Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins (1991)

Directed by: Chan Chun-Liang
Producer: ?
Written by: Yiu Hing-Hong
Starring: Gam Tiu, Wong Chung-Yue, Tse Kam-Yin, Chan Chi-Keung, Lee Yee-Kuen, Pang San, Cheng Tung-Chuen & Phillp So

Also known as New Seven Dragon Ball and based on Akira Toriyama's manga Dragon Ball that since conception in 1984 has spawned a sprawling universe of movies, TV series, merchandise, games etc (and even a 2009 critically slammed US adaptation starring Chow Yun-Fat called Dragon Ball: Evolution). While I am no authority on Toriyama's production, unconfirmed reports suggests this Taiwanese production did not have the rights to the comic and instead danced around the issue claiming it was loosely based on 'Journey To The West' instead. At any rate, helmed by Chan Chun-Liang, a veteran of manic Taiwanese fantasy spectacles such as The Child of Peach and The 3-D Army, Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins fires on a lot of technical cylinders on a budget to admirable effect but it's when letting the characters vent, shout and be pervy with each other that momentum is halted significantly.

The evil Long Horn (Phillip So) is after the seven dragon balls in order to achieve all the powers they contain when assembled. Attacking a large village and claiming two of them, the remaining five are assembled through encounters between characters such as Son Goku (Chan Chi-Keung), whose grandfather has been killed by Long Horn's minions, human girl Seetou (Tse Kam-Yin), the shape shifting pig Oolong (Pang San), outlaw Yamcha (Cheng Tung-Chuen) and perverted martial arts master Roshi (Wong Chung-Yue)...

Reportedly a Taiwanese-Phillipines co-production and shot on location in Thailand, director Chan wisely showcases what playing cards this production can show off early. While not hugely budgeted, the mix of matte shots for aircrafts attacking the village, pyrotechnics detonating amidst extras, clever use of animated effects to for instance showcase Son Goku's golden pole increasing in size is very appealing (although the painted on animation in certain sections looks a little wonky). It's a blast of low budget energy but energy nonetheless and it's wise to let a cinema like Taiwan's handle these high flying feats the scenario and adaptation requires. Wire work is frantic, quite extensive and even select fight scenes, despite cranked, look impressive and immerses you into this live cartoon that Chan is pushing for.

Comedic banter and slapstick between characters works especially well when it calls for the wire- and special effects-team to be part of the mix but less so when we get two reels or so mid film when it's just the core 'Dragon Ball' characters meeting and comically interacting. Reaching its rather grating high when master Roshi is introduced, his antics of being a sex starved monk (with the trademark turtle shell on his back) is loud and goes on forever to little comedic effect. Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins rebounds fairly well when the ending calls for the mix of physical and post-elements as well as comedy to dominate again but it's clear Taiwan was there to do what they could do in a bad way too: to brighten up the tone in the name of enjoyment. A stance it takes too far.


reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson