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War God

Original Title: Zhan Shen   a.k.a. The Big Calamity (Da Zai Nan)
Year: 1976   Company: Xinghua Pictures / Prince Pictures   Country: Taiwan   Runtime: 85′
Director: Chan Hung-Man   Writer: Lam Ching-Gaai   Cinematography: Lai Man-Sing, Lam Chi-Wing, Wong Shui-Cheung    Music: Wong Mau-Saan   Cast: Gu Ming-Lun, Tse Ling-Ling, Cindy Tang Hsin, Chan Yau-San   Choreography: Ho Ming-Hiu    Special Effects: Koichi Takano   Producer: Fu Ching-Wa

Poster for War God under its alternative Chinese title The Big Calamity

Pre-review note: English sources on the cast and crew of this film are practically non-existent, and the information above was gleaned from a combination of a meager HKMDB listing and a Chinese Wikipedia entry.  Accuracy is not guaranteed.

War God, alternatively known online under the unofficial titles Calamity and Guan Yu vs. the Aliens, was once among the rarest of the rare in Taiwanese fantasy, stuff the likes of which we Westerners could only ever dream of seeing in the flesh.  Like Poon Lui’s Devil Fighter and Yu Hon-Cheung’s Monster From the Sea, War God was until recently thought of as un-seeable, with only a handful of advertising images and contemporary newspaper articles arguing for its existence at all.

One can imagine my surprise, then, when a hard-subtitled rental VHS copy of War God found its way into torrent circulation, and the film once thought unobtainable practically fell into my lap!  The future is a wonderful place, my dear readers, a wonderful place indeed.

From what I’ve been able to gather from contemporary news articles recently republished online, War God was actually a rather grand undertaking, and thought of by producer Fu Ching-Wa as a sort of Taiwanese answer to Hollywood blockbusters like Jaws, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno.  Of course War God turned out to be nothing at all like those Western contemporaries, and has more in common with the spate of men-in-suit fantasies that had preceded it.  The inspiration here likely had more to do with the similarly obscure Taiwanese / Japanese / Thai co-production Mars Men than anything else.  That film also features a spaceship full of obnoxious aliens who torment the earth and are summarily routed by a mythological figure, giving it a definite substantive connection to War God.

Though Mars Men relied heavily on stock footage from the Tsuburaya television series Jumborg Ace and supplemental effects produced at Sampote Sangduenchai’s much-maligned Chaiyo Studios (Sangduenchai would later produce his own dreadful version of the film, familiarly known as Giant and Jumbourg Ace) with Taiwan responsible only for the drama, the film was evidently a big money-maker there – a fact not lost on its producer Ching-Wa.  In 1976 he would gather together a good deal of the crew of Mars Men (including director Chan Hung-Man and photographer Lam Chi-Wing) and an accomplished Japanese effects director (Koichi Takano, who had earlier worked on Monster From the Sea and Tsu Hong Wu) for the purpose of creating his own Tokusatsu spectacular.  The result is more fun than anything that ever plopped forth from the foul depths of Chaiyo (now best known for defrauding Tsuburaya Productions and claiming ownership of Ultraman), and that’s well-deserving of being more popular than it is.

  
  
  

War God centers around a fractured family – a successful space-scientist son, his misguided young sister, and their traditional and recently widowed wood-carving father.  Neither the son, obsessed with empiricism, nor the daughter, wasting her life with endless partying (to (Everybody was) Kung Fu Fighting, no less!), have any need for the old-time religion.  But the father remains selflessly devoted to the old ways, working day and night on his prized statue of the god Guan Yu.  The father is convinced that when the statue is finished it will be blessed with the power of the god, but his wayward children think nothing of the kind, and instead worry that their sickly father is needlessly working himself to death.

Shortly after the character introductions strange phenomena begin occurring in Hong Kong.  Temperatures rise into the 90s in spite of it being mid-winter, hot rain falls and inexplicably transforms into colored ice, gravity disappears and strange earthquakes plague the city.  The scientist son and his colleagues are at a loss for explaining the phenomena, and vaguely lay the blame on sunspots.  But when an enormous flying saucer appears over Hong Kong they begin to think differently.  Through an abducted young woman – the party-happy daughter of the central family – the giant bug-eyed denizens of the saucer announce their intentions:  Nuclear testing in space has threatened Martian safety, and mankind is to surrender their scientific advancements or face obliteration!

Before mankind has an opportunity to react, a gang of Martian jerks thirty stories tall appears in the heart of Hong Kong, destroying famous landmarks, squashing people and cackling all the while.  The scientist son and his colleagues perfect a new laser weapon with the hopes of stopping the invading alien punks, but it’s no use.  As the population of Hong Kong evacuates and the world prepares for the worst the father feverishly works on his statue, which is showing signs of supernatural life…

  
  
  

It’s a rare thing anymore when a film truly lives up to the expectations I’ve set for it, but War God does so and then some.  Director Chun Hung-Man is best known in the industry as an editor (of the Jimmy Wang Yu masterpiece The One Armed Boxer, among many others), and it’s clear that he knows how to keep a story moving.  As with the best of Taiwanese exploitation dead moments are rare, and the minimal plot is packed to the gills with entertaining action.  The calamities promised by the Chinese release title are mostly child-friendly affairs, with early ominous phenomena often related in humorous ways, though there is also plenty of gore-less onscreen death and destruction to be had once the Martian baddies arrive.  It seems pertinent to note that these invaders may well be the douchiest in screen history, strutting about, beating things with laser-shooting sticks, and guffawing at the destruction they’ve wrought through their cartooney perma-smirks.

As such, War God‘s biggest attraction is seeing these alien assholes receive their just deserves.  And that they do.  In spades.  The final third of War God is dominated by a massive battle between the extraterrestrial blockheads and the irresistible force of the giant, grumbling Guan Yu.  The miniature of Hong Kong (a location chosen after the Taiwanese Government Information Office objected to the use of Taipei) is expansive in scope even if it lacks in fine detail, and the vast majority of it is reduced to smoldering rubble before all is said and done.  Koichi Takano’s (Ultra 7 and Iron King) effects direction more than makes up for its lack in realism with explosive color and style, while martial arts choreographer Ho Ming-Hiu (Shaolin Kung Fu) lends the extensive combat just the sort of rough-and-tumble dynamic I adore.  The enormous Guan Yu comes across as a certified badass, whether he’s showing off with his guan dao or fighting hand-to-hand, as he dismembers the intergalactic rabble rousers one by one.  I dig it!

There is talk circulating that War God is undergoing some kind of restorative work in Thailand, of all places (someone please tell me that Sampote Sangduenchai is in no way involved), which offers hope that it will eventually be more widely available.  Until then copies of a ratty rental VHS are in circulation online, and those desperate to see the film are encouraged to seek that they may find.  As for the film, it’s sensational goofy fun, and gets an easy recommendation from me.

I couldn’t find a trailer for this one, unsurprisingly, but this snippet from what looks to be a Chinese news program features a good chunk of footage of the giant Guan Yu fighting the invading Martian assholes.  Enjoy!

in conclusion
Film: Loads of fun
Final Thoughts: War God was once among the rarest of the rare in Taiwanese fantasy, but its sudden appearance online gives hope that other hitherto unseen genre oddities might someday surface as well.  For fans of fantastical giant monster hi-jinks this is well worth the effort to track down.

3 thoughts on “War God

  1. So “Mars Men” and “Giant and Jumborg Ace” are two different movies? I had always thought “Mars Men” was the international title of G&JA.

    Also, wasn’t Guan Yu the demonic God of Bean Curd who runs afoul of Bruce Campbell in “My Name is Bruce”?

  2. This may be a case of “yes and no”. I’m not sure how “Mars Men” was originally released in Thailand, though it almost certainly was, but the version of “Giant and Jumborg Ace” available there now was produced much more recently, with dreadful new drama and even more of a dependence on footage from the television series.

    As for “My Name is Bruce”, I can’t help you – I hate to say it, but I try to remember as little about that flick as possible.

  3. Kevin, I just came accross this title a few months ago myself (like you, after having read about it for the longest time). Now with this one no longer “lost”, let’s hope that other unseen Taiwanese fantasies like Devil Fighter follow suit.

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