Friday, April 23, 2010

Magic Warriors (Taiwan, 1989)

There are certainly things to be said against the Peach Kid films -- especially if you don’t like 80s hair metal coiffure, depictions of people receiving involuntary golden showers, or Chinese synth pop songs sung by small children. But there are also many things to be said for them. My experience of most Taiwanese fantasy martial arts films is that one has to wade through a lot of fairly pedestrian chop-sockey or swordplay action to get to the good bits. And by “good bits”, I of course refer to cheaply realized monsters, crazy and wholly unconvincing wire fu and scenes of people shooting cartoon lighting bolts out of their palms. In the Peach Kid movies, on the other hand, you’re pretty much guaranteed crazy from first frame to last.

That said, there’s some room for argument as to whether 1989’s Magic Warriors can accurately be called a Peach Kid film at all -- despite the fact that it sometimes goes under the title Peach Kid 3. While it features a lead performance by Lin Hsiao Lan, the star of the Peach Kid films, and is co-directed by the director and cinematographer of the Peach Kid films, the role that Lin plays in it -- rather than that of Tao Tai-lang, aka the Peach Kid -- is another, non-peach-themed young hero by the name of Little Flying Dragon. This means that Magic Warriors contains no flying peaches with babies inside or giant peach robots as seen in the previous films. It does, however, contain pretty much everything else seen in the Peach Kid films, which means, yes, plenty of hair metal dos, child screeched synth pop, and numerous ostensibly comical instances of people being peed on.

In Magic Warriors, Little Flying Dragon finds himself (again, as in the Peach Kid films, our hero is a boy, despite being played by a female) in charge of protecting a young child by the name of Golden Boy, who reluctantly plays a key role in the ongoing and quite literal battle between the forces of good and evil. Golden Boy is the product of an unholy union between one of Heaven’s warriors and the daughter of the King of Evil, who is simply referred to in the subtitles as Evil Lady and appears to have appropriated David Bowie’s wig from Labyrinth.

As Golden Boy is in possession of a map detailing the whereabouts of the only weapon capable of killing the King, he is a subject of great interest for many of the denizens of Magic Warriors' freaky fairytale world. These include, among others, a character called Red Haired Weirdo, a guy with a mushroom for a head, another who turns into a snail, and a guy who I think is supposed to be a bag of garbage given human form.

One thing that I find refreshing about Asian action films like Magic Warriors is that their makers tend to lack the overweening sentimentality about children that their Hollywood counterparts have, and so have no qualms about depicting them as being in harm’s way or giving us scenes, like the one in Magic Warriors, in which Golden Boy gets drunk off his ass and trashes a tavern with his magical palm rays. (Yes, I hear you. Showing a fictional child with Vince Neil hair getting blotto is indeed a very terrible thing, and definitely not at all completely fucking hilarious. But, hey, wasn’t that you who was all ZOMG ROFLMAO when your coworker sent you “David After Dentist”? I thought so.) Golden Boy also dedicates a lot of his time to pissing on people (hence the name?), and at one point repels a couple of attackers by first farting on them and then spraying them with diarrhea. Golden Boy, ladies and gentlemen.

Magic Warriors is a pretty solid example of the kind of fantasy martial arts films that increasingly got made in the wake of Tsui Hark’s game-changing Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain. Like that 1983 film, it delivers a ceaseless stream of frantic, wire-assisted motion and bizarre special effects -- though, of course, on a demonstrably more measly budget, which only adds to its charm. In that spirit, the movie offers a climactic battle royal in which the majority of the cast chaotically ricochets back and forth off of the walls of the King of Evil's cartoonish lair as Little Flying Dragon fights against a giant red hairball and the garbage guy chases everybody around with a giant pair of scissors.

Some people understandably find these kind of movies headache-inducing, but they tend to give me a pretty big happy. The key, though, is to give up entirely on imposing any kind of narrative sense on what’s going on in them. (Especially when you’re confronted with subtitles as typographically challenged and incoherent as those here: “No one can fight against use!”) No, it’s best to just let Magic Warriors' insanity and childish stupidity rain down on you like a golden stream of… well, you get the point.

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