Any cinema goer who is slightly familiar with Blade Runner and Alien will quickly see that director Li Wei (李伟) and Zhang Nan (张楠) has taken many of the film themes from these two science fiction classics. Lacking in both suspense, fear and angst of solitude and isolation, and a believable desolate dystopian world The Secret of Immortal Code is far from reaching a cult status but the film does show some potential within the small world of Chinese cinematic science fiction.
The medical corporation Rafael Pharmaceutical Industries (拉法尔药业) has developed cryosleep to a stage where they can freeze down patients in order to wake them up in the future when a cure for their patients disease has been discovered. There’s just a small problem and that is the lethal side effect when patients are being woken from their cryosleep. The patient dies within a week. In order to save his company from economic collapse and save mankind Yao Xianyuan (played by Zhao Lixin/赵立新) brings Lin Ziqi (played by Liang Jing/梁静) and her newly awoken (from cryosleep) sister Yuqi on a ship to the North Pole to fetch the antidote.
Most of the story takes place in the ship that will take the crewmembers to the North Pole and it is also the place where the threat first crystalizes. An imperfect antidote is being used and transforms one of the crewmembers in to a lizard-like monster. The lizard-monster which has about 10 seconds of screen time is poorly made but being a movie that has the look and feel of being a smaller production the production design is most of the time pretty good.
Visually, even though at times being a bit faulty, the film shows potential especially in the beginning when we get to see the anonymous metropolis which the protagonist lives in. But the really big question mark for this film is the choice to use a black and white filter for the entire movie (something to do with the blood in the film?). This, in combination with a very bright lightning, gives the film a very dramatic and theatrical feeling which is a bit disharmonious for the general feeling. Effectful in the beginning when Lin Ziqi meets Yao Xianyuan for the first time, an encounter which most probably was modelled after the first encounter between Deckard and Rachel in Blade Runner.
The dynamics between the characters are most of the time good and their choices most of the time consequential. The character Bucktooth Zhang (龅牙张 played by He Kuan/贺宽) part in the film feels a bit constrained mostly because his role lacks any substantial background and therefore his motives in the film are shallow, to say the least.
A pleasant surprise in the film is the music by Thai composer Pantawit Kiangsiri. The music for the opening credit and end credits is both eerie and ominous which sets a great atmosphere. But it feels like Pantawit is using too much puissant music which is a bit off, generically speaking. At one point in the film a brawl between two of the crewmembers is accompanied by a dramatic string quartet which would be more suitable for an epic Star Wars fight.
In the end The Secret of Immortal Code is a movie which could do with a bit tuning when it comes to tuning the narrative. Seeing that a lot of Chinese movies today suffer great creative damage from being heavily supervised by the government agency SAPPRFT, and a non-existing rating system, being able to produce a horror film at all, which is set in the future, must be seen as a minor success.