Director: Wong Jing
Screenplay: Wong Jing
Starring: Andy Lau, Cynthia Rothrock, Natalis Chan, Bin Bin, Wong Jing, Richard Norton, Max Mok Siu-Chung, Sharla Cheung, Phillip Ko, Sek Kin, Bill Shum Wai
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 95 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Wong Jing is a director who’s rarely a hit with critics but has a fair number of commercial smashes to his name as writer, director or producer, including God of Gamblers, Royal Tramp and Young and Dangerous. In his commentaries, Frank Djeng has described Wong as “the Roger Corman of Hong Kong” and I think this is a fair assessment. Like Corman, Wong has boundless energy and has churned out hundreds of titles over the years, with an eye on giving the audience what they want rather than making any personal statements or trying to break new ground. The films often aren’t classy but they’re rarely not entertaining.
Whilst a commercial failure on release, Magic Crystal is a good example of Wong’s style. He wrote, directed and even has an acting role in the film, so his fingerprints are all over it. I must admit, I’m pretty hit-and-miss with Wong Jing’s films (as are most people, it must be said), but Magic Crystal looked like the kind of goofily fun 80s genre-hybrid movie that I enjoy. So, when I heard 88 Films were releasing it on Blu-ray with their usual array of bells and whistles, I got hold of a copy to share my thoughts with you fine people.
The full plot of Magic Crystal is rather complicated (yet paper thin at the same time) and it’s been over a week since I saw it, so I’m just going to sum it up in a nutshell here. Basically, special operative Andy Lo (Andy Lau) is approached by an archaeologist friend, Shum Kwan (Phillip Ko), who has found a strange artefact. He wants Andy to come to Greece to look at it, as well as help him avoid the international spies that are following him.
Andy heads over to Greece with his bumbling assistant Snooker/Pancho (Wong Jing) and nephew Ban-ban (Siu Ban-ban). There, they get caught up in Shum’s troubles, clashing with some mysterious bad guys, as well as a pair of Interpol agents, Cindy Morgan (Cynthia Rothrock) and Billy (Max Mok).
In all the chaos, Andy’s motley crew (now including Kwan’s sister, Winnie Shum, played by Sharla Cheung) end up unknowingly being given the artefact, which turns out to be a large piece of what looks like jade. Ban-ban is the one who finds it and discovers it can communicate with him and has magic powers, most notably the ability to control the actions of weak-minded people.
Whilst Ban-ban has fun with his new friend, particularly making life difficult for Winnie’s wannabe suitor Lo Sai (Natalis Chan), the mysterious foreign spies close in, led by the evil KGB agent Karov (Richard Norton).
Well, I’m glad I gave Magic Crystal a shot, as it’s exactly the kind of wacky, action-packed nonsense I was looking for. As is often the case with Wong Jing’s films, he throws in elements of various popular genres and movies and puts them in a blender with healthy doses of low-brow humour.
One influence I wasn’t quite expecting was that of E.T. The scenes with Ban-ban and his new alien friend (the lump of magic jade) have more than a flavour of Spielberg’s blockbuster. These add a strong sentimental, child-centred side that might explain why the film didn’t perform very well at the box office (all the violence in the film means it’s not really suitable for kids). I found them a little corny but, at the same time, the scenes added an anchoring emotional foundation for the messy storyline and over-crowded cast of characters.
The goofy humour is rather hit-and-miss but when it does hit it had me chuckling away, particularly in some of the more bizarre sequences (the mixed-up body gag is quite a sight to behold). These comedy skits, whilst often veering away from the core narrative, help keep the energy up in the downtime between fights.
That’s not to say the film lacks action though. There’s plenty of martial arts on display throughout and it’s pretty damn good too. This is where the film truly came alive for me. I’m a sucker for weapon combat and there’s quite a lot of that here, on top of some fast, hard-hitting, often acrobatic hand-to-hand fight scenes. Rothrock and Norton show they can hold their own against their Hong Kong counterparts and Andy Lau does an impressive job too, despite only having minimal martial arts training.
It all ends with an Indiana Jones-inspired showdown in a secret cave, complete with one of the shoddiest alien puppets I’ve ever seen.
Overall, Magic Crystal is as mad as a bag of spiders, the plot is as flimsy as tissue paper and the goofy humour threatens to take over in places but, by God, the film is a heap of fun. With a healthy dose of high-octane action and an enjoyable anything-goes attitude, it’s a true Hong Kong action gem.
Magic Crystal is out on 23rd October on region B Blu-Ray, released by 88 Films (pre-order it here – https://88-films.myshopify.com/collections/pre-orders/products/magic-crystal). The transfer is fantastic, with wonderfully rich colours and impressive levels of detail. I’ve used screengrabs throughout this review to give you an idea of how it looks. These have been compressed though.
You get a choice of the original Cantonese mono or an English mono dub. I opted for the former and had no issues with the audio.
– Double Walled Matt Finish O-Ring featuring new artwork by Sean Longmore
– Double-sided foldout poster
– Brand New 2K Restoration in 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio from The Original Negatives
– High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray™ presentation
– Original Cantonese Mono with Newly Translated English Subtitles
– English Mono Dub
– Audio Commentary by Hong Kong Film Expert Frank Djeng
– “Fight Like a Girl” – Cynthia Rothrock on Magic Crystal
– “Fast as Lightning” – Richard Norton on Magic Crystal
– English Trailer
– Reversible cover with new artwork by Sean Longmore and original HK Poster Art
Frank Djeng has some personal stories to add to his usual barrage of facts about the cast and crew behind the film in his commentary. In particular, one of the locations was very familiar to him. It’s a must-listen, as usual.
Rothrock’s interview is only 6 minutes long, but she’s always a pleasure to hear from. She talks about her experiences making the film and others in Hong Kong.
Norton’s interview is longer at 18 minutes. He also talks about the unusual practices of working in the Hong Kong film industry. He talks fondly of Wong Jing, Rothrock and some of his other Magic Crystal cohorts. It’s another fun piece, though he’s honest about how hard the work was.
Overall, 88 Films have delivered another top-notch package for a hugely entertaining Hong Kong classic. Get it on your shopping list now.