Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bruce Lee and Chinese Gods (1976)

AKA: Pang shen feng; Story of Chinese Gods
Director: Chih Hui Chang

I don't even know where to begin with this one, as the size of this film's weirdness makes it nearly impossible to get a hold of. Should I start with ancient Chinese gods and their motorcycle clouds? Or the frequent dismemberment, charring, and other acts of insane violence? How about the fact that, when all else fails, the ancient gods of China have to call on the ultimate supernatural guardian of the East, Bruce Lee (sporting a cool third eye in the center of his forehead)?

There is an evil warlord who is oppressing the people of his province. His wife is a fox spirit, and although they are sexy, fox spirits are always deceitful and naughty. Disgusted by the ruler's evil deeds, the gods, one of whom can make his eyes extend way far out of his head, send a wise demigod type fellow down to Earth to talk sense to the despot. In accordance with the behavior you would expect from a ruler who murders his most loyal advisors and burns lots of people alive for the hell of it, he doesn't really see the error of his ways. Angered and frustrated, the demigod whips up a tornado that carries many of the peasants to a neighboring province, where the ruler is benevolent and honest.

The evil ruler decides to declare war on the good leader, but when his assassins fail to carry out their job, the fox spirit suggests that the evil ruler enlist the aid of the dark forces, who are pretty good at such things. In turn, the wise demigod enlists the aid of his pals up in the heavens and all out supernatural war ensues. Evil Taoist priests, monsters and demons of every possible shape and size, and god riding around on clouds that make motorcycle noises are all part of the fun. When the forces of evil send in the Three Kings of Hell as their coup de gras, the good gods summon up Bruce Lee. Yep. When God himself can't solve a problem, he calls on Bruce Lee. Wouldn't you? Bruce Lee, complete with his official silly fighting noises, materializes to kick some King of Hell ass. Bruce can do kungfu and shape shift into a stoned (not stone) dragon, among other powers he never used in his other movies but we always suspected he had in real life.

I'm not sure exactly how accurate the mythology on display is. As best I can tell, the reason Bruce Lee is no longer with us is because he had to travel back in time to like the Han Dynasty or something in order to assume his role as the ultimate god of China. He brought with him his knowledge of motorcycles and applied to it some clouds for his buddies. So, like, 90% culturally accurate.

I've really only scratched the surface of how insane this cartoon gets. This movie has more craziness packed into each of its artfully drawn but poorly animated cels than most any other film around. Was this for kids? Surely not. It shows people being chopped in half and burned at the stake, flailing and shrieking as the melt. It has demons ripping people apart and eating their limbs. I mean, sure it's the kind of movie I watched as a kid, but these kids these days are made of more tender meat. Kid friendly or not, Chinese Gods really is one of the most unbelievably fun and inexplicable things I've seen. It makes me feel a bit light-headed. The animation is not great, but you have to overlook the cheap animation and enjoy the delirium. And you can also admire the artwork, if not the outcome of trying to make it move.

Make or Break: The violence. Ostensibly made for children, this movie isn't afraid to revel in everything from people being burned alive to people being chopped to bits.

MVT: Bruce Lee's boobs. Seriously, man. It's like he hangs out with Kate Upton.

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