The Peacock King is an elaborate, psychotronic mystical monster comedy movie out of Hong Kong’s martial arts motion picture whirlpool circa 1989. It stars Jackie Chan’s pal Yuen Biao at just about the height of his game as a ghost fighting monk called ‘Peacock’ out to stop the forces of hell from opening the four gates of hell, hidden around the far east. Let us get one thing out of the way, the movie makes no linear sense from opening act to closing reel. It is just that sort of Hong Kong film where story beats, dialogue and plot do not matter one iota. It is all about imagery, special effects and the gut punch of physical stunts.
The Peacock King was directed by Lam Nai-Choi who started out on a couple of kick arse Shaw brothers crime flicks before morphing into a more gutter dwelling Tsui Hark, devoted to crafting gloopy, special effect laden horror action pictures. His most famous film is The Story Of Ricky, aka the film where Yukari Oshima is supposed to pass for a guy.
Back to this, it’s only 80 minutes long and manages to skip to different countries in as much time. It has a berserk opening where a Hell’s Witch Raga bursts into what seems to be an archaeological dig and blows it up to retrieve the King Of Hell’s daughter who can open the gates of hell so the king can be freed. No, me neither. Cue Peacock the cheery monk and his more solemn, rather useless, Japanese counterpart Lucky Fruit touring Asia to stop the witchy bitch. Cue lots of blue lighting, smoke, fireballs, stop-motion monsters and sets out of HR Giger’s wet dreams.
As you might have guessed it is not to be taken seriously. The Peacock King takes time to wink at its audience with nods to movies and references to actors like Sammo Hung. It also feels like a children’s film at times, despite an abundance of violence and gore. There’s silly gags that work as filler, indeed pretty much the middle act is a useless stream of shit jokes about monks dancing in discos and crooked taxi drivers. Despite this, it is rescued by the sheer romp factor of the whole thing, especially the last third. Yuen Biao takes on a squad of assassins led by Gordon Liu in a riotous martial arts battle surrounded by dusty Tibetan temple columns and flaring torches.
Following this is the best of the film’s creature features, a finale featuring a giant incarnation of the Hell King. Cue monk magic! There’s an earlier creepier beastie that resembles something from Alien. Parts of the film do feel second hand from afore-mentioned Alien to Ghostbusters to Zu Warriors but who gives a toss. The Peacock King is a lot of fun, flawed yet fun. Far from Lam Nai-Choi’s best, see The Cat for that, but it is certainly well worth watching.
– Written by Charlie Parker