Moon Warriors (Sammo Hung, 1992)

by Douglas Buck August 9, 2020 4 minutes (809 words) 16mm Rooftop off Avenue du Parc, a Le Cinéclub/The Film Society event

Set in ancient China, with simple fisherman Fei (as ‘simple’ as anyone can be, that is, who happens to have a killer whale for a best friend – yes, you heard that right — as well as is endowed with those crazy high-flying fighting skills he constantly ends up showing off), played by Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau, finds himself drawn from his village life (and equally beloved whale – sorry, I mean dolphin, which is the species orcas actually belong to) to protect the 13th Prince of Yin (Kenny Bee), along with the prince’s female bodyguard (the ever lovely Maggie Cheung, kicking hardcore ass as usual) from assassins sent by the prince’s powerful brother, the scheming 14th Prince (Kelvin Wong), who is seeking to usurp the 13th’s rightful throne, with the goings-on made all the more complicated by the lowly Fei and the 13th’s spoiled fiancé (Anita Mui) slowly falling in love.

While I haven’t seen enough films of its ilk (known, I believe, as the wuxia film, with martial artists doing their high-flying, uber-fast-reflex fighting thing in tales taking place in ancient China) to provide a genuinely discerning perspective (though I’ve seen enough to recognize a bunch of the more old-school main figures, like “Moon” director Sammo Hung, the once super-popular Chinese martial arts action star – and fight choreographer — whose memorable persona stemmed from his incredible agility despite a pot-bellied physicality), with its numerous jaw-droppingly choreographed fight sequences (including all those fantastic invisible wire effects, making everyone defy gravity as they fight), narrative marked by twists and sudden betrayals, uniquely conceived set-pieces (like the immensely-clever moving bamboo tree forest that surrounds invaders as a means to protect itself), gorgeous photography (with the massacre siege on Fei’s village particularly standing out) and entirely unembarrassed adolescent emoting of its characters (with the motivations always based upon the simplest, most straightforward of storytelling emotions – love, guilt, desire for power), Moon Warriors seems to me another typically fine example of that particularly crazy, awe-inducing genre. Why, there’s even the novel addition of the killer whale, who saves the day at the end (with the audience-cheering response to the mammal’s sudden arrival easily allowing one to overlook the finer details of how exactly it could have possibly gotten to where it gets to… ).

Operating from a level of wondrous myth-building, with the characters motivated by the simplest of emotions, “Moon” has that genuine sense of child-like innocence so familiar to many I’ve seen in the genre (while also including a lot of cool gory sword plunges and blood spurting from mouths, mind you… and while Moon Warriors doesn’t have a ton of that, I’d say it has just the right satisfying amount). It comes from that particular type of Asian entertainment that plays as wildly outlandish to much of the Western audiences; perhaps its just too disarmingly naïve for the more cynical-minded West to embrace. Whatever the case, “Moon” is certainly one highly enjoyable film (even if you can kinda tell that killer whale never left his Chinese Sea World tank for the shoot).

With the colorful, if unpretentious, night of programming, starting out with a 30 plus minute mashup of action-packed, genre-jumping trailers — everything from 70’s exploitation movies (including Larry Cohen’s Hell Up in Harlem and Summertime Killer, which helped give Robert Mitchum’s son Chris his 15 minutes) to more fantastique action fare (such as a classic Ray Harryhausen-stop motion treasure Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and Raiders of the Lost Ark) — mixed in with some of those old-school drive-in ads familiar to any film lover like moi who seeks out these nostalgic cinematic events, then moving on with the unspooling of a 1940’s Mighty Mouse cartoon — immensely enjoyable not only because of the rich animation preserved so stunningly on the celluloid, but for the unforgettable and oh-so naughty conclusion of our tunic-wearing, anthropomorphic superhero mouse relaxing on the beach after having saved the inhabitants of Krakatoa from an exploding volcano with a harem of adoring bikini-clad native Indonesian women as his reward (leaving me considering that while many an outraged-minded modern millennial might shriek ‘Cancel Mighty Mouse!’ after witnessing this, I couldn’t help but shrug and think ‘Seems like a fair reward to me’) – then heading right on into the rollicking, orca-friendly, high-wire jumping Asian action main feature, the isolated city rooftop screening set-up, and what turned out to be a comfortable summer night (with the occasional swaying of the screen from the breeze that strengthened as the night went on only adding to the on-camera swirling sense of physical wonder going on in Moon Warriors), it turned out to be a near-perfect screening night, with much kudos, as always, to that organization of never-say-die cinemaniacs known as Le Cinéclub/The Film Society.

Moon Warriors (Sammo Hung, 1992)

Douglas Buck. Filmmaker. Full-time cinephile. Part-time electrical engineer. You can also follow Buck on “Buck a Review,” his film column of smart, snappy, at times irreverent reviews.

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