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Attack Of The Joyful Goddess
cast: Sheng Chiang, Hsu Chung-fei, Cheung Lee, Chien Sheng-lee, and Feng Lu

director: Cheh Chang

92 minutes (15) 1983
Dragon DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Richard Bowden
Rather amazingly, Attack Of The Joyful Goddess (aka: Attack Of The God Of Joy, or Assault Of The Joyful Goddess) is a late work of veteran and highly regarded director Cheh Chang, responsible for such all-time genre classics as Five Deadly Venoms, Shaolin Temple, and Heroes Two, etc... Partly because of an impeccable pedigree gained during his heyday, there has been a lot of special pleading for the work here by admirers, who have made it out to be one of the more original efforts from the director's closing period, when his interest in the supernatural, or at least that of the local film industry at the time, came to the fore. There's a strong element of Chinese opera in the film too, which is about the travails of a troupe in a small town. The troupe finds themselves at odds with the local commander who has designs on their leading actress, while she, in turn, has her eyes on 'Handsome' Liu, the leading actor.

In order to simplify matters, a plot is hatched to murder the fellow, hopefully giving their commander a clear run while securing the liberty of the rest of the crew. Meanwhile further complications ensue, this time of an otherworldly kind, when a mentally deficient female named Jenny initially puts the Joy Goddess (a spooky doll used as a prop) the wrong way up in its storage box - a sure sign of impending bad luck - and then again later, during Jenny's unexpected abortion operation, when the Goddess reappears in a most disconcerting fashion, followed separately by the spirit of the unhappy Handsome, to wreck revenge. It all ends in messy, disco-lit fight scenes with second rate special effects (burning hoops of fire, dry ice and the like), that is both bizarre and a bit of a shock after the more elegant, convincing and tightly choreographed opera moves on show earlier.

If all this sounds messy, confusing and yes, just a bit silly, then that's because it is. None of it is helped by the DVD, the presentation of which harks back to the bad old days, when the lovers of martial arts movies had to wade through badly dubbed, murky, pan and scanned films which did neither their intelligence, nor the artistry of the original creators any justice, to find some few nuggets of enjoyment outside of camp. I'd go as far as to say that this film with all its faults, was one of the most annoying that I have seen in a long time, its widescreen visuals cropped so distractingly to 4:3, and voiced so insensitively that 55th Chamber, who brought the disc to market, ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Having said that, with some perseverance, there are a still a few things for the viewer to enjoy here... The cheap and ridiculously finale is worth fast forwarding to, although it has to be said in execution it hardly replaces the director's best work elsewhere. The film opens promisingly - and tantalisingly - in the correct ratio, without much intrusive dubbing either, providing what are probably its best scenes this way. It features therein the ritual pulling off of a chicken's head by hand - something I am surprised the eagle eyed UK censor (who has apparently whittled down the chicken shoot at the start of the new special edition of Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, for instance) has let pass without comment. Its a film full of chock-socky stereotypes which may, or may not, be a source of entertainment for those who relish the oft used conventions, such as the bespectacled, pencil thin moustached 'boss' with a fine line in sexual sneering, the simpering heroine, the somewhat gormless, inflexible hero and so on. But then there is also a somewhat surprising, fey female impersonator (stern hero to this doubtful figure: "I've no need for your type!" then "You are like a wondering cloud, this is the Commander's home, not a playground!") as well as Handsome's blunt and unromantic recognition of the troupe's fate "We're just a squalid group playing the trash holes." Finally the poor dubbing and transliteration, as always, brings its own excruciating pleasures, my favourite being the discovery of Jenny's predicament by a matron who exclaims, with outraged and hilarious mystification, to a medical man: "Pregnant! You mean with child? She's an unmarried virgin, how did this happen?" Only to be told, "I'm a doctor - not a detective!"

Ultimately, though, this is a lesser Cheh Chang film, complete with uncharismatic acting, choppy editing and unconvincing story, brought even lower by such poor presentation. Little of the director's characteristic martial vision, including an impressive use of the 'scope frame, inventive clashes and a range of dignified, principal, combatants remain in evidence here. If one is still desperate to see The Joyful Goddess I would suggest, as so often is the case on such occasions, scouring overseas sources instead for alternate editions that may do the original many more favours. As for this present issue, except to die hard followers of Cheh's estimable talents, I would not recommend it at all.

Very basic special features include a UK trailer, further 'exciting releases' from this source and web-links.

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