November 6, 2021

War God: The Big Calamity

Est. Reading: 3 minutes

Taiwanese director Hung Min Chen made, what at first glance looks like a low budget kaiju movie, and it is indeed a low budget Kaiju movie but it definitely has pretensions to being something more.

This film opens by cross cutting between two different scenes. There are the scientists in an ultra-futuristic lab who are torturing bees and taking notes, and then there is the old man in his humble studio carving a statue of Kuan Yu (a war god) and talking to his late wife’s ghost. We cut back and forth until one of the scientists goes to visit the old man. The old man turns out to be the scientists father. There, amidst all the traditional and sacred sculptures that the father has carved, the two men engage in spirited exchange. They argue about spirituality and science. They talk about god, and about tradition and about the creative impulse.

Then a bunch of giant fly headed Martians come along and start screwing around with the earth as if they were a bunch of teenage pranksters. They turn gravity off for a while, they make it rain boiling water, they make everything run backwards for a few minutes, they steal some geese for no reason. Its all very random and nonsensical, but people seem to be sufficiently terrorized.

Then we return to our father and son discussion and the father tells the story of Kuan Yu. The film suddenly becomes a stylized Chinese opera with theatrical lighting and shadows. The characters are dressed in beautiful and ornate costumes. I love those little balls on springs that tremble when the actors move. The myth of Kuan Yu finishes and then the film goes back to montaging alien mischief and destruction with the continued debate about science, religion and tradition.

If you put Ishiro Honda and Ingmar Bergman in a blender and strained the slurry so Sergei Eisenstein could take a sip you might get something like this. There is even a scene where the statue of Kuan Yu tumbles down a long stairway.

The Martians grow to Gojira size and begin to wreak havoc on the city. In response the Kuan Yu Staue comes to life and then magically grows to be as big as the martians like some kind of holy Ultraman. They all duke it out amongst the buildings and Kuan Yu smites the martians with his ancient Chinese kung fu.

There are a lot random explosions and bursts of flame for no apparent reason.The giant size fight scenes defy all logic with a disembodied flying head, random lightening, colored smoke and buildings collapsing for no reason, but the scenes are far more interesting than the slow and clunky Gojira movies. The Martians and the Kuan Yu costumes allow the actors to actually fight and jump and spin. The miniature city they fight in is also of better quality than most Kaiju movies even if it defies physics.

The film was ludicrous, as expected, but it mixed in weighty themes and drama which were not expected. In 1976 when this was made many countries in The Far East were struggling to find their way through modernization and tradition. In this film they are invaded by a technologically more advanced alien and find that the only way to save themselves is through tradition.


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