From Here to Obscurity: The Fairy & The Devil

PLEASE NOTE: The movies reviewed in From Here to Obscurity have either never been given an official VHS or DVD release, have been released on VHS but are long out of print and very hard to find, or are readily available in some form but have generally gone unnoticed by most of the general public.

What do you say we try something a little different for this particular edition of From Here To Obscurity and take a look at a foreign film so obscure you can’t even find a copy of it either subtitled or dubbed into English? It really is kind of hard to review a movie when you don’t understand what is being said and the narrative clearly requires explanations that cannot be deciphered simply by viewing what is on the screen. Then again, the movie in question has giant monsters and kung fu. Besides, the Chinese New Year just recently began so there is a theme to this installment.

The movie in question here is The Fairy & The Devil, a Hong Kong flick from around the 1983-84 period that appears to be sort of a Chinese variation of Clash of the Titans combining elements of Japanese monster movies, old school kung fu flicks, and a bit of horror. As I’ve already said, don’t expect me to describe the plot in any real detail because I’ll be damned if I had any clue what was going on half the time since the film is in Chinese and I don’t speak either Mandarin or Cantonese. I can tell you this much: The Fairy & The Devil is set during China’s “medieval period” as I call it and involves a heroic warrior that may be a Chinese god (I’m not completely sure) that aids a couple in their struggle with an evil demon wizard guy. Like I said, its virtually impossible to decipher what’s actually going on most of the time because there are no subtitles and if you know anything about Chinese mythology, you are well aware of how off the charts wacko it can be.

As the film opens, a giant demon-like monster that looks like a fanged hybrid of Daimajin and the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz is ravaging a stronghold of some sort. The film’s hero watches from the ground and decides to intervene by whipping out a little doll of a white monkey, which he hurls it into the air in the direction of the demon monster. It transforms into a huge, silly looking, white ape monster in mid-air and the two behemoths engage in a little monster-sized mortal combat. Believe me, this silly-looking gargantuan albino ape redefines the concept of mad monkey kung fu. Unfortunately, the monkey proves no match for the demon and is quickly destroyed.

Now unless I’m mistaken, and believe me, that is quite possible given the schizophrenic nature of this opening sequence, the hero then leaps into the air and magically transforms into a Chinese dragon. To be more specific, he actually transforms into a marionette of a Chinese dragon. Reptilicus was a more convincing looking marionette than this thing that mostly flops around in the air. It is said that dragons in Chinese mythology are supposed to be supremely powerful and so the string puppet soon vanquishes the demon.

Mind you, this is just the stuff that occurs around the opening credits, which are also quite hilarious due to the use of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture theme music. I don’t exactly know how the legalities worked out but quite a few Hong Kong movies from this era up until the early nineties were able to recycle the scores to certain Hollywood blockbusters. For example, if you have ever seen the non-Americanized version of Jackie Chan’s Supercop, during the scene where he hangs from the helicopter’s rope ladder you’ll distinctly recognize Danny Elfman’s Batman theme. Just the sight of this dragon marionette freeze framed while the opening credits appear set to the Star Trek score alone makes this flick worth tracking down.

If only the entire movie was as lively as its opening sequence then I don’t think anyone would care if it was subtitled or not. Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of exposition between randomly occurring kung fu and sword fights and quite a ways until more monsters appear. As the film progresses, we get a little bit of romance, a dining scene or two, occasional evil interludes that really don’t do a thing to give you any clue what the bad guy’s intentions are, quite a bit of questing, and sporadic fight scenes, the motivations for which are ambiguous at best. All the kung fu is expertly choreographed but still feels like they are just going through the motions. I preferred the giant mad monkey kung fu myself.

Although, there is one scene where the hero is in a sword battle when he and his adversary both leap into the air and transform into Chinese dragons. They very briefly engage in an aerial battle that looks more like the strings of the two dragon marionettes have accidentally gotten entwined with one another than an actual fight scene.

The next monster encounter takes place when the hero encounters a gigantic water demon while boating on a lake. It looks like a hodgepodge of a gill-man, a cat, and a walrus. It also appears to pout and throw tantrums as the hero taunts it with his flying sword before delivering the deathblow. Upon being killed, it turns to stone and crumbles into the water just like the Kraken did at the end of Clash of the Titans. However, this monster may be dead physically but its spirit lives on, as it causes a tidal wave later in the film. Why, I do not know.

I can only assume that the hero’s sword must be enchanted in order for it to take out Godzilla-sized monsters. Not sure why he doesn’t just turn into the dragon and kill it off like he did the opening monster either. You’d think that would be easier.

It should also be noted that while this movie was made in the early eighties, the level of the special effects appear to be straight out of an early sixties Godzilla movie. Actually, some of the effects aren’t even that realistic. The sight of a giant monster churning the water in order to violently rock a toy boat with a fake stick man in it is enough to make one nearly choke on whatever beverage they may be drinking at the time.

My favorite monster was the absolutely absurd looking, googily-eyed beastie (It’s like Tex Avery designed a giant Chinese demon!) that shows up late in the movie in order to…Come to think of it, I don’t have the foggiest idea. What this creature is, I don’t know. What its objective was, I don’t know. The bug-eyed monster magically appears in the center of a village, begins stomping about, and then along comes our hero for a comical showdown. This whole scene appears to have been played for laughs. Just look no further than when the hero launches his flying sword into the creature’s ass causing it to leap into the air and basically react like Curly of the Three Stooges. And then he kills it. And along with it, kills much of the joy in my life. I don’t care if that silly looking monster was evil, I was rooting for him 100%.

One of my biggest gripes with the movie, one that even an English translation wouldn’t change, is that the hero never really seems to be in any peril. He shows up, encounters an opponent, often taunts them for a few moments, and then kills them. A movie tends to lack in the suspense department when the hero never shows fear or vulnerability. This guy rarely even looks as if he is slightly concerned about the potential outcome of his encounters with these gargantuan, supernatural monsters. Well, at least not until the final showdown.

The final battle has the evil wizard/demon guy transform himself into a huge, flying, green devil-faced Halloween mask (And a really cheap looking one to boot!) that shoots poorly animated lasers from its eyes as it chases the hero through the forest at night. The lamest monster in the movie and this he runs for his life from. Figures.

But of course, good triumphs over evil and afterwards, our hero bids his mortal allies goodbye, leaps into the air, transforms into the dragon marionette, and flaps around in the breeze while superimposed fireworks go off around him and the Star Trek theme plays one final time.

Nothing in the movie ever reaches the giddy delirium of the film’s opening maelstrom but The Fairy & The Devil it is still quite watchable without having a clue what the hell is going on, although a little fast forwarding will probably come in handy during a couple of lengthy talky scenes. Who knows, if I actually understood the plot and the dialogue it might have made the movie less enjoyable. Oh well, maybe someday a translated version will become available.

And how exactly does the title The Fairy & The Devil relate to the film itself? Damned if I know!

2 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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