A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Thursday, April 27, 2023
Legend of the Sacred Stone (2000) Old School Kung Fu Fest 2023
A true martial arts epic done completely with puppets.
Yes, that's right its a dead nuts on target xuxia epic that's all puppets and it will blow your mind.
The film begins with a voice over saying that 400 years ago when a sage sends the three heirs of the sects and the six Representatives of the major sects (that's what my translation says) to fight a demon who has escaped and is seeking to take over the martial arts world.
Basically the film starts with a bunch of heroes and armies battling a demon in the mountains. The heroes beat the demon and lock up his mortal remains. They then send it off to be entombed for eternity. Unfortunately the Unfriendlies arrive and release the demon and then set off looking for the pieces of the Heaven Stone. (that's about the first 20 minutes.) After that things calm down as some of the heroes try to stop the The Unfriendlies and help a young woman and her father.
If you think any of this makes any real sense you're seriously mistaken and you've never seen some of the classic wu xia films like the Zu films, The Storm Riders films, many Bruce Lee films or even the "classic" The Blade. You have to remember the details of the stories don't really matter in many of the classic films, it's motion, and ideas and feelings, three things that this film has in abundance.
Each time I'm watching the puppets go through their battles I've always been struck by how the moves are perfectly executed. Here is everything you've seen in many of the martial arts films of the 1970's and 80's but done in such away that you really forgive the wire work and over done special effects. Watching real people go through the motions I'm always slightly distanced by the fantastic (and ultimately silly) moves. The fact that its a movie is always front and center. However watching these puppets I get lost. The unreality of the characters meshes perfectly with the overly theatrical moves and effects.
Ultimately this is everything you've ever seen in a wuxia film, but real.
I really like this film a great deal and it's been a film that I've loaned a lot over the years to friends and family who love "kung fu" films. Every time I talk someone into seeing it, generally it's something people to do reluctantly. They don't think they'll ever get past it being puppets. Amazingly in all but one or two cases people do. More amazingly everyone seems to be stymied at how some of it was done. Yes it's all tricks and wires and angles, but it all blends together into something...well amazing.
Now I want to be completely honest.
In deciding to write this film up I pulled the film out and watched it, really watched it again, for the first time in several years. Seeing it again from start to finish for the first time I found that I was not as in love with the film as I had been. Don't get me wrong, I still think it's a great film, but I think I've seen it way too many times...
...however that doesn't make me recommend the film any less. This is still a spectacular film that anyone who loves the movies and what movies can do should see.
This is a treasure.
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