Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ginseng King (aka The Three Headed Monster)

                                              Director: Chu Chin Wang
               Starring: Cynthia Khan, Ying Chieh Chen, Ming Yu Chi, Shun Chien

This heavy duty slice of Far Eastern weirdness is a textbook example of what this blog is all about. This is one of those films that when viewed through Western eyes, will cause one to utter "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore".

The Taiwan lensed film from 1988 tells the tale of a one thousand year old living Ginseng and initially about the attempts to capture it (if you eat it, it will extend and improve your life... or something like that). But the thousand year old living root is nearly impossible to corral. Watching these early scenes with what appears to be a midget or a small boy in a Ginseng man costume, running around the woods and avoiding everyone, made me think of a demented version of "The Gingerbread Man" children's book. He is finally captured by a weird group of ninja like fighters led by Taiwanese beauty, Cynthia Khan (the only recognizable face in this film and star of several Hong Kong action flicks of the late 80s and early 90s). However, the group is followed by a small boy who has befriended the Ginseng King and needs him to save his mother (I'll get back to the reason she needs help; it deserves it's own paragraph). The gang takes Ginseng to an evil, ogreish three headed monster who intends to eat him in order to live forever. It turns out that Kahn's warrior woman is an heiress and is under duress since triple dome is holding her mother hostage (lots of mother-in-peril stuff going on here). She has a change of heart and decides to aid the young boy in destroying three heads and saving Ginseng. But is it already too late?

O.K. back to the reason the boy's mother needs help. But you may need to sit down before reading this part. You see, early in the film during the chase, the Ginseng King lost one of his whiskers which landed on a nearby coffin. Legend has it (according to the pre credit narration), that his whiskers are powerful enough to bring life back to the dead. It does and up from the coffin rises... a Nazi zombie. Yes, I said a Nazi zombie. Exactly what a Nazi was doing in Taiwan is anybody's guess. How do I know that the zombie is a Nazi? Well, every time it bumps into something (which it does frequently) it pauses to do a Nazi salute and shout "Heil Hitler!" in broken English. No, I'm not making this stuff up. The Nazi zombie terrorizes the boy and his mother before being stopped by a Taoist Priest because the Priest was wearing a swastika on his robe (well it was a Chinese peace symbol before the Nazis got hold of it). But not before putting the bite on mother. I sincerely hope you were sitting.

The film does lose some steam after the incredibly loopy early scenes, but it is still quite the jaw dropper, complete with some fairly grim final moments (especially considering that for the most part, this movie played like a Family film).

Ginseng King plays out not unlike "The Neverending Story", but it is such an esoteric, low budget (and faintly psychedelic) wonder that it stands on it's own and casts a spell on any who watch it.

                                                              *** / ****


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