F: Forbidden Empire (2014)

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It was three years ago that I watched and reviewed the Russian movie Viy for Hubrisween. So, when I was casting about for this year’s movies and discovered a new version had been made, I was both delighted and surprised that I hadn’t heard about it. Perhaps that’s because in America it’s known as Forbidden Empire or Fobidden Kingdom, utterly generic titles that are presumably more marketable than Viy.

If you’re familiar with the Nikolai Gogol story, you’re going to be disoriented by the movie’s beginning involving an 18th century cartographer/scoundrel (Jason Flemyng) being discovered in the bed of the daughter of a nobleman (Charles Dance) before he lights off the continent to create the best map ever, traveling in a steampunk carriage dragging an enormous wheel to measure distances. He gets lost and finds himself in literally uncharted territory, and in the midst of Gogol’s short story.

Now, Gogol’s Viy is in there, and with considerably upgraded visual effects; it is revealed in stops and drabs, as Flemyng tries to unravel the mystery of what actually happened in the church, now considered off-limits, thanks to the local priest, who you just know is going to be trouble from the first time we see him. In the course of the movie it will be discovered that the details we know from Gogol’s story were fabrication, and it’s all a web of deceit and double-crossing.

Except for the stuff that was obviously supernatural and never gets explained. For instance, I’m pretty sure that Gogol is sad that he never thought of having his hero’s carriage pursued by zombie wolves. I am, however, certain that he is happy that he never came up with Flemyng’s fish-out-of-water cartographer, who reminds me of nothing so much as Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge-inflected Phileas Fogg in that regrettable Around the World in 80 Days remake. It’s an odd appropriation to make, even though I realize that an outsider character is necessary to have the rules of this universe explained – such as chalk being more precious than gold in this cursed village, because it can be used to make a protective circle.

The production design of Forbidden Empire is gorgeous, the effects flawless, and it really is quite entertaining. Its only drawback is that if you like to mull over a movie after viewing, there are quite a few “wait a minute…” moments. But as sheer entertainment, though, it is pretty appealing.

Buy Forbidden Empire on Amazon


  1. Well, one more added to the long list of stuff I need to see. Thanks, sir!

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