Mankind's taste for injustice and degradation has reached such a peak that one of the Gates of Hell pops open in Nepal and releases Ashura (Gloria Yip) the Hell Virgin, and the witch Raga (Pauline Wong), a sort of Hell Nanny. Under Raga's guidance, Ashura is to open the other three gates, and bring about the resurrection of Hell King that he may rule the world in darkness. Luckily for humanity, there are two young men who were born "in Yang time" - at the exact hour, day, month and year to enable them to fight this unholy trinity. Separated while young, these two - the worldly Peacock (Yuen Biao) and the rather more monkish Lucky Fruit (Hiroshi Makami) - must overcome their different upbringings and work together to save the world.
Complicating their task is an evil monk named Kubira (Master Killer's Gordon Liu) and his band of assassins, who have spent the last twenty years trying to track down and kill Peacock and Lucky Fruit before they can fulfill their destiny; and the fact that Peacock finds that, away from the influence of the witch Raga, Ashura is simply an innocent young girl who'd rather eat ice cream than destroy the world.
Peacock King is fairly high-octane Hong Kong fantasy, exhibiting a good blend of quality special effects, acting and stunt work. Unfortunately, however, the second half of the movie settles down to more or less typical HK kung fu dramatics until the Hell King puts in an appearance in his Giger-esque castle. It's not that the film becomes a complete dog in the last half, but the first half bristles with so much creativity - stop motion gremlins visible only to the Yang Boys, dinosaur exhibits coming to life, Raga turning into a monster clearly inspired by Rob Bottin's work on The Thing - it's almost inevitable that saving the world becomes something of a let-down.
It's still head and shoulders above anything similar attempted by Hollywood (yes, Arnold, I'm looking at you), in terms of fun and customer satisfaction, however.
The print is generally in fine shape, but shows some wear and tear in the form of occasional speckling and scratching; the transfer is wildly uneven, with artifacting and grain showing up in several of the darker scenes. Sound-wise, the Cantonese track seems to have a deeper soundscape, but neither track makes good use of its supposed 5.1 Dolby mix (though I have to say the Dolby logo intros on every Asian disc I've had the pleasure to review are simply breathtaking). Unlike some of the more recent HK discs, the English subtitles haven't been gussied up, but still feature the same fractured language evident on the former laserdisc pressing of this film.
There are bios for Yuen Biao and Gloria Yip - one page each, with only slighter better English than the subtitles; and non-subtitled trailers for Peacock King and its sequel, Saga of the Phoenix, and two other Yuen Biao slugfests - The Iceman Cometh, and Righting Wrongs, in which he is rather upstaged by Cynthia Rothrock.
Dr. Freex, 9/25/00