MIRACLE FIGHTERS, THE
Reviewed August 20th, 2001 by Brett Coon
I first became interested in “The Miracle Fighters” after learning that it was directed by the talented Yuen Wo Ping, the Hong Kong director responsible for the impressive kung-fu choreography in “The Matrix” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. I had previously seen “Iron Monkey”, one of the many films he has directed over the years, and that film remains one of my all-time favorite martial arts movies.
Alas, “The Miracle Fighters” isn't quite as good as I had hoped. I suppose this should be no surprise, given my high expectations following the aforementioned films. It's by no means a bad film; it's just a bit too silly for my tastes. The inspired comic flair the director exhibited in “Iron Monkey” proves a bit overwhelming this time, and that coupled with the predictable story line result in a movie I can't really recommend you rush to see, especially if you have yet to see the superior “Iron Monkey”.
The basic story involves an evil priest, called Sorcerer Bat for reasons that soon become clear, and his plan to use a young prince as his ticket to supreme power. The prince dies, so the priest sets his sights on a similar-looking orphan, whom he plans to pass off as the prince. The orphan wants no part of it, however, so he escapes and meets up with a quarrelsome old couple of kung fu sorcerers. Between the sword skills the young orphan learned from his previous mentor, and the magic he learns from the old couple, the scene is set for the inevitable sword and sorcery showdown with the power-hungry priest.
While it's clear the director didn't waste much creativity on the basic story-line, the fun is in the details. There are numerous amusing characters, the best of which has to be the Urn Man. Part weapon, part annoying mime, this character is explained as having started life as a child forced to live inside an urn until he grew large enough that escape from the pot was impossible. Arm and leg holes allow him to waddle around and attack, while his head can pop out of the top opening as needed. This goofy creature is featured in some imaginative fight scenes, plus an odd but nearly touching scene with our hero (that would be the orphan).
The other fights along the way, and of course the final showdown itself, are all jam-packed with imaginative attacks and well-choreographed battles. As I suggested previously, some are just plain silly, but they're all original. These battles employ a creative mixture of traditional fighting and wacky magic, effectively rendered with low-budget effects.
The disc provides the usual audio choices for Hong Kong films: Mandarin or Cantonese. The DVD box claims the audio is mono, but my receiver reported two-channel Dolby Digital. I didn't notice any dramatic stereo effects, so both claims may be accurate. The audio quality is fair, showing relatively little dynamic range, and a few abrupt edits. I found the squeaks and squeals from some characters a bit annoying at times, so I kept the volume lower than usual. I didn't notice excessive noise, pops, or other anomalies, so I have no real complaints. The disc also includes the Dolby Ghosttrain trailer, which is nice, though obviously not indicative of the quality of the rest of the audio program.
I'm not sure what it is about Hong Kong films from this period (1982 in this case), but “The Miracle Fighters” definitely has “that look”. The colors are bright, almost over-saturated, and the picture is reasonably sharp. Small specs and scratches are plentiful, as is some frame jitter, but it never gets in the way. The compression is mostly good, though the titles show some minor digital artifacts, and some scenes having flickering moire patterns that might have benefited from digital smoothing.
The disc is provided with very little in the way of extras. It has the previously-mentioned dual soundtracks, four choices for subtitles (Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, English, and Malaysian), a measly eight chapter stops, the film's trailer, and a “More Attractions” menu that takes you to trailers for three other films. I was disappointed that the end credits are not translated, nor is there a cast and crew section, so I was unable to verify the rumor that the director himself plays the female half of the cranky old sorcerer couple. There is nothing in the box but the disc, so basically you better buy this one for the movie because that's all you're getting.
Overall, I think this is a movie worth seeing for fans of Hong Kong martial arts, especially those of you who like a big helping of humor with your Kung Fu. I enjoyed it. The fight scenes hold up well to repeated viewings due to their sheer ingenuity, which makes this a fun disc to bring out to show friends as a goofy Kung Fu sampler. It's unfortunate that the extras are so sparse, including the too few chapter stops, but the audio and video quality are good enough to make it an enjoyable experience.
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