As a vintage Taiwanese fantasy wuxia film, The Eight Immortals is both pleasantly different and pleasantly the same. It’s different in that it boasts a fanciful structure that makes it something of an anthology film for its first half. This, however, does not prevent it from featuring everything that we come to such movies for in the first place -- hence, the pleasant sameness. And by that I refer to oodles of hyperbolic mystical hijinks, ranging from beast-hatching flora to Taoist whammies delivered via drawn on hand rays.
Kamishibai, which, along with other such proto-comic-strip modes of narrative, makes up part of a long tradition of Asian picture storytelling. The tale spinners gleefully introduce the Immortals one by one, via a series of vignettes in which each performs an act of kindness for the benefit of some hapless mortal. In most cases, the immortal introduces himself by singing a whimsical song.
Little Hero and the Taiwanese portions of Mars Men, the international version of Sompote Sands’ Giant and Jumbo A, so you know we’re in good hands when it comes to the aforementioned “cheap but colorful fantasy spectacle”. This could be said to include a scene of the queen conjuring a giant puppet bird of prey to attack the resistance forces before emitting a stream of pink poisonous gas from her navel. Hand rays are of course employed, as are flamethrower palms, while people die and turn into weird weasel-like creatures and the king uses one of Fairy Ho’s sutras to emit a mighty wind from a gargoyle head perched atop his headdress. Meanwhile, the filmmakers try to distract you from the silliness of some of these effects with pure onslaught, placing brightly garbed, sword-slinging extras slashing, leaping and tumbling in every available corner of the frame. This tumult reaches apotheosis with a death duel between Lü Dongbin and the demon king that takes place high in the heavens, the opponents leaping about in the clouds.