Magic Of Spell (1988)

Written & directed by: Chiu Chung-Hing
Lin Hsiao-Luo, Ku Pao-Ming, Sam Ching-Wai, Pang Lei-Cheung, Yau Mei-Fong & Chun Tu

The adventures of Japanese folklore character Momotaro (often referred to as Peach Boy) continues as envisioned by Taiwanese filmmakers. Casting female actress Lin Hsiao-Luo in 1987's mostly family friendly special effects bonanza The Child Of Peach, she returns for the equally impressive sequel helmed by the action director of the first film (who also made Hello Dracula prior). Yes, these are some eager creative folks driven by the need to depict the supernatural and fantastical and kung fu seems to be the last thing on anyone's mind. But they pull a bit of a bit of a magic trick by eventually including audiences after that fix too.

The evil Elder and his gang of demons try to retain their grip on the world but Peach Boy (Lin Hsiao-Luo) has proven to be effective at eradicating them. No choice but to destroy him but also in need of healing through bathing in the blood of one thousand virgins, The Elder has to dispatch minions such as en evil priest, a strongman with a boulder for a fist and a green faced gremlin to attack Peach Boy and his parents. The family becomes tragically affected and Peach Boy re-groups with his animal friends Tiny Cock, Tiny Monkey and Tiny Dog as well as a bumbling new disciple and start making their way towards the Elder's castle. They also encounter a young boy who is the human manifestation of a 1000 year old ginseng root...

Director Chiu dedicate some of the first half to pratfalls and lame slapstick but proceedings actually have turned a little somber this time around. It's the gritty sequel in the context of The Child Of Peach-series but you will also be getting a non-stop ride of Taiwan fantasy madness. Despite the comedic sidekick literally taking a stupid fall into a pit a minute in, the filmmakers, working with a sparse running time, don't linger on any extended goofiness and if it is present, it takes place within a scenario involving zombies. Technically up on the screen in a barely budgeted but delightful way, the scary forces at hand are talking puppets that take a beating despite an oblivious, pending victim. Staying children's friendly via a new theme song with lyrics arguing the world of full of laughter and hope, it's fun to get introduced to Peach Boy taking his powers and protection of man and children in peril seriously. Lin Hsiao-Luo is fond of the part clearly, very action able as she engages in skirmishes with more zombie puppets, mentioned demons and this doesn't equate to limp action direction. But through frantic editing and wirework, what's also present is that era specific and very accomplished energy Taiwanese makers WITH this in mind were fond of.

Stepping away from the cute, into dramatic and even sad would not stun local audiences presumably but the tone shift, while entertaining, could throw off viewers having just watched The Child Of Peach. But since ideas such as kidnapping children for the virgin's blood running through their veins that will restore the powers of The Elder are such a delight within the established tone in general, Chiu Chung-Hung is not truly irresponsible as he switches gears and puts characters through personal turmoil as we lose some established ones.

Magic Of Spell is the kind of crafted universe where anything can happen, any content and plotting is viable in the fantasy framework so the introduction of ginseng boy would represent this but director Chiu keeps focus on the basic conflict and takes on the challenge of starting the finale off early. Here the mixture of creative, comedic sights such as giant peaches acting as bowling balls that take out guards, amazingly accurate wirework involving the kids depicting the animal friends of Peach Boy and subsequent, accomplished acrobatic and fighting skills of said, young performers is completely enthralling. Not over anxiously throwing every conceivable piece of action design on us either, it also involves long takes of choreography and fire stunts amidst the post-production special effects. It shows craftsmen and women knowing the energy of the era was doable and compelling commercially clearly. Which is not something that could be achieved per default because this takes effort and one wouldn't be surprised if shooting the climax took weeks, even months. You come to realize that the ace up the movie's sleeve and the uniqueness of Magic Of Spell doesn't just lie in what the filmmakers can offer up for fans of fantasy and special effects. No, this is a movie to attract the fandom looking for extensive kung fu as well. They'll be delighted that they get so much more in a package that's not overstuffed.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson