Youtube Film Club: The Magic Crystal (1986)

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Andy Lau is like the Chow Yun Fat you’ve never heard of – a similarly great actor, one who can comfortably turn his hand to serious drama, Woo-esque gun-fu, knockabout comedy, and is also a fine martial artist. He’s been in “As Tears Go By”, “God Of Gamblers”, “Saviour of the Soul” and perhaps most famously to Western audiences, the “Infernal Affairs” series (which Martin Scorsese remade as “The Departed”) and “House Of Flying Daggers”. He never made the move to the USA, but he’s great and this looks like a fun early film from him.

I think this movie summed up in a paragraph will have you either racing for the door or clearing your schedule for the next few hours, so here goes. The Hong Kong police’s elite group is called “The Hunting Eagles”, which consists of Andy Lau and his sidekick, who I’ll call Comic Relief. They’re called to Greece, so take Andy’s nephew (Comic Relief Jr) for no reason. While there, they kick ass, meet the KGB and two friendly Interpol agents; Comic Relief Jr smuggles a giant green crystal back into the country, which starts talking to him and doing ET-style behaviours. The KGB follow them back to Hong Kong, there are a number of fights, comic scenes and chases, then Comic Relief Jr uses the crystal to blag his way back on a plane to Greece. Everyone follows them there, there’s an Indiana Jones-style chase through a secret cave underneath the Acropolis in Athens, which it turns out was built by an alien 2000 years ago when he crash landed there. Then there’s a big final fight.

A while ago on British TV was a show called “Eurotrash”, which showed weird (usually smutty) clips from the rest of Europe: the gimmick was, rather than subtitling the clips, they’d just substitute their own dubbing with ridiculously inappropriate accents. I think they got their inspiration from this movie – Comic Relief has a weird posh English accent, three or four of the cast sound exactly the same, and best of all is the main KGB guy, played by the Australian Richard Norton. For some unknown but wonderful reason, the filmmakers chose to dub him with an Italian accent and it’s so rubbish that it’s a guaranteed laugh every time he’s on screen.

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Everything about this film is weird, like the most far-out Jackie Chan 80s movie (with the added bonus of not having Jackie’s rampant sexism throughout). They film at the actual Acropolis, and I would bet that there is zero chance of a movie in 2014 being allowed to film there for any amount of money. They mix genres with no regard for if any of it makes sense – from heist thriller to comedy to science fiction to farce to matinee adventure to kung fu – and do it at breakneck pace.

Comic Relief does basically nothing past the first 2 minutes, and that Andy Lau continues to work with him makes me wonder if the actual plot of the movie and the dubbed version are different (for instance, in the dubbed version of the movie, he’s just a friend of the family, but he really ought to be Comic Relief Jr’s dad). Cynthia Rothrock is one of the Interpol agents and is absolutely amazing – while not an actor, her martial arts ability is just off the charts and her multiple fights in different styles with different weapons are a joy to behold, all done at top speed (even if there’s a little film-speeding going on). Lau has a couple of great fights, including the gym scene and the umbrella scene….there are plenty of memorable little characters too, including Andy’s sister and the police captain.

There’s too much comedy in this movie to need so many characters who only exist for laughs, ultimately (although Sexist Comic Relief and what the magic crystal does to him is definitely worth it). Still, it rips along at an insane pace and the big reveal is so off-the-charts weird that I wonder if the filmmakers were told to crowbar in bits from “ET” and “Indiana Jones” but had seen neither so they had to sort of guess. And calling it “The Magic Crystal” is a bit of a swizz- a far more appropriate title would be “The Magic Glowing Green Lump”. It’s just so damned odd!

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Andy Lau is a great leading man, even early in his career like this. I wish he’d made the leap to Western movies, but then I think “could I name a good Jackie Chan movie after he went to the US?” There’s a few, but it’s a tiny handful, and also, seeing how the great Sammo Hung fared, acting in his second language, makes me glad Lau never tried.

Rating: thumbs up

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