O Best Beloved: Once there was a Golden Age, when TV on Saturday afternoons
was filled, not by reruns of Full House and endless infomercials,
but by Kung Fu Theatre. One could tune in each and every Saturday
and witness the wonders of Five Deadly Venoms, The Kid With the Golden
Arm, Master Killer and many other examples of Chinese mayhem. You
also got to see The Magic Serpent, which, while not Chinese,
does feature Asians wailing on each other with swords - ergo, by the
same logic which dumped the WWII movie Camp on Blood Island in
the weekly Horror Movie Slot, Magic Serpent belongs with the
kung-fu flicks. Upon watching it, though, what we find is a pretty fair
as we have so many times before, with an attack on The Castle. Perhaps
any castle would do, but this castle belongs to Lord Ogata, and he is
besieged by some of the least-sneaky ninjas on record. They attack in
full daylight, throwing bombs and other such noisy diversions. The attack
is orchestrated by treacherous right-hand man Yukidaijo, who kills the
lord and his wife, so he can take the throne. He is aided in this by
villainous ninja boss Orukimaru.
retainers have slipped away in a boat with the young prince, Ikazuki.
Unfortunately, Orukimaru morphs himself into a huge Oriental dragon,
complete with elk horns and Godzilla's roar, and sinks the boat, drowning
the retainers. The Dragon is just about to have a tasty Prince snack
when a hawk puppet plunges from the heavens and flies off with the boy.
this is before the opening credits.
credits, we find that Ikazuki has grown to manhood under the tutleage
of the Old Ninja Master (who sent the hawk). The Master tells Ikazuki
he's learned all his ninja magic, it's time for
him to hit the outside world, and he'll explain why after dinner. This,
of course, insures that the Master will not outlast the appetizer. While
the Prince fends off a ninja attack by having his head cut off (!),
the Master is visited by his old student, none other than Orukimaru.
Master is still pissed that Orukimaru took off years ago with his dragon-morphing
scroll, and Orukimaru does not improve matters by killing the old man.
too late, accompanied by Sonate, a babe who is the forest looking for
her long-lost father. The Master fends off death long enough to tell
Ikazuki of his royal ancestry, and to set up the rest of the story.
He also recognizes Sonate, but dies before he can tell her the identity
of her father. Damn!
off to go kill all the bad guys. Sonate similarly continues her quest,
but not before she
is visited by her Grandmother, another old mystic who travels by sinking
into the ground (apparently, in medieval Japan, you could not spit in
a forest without hitting several mystics). Grandma warns Sonate that
since her father abandoned her mother, chances are very good she will
not like the guy when she finally finds him. But Sonate is determined,
so Grandma gives her a Magic Hairpin to use in case of emergencies.
have to predict that Darth was Luke's father to know that Sonate's dad
is none other than Orukimaru, and that he will use her friendship with
Ikazuki in a fiendish plot to kill the Prince. Or that the plot will
fail, because she loves Ikazuki. Suffice to say that after several swordfights filled with
magic, Ikazuki morphs into some sort of giant horned frog and offs Yukidaijo,
interrupting the mandatory Dance Number (which has a suspiciously modern
cha-cha-cha beat). Orukimaru shows up and turns back into the
titular creature, and both monsters set about to destroying the miniature
sets. The Frog, incidentally, breathes fire. Luckily for Evil Everywhere,
the Dragon breathes water. Sonate crops up and, sick of her father's
villainy, uses the Magic Hairpin to summon a giant spider, and then
it is time for KAIJU BIG BATTEL!.
who has seen Godzilla
vs. Mothra (or, as we used to refer to it, Godzilla vs. the
knows, big roaring beasties are no match for smaller squealing beasties
that shoot webbing, so Orukimaru's dragon gets its skinny butt kicked.
Ikazuki and Orukimaru square off for a final dramatic (if not terribly
well-staged) surf-side sword fight. Orukimaru winds up dying a bubbling,
flashing-light underwater-disco kind of death, Ikazuki renounces his
throne and goes off to live in the forest with Sonate, leaving the peasants
to their own designs. The End.
over this 1966 Toei fantasy for some package deal, and did not serve
it too well. The original is in some widescreen Scope format, made very
obvious by the constant, almost panic-striken
panning-and-scanning - possibly the most I've seen since a Sergio Leone
film. The special effects - and there are a lot of them - seem almost
charmingly low-tech today. Flying scenes are almost never done with
wires, as in Chinese movies, but by (none too good) matte work. One
scene, with Ikazuki flying around on a fireball, is a still photo against
a moving background.
we're not here to go gosh-oh-wow, we're here to have fun, and
The Magic Serpent serves that up aplenty. The various swordfights
and attendant magic tricks are plentiful and often surprising, and were
probably quite amazing and delightful when originally shown. In short,
if you can leave your Industrial Light & Magic expectations behind
and get in touch with the kid inside you, The Magic Serpent can
lead to the sort of experience that allows you to say "Cool!"
and mean it.