Legend of the Sacred Stone
(Sheng shi chuan shuo) (2000)
Directed by Chris Huang

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * *

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After Mo Kuei, a villain imprisoned by the leaders of the six major sects, is freed by a gang of demons known as the Unfriendly, who desire the mystical Heaven's Stone, two martial artists, Su Huan-Jen and Ching Yang, take it upon themselves to put an end to the insidious doings of these scoundrels. Having followed a band of the Unfriendly into hell, however, the two find themselves in more trouble than they can handle. Huan-Jen therefore sends Ching Yang to ask another martial artist, Hong-Chen, for help. He immediately rushes to assist Huan-Jen accompanied by the beautiful Ru-Bing. Unfortunately, Ru-Bing's father, Lord Jian, both hates Huan-Jen for not having come to his defence when his home was attacked by the Unfriendly years before, in which assault he was horribly burned, and desires the Heaven's Stone for himself so that he can use it to heal his wounds.

Chris Huang's Kung Fu spectacle, Legend of the Sacred Stone, which is performed exclusively by puppets, is always captivating to watch, even though it is deeply flawed.

The story the director tells is more than a little amorphous. In fact, its initial trajectory is eventually lost and its original villain is entirely forgotten. Nevertheless, Legend of the Sacred Stone does present the viewer with so many conflicts, machinations, betrayals, and the like that it is able to retain his interest. While the moviegoer may be dissatisfied by the story's lack of coherence, the intriguing details that have been included in it always keep him engaged.

Fortunately, the action sequences with which the movie is frequently punctuated are consistently well done and remarkably fluid. Not only do the characters repeatedly fly through the air while performing impossible acrobatic stunts and incredible feats of arms, but, at various times, they also bound over a decaying suspension bridge hanging over a river of molten lava, lift a paper boat out of a magically blazing lake with a column of light, and swing their swords using bolts of lightening which they cause to emerge from their hands. Many of these diverse magical actions are brought to the screen with colorful and captivating animated images or with other delightful special effects, all of which make the movie's fight scenes wonderfully entertaining.

Moreover, while they are never likely to awe the viewer, the usually realistically carved puppets are appealing to look at and, consequently, greatly enhance the film's enjoyableness. Dressed in flowing robes, wearing complicated hats, one of which is shaped like a lotus and another of which is adorned with an animal's ears, and carrying various items, including a zither, a monk's staff, and elaborately ornamented swords, the puppets which portray the protagonists are both surprisingly elegant and evocative of some legendary, bygone age. The scythe wielding, black robed puppets used for the Unfriendly, which resemble skeletons covered in rotting flesh whose hands and feet are like the claws of birds, are also consistently fun to watch, even if they are not the most imaginatively conceived villains ever to appear in film. There is, in fact, hardly a puppet in the movie that does not add to its worth.

Although it is never truly beautiful and its narrative is frequently unsatisfying, Legend of the Sacred Stone is, thanks to its appealing puppets, its numerous action sequences, and its charming special effects, an enjoyable film.

Review by Keith Allen

Note: Legend of the Sacred Stone is available on DVD at Asian Cult Cinema.

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