The Magic Crystal a.k.a. Mo fei cui (1986): Breakdown by Kain424
Secret agents and an evil, vaguely European villain seek out a mysterious and sentient crystal that befriends a young boy.
[THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THEIR BADASSITUDE]
Andy Lau is Andy Lo, The Eagle
As fine of an actor as Lau may be, it’s this early and relatively simple role that I like of his the most. He’s pretty much one-note, a martial arts mastering supercop whose family gets involved in his adventure. He’s clever enough I suppose, but any character traits he may have beyond just being generally a nice guy with skills are only hinted at during his fight scenes.
And what fight scenes they are. Lau proves to be almost impossibly athletic, striking ridiculously fast and frighteningly fierce, especially in one epic fight set in a gymnasium. His moves are largely acrobatics, but the speed with which they are executed is as stunning as the choreography is funny. And it’s meant to be that way. Andy looks pretty awesome by the end of this one, and it’s almost a shame that, to my knowledge, he never really did anything as similar.
Bin Bin is Pin-Pin
I’m not a huge fan of child actors and I doubt this kid will make a believer out of anyone. Still, I suppose he does a well-enough job. He’s certainly believable as a friendless nerd. But maybe I’m being harsh on him. It’s not like he had much more to do than sit around and talk to a glowing green rock. So I suppose he’s alright, but I didn’t get much out of him.
Jing Wong is Pang-Chuang-Chiu “Pan” a.k.a. Snooker
Yes, that’s the director of the movie. He’s the film’s comic relief. And you know what? He’s actually pretty funny. It helps that he throws pretty much every possible gag out trying to make the audience laugh at his shenanigans. So kudos for being more funny than annoying, dude.
In my favorite sequence, Pan stumbles upon several assassins trying to stealthily enter his home. Thinking they are thieves, he interrupts their infiltration wielding a toilet plunger. When one of the hard-as-nails baddies pulls out a long knife and licks the blade, Pan attempts to replicate the tactic by licking his plunger. So yeah, pretty funny.
Cynthia Rothrock is Interpol Agent Cindy Morgan
“The policewoman who doesn’t use a gun.”
Of the two “Interpol” agents introduced early on, she’s the only one given a name and something to do. Still, she almost steals the show, kicking ass with a spear, sword and her own hands and feet. The former two objects she apparently keeps in a small, non-descript leather case.
Wisely, the filmmakers decided to keep her dialog to a minimum, letting her kung fu skills do the talking for her. This, of course, pretty much makes Rothrock the reason to watch this movie. She fights in a flurry of bad-assery, many of the moves I only caught the third time around, and it’s damn cool. Like the other characters of The Magic Crystal, she’s a one-dimensional one, but since that dimension is a bad-ass female kicking machine, I’ll let it slide.
Richard Norton is Karov, International Man Of Mystery
Norton continues his career of playing martial arts bad guys here, being the shadowy leader of either a worldwide criminal organization, or some kind of KGB superspy. I’m not actually sure. But he’s dubbed, allowing his naturally thick, Australian accent to be hidden and replaced by a different multi-lingual one. You know, to impress everyone.
Shockingly, Norton probably gets the most characterization of any of the characters in the film. We learn he’s a well-read man, has a strong enough will to fend off the alien rock’s mind-control powers, is a master of multiple kung fu styles, but his true motivations are a bit unclear. Does he actually work for the Russians? Does he want the “Jade” for himself? Just what exactly does he know about that rock, anyway?
[THE SEX AND VIOLENCE]
DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO:
Other than a very sweaty gym montage in the film’s opening, we get nothing. Sorry.
EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY:
Though generally seen as screeching, whiny objects, the women of The Magic Crystal differ from one to the other. It seems to pretty much depend on what the scene requires. Cynthia Rothrock and Wan-Si Wong are shown as strong, capable fighters, but there other women seen around pretty much merely to show some skin (not too much, mind you). The character of Winnie, played by prolific actress Sharla Cheung comes close to being something of a love interest, though it never gets developed.
I did start noticing that everytime a woman was being seen as something of an object it was actually the objectifying man that was being shown for the shallow, perverted loser he was. Jing Wonh and Park-cheung Chan are generally the two men doing the most objectifying and they’re hardly the heroes or even shown in a flattering light. So maybe this film’s not so misogynistic. Then again, there is a scene (meant purely for laughs, I’m sure) where a woman is hit in the face with a baseball bat.
MURDER BY NUMBERS: [ 14-20 ]
What I at first took for a kid’s movie may in fact not be, as this is rather violent. We see around 14 people killed onscreen with another six or so dying just out of view or in mention. Death is definitely an ongoing concern in the universe of The Magic Crystal. We get people strangled, thrown from roofs, stabbed in the heart, necks broken, and shot at point blank range. There’s also a torture scene and talk of AIDS. Pretty nasty over-all, though nothing that will turn your stomach. Except for that fucking rock.
MOST SATISFYING ASS-KICKING:
Wan-Si Wong vs. Assassins
The reason I like this fight so much is because it’s so unexpected. Wan-Si’s character (Pin-Pin’s mother) is never even given a name, let alone much development. She’s seen pretty much obsessively watching television and ignoring everything else around her. When the bad guys finally arrive, they think she’ll be easy prey. Upon surrounding her, she begins busting out her moves, proving more than a match for the hardened assassins.
Highlight: she leaps into the air with a split-kick, pinning two assassins (one with each leg) against the wall and then scolds the “youngsters”.
[THE BEST OF THE REST]
In classic Jing Wong fashion, The Magic Crystal makes a great pop culture reference in a rather hilarious moment. Jing Wong’s character “Pan” flees from several enemies who have invaded the small home. He ends up in Pin-Pin’s room, the child asking the “Jade” crystal for help. The crystal tells Pin-Pin to have Pan touch it, and he will be given magnificent powers and the ability to fend off the attackers.
Unfortunately, when the crystal grows a “finger” to bestow the powers on Pan, it so disgusts the comic relief character he passes out. The crystal then cloaks them all in invisibility. As Pan wakes up, he freaks out, breaking the spell. A struggle ensues and Pan lands, nose-first, on the crystal’s disgusting new digit, giving him super-strength. This, of course, creates the great moment.
Filling with energy, Pan shouts He-Man’s classic phrase (He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe was quite popular even in China, apparently), “I have the power!” This shit is why I love this movie.
Pin-Pin’s mother and several of the attackers of the house engage in a surprisingly epic martial arts battle, the seemingly gentle old housewife overcoming all of them. But then Richard Norton’s Karov shows up, besting her even though she has a weapon. He beats her rather brutally, all the while taunting her that “Women can only deal with their husbands.” But then something amazing happens, and with it, the best line in the film:
[flashvideo filename=videos/CynthiaAppears.wmv.FLV /]
Bet you wanna watch the whole thing now, huh? It’s the combination of that goofy score, the satisfactory moment, and the awesome display of fighting skills that seals the deal for me. This movie is a must-own.
While the Asian cinema market can generally be seen to be on top of things in the Action genre, there are still times when they rip off ideas, wholesale, from Hollywood. The Magic Crystal is one such film. Taking cues from Raiders Of The Lost Ark and E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, we get a young boy bonding with an alien being, globetrotting adventures, and ancient ruins full of bizarre booby traps and hidden messages.
Where this film goes with those ideas, however, I would dare to say actually improves on the formulas from which it is built. Lacking the budget and effects team to reproduce the scale and look of the films that inspired it, The Magic Crystal ups the Action, creating fantastic fight scenes, and using simple but effective cinematography to make the movie look far better than it has any right to be. We get a couple shootouts, a car chase, sword fights, and many epic martial arts battles. This is one of those hard-to-find films actually worth looking for. Popular Hong Kong director, Jing Wong, crafts a movie that’s entertaining on almost every level, from its humor to its Action set pieces.
That being said, it’s cheesy as hell. A talking rock? Really? There are so many sight gags and comic relief it’s almost too much. Almost. I think you’ll find plenty of gags worth laughing at (there is one for instance where a character has his feet and hands switched by the alien being, making for a sight so strange it’s a bit hard not to laugh), and others that work for a while, but wear out their welcome all too soon. And unlike in E.T., I found I couldn’t care less about the kid or his magical rock. This is where the writing is at its most weak (and it’s pretty damn weak). Like I said before, of all the characters, the one most fleshed out is that of the villain. To be fair, Jing Wong isn’t generally known for his thought-provoking scripts. He just makes what he thinks the audiences want. And I just wanted to see some more fights.
Cynthia Rothrock was just starting to make a name for herself at the time of this film’s release, and while it probably wasn’t seen as a huge step forward for her career, I still think it contains some of her best work. Rothrock and Richard Norton had both appeared in Millionaire’s Express, but this time we get much more out of the pair. Her skills with a bowstaff and Eagle Claw Kung Fu are amazing, and Norton is quite the match for her here. Perhaps most surprising is young, soon-to-be-a-star Andy Lau. Having already appeared in a couple of the Lucky Stars films (albeit in minor roles), he was just starting to make a name for himself as well. But his fight scenes contain so much energy and speed (along with plenty of comic relief), he almost gives Jackie Chan a run for his money.
And that’s really it. One part E.T., one part Indiana Jones movie, plenty of slapstick comedy, and a ton of awesome fight scenes. Sure, there are plenty of weird, what-the-fuck moments, but I think that only adds to it’s overall charm. You get aliens, kung fu, ice bullets and Richard Norton. All in one fairly family-friendly bundle. Try and track this one down.
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Even space-rock/alien computers need friends. And Chinese kid’s movies are fucking violent.
[THE AOBG ACTION CHECKLIST]
[X] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[ ] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[X] Crotch Attack
[X] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[ ] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[X] Factory/Warehouse/Castle [ancient caves]
[ ] Giant Explosion(s)
[ ] Heavy Artillery
[X] Improvised Weapon(s) [umbrella]
[ ] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[X] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[ ] Manly Embrace(s)
[ ] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[X] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[ ] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[X] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[ ] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[X] Torture Sequence(s)
[ ] Unnecessary Sequel
[X] Vehicle Chase(s)
[ ] Vigilante Justice
[TOTAL: 12 outta 25]