Home > Reviews > LEAGUE OF GODS [FANG SHEN BANG] – John Debney

LEAGUE OF GODS [FANG SHEN BANG] – John Debney

leagueofgodsOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

League of Gods is an epic Chinese action fantasy film, directed by Koan Hui, based on a novel by Xu Zhonglin. It tells the story of King Zhou (Tony Leung), the last ruler of the Shang dynasty, who as a young man was bewitched by his concubine Daji (Fan Bingbing), an evil ‘vixen spirit’ in disguise as a beautiful woman. Zhou oppresses his people and persecutes those who oppose him. Ji Fa (Andy On), a rival king, assisted by his strategist Jiang Ziya (Jet Li), rallies an army to overthrow the tyrant and restore peace and order. Throughout the story, battles are waged, with both sides calling upon various supernatural beings – deities, immortals, demons, spirits, and humans with magical abilities – to aid them in the war.

Surprisingly, the score for League of Gods is by American composer John Debney, following in the footsteps of his contemporary Christopher Young in composing the score for a large-scale big-budget Chinese fantasy action film. Debney, like Young, was inspired to write something significantly grand in scale, full of bombast and energy, combining a full orchestra and electronics with various choral and vocal elements, and traditional Chinese ethnic instruments. The score opens in grand fashion with the “Main Title,” a cue which makes use of all these elements while offering the score’s first performance of the rousing recurring main theme. Stylistically, it has hints of the video game score Lair, coupled with the portentous choral might of something like End of Days, and the electronic rhythmic undercurrent of Iron Man 2 or The Scorpion King. The Chinese elements are wholly new, at leas for Debney, but he handles them well, and there are several prominent solos afforded to an erhu.

Action music is the bedrock of League of Gods. Many of the score’s large-scale battle cues, especially the likes of “Ji Clan Warriors Encounter Zhou Warriors,” “Fight of Titans,” “Legend of Dragons/Flying Lessons,” “General Leopard Attacks,” “Sky Howler Rescues Jiang from Panther,” and “Archers Retaliate,” throb with huge, brass-led whole notes, underpinned by driving percussive rhythms – both live and electronic – and rapid, complicated string ostinatos. Some of the vocal writing in these cues is very clever too, as it appears that the choir is singing not the usual Latin, but individual Chinese syllables, chosen more for their sonic values than their actual literary application, and which make interesting tonal noises. Debney often allows the music to rise to loud, powerful crescendos, giving the score an epic scope that is easy to enjoy.

Thankfully, action is not all the score has to offer, and in several cues Debney offers a range of interesting alternative styles to keep the music fresh. In the first half of “I’m Jiang,” for example, Debney presents some interesting, edgy dissonance filled with metallic textures and whooshing, breathy woodwind textures. The second half of the same cue is dreamily soothing, with processed female vocals and warm string textures providing a more ambient, romantic feeling, and this style continues on into the effortlessly pretty “Lei and Blue Butterfly,” with its lovely writing for erhu, harp, and chimes. Meanwhile, “Dragon Prince Returned Fight to Sky City” features an unusual combination of lush vocals and searing strings that often play against uncompromising, 1980’s style electronic tones.

This trend of Hollywood composers tackling big-budget Chinese action fantasy films is a positive one for film music fans, as it appears to be giving those composers a great deal of creative freedom to be expressive and expansive, away from the shackles of more conservative American producers. Unfortunately the score for League of Gods is not available for purchase at this time – Debney produced this promo for awards consideration purposes only. However, it is my sincere hope that, somewhere down the line, the same thing happens here as happened with Christopher Young’s score for The Monkey King and it gets a proper, if a little belated, release from one of the North American boutique labels.

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (2:05)
  • Ji Clan Warriors Encounter Zhou Warriors (5:36)
  • Fight of Titans (2:50)
  • Legend of Dragons/Flying Lessons (4:03)
  • I’m Jiang (2:43)
  • Stealing the Porta Boat (2:05)
  • Lei and Blue Butterfly (3:38)
  • Dragon Prince Returned Fight to Sky City (3:35)
  • General Leopard Attacks (3:27)
  • Lei Gets His Wings (2:54)
  • General Leopard Attacks Qishan (1:41)
  • Sky Howler Rescues Jiang From Panther (2:17)
  • 5M3 (Untitled) (1:55)
  • 5M2 (Untitled) (3:41)
  • Archers Retaliate (2:19)
  • Restoring the Kingdom (2:03)

Promo, 46 minutes 59 seconds.

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