The Merciful Buddha (Review)

The Merciful Buddha

aka A mi de dao

Directed by Tyrone Hsu Tien-Yung

Merciful Buddha is a Taiwanese fantasy film with a lot of crazy effects that aren’t like anything you have seen recently. Unless you are the kind of guy who watches a lot of these films. Crazy fantasy effects, fairy girls, immortal dudes, horses with human heads, giant monkeys, shape changing, earthquakes, and

This is a pretty confusing film with a bunch of wacky, crazy, goofy stuff going on. So the summary is filled with best guesses at times, but unless you are an expert in the film Merciful Buddha you will probably be just as confused as we are. Just my luck and some guy who wrote a doctoral thesis on Merciful Buddha will soon write complaining of the film’s representation on TarsTarkas.NET. Well, screw ’em!

This copy of the film is from a VHS tape (because there is no way this will be on remastered DVD because the world hates people like me.) It is also dubbed into Thai, but it has subtitles! Subtitles that are cut off because the movie is fullscreen while it was filmed in widescreen. And often the subtitles are white on white background so they are even more unreadable. But this is a common complaint, as regular readers and regular watchers of random foreign junk are well aware. Tyrone Hsu Tien-Yung directed several other Taiwanese fantasy films including Golden Nun and The Demons in the Flame Mountain, which I am namedropping because I have copies lying around somewhere.

Master Huang Wan Hsi (Chui Yuk-Sang) – The rich nice guy in town who everyone loves except for Master Wu. But Master Huang is too nice to notice. Father of Ah Mei, who is a Fairy Princess. The subtitles can’t keep how to spell his name straight and it also shows up as Hwang Wun Hsi and Hwang Yuan Wai.
Master Wu Ching (Wong Fei) – Master Wu Ching is the local town rich jerk. Think Mr. Potter. Mr. Burns. Grand Moff Tarkin. Scar. Captain Hook. Little Red Riding Hood. Okay…where was I? Master Wu’s servant is named Ah Ken and his son is Wu Ai. Wu Ai is raised by bandits who kill Master Wu in poetic karma stuff.
Ah Mei (Au-Yeung Ling-Lung) – the daughter of Master Huang who is actually Fairy Princess Hsueh Hua She was dropped off in town for a mission that is never specificed. She might also be Fairy O Mei, but who knows? And since she took over the daughter, Master Huang’s real daughter had to have been murdered. Just think about that! The movie sure didn’t.
Ah To (Kao Yuen) – The son of Master Wu, formally named Wu Ai, who is raised by two criminals who killed his parents, Master Fan and Master Yang Lio Feng. Ah To rejects his evil upbringing and goes good.
Stone Monkey God (a chimp and Man In Suit) – Stone Monkey God guy lived in a mountain and glowed his eyes and stuff until one day he ran off and caused trouble until he was trapped in a bottle and turned into a bear thief and then escaped and went back to live in a mountain. He 420s every day!
Lu Tung Ping (???) – A glowing god guy who is one of the Eight Immortals. He helps Ah Mei and Ah To while keeping Stone Monkey God in line.
Master Yang Lio Feng (Lung Tien-Hsiang) – A criminal who raises Ah To as his own son. Has piles and piles of gold he got thanks to using the Monkey God for theft.
Master Fan (Chin Lung) – Criminal accomplice to Master Yang and co-dad to Ah To. Is this a Taiwanese version of My Two Dads? If Paul Rudd shows up, I quit!

Yangchow temple worships Fairy O Mei, says the monk there. Good to know. What a terrible opening line.

He explains the story: at beginning of world the rock was created out of a volcano. The stone fell by the village that looked like a monkey, so they called their town Stone Monkey Village. The rock monkey head absorbed light and could shine, when it did the village had happy events. But if the monkey’s right eye became red, the village would face disaster. Why would anyone want to live in a town where their luck was controlled by a rock monkey head?

The town has two main rich people, Master Huang Wan Hsi and Master Wu Ching. Master Huang is a good and generous man while Master Wu is a cunning plotter who is not fond of Huang. It’s like Mr. Potter and George Baily.

Good times for Stone Monkey Village as the monkey head flashes, suddenly food is everywhere and gold piles up. The rock monkey head must be a big fan of the bling-bling!

The town sees flying princesses in sky, they are dropping off Princess Hsueh Hua for a mission. I can’t tell what her mission is because the stupid video effects of flashing blocks the subtitles as the fairies explain what is going on. Gah! Then she jumps down to the village. She turns out to be arriving as Master Huang’s newborn daughter, which is sort of odd that they arrive by possessing babies, and even odder that none of the hundreds of people in town who say the flying princesses and the one princess jump to Earth bother to tell Master Huang any of this.

Master Wu and his servant Ah Ken go to paint the monkey’s eye red to frighten everyone because Master Wu is a jerk. While trying to paint the eye it actually glows red, so Master Wu just screwed everyone! Master Wu tries to use this to his advantage, telling Master Huang that the Monkey told him that he was jealous of the fairy now in the village and will cause disasters unless she is gone. Master Huang buys all of this because he is a moron and hasn’t figured out Master Wu is evil despite knowing him for like 40 years, and the narrator telling everyone Master Wu is evil.

Master Huang decides to leave the village to save it. He leaves with his daughter to take her to his sister to raise. As soon as he leaves town, things get even more freaky. The monkey rock statue cries blood, rumbles a bit, and a huge freaking gorilla bursts out of the ground! King Kong, what were you doing hiding in a rock in China? The giant monkey transforms down to a smaller chimp and walks off, but by now there are earthquakes and lightning (drawn in as orange streaks.)

Merciful Buddha

Merciful Buddha

People are panicking because they are upset that they are nowhere near Japan but still have to put up with the same crap. Their village burns down and the population scatters to the wind.

The chimp is just sitting around, he thinks he is free from duty so he can have fun, so he turns into a tiger! Then the tiger chimp attacks some guy. A glowing dude in the sky named Lu Tung Ping commands him not to hurt people, and turns the tiger chimp into two tigers who fight, then turns the rock monkey back into a chimp.

Let’s hop over to an entirely different movie where two guys are arguing. One guy is named Master Fan and the other is Master Yang Lio Feng. They have a magic bottle they are using to try to capture the stone monkey. The bottle will cause any magic spirits nearby to get trapped inside. Before they capture the stone monkey, they first run into some refugees from the destroyed Monkey Rock Village. Said refugees are the evil Master Wu and his family! The two guys kill them by beating them to death, except son Wu Ai, who is taken to be raised by the criminals themselves (the son is now known as Ah To.) Also, the monkey goes in the magic bottle anyway and is trapped. Stupid monkey!

It is now many years later and Master Huang is searching for the monkey to restore Monkey Stone village. Ah To is all grown up and a kung fu master. Master Huang and his grown up daughter (named Ah Mei) arrive while Ah To is doing kung fu practice stretching. They praise his skills, then Ah Mei mentions that a big black bear is killing people at night. Just a normal conversation among strangers. They storm off because he hesitates on the idea of going after the bear, then when he follows them she uses magic to speed up walk so they are always ahead of him.

Master Huang and Ah Mei are insulted at a hotel in town by two guards named Ban Chin and Pa Liang, and Ah Mei figures out she can make the insulters hit each other by saying so. After she does that a while she wants to see their master, and it turns out their master is Ah To. Ah Mei and Master Huang agree to stay at Ah To’s place after a bit conversation.

At night, we see a scrawny as heck black (or Kodiak?) bear in the city. Someone give this bear a pic-a-nic basket! The bear sneaks into lady’s room, where she thinks it is her husband at first (what the heck, Taiwan!), then is finally scared, then uses her underwear (because women’s underwear can repel spirits) and the underwear turns the bear into a tiny statue. Until she takes the underwear off and the bear turns back. D’oh!

If you see one movie in your life where a women uses her underwear turns a bear into a statue…

The lady gives the bear a big bag of gold (which then turns into a tiny bag so the bear can pick it up in its mouth–very convenient!) Ah Mei and Ah To have been sneaking around that night and follow the bear. The bear goes back to Ah To’s house, because he is working for Ah To’s father Master Fan. Master Fan uses the bear to rob, but the bear just wants to be free! Emancipation Bearimation! But Master Fan says no because the bear hasn’t brought enough stuff, and threatens to send him to hell (he holds a bear statue over fake graphic flames.)

Master Fan sends the bear out with a note, because this was before telegrams were invented. Master Fan almost spots Ah Mei and Ah To outside spying on him. Ah To distracts Master Fan while Ah Mei looks around his place to find out what the heck. She destroys the bear statue in the fire and then runs off, leaving behind a hairpin because women always leave behind incredibly obvious clues when sneaking around houses of evil dudes. I can’t wait until I see a movie where a woman leaves behind a dirty tampon, because I know that exists somewhere. The same woman will break her heel when running from the killer and fall, only to be rescued by the guy who never falls down or leaves behind obvious clues. The bear is hit by lightning repeatedly and turns back into a monkey (as a crowd watches) but is recaptured by Master Fan. Now we know who the bear is.

Master Fan and other bad dude know that Ah Mei did stuff, so they will have a dinner party to honor her and her dad. I am assuming a deadly dinner party because they speak of it very ominously and evilly. The baddies immediately give away they have her hairpin and she squirms. Ah Mei uses her magic to get the hairpin back while replacing the one they have with a fake.

The next day there is a musical interlude with singing, but it is also dubbed in Thai, except the dubber just says the sentence in the middle of the long sentence being sang, so it comes off really weird. American dubbers aren’t the only lazy dubbers in the world! Ah Mei and Ah To run into Lu Tung Ping fishing. Ah Mei is told by Ah To that Lu Tung Ping is one of the Eight Immortals. Lu Tung Ping appears and disappears all around them for a bit. He helps distract guards as the two investigate Master Yang and find stolen stuff. Lu Tung Ping’s hands continue to grab Master Yang and move his head around, at one point his head is on backwards. Lu Tung Ping also causes gold to fly in the air, and Master Yang figures out there is a thief and calls the guards.

Ah Mei and Ah To take the gold and distribute it to the poor. One of the women turns out to be Ah Mei’s mother, who is sick, they don’t know it is each other. When Ah Mei is asked by the baddies how long she will be staying in their hotel, say until she finds her missing mom. Oh, and now Monkey Statue village is Shi Hou village or whatever. Way to rename the village 2/3rds of the way in the film for no reason!

Master Yang realizes they know who the missing wife is, and that she knows they killed Ah To’s parents because she saw them do it. They send their two guards to go to cut her in half. They do so thanks to an optical effect, with zero blood! The lady is so old her blood has turned solid. Then Lu Tung Ping puts her back together, so no mess, no fuss! She wakes up and runs.

Ah Mei is playing her father in Go, the ancient Chinese game. Which since this is ancient China, means it is the modern local game. Ah Mei freaks out and starts yelling to no one “Don’t kill my mom!” and sends out waves of energy. Ah To runs and a fake bird tells him to go save the mom and he does. Ah Mei’s mom tells Ah To that his parents were killed by Master Yang, he is shocked and doesn’t believe her.

They will trick Master Yang with a promise of a monster with human head and horse body that can tell the future. This is meant just to be a trick to confront Master Yang, but they get help from Lu Tung Ping who actually creates a human-headed horse who spills the beans on Master Yang being evil and killing Ah To’s parents. This leads to a fight with Master Yang and Master Fan beating up on Ah To while Ah Mei just looks on worried.

Lu Tung Ping helps out Ah To, even lets Ah To fly into pieces when hit to lessen the blows (and has him get put back together.) Ah To gets iron tough, so Master Fan and Master Yang run. And run. They end up in a monastery with a bunch of monks, and beg the head monk to help them. He knows they are bad news, but let’s them buy protection with charity work.

Ah Mei objects they are cheaters, so they pray that if they don’t do the work may they be killed by hundreds of sparrows (thinking hundreds of sparrows will never flock together to kill anyone.) The two go home with no intention to help, but next day at the food bank Lu Tung Ping is manning the food basket and the rice never seems to end, because it is getting replenished with rice from Brother Yang’s storeroom! And all his money is flying out the window as well.

Master Fan tries to escape with half of the treasure, but is caught by Master Yang, and soon the two are fighting. Master Yang kills Master Fan, but then a bunch of sparrows drawn on paintings behind him come to life and attack! He’s killed. This is the first time I’ve seen someone killed by drawings of sparrows.

The monkey in the bottle is released as well, he goes back to sleep in the mountain and the village is restored. Ah Mei takes her mom back, I am guessing at some point she figures out it is her mom even though it never happened in the movie, also a bridge comes down from heaven (shown as a yellow rainbow) that takes her and her mom back faster, restores Ah Mei to Fairy mode, and also gets Ah To and her dad on the bridge, then everyone in town waves. The end!

Wait, what kind of ending is that? Everyone just gets on a rainbow and waves?

Rated 5/10 (Opening monk, robbed lady, obvious clue, Go!, Monk who lets bad guys go free)

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Written by Tars Tarkas

Tars Tarkas

Runs this joint!