Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Legend of Mother Goddess (Taiwan, 1975)

My argument against Creationism: If dinosaurs and people existed at the same time, why are there no dinosaurs in the Bible? Mind you, this opinion is not informed by any direct experience of the Bible on my part. I just think that, if there were dinosaurs in the Bible, I would somehow have come to know about it. And if you have a legitimate reason to include dinosaurs in your religious mythos, why on Earth would you not?

For contrast, look at Legend of Mother Goddess, which, while dealing with the exploits of deities and the various tenets of Buddhism, also finds time for dinosaurs, fighting dragons and kung fu battles. Theologians who would like to see more interest in the Bible on the part of today's youth should take note.

Legend of Mother Goddess might be seen as a bit of a departure for fans of its star, Chia Ling -- especially for those Western fans who mostly know her as Judy Lee. (Said appellation being another attempt by studio bigwigs to encourage those all important Bruce Lee associations -- an attempt that was apparently successful, given that, when it was revealed that Judy was not in fact related to Bruce Lee, it caused a bit of a scandal.) Known more for her starring turns in straight ahead chop-sockey films like The Avenger and the Iron Phoenix series, Lee here fronts a Chinese Opera inspired fantasy film derived from Chinese folklore. And while she still gets multiple opportunities to demonstrate her prowess as a martial artist, she more often than not does so in combat with cavemen in multicolored wigs or guys in rubber monster suits.

Lee plays Mak-Leung, a young Sung Dynasty era woman who from birth seems to be fated for some kind of great destiny. The ball really gets rolling on that destiny when one day a white dragon emerges from a well in her family's back yard, turns into a little kid, and hands her a "wordless book" that the kid says is a gift from God. Once Mak-Leung has learned how to extract the book's secrets, the kid tells her, it will enable her to save the world. Soon Mak-Leung is able to decipher the book with the help of a Taoist priest who comes to her disguised as a vagrant, and proceeds to use its teachings to heal the sick and disabled of her village.

From this point on, Legend of Mother Goddess takes on a distinctly episodic quality, chronicling one after the other Mak-Leung various acts of magical do-gooderism. First, her quest to heal her sick grandmother sends her off in search of the fabled 1000 year old ginseng root, which, just as in Magic of Spell, is presented as being an actual sentient being -- in this case, a creepy little flying baby that cries disturbingly when someone manages to pin it with an arrow. In order to do this, she must first conquer a pair of wacky looking demons, which she does in short order, later recruiting the two to become part of her entourage. (A goddess can have an entourage, right?)

Next Mak-Leung plays hard to get by making her acceptance of a magical kung fu-enabled suitor's proposal dependent on a grueling contest of both wits and fighting skill. He loses, thankfully delivering us into the the film's most rewarding -- by which I of course mean most kaiju-laden -- segment. Summoned to Po Tien City to relieve a crippling drought that is being suffered there, Mak-Leung soon discovers that it is in fact the above alluded-to boggle-eyed dinosaur that is responsible for the calamity. A rumble ensues and the dinosaur is vanquished. But, because what is possible in this movie is restricted only by the markedly lax narrative boundaries traditionally observed by fucked-up Taiwanese fantasy films, the ghost of the dinosaur is soon calling out to his brother, a sea dragon, to come and avenge his death. The brother is quick to respond, at which point the well-dwelling white dragon also shows up on the scene with you-know-what gratifying result: Dragon fight!

Legend of Mother Goddess is a charming and, as these sort of movies go, fairly innocuous little fantasy film -- one that I wouldn't have any problem recommending to parents of small children. That is, if not for one scene in which something pretty horrific is done to a bowl of goldfish (and the fact that Mak-Leung restores those fish to life by the "magic" of film-reversal does nothing to mitigate the lingering unpleasantness). Oh, and there's also the sight of a flying baby being pinned by an arrow and shrieking disconcertingly. So scratch the whole kid thing. Not that I'm really aiming for the stroller set anyway. Screw you, breeders! Ha ha. Just kidding.

Seriously, though, I enjoyed Legend of Mother Goddess. But I would be lying if I didn't admit that the best thing about it is that it is a Taiwanese martial arts film featuring a dinosaur that Tars Tarkas hasn't reviewed yet. I'm sure it's in his to-be-watched pile, though. Still: Yay! One for me!


sunil said...

Chinese politics makes me curious. Clearly they ought to be internally as diverse as (say) Russia and India. A telugu author who went there recently wrote an article about how nowadays, the various dialects of telugu are too finding voice in literature. But when she went to China - all the authors were proud to be writing in "standard" Mandarin. Million flowers still waiting to bloom.
You know the old joke about how a language is nothing but a dialect with an army. :)

Tars Tarkas said...

D'oh! Mother Goddess has been watched, but the review lies half-completed like so many other reviews. Oh, the shame. I literally have over 50 movie reviews half-completed. Still eagerly awaiting for your take on Tsu Wung Hu and the related films.

I was also disturbed by the goldfish scene, largely due to the tanks of my own goldfish and koi, all of who are named. Just don't tell them my wife eats sushi like a maniac!

I finally got one of the Wong Fei Hung movies from the 1960s (sadly not the one where he fights a gorilla) so hopefully I'll have time to watch it soon and pretend I am a film scholar again.

Todd said...

Sunil: Yet most Chinese language movies are still in Cantonese, so Mandarin still has a ways to go toward total dominance. By the way, aren't certain Indian dialects considered more refined and poetic than others? For instance, I thought that a lot of the song lyrics in Hindi films were in Urdu.

Tars: I don't know if I'll cover Tsu Hong Wu beyond what I wrote in my second Taiwanese-Style Kaiju post, but you never know. Say, have you come across a copy of Monster From The Sea yet?

Tars Tarkas said...

No, I think that one is missing like War God and Devil Fighter are atm, but you never know when one will pop up!

TheDoug said...

For those who want to take this journey on dvd,one source for this film is

Michael Barnum said...

With this amount of suitmation monsters in one film, I am ready to take that journey!, here I come!