The Zodiac Fighters

The Zodiac Fighters

aka 十二生南 aka Dragon Zombies Return aka Shi er sheng nan

Directed by Hau Chang

Zodiac Fighters
50 Shades of Grey wishes it was this daring!

Polly Shang Kuan Ling-Feng began her career In 1966 with the United Film Corporation, and was quickly and began studying martial arts. When director King Hu needed a new starlet for 1966’s Dragon Gate Inn (one of the films that helped usher in the modern wuxia films) with Cheng Pei-Pei still under contract at Shaw, Polly was his choice. Polly played a female swordmaster disguised as a man, a role she would be accustom to playing. Often it is hard to figure out what gender Polly is supposed to be in many of her films! 18 Bronzemen, probably her most famous role in the west besides Dragon Gate Inn, also sees her disguised as a man. In 1973’s Back Alley Princess, she was a woman who spent the entire film playing a man, and won the Golden Horse award for Best Actress. 1978’s Little Hero saw her playing a man, and 1977’s Fight for Survival saw her playing a woman who started to become a man thanks to some kung fu, causing her to need to learn a different kung fun style to revert back.

Zodiac Fighters
I have to stay in this cave for a year? But there’s no bathroom, there’s not even a corner!

In some of her earlier roles such as A Grand Passion, The Bravest Revenge, and A Girl Fighter, Polly was regularly cast as a female out to avenge her murdered father. If you stacked the bodies of all of Polly’s murdered fathers in her older films, you could climb to the moon and probably kill her moon father, causing her to seek moon revenge, which wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary by her later films. By the late 1970s, Polly was making some of the most awesome films to come out of Taiwan. Most of these were weird variations of martial arts films packed with comedic tones and funny situations. You don’t watch these films to see expertly performed Eagle Style, you watch it to see wacky costumes, ridiculous fights, and insane situations.

Unlike many of her contemporaries, Polly did not have Peking Opera training, but according to the one biography online that has been copy/pasta’ed everywhere, Polly eventually got black belts in taekwando, karate, and judo. I will point out that none of those are Chinese martial arts. Polly left film in the 1980s and moved to the US. Rumor is she runs a restaurant in LA, but no one has said which restaurant! Polly could be serving you catfish in black bean sauce right now! Or even denying you the ability to sit at your table until the rest of your party arrives… She has appeared occasionally in enough interviews that you can see pictures of her now if you so desire to Google it.

Zodiac Fighters
It’s time for Popeye Style Kung Fu!

So this all brings us to Zodiac Fighters, a film where we have people dressed up as the various Chinese Zodiac animals running around doing kung fu styles in the manner of the animal they are dressed up as. We have a few extra bad guys with different animal suits who show up near the end, and a sequence involving rubber sharks that you have to see to believe. Zodiac Fighters is crazy and freaking awesome, a great martial comedy. Unfortunately, it is also hard as heck to get a hold of. I had to bribe a guy dressed like a moose. Or maybe he was a moose. In any event, I now have a copy, and some moose has a bunch of caramel corn.

I’d like to tell you I did all this research and identified all the random actors, but that would be a lie. I just did what the few of us who watch these films do and went to the source, this Cast Photos Page that is used by every reference source out there, even the HKMDB! So now you know the terrible secret of all us obscure movie bloggers.

Zodiac Fighters is so beloved among cult world cinema fans that it was even featured as one of the Polly Shang Kuan films we talked about in an Infernal Brains Podcast! There is even an even harder to find sequel, called either Zodiac Fighters 2 or War of the Zodiacs depending who whoever wrote the cover of the bootleg with a Sharpie. It does not feature Polly Shang Kuan, but does feature most of the animal actors, little people in dog costumes, and the giant octopuses seen in Little Hero. War of the Zodiacs should probably be called War of the Props Left Over From Other Films.

Zodiac Fighters
The Secret Society of People Dressed as Animals Who Aren’t Furries is ready for battle!

I promise I won’t start quoting lyrics from Talk to the Animals or start wondering what would happen if we could walk with the animals, or possibly even grunt and squeak and squawk with the animals. Because that would just be easy and predictable, and we aspire to a higher standard of lame jokes at TarsTarkas.NET!

Zodiac Fighters
I’m the biggest Shark Week fan in the world!

East Sea Dragon/Polly (Polly Shang Kuan Ling-Feng) – A professional mourner who becomes mixed up in intrigue and thus spends a year learning Dragon Kung Fu in a magic cave, thus then becoming East Sea Dragon. She must then track down the other 11 zodiac sign fighters from the cave and defeat the evil Tiger Shark, because, he’s evil!
Heartbreak Girl (Yee Hung) – Manipulative lass who uses wide-eyed do-gooders to fight for her family’s honor. Despite breaking so many hearts it earned her a new name, she still uses people like East Sea Dragon to do her bidding.
Tiger Shark (Lo Lieh) – Evil jerk with a seafood evil theme, he’s like if a Long John Silvers restaurant came to life and was bad to the bone. The fishbone. Has shark weapons, goons dressed as crabs, the whole nine yards.
Pan Sing (Ngok Yeung) – Good scholar/fortune teller who East Sea Dragon runs into along the way in her quest to take down Tiger Shark. He joins on along with Polly’s old mourning buddies because they got nothing else going on. He will use his brain to figure out things that the audience figured out much earlier in the film. Ngok Yeung shows up in Dwarf Sorcerer and The Legend of Mother Goddess.
The Five Elements (various) – Besides the sea-themed goons, Tiger Shark also employs these five guys based on the five elements – Fire, Wood, Water, Air, and Gold. They are very colorful and have very complex fight moves, but are easily fooled (you might say they are lead by….FOOL’S GOLD!)

The Other 11 Zodiackers:

Rooster (Weng Hsiao-Hu) – The first of the crew they located, Rooster is off crowing in a field and helps East Sea Dragon locate the rest of the signs.
Rat (???) – This Rat guy has the power of digging tunnels and biting people with his rat teeth!
Ox (???) – Ox has the power of the Ox, which is not impressive enough that I noticed what it was. Maybe it was the power of being bought for the game Oregon Express!
Rabbit (???) – Probably the most memorable costume, we got a chick fighting in a fluffy bunny rabbit outfit. And she has a carrot-shaped flute that she plays during musical numbers. Rabbit also has the power of riding toy sharks, which comes in handy during the final battle, believe it or not!
Snake (Wu Feng-Hsien) – Snake is an entertainer at heart and also a fan of walking like an Egyptian, from the looks of her dance moves.
Horse (Gam Sai-Yuk) – Horse has all the power of the Horse, and can even talk like famed horse Mr. Ed.
Ram (???) – Ram enjoys fighting other members of the zodiac crew, because they all love to fight each other all the time. Some real anger management issues going on in this crew.
Monkey (Wang Tai-Lang) – Another entertainer, he uses his monkey skills to earn money as a street performer before being drafted into the ranks of the Zodiackers! Wang Tai-Lang specialized in playing characters named Monkey. Yeah.
Dog (Lee Keung) – When your special powers are biting people on the ankles and peeing on them, maybe you need some new special powers. Just saying. His weakness is rolled-up newspaper!
Pig (Cheng Fu-Hung) – We can’t have a pig zodiac without him looking vaguely like Zhu Bajie from Journey to the West. Cheng Fu-Hung is also in Island Warriors, Fight for Survival, and Fantasy Mission Force.
Tiger (Sek Fung) – Tiger has the most human zodiac costume of them all, and seems like a leader even though he’s subserviant to East Sea Dragon.
Zodiac Fighters
Something’s happening here. What it is, ain’t exactly clear…

Zodiac Fighters
The reboot of Billy Jack changed some things, but was still too long and too boring.

Polly is a professional mourner, meaning she hangs around a place where people goes to die and weeps along with the family for a few coins. She actually heads a crew of two other guys who do this for a living. One encounter with a deaf guy who is obviously not there to mourn and some random music playing that kills birds (and almost Polly as well!) leads to Polly finding a cave with a skeleton and a giant treasure chest in it.

Because Polly is awesome, she decides to bury the skeleton first so his spirit will be rested. But it is all a trick, as she finds a box buried in the ground that contains the true treasure, the treasure chest being a trap (that also killed the deaf guy!) The box contains a note thanking her for being awesome and a quest for her to track down the Heartbreak Girl to tell her that guy died alone and miserable. Polly is given the Heartbreak Sword to do this task. If this was a video game, she’d get an “Achievement Unlocked” notice and a “Quest Accepted” notice. She’d also have to do run out of the cave as it starts collapsing like all evil bosses bases do at the end of video games. Even though it isn’t an evil boss base. Oh, well.

On her way, Polly is knocked into the water by a rude guy named Chang Gu, who is a servant of the Heartbreak Girl and then puts Polly on a magic healing jade stone under a waterfall for a few hours (we are told the rock is over a million years old – we are NOT told how they know that!) and then brought before the Heartbreak Girl. Heartbreak Girl and her servant girl Sau Yoon manage to convince Polly to learn kung fu so she can take down the evil warlord Tiger Shark who has taken over the land Heartbreak Girl’s family used to own. Yes, use the naive young girl to further the ends of a disposed elite class of hereditary title holders. I mean, let’s do this for the Princess!

Zodiac Fighters
I hope you enjoyed my YouTube Makeup Tutorial!
Zodiac Fighters
Quick! Get across before that Monkey style kung fu guy shakes the stick!

The magic kung fu cave has twelve smaller caves in it, each one a different Chinese Zodiac animal sign (reviewed earlier in the review.) All the caves have been broken into and the knowledge stolen except the Dragon Cave, thus we know where Polly is going. The cold, wet Dragon Cave. For a year.

Enter some dudes named The Five Elements – each dressed in a different primary color outfit complementing their chosen element – Fire, Water, Earth, Wind, Metal – complete with those huge wicker hats that cover the faces. They have come for the Heartbreak Girl to take her back to their master Tiger Shark. Heartbreak Girl and Sau Yoon suicide off a cliff rather than go with them.

So the year is up and in that time Polly somehow now has a dragon-themed kung fu costume and dragon tattoos all up and down her arms and shoulders. Polly finds a riddle message left by Heartbreak Girl that goes on about how 12 can beat 5. Polly then goes on a quest to find the Five Elements, along the way running into her old mourner crew – Ching Fu and Ming Yeh – who follow her as the mourning place has closed down. People used to be dying to get in there, and now they’re dying to get out!

Zodiac Fighters
A giant stone cock.
Zodiac Fighters
This rock was all smug before the lung cancer showed up…

Polly also picks up a fortune teller character named Pan Sing who is smart enough to stick around because it beats the abandoned town. Polly fights the Five Elements, but their powers over the elements are too much of a match for her, even though their powers are just normal kung fu swordfighting. Pan Sing comes up with a plan using the mourners to scare off the Five Elements using a kung fu move known as The Mounted Three. Luckily it does scare them off, as Pan Sing has no idea how to execute the famous move, just how to look like he is doing it.

Pan Sing figures out that they need the power of the other 11 Zodiac animals, and since Dragon is the leader Polly can order them to fight…if she can find them! Luckily, the Cock is loud enough that they can track him down to a farm with hundreds of chicken, leading to much chicken chasing fun. But since Cock is a guy dressed up as a rooster, the chicken chasing sequence was just filler.

To lure Cock down, Polly must shake her booty and act like a chicken. This is actually happening in a movie, folks! She must fight him to get him to listen. Okay, I’m gonna let you come up with your own jokes for this part.

Zodiac Fighters
That’s not how you do Gangnam style!
Zodiac Fighters
My Dragon style kung fu is so powerful I spontaneously gained tattoos!

Cock agrees to round up the other animals, and the team goes to a restaurant to await their arrival. Polly gets into an argument at a restaurant by calling everyone and everything there awful, the owner agrees because everyone there is awful, people just lie to her. Polly later sees the owner speaking with the Five Elements. She’s trying to convince Tiger Shark that Heartbreak Girl is dead and she should be with him instead.

Meanwhile the animal crew starts to arrive in groups of three. We got lots of people showing up dressed like a Dollar Store Halloween, and soon they all start fighting with each other as the animals don’t get along. Just so you know, the Dog’s special power is to pee. Polly stops them by dragon roaring at them.

Tiger, Snake, Rabbit, and Monkey are missing because they are off doing an entertainment show. They jam out some tunes a bit before Polly grabs them, by now the rest of the animals are fighting the Five Elements on the beach. Everyone joins in and we have a 12 vs 5 fight, which is totally fair. Fair enough to kill the Five Elements!

Zodiac Fighters
Dang it, Tiger Shark, you spent $100K on that Shark Pagoda but won’t take me out for sushi ever! We’re through!
Zodiac Fighters
Sea World will never know I stole their merry-go-round!

Tiger Shark has arrived in town on his shark-lined giant carry-vehicle/litter/jiao/palanquin/whatever your culture calls it, with a few troops dressed as crabs (but not enough of the troops, sadly…) He also has the Heartbreak Girl and her servent with him, who aren’t dead. Tiger Shark kills the innkeeper lady who was plotting against him.

Zodiac attack! The zoo crew heads to fight Tiger Shark. They beat up the guards, but Tiger Shark’s vehicle has sharks that fire jaws on ropes out to chomp on all the animals.

Dragon knifes down all those jaws…but then Tiger Shark presses a button and rubber sharks are fired from the vehicle, chasing down the heroes and causing them much trouble. If you watch one movie where people dressed as animals run in terror from rubber sharks, this is the movie you need to watch! Not those other people-animal-rubber-shark films.

Zodiac Fighters
Behold the power of Cheer with ColorGuard to keep our clothes clean in this mud!
Zodiac Fighters
These rejected KISS backup singers are ready to join out squad!

Eventually the rubber sharks are all defeated as rubber sharks eventually are, and everyone attacks Tiger Shark. The animals all bite Tiger Shark, who at this point is now a weak yellow-haired guy in ragged white robes that are tore up and half-red. He attempts to escape in the sea and is just pulled out by the animals. At this point he is also foaming at the mouth, then he dies. They leave him in the surf.

Amazingly, the film doesn’t end instantly, but sort of teeters on for another minute or so before it just ends. So I guess we have a bit of conclusion, but not much.

Zodiac Fighters
It’s a carrot-shaped flute, pervs!
Zodiac Fighters
Hey, why doesn’t Tiger Shark have a shark-themed costume???

Rated 7/10 (treasure, snake, ballet fu, these jaws don’t jabber, left turn at Albuquerque, ever see a dude bodyslam a shark?, ever see a swarm of sharks fly up and attack a dude?)

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Zodiac Fighters
Special guest villain Clawful from Masters of the Universe!
Zodiac Fighters
Hey, guys, who wants to watch Jabberjaw???

Zodiac Fighters
Zodiac Fighters

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