- Title : Eight Immortals (TW-Movie) (1971)
- Alternative Title(s) : The Eight Immortals - International (English title) / Ba xian du hai sao yao mo - Taiwan / Bat sin du hoi so yiu moh - Hong Kong (Cantonese title)
- Hardsubbed or Softsubbed: Hardsubbed
- English Subtitles: Yes
- Date Aired (YYYY-MM-DD): 1971 (Taiwan)
EIGHT IMMORTALS is an energetic fantasy adventure depicting the famous Eight Immortals of Taoist mythology. It’s packed with special effects, Chinese operatic music, humor, and classic good versus evil conflict resulting in sprawling battle sequences pitting sword against sword and black magic against the legendary eight weapons of the immortals.
“Good deeds are the path to immortality. Should an immortal give no help to people in danger?”
This was an event picture for the Central Motion Picture Corporation (CMPC), once Taiwan’s biggest film studio. CMPC was founded in 1943 and over the years produced works from many of the territory’s leading filmmakers including Ang Lee. As a powerful sign of Taiwan’s faltering film industry, the studio closed its doors in 2006 after being bought out by the government. But back in 1971, CMPC was still a player and EIGHT IMMORTALS is solid proof.
The film starts out on a modern-day street (circa 1971) where two comical street performers use large slides to entertain a crowd of onlookers with their tale of the Eight Immortals, set during the Tang Dynasty. With these performers acting much like Japan’s old benshi narrators, the film viewer is introduced to each of the immortals in a series of seemingly unrelated tales.
The Immortals’ leader, the sword-bearing scholar Lu Tung-pin (Chiang Ming) frees a woman sold into prostitution so she may reunite with her lover.
The scruffy-looking Iron-crutch Li transforms his crutch into a tree bearing healing peaches for appreciative rural townsfolk.
The elderly Chang Kuo-lao, characteristically riding backwards on a donkey and carrying an odd “fish-drum” instrument, is joined by fellow immortal Lan Tsai-ho in paying a visit to a poor teahouse owner to enjoy a 60-year-old cask of wine and share their wealth.
Han Hsiang-tzu, patron deity of musicians uses his flute to rescue two men from a fatal fall and provide safe passage for their family over a snow-covered ravine.
Chungli Chuan with his wind-making fan and Tsao Kuo-chiu with his castanets descend from the heavens to fend off Mongol bandits intent on raiding a shipment of rice being sent to supply needy recipients.
With the introduction of the final immortal, all of these stories converge into what becomes the film’s main plot. The former prostitute has been kidnapped by the Old Devil (O Yau-man), a boar in human form who leads the bandits, drinks human blood and keeps women as sex slaves despite his marriage to a domineering witch. Ho Hsien-ku, the only female immortal attempts a rescue but is ensnared by the witch’s magic rope.
Lu Tung-pin frees Miss Ho and gathers the immortals for a meeting. A fair amount of frivolous, musical banter between these semi-gods is sharply contrasted by the suffering endured by the former prostitute and her fellow captives, now blamed for Ho’s escape. Just when it seems that the hardship of men no longer troubles the immortals, they spring into action and lead an army of the townsfolk against the bandit stronghold to bring down the Old Devil and rescue the prisoners.
The film provides a nice intro to the Eight Immortals and this comes in handy for international audiences today who likely know very little, if anything about them. The structure of hopping between characters is a little disorienting though. The former prostitute becomes a central character, but she’s just a passive victim while her lover is always in the shadow of the immortal heroes. There is also an imbalance with regard to the film’s action, which doesn’t really take off until the second half.
In case it hasn’t become apparent already this is not a martial arts or wuxia movie. It’s a musical fantasy that favors elaborate special effects in the tradition of Ho Meng-hua’s THE MONKEY GOES WEST. It does happen to contain some very impressive set-piece battles in the third act. Large group fighting is nicely captured with panning cameras meticulously positioned to get the full effect of the complex choreography. The cinematography has a very professional feel to it, which is something I’m beginning to discover was not uncommon among Taiwan’s films from this era.
I enjoyed seeing humor deftly slipped into the action with an ongoing joke regarding one timid character we see in each fight sequence appear out of nowhere to bash baddies over the head with a giant pole. He shows up initially as a mischievous thief who takes one peach too many from Iron-crutch Li’s tree.
Lively music plays a vital role in the movie, both as orchestral scoring and as vocal arrangements for cast members who perform some fun Chinese opera numbers to help flesh out the characters. It may seem odd to some viewers today to see heroes break out in song, but audiences of the day in Chinese territories would have appreciated it. The Chinese opera as a film genre was once quite popular, but was already in decline by 1971. Like the singing cowboy and the MGM musical, this Chinese opera tradition in filmmaking gradually became a lost art.
The special effects work is expectedly inferior to what Hollywood and Japanese studios were able to produce at the time. Wires can be seen manipulating a giant swooping bird. Simple animation applied to frames accounts for some of the spell effects and lots of obvious reverse shooting is used to create other effects. At least the filmmakers are creative with the mythology. They create truly bizarre imagery like poison gas emitted from a belly button, a donkey that transforms into a small paper cutout, and a giant peach that splits open to reveal a chattering pig’s head. Even though the execution is imperfect, this stuff is definitely entertaining.
Although similarities exist, Tsui Hark’s ZU: WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN is in a different league with its superior set design, special effects and dynamic action choreography. But for a 1971 production, EIGHT IMMORTALS is a very solid fantasy film that has a lot to offer, especially for those who have enjoyed similar movies from Shaw Brothers such as Ho Meng-hua’s MONKEY GOES WEST trilogy, NA CHA THE GREAT or HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD.GD Star RatingEight Immortals (TW-Movie) (1971),
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