The Twelve Fairies (1990)

Directed by: Chiu Chung-Hing
Written by: Liu Cheng-Chien
Producers: Liu Shang-Chien & Gam Cheung-Leung
Starring: Shadow Liu, Cheng Hoi-Yuen, Yeung Hung, On On, Lin Shao-Luo, Siu Huen, Cheng Tung-Chuen & Lu Feng

The last movie from Taiwanese cinema special effects- and fantasy expert Chiu Chung-Hing (The Child of Peach, Hello Dracula), the man may not have mapped out the plan for his 7 movie strong directing part of his filmography but such genre-content dominates the list regardless. And he goes out in dependable, energetic fashion using some of your favourite young cast from this string of movies.

Having noticed through history animals don't get along and won't co-operate, it's time they do since Buddha's power is diminishing and the threat of King Evil is drawing near. In need of gathering 12 humans to embody godlike powers of same amount of animals, Lotus Guard Bai Ma (Shadow Liu) is sent to Earth to complete this task. Protected by mute monk Kan Chu (Cheng Tung-Chuen), when the next eclipse occurs the newly formed forces need to stand together and fight back on Devil Island.

Ejecting any doubt that this isn't for children, director Chiu crafts his fairly complex exposition- and plot dump during the first few minutes via traditional animation. Through decent enough subtitles and visual clarity as well, we're effectively sent onto the road trip that's going to impress technically too. The scenario is clearly done on a budget, with the filmmakers using regular editing to duplicate characters, to vanish threatening forces but nothing here seems like a watered down version of prior works. The movies might've been more fresh and more inspired a few years earlier but Chiu shows there's plenty of juice left as both narrative and action-driven director.

Because it's somewhat genuine what he communicates, the nature of ending the divide between humans, make Bai Ma's chosen subjects co-operate and shed selfishness for the greater good. All while impressing us of the fact that the road trip scenario, going from one making of an animal god to the next has fairly good momentum in addition to not letting crass filler dominate. Especially not since there's early evidence of action- and effects energy, with quick editing, wire-work, superimposed animation onto weaponry and in general a cranked, coherent tone getting the job done. A key within Chiu Chung-Hing's work here is the unpredictability of it all. Especially in regards to enemies encountered along the way being that very thing but it's also shot in energetic fashion that doesn't reek of the same old, same old.

Playing to a big and small audience, yes there's touches of broad humour, banter but Chiu keeps moods logical for this framework and never gets stuck on either the low or the crazily energetic. It's quite a joy to experience the ups and downs of the world, that it has these perils, that powers are manifested and depicted in as much of a physical way as they are and the final battle is the culmination of all this goodwill. Straying from its more children friendly nature here though as there's quite a lot of bodies piling up and bloodshed, it's also an exercise in rather fine tension. Meaning Chiu Chung-Hing is not just tapping into the wacky of it all and having no game plan after such a choice but rather he is treating his latest (and ultimately final) film as another, evolving filmmaking exercise.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson