Corporate wants you to tell the difference between these two pictures
If you’ve stumbled upon this article, trying to figure out the difference between The Yin-Yang master: Dreams of Eternity and The YinYang master, don’t worry you are not alone in being confused! Somehow, Netflix released two movies with the same title, on the same month (at least that’s what it feels like), and just from that I needed to see them; I also really enjoy Chinese action movies, so I wanted to see both of them. To answer your main question, the difference is actually less complicated than it sounds; they are both based on the same source material (novel by the name of Onmyōji) with Dreams of Eternity being a direct adaptation and YinYang being an adaptation of the NetEase game based on the original book. In Western terms, imagine if Netflix released The Witcher Series (which was based on the books) alongside another series with a slight title change that was based on The Witcher game franchise. Got it? Great, because what is interesting for these two movies is that they are actually miles different from each other in both tone, execution, style, and narrative, which is why I want to talk about them.
First thing first, the movie that I liked a heck of a lot more (Dreams of Eternity) has going through a lot of vitriol and it seems for good reason, however I should stress that I have no experience with any of the criticism directed at the director/writer. Guo Jingming has been accused several times of plagiarism and Dreams of Eternity has just been the latest one, with fans calling the movie a direct rip-off of Doctor Strange (2016 Marvel movie); I have seen the movie in question, but I can hardly remember it and I have no other experience from Jingming’s work. The link of the article for the quote I pulled should be a good start for anyone wanting to learn more about the subject; my personal stance is that, I will not support plagiarists and this article is more about how the two movies handle the same material, rather than a review of both. In the end, it has made me more excited to re-watch Doctor Strange with a fresh perspective.
The most surprising aspect of both movies as adaptations, is how different their core premises are, as both source materials come from different places; they share character names and some design for demons, but that’s pretty much it. Dreams of Eternity (which adapts the book) is a murder mystery that uses the whodunit blueprint for some fun character exploration and growth, alongside giving the action, story, and world-building a sense of urgency and investment. YinYang master (which adapts the game adaptation) is much quirkier and goofier with little in the way of character growth or context, but more interested in family-friendly entertainment with slapstick sidekicks and flashy action. Both movies have aspects I like more in one than the other, so let’s talk about them.
Dreams of Eternity follows Qin Ming who follows his master’s last wish to attend a ceremony in the capital city of Tiandu, meant to ward an evil serpent from gaining control over the Empress who used her body to trap it and now is immortal. Without having any of the previous context of plagiarism, I have to admit that this was my favorite movie of the two, because of how intelligently it used the murder mystery set up to allow the characters breathing space and context in order to grow them and make them engaging. The Qin Ming of this movie is still a half-human, half-demon and is set up as a flawed, but powerful character who has to overcome his problems; he can’t cast a protection spell, because he cannot think of someone that he would give his life for. He also is shown to be compassionate of demons, but also smart and capable in getting information he needs, making other people see his side of things, and being extremely powerful but with that glaring flaw of not being able to cast a specific spell. Beyond that, the other reoccurring character is Bo Ya (best character name to say out loud), who in this version is relentlessly hunting demons and is infallibly loyal to the Court (human force agency thingy); they have this buddy-cop dynamic of banter and disagreement, but work together flawlessly, that worked for me and made me care for both characters. The story is also more serious and tries to set up themes, mysteries, and subtext, which it actually managed to do pretty well, considering it was a big-budget blockbuster.
The action is where the movies diverge the strongest for me; I found both entertaining, but I appreciated Dreams of Eternity more. It had a lot of practical effects and the CGI was impressive, but in a “coherently consistent” way, rather than the flashy approach the other movie took. Dreams of Eternity is also the one of the two movies that feels like it was made by Hollywood (in retrospective that makes sense); if you look at movies like Shadow (which you should its great), Chinese blockbuster movies can be distinctly Chinese in cinematic language, culture, and viewpoint of cinematic features, without alienating international audiences. Dreams of Eternity, I suspect, will have the same fate that Doctor Strange had in my memory; I will remember liking it, but I will forget everything about it (even watching it), in a few weeks’ time, whereas YinYang will not.
If I had watched YinYang first, I may not have realized that there were reoccurring characters, because I would have never bothered to learn their names or their traits – because they have none. In this version, Qin Ming is an outcast from both human and demon worlds, living as a master of demons between the two realms, stealing to survive, and keeping his followers from causing harm. Where one movie showed an active character with flaws and perks, the other shows a passive character that has things happen to him without really caring to overcome his struggles, until the plot needs him to. Where one story puts effort in creating an engaging narrative (whether that effort was looking up translations is another matter), the other throws exposition and events barely connected by characters and logic. BoYa, in this version, is a self-centered, wannabe a-hole who talks a lot and does very little to back it up, and was genuinely a displeasure of watching. Having said all that, I do feel YinYang is on par with the quality of the other movie, just not something that is for my preferences; the characters are immediate and have specific roles in the story that work well within the restraints of a family-friendly movie. Some are comic relief, others are over-the-top in who they are and never deviate or grow, because their role is to create fun for the audience. This is a much more action-packed package and the flashy CGI and over-reliance on quirky designs and situations is something I have grown numb to over the past years (and still find kind of tiring until something comes that knocks me out of that), but most people do not share that feeling and it should work fine for them. The story is fairly interesting too; its about Qin Ming and BoYa being wrongfully accused of a betrayal they did not do, but the ways in which the story crescendos in specific beats is much more interesting. There are moments where it feels like the movie backtracks on a lot of these, which is why I prefer the less ambitious but more coherent and consistent narrative, rather than the ambitious mess in this case, but in the moment, it is engaging even though it has none of the characters or investment of the other movie.
So, long story short, both movies have pros and cons, and both adapt their source materials in different and interesting ways; like I said before, I enjoyed Dreams of Eternity more, but I can see how people would enjoy YinYang as well, however I am not one of those. It’s sad that, allegedly, Dreams of Eternity was a rip-off, but that has made me interested in watching Doctor Strange again, and maybe I’ll do a comparison of those two movies and see for myself; for now, the similarities between the two movies seem to be in names and source material origins, but the differences make them both interesting to discuss and experience.