfully) disgraced and expelled from the Yinyang Bureau – which guards a supernatural artifact known as the Scale Stone – and meets up with an Imperial officer, Boya, who has fallen under attack while escorting tribute to the Imperial City. The pair soon find themselves battling demons and trying to recover the Scale Stone, which was stolen and swallowed by a demon.

But not all demons are evil. A good part of this film’s charm is its gentle treatment of the demons, as well as the nuanced and perceptive presentation of its human characters. There is also plenty of action and magic as far as I was concerned, but . . .

There’s another, earlier Chinese film, The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity.  It was also adapted from the  Onmyōji series written by Baku Yumemakura. It was directed by Guo Jingming, and stars Chao Mark as Qingming and Deng Lun as Boya.

In it, a malevolent serpent demon was born from the desires of man. Four masters gathered together to trap the snake within the Imperial City, sealed within the body of the Empress. Much of the film contains imagery of the giant snake. There is more fighting in it, and gaudier special effects. And, judging by the internet chatter, a lot of fans preferred it. I thought the story was not as tight, or the characters as well developed as in the later movie, but I can’t argue with a fondness for martial action and gorgeous specials.

And besides… My favorite movie derived from the Onmyōji books is (drum roll, please!) Onmyōji, directed by Yôjirô Takita, and released in 2001. (The internet is now pushing it as Omnyoji: the YinYang Master, but neither the movie credits nor Wikipedia support that title.) This film was set in Japan, as was originally intended by the books. It stars Mansai Nomura as the clever wizard Abe no Seimei and Hideaki Itô as his friend, court noble and gifted musician Minamoto no Hiromasa. Also starring, we see Hiroyuki Sanada as the villain Douson and Kyōko Koizumi as the Lady Aone – whose tragic history underlies the whole movie.

There were not a lot of special effects in this one (it was made over 20 years ago) and yet the magic was wonderfully visualized without them.  For instance, a large gourd — not unlike a watermelon – was found hanging from a pine tree. Or so we think. But it is not hanging from the pine tree; it is GROWING from the pine tree. Seimei plucks it down, and slices it open. Surprise! There’s a live snake inside. But more important than the special effects is the story, and it is engaging and well resolved.

There’s a sequel, Onmyoji 2, released in 2003 with the same stars, but I think it’s about time I let that particular ball drop. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of these films. You just have to like period costumes and magic to enjoy them.

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2 thoughts on “Michaele Jordan Review: The YinYang Master

  1. Oooh, Seimei! Here’s a page on him with all kinds of other good links in it:


    It’s from a course on Taoism/Daoism taught at UC Irvine by Susan Blakely Klein. Onmyodo (the Way of Yin and Yang), the discipline practiced by an Onmyoji (and “Yin-yang Master” is a fairly direct translation of the characters), is basically the Japanese version of magical Taoism, so the story translates back into a Chinese setting pretty easily.

    I too love the movies with Mansai Nomura, but my favorite modern version of all is the figure-skating program (!!) to the movie music that won Yuzuru Hanyu his second Olympic gold medal in 2018, after already blowing the top off the scoring system of the time back in 2015. There’s also a Chinese video game that includes a skating sequence based on the 2015 performance.

    Alas, the brand-new Japanese remake of the Onmyoji movie seems to have bombed, but I expect there will be more versions of the story in the future.

    Oh, and for the kitsune fans, Seimei’s mother was a white fox.

  2. Last night I watched the first movie mentioned, and would like to add that it’s freaking gorgeous, erm, visually spectacular. And I liked the three kids in a trench coat.

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