The Ginseng King
aka 三頭魔王 aka Three-Head Monster
Written by Chu Yue-Lam and Kwok Cheun-Ming
Directed by Wang Chu-Chin
It’s Taiwanese Kaiju Time again! Today’s installment features the fantastical flick The Ginseng King, the story of a kid and an old ginseng guy, and all the freaky deaky stuff they encounter along the way. Many of which are giant monsters that look like they’re made out of roots and tubers. This is one of the least annoying kids in Taiwanese cinema, probably due to the fact he doesn’t whine all the time nor flying around like a crazy person, he’s just a kid trapped in a world gone to crazytown.
The Ginseng King seems mostly a children’s film, though it does feature a bit of disturbing imagery, and some naked woman behind! So it’s perfect for kids! Ginseng King is a mishmash of influences, and manages to come out with something new and strange. It’s also pretty entertaining, with nary a boring part, and a constant influx of new fantasy creations to see. The shame is it is so hard to get a good copy of The Ginseng King.
Hsiaoming is out gathering herbs for his sick mom when he spots a wiggling and hopping wild ginseng that’s obviously a puppet. As a factual note, to catch the ginseng, you bury a red string and it snags the ginseng and then you follow the ginseng to its home via the string. This is the actual technique to catch wild ginseng, I did not make it up. At the end of this red string is just a stick, because the ginseng punk’d Hsiaoming, and then mocks him and calls him names. Normally, when you are outsmarted by a vegetable and then insulted, maybe you should look inside yourself a bit. Unless your Hsiaoming, which means you make more failed attempts to grab the ginseng that result in you getting bitten by a cobra.
Luckily for Hsiaoming the Bitten, he’s saved by 1000 Year Old Ginseng. Mr. 1000 here has problems of his own, he’s being chased by a bunch of guys in black cloaks and bad Halloween masks, each brandishing a different weapon (scythe, axe, giant machete, whatever was on clearance at the costume store.) They’re lead by Princess Hsiaoli, who attempts to trick Mr. 1000 by pretending to be a frightened girl, but she spoils her trick when she tries to molest him. She’s the leader of the group sent to find the 1000 Year Old Ginseng, and tells the pack of Emperor Palpatines what to do.
Their attempts to grab Mr. 1000 cause a small bit of him to fall off, which lands on a grave. The grave explodes and out hops the inhabitant as a hopping vampire! And he’s a Nazi! Because…Nazis! The Nazi Vampire attacks Hsiaoming’s house and his sick mom. Even the Old Monk on the Mountain (who looks about maybe 32) Hsiaoming gets is helpless against the Nazi Vampire, and mom is drained (but not dead.) The funny part here is the Nazi seeing the swastika symbol on the monk’s bag and randomly saluting. Eventually, 1000 Year Old Ginseng comes in and saves Hsiaoming by leading the Nazi Vampire into a minefield, where he’s blown up.
1000 Year Old Ginseng is then captured by Princess Hsaioli and her gang, so the tiny ginseng from earlier in the film tells Hsiaoming to go fine Grandpa Earthgod for help. If you think by the name Grandpa Earthgod will be a crazy old man, you are correct and win a free magic ginseng. Assuming I can catch one, all the ends of my red strings are just rocks and sticks…
Grandpa Earthgod has a book called The Complete Treasure that can answer any question ever, and it says to get two guys, Magic Eyes and Magic Ears, to have them find Mr. 1000. I think the answer to most of the book’s questions are “Go ask someone else!” The Goddess of Mercy insults Grandpa Earthgod and he agrees to go along with Hsiaoming on his quest.
To call out the guys you need to hopscotch across the 7 Star Rocks. We all know how that works, so I won’t explain how that after you do that, you fall down the inside of the last rock and meet Magic Eyes and Magic Ears. The two look like they are living potatoes, giant sized and not at all similar to their appearance in The Legend of Mother Goddess or the statues I’ve seen With-the-Wind Ear/順風耳/Shunfeng Er and Thousand Miles Eye/千里眼/Qianli Yan. The brothers spy Egypt, Africa, American Indians, a chick skinny dipping (wha??) and Magic Eyes acts all confused each time until Magic Ears slaps him. Abusive morons, how charming! Eventually they report that the baddies have taken 1000 Year Old Ginseng to Devil Mountain 6660 miles away, where the Three-Headed Demon King lives. The two brothers give them a remote transmitter that will allow taking to Magic Eyes and Magic Ears from far away.
They also learn that Longlegs 7 will take them there via basket, he’s a giant tall guy. Why he’s Longlegs 7 and not just Longlegs will be a question for the ages. After they’re dropped off and enter a cave, Hsiaoming and Grandpa Earthgod hear laughter. It’s a crazy old lady chained up in a room, she looks like a cross between the Mac Tonight Moon Man and the old lady form of the witch from Snow White. She claims to be the real queen, but as she’s laughing like a maniac so they ignore her, but they follow her directions through the cave and climb up a cliff to a door, passing by the guards who are too busy beating each other up over cheating at dominoes to notice.
They break into the cell that 1000 Year Old Ginseng is in, but that sets off alarms and they’re captured.
Three-headed Demon King kills the arguing guards with his blue eyebeams in a scene designed to show how evil he is, and the rest of the cloaked guys worship him.
Princess Hsiaoli tries to let the two captives go, but Hsaioming doesn’t trust her and attacks, she tosses him aside and then feels guilty that he is hurt. It’s enough to earn trust for escape. There is a running chase through the caves as the three are attacked again and again by the army of cloaked goons, who need to kill the Princess before she teams up with her mom.
Eventually the Princess kills enough goons that Three-Headed Demon King has to show up himself to yell at her and blast eye beams. My favorite part of this whole fighting and chasing sequence is that everyone is vocally outraged that she doesn’t immediately surrender to them, despite the fact she easily defeats them all time and time again (except for Three-Headed Demon King, the only guy who is justified in being outraged as she runs away.)
Princess Hsiaoli and Hsiaoming escape as Grandpa Earthgod is captured, later she tells Hsiaoming how capturing the 1000 Year Old Ginseng was the only way to save her mom from being killed. She also tells the legend of the 2-headed bird, where one head ate something delicious, the other head got mad and ate poison and they both died. Princess declares the Three-Headed Demon King must be killed the same way, using the heads against each other. Keep this in mind, because it DOESN’T HAPPEN! Yes, this was all a colossal bunch of filler!
The two use the transmitter to find out where the key to unlock the crazy Former Queen is. Magic Eyes and Magic Ears tell them the key is in the Crystal Cave. But it’s locked in a safe, though they transmit them the combination. And the save explodes if you open it! This is officially the weirdest secure safe ever.
The Queen’s still crazy, by the way, even though she’s freed. She gets the Cold Ice Sword, which has been in ice 10000 years, the only thing that can kill the Demon King. It’s a giant Thundercats Sword!!! And it glows in the dark, making it like a lightsaber! And when you slice it waves of cold energy slash through people! This is the coolest sword ever!
But it’s also the latest sword ever, as 1000 Year Old Ginseng gets his head lopped off(!?!), while the Queen and Demon King battle it out in a battle of blue energy blasts flying back and forth. The Three-Headed Demon King manages to escape quickly and eat part of the 1000 Year Old Ginseng (The scene features body parts of Mr. 1000 ghoulishly hanging up on hooks like it was a butcher shop!)
The Queen chops off all three heads of Demon King….but she was punk’d! It was fake heads and the real Demon King attacks! That’s to his new-found ginseng powers, he beats mom and takes the Cold Ice Sword, attacking Princess and Hsiaoming.
Hsiaoming finds the head of Mr. 1000, who says he took poison before the Three-Headed Demon King ate him, so the Demon King will die as well. He’s bitter about life, because he just makes people greedy. And he left a whisker for Hsiaoming’s mom, but Mr. 1000 dies before he can say where it is.
Princess Hsiaoli goes to fight the Demon King, the poison already making the Demon King weak. She picks up the dropped Cold Ice Sword and the battle is on. Two heads are lopped off, but the third head manages to get some blasts back at her, and both of them die.
Fight fight fight!
We end with Grandpa Earthgod showing he has the ginseng whisker Mr. 1000 left Hsiaoming as we soon as he’s untied. It’s a happy ending, though we don’t get to see how they get home and save mom, as the film ends right there on a shot of the 1000 Year Old Ginseng’s head, an ending both bitter and sweet.
Rated 8/10 (magic mushroom, not so magic cobra, Mother Goddess, Sphinx, Devil’s Tower, magic transmitter, two-headed bird, dominoes!!!)
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