Na Cha the Great (1974)

nachathegreat_1Na Cha the Great [哪吒] (1974)

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Lo Dik, Chiang Tao, Fung Hak-On, Lin Jing, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Li Chen-Piao, Yuan Man-Tzu, Sze-Ma Wah-Lung, Lee Wan-Chung, Fung Ngai

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Pretty high. I enjoyed Na Cha and the Seven Devils and I hope this is equally fun.

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When I think of words to describe the films of Chang Cheh, “fantasy” is not even remotely within the brainstorm. Elements of the fantastic enter many of his films, but Chang rarely handles them in a way that inspires the imagination like typical fantasy. The idea that a man could cut off his own arm and then become a fearsome one-armed swordsman (The New One-Armed Swordsman) is definitely within the fantasy genre, but Chang grounds the idea to the point that it’s not about suspending disbelief. So when I watched Na Cha and the Seven Devils a few months ago, knowing that I had Chang Cheh’s take on the character in my future, it was hard to imagine how Chang would handle the incredible fantasy of an adaptation of the Chinese classic novel Investiture of the Gods.

Turns out that he ambitiously reaches in both directions, bisecting the film into a largely grounded first half and a wildly fantastic second half. I’d love to tell you that my favorite Shaw Brothers director handles both halves well, but unfortunately I can’t even say that he does so with either half. The whole movie feels half-baked and without the usual thematic sharpness that is evident in his other films around this time. The groundwork is there, but there’s little artistry pulling it all together into a pleasing, emotional package. My feeling is that the abundance of special effects hindered Chang’s abilities somewhat. A separate special FX director, Lam Kwok-Cheung, is credited, and according to Chang Cheh’s memoir, Lam led a team from Japan to achieve the film’s many photographic effects.

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Na Cha and the Seven Devils (1973)

NaChaandthe7Devils_1Na 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.

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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.

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