Picture the scene. It is autumn. The leaves are well on the turn, lending a welcome splash of colour to the iron grey skies. A faint smell of mulch sweetens the air. And it is raining. Again.
Mama likes this kind of weather. Well, she would, she is British. And every now and again she remembers that it is perfectly possible to put on some wellies and waterproofs and go into the big outdoors to admire the change of seasons. Mama was this close to ordering us out to prance around a botanical garden and look at trees.
But we are in Russia now. Rain means staying indoors and staring at the sky mournfully. Unlike minus ten and knee deep snow, obviously. That’s for sledging, gleefully, all afternoon.
Plus, we had only just recovered from the annual back to school virus. Mama’s native affinity with the water that falls out of the sky wars with her latter day training in draft avoidance and the need to swaddle any illness in seventeen layers of wool and cover it in mustard plasters.
And so she looked at the cinema listings and was lost.
Because Viy 2 was on.
Now, Mama has seen Viy. A version of Viy. The only Soviet horror film ever made of the Gothic horror story by satirical Gothic horror master, Nikolai Gogol, in fact. It hadn’t led her to believe she might need to go to the very next showing of this film, especially at premium rate prices.
But Viy 2 is less a Soviet horror film and more of what you might call an AngloRusski-Chinese martial arts mashup.
It’s got both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan in it, and much to Mama’s surprise, they have more than brief cameos. I mean, they aren’t the lead characters, but they do fight each other. At some length. In the Tower of London. Apparently this is their first ever fight sequence together. There’s a whole joke about it. That and Genghis Khan’s helmet.
The film is nominally about a British cartographer who gets sent out east from the Russian court in Moscow to map China. As you do. The tenuous connection with the original story is that it is the same British cartographer from the 2014 Viy who encountered the supernatural in a small Eastern European village (that was an AngloRusski-Ukranian production. Mama looks forward to Viy 3 and the combination that produces).
Once past the Great Wall of China, after a lengthy trek across snowbound Russia in a pimped out carriage (which we recently saw at the MosFilm Studio in the flesh), our mapmaker gets caught up in dragons, peasant rebellions, flying machines made of umbrellas, steampunk warriors, and not fewer than four fighting Chinese princesses, among sundry plucky children, BFFs and honourable triplets. Mama didn’t recognise any of the actors here, which just goes to show that she really needs to check out more Chinese cinema. Young and exceedingly limber was her overall impression.
Meanwhile, converging on China from another direction, we have Alexander Dumas, Peter the Great, a boatload of Russian sailors, and a cross dressing British lady aristocrat, played by an actress from Yekaterinburg who speaks four languages fluently, and is a master of fencing, motorbikes, horse riding and jet skis.
Although once she is outed as a woman, she does tend towards fewer greatcoats and more revealing buxomy swashbuckling attire. Mama is uncertain if she really approves of this, and also questions the truly hideous outfit they stuck the character in at the beginning too. But on the other hand, she might have been blond, but she wasn’t young, so this gets points. Particularly as her cartographer husband is also getting on a bit. He’s played by Jason Flemyng, otherwise known as him out of Lock, Stock… and didn’t he also do League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (underrated, in Mama’s opinion)?
This, incidentally, pretty much is the plot of Viy 2 in its entirety. Except for the business about how dragons’ eyelashes are responsible for really good tea. And the appearance of both Rutgar Hauer and Charles Dance. And Peter the Great steering a ship through a storm. And the small cute flying monster.
Make no mistake, it was marvellously, wonderfully, gloriously silly. Highly recommended. Not least because seeing multiple characters from multiple cultures and/or nationalities represented more or less equally on screen was something of a novelty.
No idea if it is coming to English language cinemas near you any time soon. If it is look out for it under one of the myriad names it seems to be known as. As well as Viy 2, you can find it called The Journey to China; the Mystery of the Iron Mask; Return to the Forbidden Kingdom; and in Russia it is currently billed as the Mystery of the Dragon Seal. Apparently it’s been ready to roll for a year but got into censorship trouble in China, which took a while to sort out.
This is a shame as there is great potential for our hero to mapmake his way round the whole world, and Mama for one would be very up for an AngloRusski-Bollywood combination. Momentum has probably been irrecoverably lost, however.
Here, in any case, is the trailer for the Mystery of the Forbidden Viy Kingdom Iron Dragon Seal Mask which lured Mama into spending more than 1000 roubles on matinee cinema tickets. And it is in English!
Photocredit: Mama has shamelessly used a couple of interesting pictures she found lying around on the internet to promote this film, a service for which she is not receiving any form of compensation whatsoever. However, if she should not be using these pictures, she is very willing to take them down.