The 12 Fairies (1990)

Rating: C

Dir: Chung-Hsing Chao
Star: Shadow Liu, Hsiao-Lao Lin, Feng Lu, Hsuan Shao

In the eighties, Taiwan was responsible for a slew of completely mad fantasy kung-fu films, such as Kung Fu Wonder Child and Magic of Peach, which have acquired a bit of a cult reputation in the West. This is one such example, and… well, is certainly unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It begins with an animated sequence, accompanied by a particularly hyper song, which details a contest among all the animals to decide which ones would become the 12 members of the horoscope, or something along those lines. It’s Wacky Races for animals, right down to a road-runner turning a sign the wrong way, causing the other competitors to plummet off a cliff.

With this established, we discover that a gigantic demon, appropriately named King Evil, is plotting to… um, well, like so much here, the details of his motivation and goals are unclear. But he must be stopped. To this end, there’s Princess Bei Ma (Lui), whom we first meet swimming naked in a lake. This is a bit awkward, since she looks about 12. Hey, it was acceptable in the eighties nineties. She is tasked by Lamma Priest Kan Ma Di (Lu) to find and recruit the human incarnations of the twelve animals, in order to stop King Evil from… /gestures vaguely. It’s basically the Buddhist version of Pokemon: gotta catch ’em all.

To aid her in this vital task, she’s given an even younger, mute sidekick, Kan Chu. It’s not long before King Evil’s minions, led by the appropriately named Evil Lady (Shao). are in hot pursuit. Fortunately, turns out Kan Chu is not as useless as he appears, and he’s helped by the arrival of Dragon (Lin), who has skills of her/his/its own. I use that, because Lin is a Taiwanese actress who made her career playing (generally not very convincingly) male roles. She was basically transgender before it was hip. However, she does not have a Twitter, so I am unaware of her preferred pronouns. From there, Bei Ma and pals go through a series of escapades and fights, rescuing condemned souls and slowly expanding their party.

Emphasis on “slowly”, since we’re more than minutes into the movie, and they still only have Dragon. C’mon, people! Fate of the world! Chop-chop! Much of the rest is occupied by this process, with some elements which make me seriously question whether it’s targetted at the kid audience the animated opening implies, e.g. the subtitled line, “Why you try to take off my trousers, are you a homsexual [sic] guy”. Eventually, after Bei Ma has fended off dissension in the ranks, forced marriage, and nearly died herself, we get the final battle against King Evil and Evil Lady – who, interestingly, turns out to be more like Misunderstood Lady. Let’s just say, there will be a number of vacancies for Chinese horoscopes.

It is very much an “everything including the kitchen sink” style of film-making and, as noted, I’m really not sure who it was made for. The juvenile humour and pre-teen heroine suggest a young target demographic. They’d likely also be more tolerant of casual plotting, and production values which make Power Rangers look like a James Cameron franchise. Yet there’s a lot here which, especially in these more “tolerant” times, would be considered highly inappropriate for such viewers. These elements likely peak where three men are chained up in jail, have their pants pulled down, asses eaten, are spanked with a wooden plank, and then a salt/pepper combination rubbed into the wounds. It isn’t exactly Disney. Overall, I think I’ll stick with the rather more polished Hong Kong fantasy product.