Zhan shen [War God] (1976)

(aka Da zai nan, Hong Kong Calamity, The Big Calamity, Guan Gong da zhan wai xing ren, Kuan Yu Battles with the Aliens, and probably a lot more I’ve missed)

There are some films so insane that you can’t NOT watch them.

War God is just about the Platonic ideal of unmissable insane films.

After a series of bizarre weather events like hot rain, multicolored ice and weird gravity reversals, a gang of Martians arrive in their classic Fifties style flying saucer.  They’re mad because our outer space nuclear tests polluted their favorite orbits, and they demand that we destroy all our nuclear weapons…

And, of course, like any self-respecting alien invader, they do this in…Hong Kong?

Seriously?

But fortunately, there’s this group of space scientists, who are apparently renting the leftover lair of one of those groups of sinister aliens in the Toho films, who have created these super laser guns which will cut through almost anything.

Unfortunately, anything but giant Martians.

So it is left to the elderly wood carver to finish his four year labor to create the perfect statue of the Chinese god Kuan Yu, which, if it is sincere enough, will come to life and defeat them.

Now, we’ve already seen Kuan Yu on the poster, so we know this is going to work.  Fortunately this particular god was once the legendary Chinese General, Guan Yunchang, so he knows exactly how to kick giant Martian butt.

Even if they think they can defeat him with their knowledge of Earth Kung Fu.

Wow.  This film is a treasure, jam packed with insane goodness.  One hardly knows how to begin.  It was apparently a Taiwanese film, even if it was shot in Hong Kong (IMDB calls it a co-production, which is one way to solve the problem). Unlike the HK films of the era it is in Mandarin which does sum up the contradictions embodied in this film.  Well, some of them.

For a long time it was believed lost, until someone found a VHS copy with burnt in English and Chinese Subtitles.  Now it is available on Youtube for free, if you can find it.  But this one is a keeper, one of those films one wishes one could find on Home Video, not that that will happen any time soon.

The giant monsters here are, admittedly, pretty threadbare, but the bobbleheaded aliens are way cool and the General looks like he stepped right out of a Chinese opera, complete with wild-eyed face makeup and a magnificent Chinese Pike (although he never actually hits anything with the ornate oversized blade!).  For that matter, he performs like a character in a Chinese Opera, with a lot of wild spinning moves that seem more about magic that actually hitting anything.

The Martians, however, are more like Kaiju Eiga bullies, making fun of their victims, spitting out childish taunts and generally having a good time as they destroy Tokyo…

…I mean Hong Kong.

They look a bit silly — and, let’s face it, they are a bit silly — but darn it, I like these guys.  It is also rather curious, after years of watching Godzilla and the Toho bestiary engaged in what look like Pro Wrestling moves (with a bit of Sumo thrown in) to see giant monster Kung Fu.  Yeah, they can only do it because they aren’t in big latex suits, but it is definitely a neat twist on a familiar sub-genre.  I mean, giant monsters doing elegant chopsockey moves?  it’s like getting two popcorn guilty pleasures in one!

The miniatures are nowhere near as detailed as anything Godzilla ever stomped through, but they actually are surprisingly effective, with an epic amount of destruction, more than you find in most Kaiju Eiga films.  In fact, I can’t remember seeing a model city wrecked with this much enthusiasm before.

I will admit, however, that I love the underlying theme here:  when Man’s science fails, it is our faith in the power of God that will save us.

Or at least, our faith in the giant, Godzilla-sized War God.

Best of all, it’s up on Youtube for free.

If you are one of those from my generation who spent his Saturday afternoons watching all those Classic Toho films and the occasional Universal horror, then you need to see this film.  With friends.  And popcorn.  And lots of snide comments shouted at the screen.

Trust me.  You’ll have fun.

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And check out our new Feature (Updated May 16, 2019):

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