Na Cha and the Seven Devils [梅山收七怪] (1973)
Starring Ching Li, Tina Chin Fei, An Ping, Wai Wang, Chen Hung-Lieh, Yu Lung, Got Heung-Ting, Yeung Oi-Wa, Chang Feng, Yueh Yang, Got Siu-Bo, Ho Fan, Lam Lam, Ngai Chi-Wong, Aai Dung-Gwa, O Yau-Man, Law Bun
Directed by Tetsuya Yamanouchi
Expectations: Moderate, but I think it’s gonna be fun.
Na Cha and the Seven Devils is the type of movie that only certain people will like. It’s essentially an FX movie — nearly every scene has some form of supernatural shenanigans going on — and while the FX are quite ambitious, they don’t necessarily hold up well to modern standards. To be honest, they don’t even necessarily hold up to 1973 standards; everything looked at about a similar level to the work seen in Ho Meng-Hua’s four-film Journey to the West series, and those were all made 5–7 years prior to this. But when a film considered low-budget by American standards has such a plethora of supernatural delights, it’s unfair to think that they’re all going to look fantastic to someone 43 years in the future. And besides, I love these sort of special effects, especially in Hong Kong films, so I loved every minute of Na Cha and the Seven Devils. I merely seek to give you an idea of what we’re talking about here.
Our story begins on Mt. Kunlun, existing high in the sky between heaven and the mortal world, where there is a peach tree that only blossoms every thousand years. It takes another thousand years for the peaches to appear, and another thousand years still for the them to ripen. But, if it’s not already apparent, these are no ordinary peaches! We get our first taste of their power when the mischievous child god Na Cha (Yu Lung) decides he’s hungry. He devours a peach, his eyes glow a bright yellow, and suddenly he can see right through the clouds and into the mortal world! He can also crack rocks & trees in half and cause earthquakes with a single blow! The only problem is that when Na Cha shook the tree to get his peach, he knocked loose the remaining seven peaches. These rogue magical peaches landed on the Earth, and now Na Cha and a pair of his brothers are tasked with retrieving the peaches before the devils can eat them and become immortal.
Almost immediately after Na Cha sets out on his quest, seven devils find the peaches and quickly consume them… but don’t worry! Even though this supposedly makes them immortal, Na Cha is still powerful enough to defeat them. How? I don’t know… just go with it. When you ingest a peach that took 3000 years to grow, you can tell me how it works. Regardless, you’ll be too enthralled with the devils to care about the hows and whys of magical peaches. Allow me to introduce the devils in all their glory: Eagle Devil, Rat Devil, White Horse Devil, Frog Devil, Ape Devil, Fox Devil, and last, but certainly not least Water Dragon Devil. They all mean business, and soon after eating the peaches they all quickly get down to terrorizing the surrounding villages in various ways.
While the film contains martial elements a-plenty, I would not call it a martial arts film in the traditional sense. Na Cha gets into a couple of fights, such as his tussle with the White Horse Devil (Chen Hung-Lieh), but the choreography is slow and painfully simple. My guess is that Yu Lung wasn’t capable of complex choreography, because Chen Hung-Lieh has definitely performed much better in other films. It also might just be a case of choreographer Wu Min-Hsiung just not being on par with the rest of the choreography team at the Shaw studio. Wu worked on the action of 20 films and directed 24 (including The Big Fellow, which I reviewed a few weeks ago), so I’m hesitant to blame it on him.
It’s also fairly plausible that action just wasn’t a priority on this film since its more of a fantasy, so only a short amount of time was devoted to the choreography. This seems most likely, as even the “big” battle at the end feels like an afterthought, and it is much more gimmicky than is customary. But honestly, who needs great choreography when Na Cha flies on a pair of small burning wheels and his three-eyed brother fights alongside a German Shepherd in a yellow outfit called the Celestial Dog? That’s just plain fun! I also think this lack of quality martial arts didn’t matter so much to me, because I know that Chang Cheh took a crack at Na Cha just a year later with Alexander Fu Sheng in the title role. Now if that one doesn’t feature some great fighting…
While the FX could definitely be called cheesy, director Tetsuya Yamanouchi does a great job at doing everything he can to sell them to the audience. His grasp of what I call “supernatural filmmaking” is solid; he liberally uses models, puppets, composited FX, wirework, etc. to create a seamless, flowing film meant to entertain and excite the imagination. I was really impressed with his skills in this regard, so this led me to researching his filmography a bit, and it seems he made a few films in this vein.
Most relevant to this review would be 1969’s Feng Shen Bang, a Taiwanese production based on Investiture of the Gods, a classic Chinese novel that Na Cha and the Seven Devils is also based on! Further digging revealed that Feng Shen Bang uses a lot of the same cast as Na Cha and the Seven Devils, including Yu Lung as Na Cha! So I guess this could be considered a sequel to that film. Also in Yamanouchi’s filmography is the 1966 Japanese film The Magic Serpent, which has been noted as a possible/probable influence on George Lucas when he was crafting the first Star Wars film.
If you dig this sort of movie, Na Cha and the Seven Devils is great fun. If I were to say to you, “A flying kid fights a giant eagle and a huge dragon in mid-air!” and you just smiled or hooted in delight, then you should definitely seek this one out. It’s pretty rare at the moment, but my fingers are crossed that Celestial will eventually release it online via digital platforms since they did go to the trouble of restoring it.
Oh, and if the ideas of the film sound fun but the old FX turn you off, I have good news! A brand new adaptation of Investiture of the Gods, titled League of Gods, releases in China on July 29, 2016! It has an all-star cast, too, including Jet Li & Tony Leung Ka-Fai!
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Ho Meng-Hua’s stab at a Wong Fei-Hung film, starring Ku Feng as the fan-favorite Chinese folk hero: The Master of Kung Fu! Really stoked for this one. See ya then!