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Legend of the sacred stone:
Destroy all puppets!
  Oh my.  This week I bring you yet another film from the East.  God knows why I've been hyper-focused on Oriental cinema as of late...and why I'm introducing yet another film of subtitled badness to those three people who take the time to read my weird little ramblings.  Luckily, this article's going to be relatively short, for a change.  While I want to share, there's not much to say that can't be said in a brief fashion.  That said, what is the Legend of the Sacred Stone? 
Legend of the Sacred Stone, originally entitled Sheng shi chuan shuo, is a kung-fu action film from Taiwan made in 2000.  It features martial arts, digital special effects, demons....and lots and lots of puppets.  Marionettes, to be precise.  Now there are really only three types of people who are familiar with films that are populated solely by little wooden dolls.  If you're old(er), then you probably remember this weird time in the 1950's when "Marionation" was considered the highest point of children's entertainment.  Old cartoons like Space Police and Thunderbirds come to mind.  Slightly younger folks are probably into those old "Tool" music videos that were made by the Brothers Quay.  Experimental filmmakers love working with puppets...they always have, though rarely do they get as much mainstream coverage as the Brothers did by doing all those spooky Tool videos.  The third type is probably the most common:  You saw the South Park boys' film, Team America:  World Police.  That film was a joke within a joke...but if you've seen it, you'll probably have a real grip on why Legend of the Sacred Stone is so damn bizarre.
Take a look at this:

  

The one on the left is swearing vengeance while the one on the right is conveying his deepest regret that his facial muscles don't work right.  With no expressions, you're stuck for an hour and a half staring at characters who seem to have used too much Botox on their face, moving their hands in random spastic motions in a feeble attempt to emote anything.  :sigh:  Obviously, I'm taking this film the wrong way.  It's a puppet movie.  It's for kids, so standards can be low, right?

Wrong.  If the dead bleeding geisha above didn't clue you in, this is a serious film.  With puppets.  The plot's kind of hard to figure out, as it involves ancient evils and alien artifacts from the future (or the past, I'm not sure).  What I do know is that half of the fight scenes are literally just footage of someone THROWING the puppets at each other.  If you don't look to closely, it's not half bad, as a wounded ninja goes flailing into the air, his arms obviously broken as they hang at unnatural angles.  Of course, that's just because he's a puppet.  Still, if you want to see puppets set on fire or burning/bleeding to death, then this might be the film for you.

Oh, did I mention that everyone can shoot lasers from their chakras?

  

Now, this may be the first film where I actually had trouble focusing on what the hell was going on.  As a member of a generation of cartoon-lovers, I'm used to being able to follow all sorts of madness on the screen.  The problem here isn't that they're puppets.  The issue is that every two seconds, the characters are shouting "Armadillo Spin Kick" or "Raging Drag Queen Drop Kick" before doing some sort of insane kung-fu maneuver.  Think "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" or even "The Matrix Trilogy"...only in fast forward, with bizarre martial art madness exploding your retinas every three seconds.

 

Now this film isn't made badly.  It's a weird mix of live-action backgrounds, puppets (obviously), and CGI effects.  There's actual cinematography going on...something I didn't exactly expect from a freaking puppet movie.  The film isn't bad...you just need to have a couple of doses of AD/HD to keep up.  Maybe it's a cultural thing...or maybe the premise of the film is to make your head explode.  I'm not sure.  But the director (Chris Huang, which is fun to say) obviously put some work into getting a decent-looking puppet movie, and it shows.  In fact, it probably isn't fair to just simplify this flick as a puppet movie.  There's intrigue and kung-fu madness...and a character who rides a magic sword.

   

See?  Magic sword riding, right there...even if the above pictures don't do it justice.  The thing is, things like "riding a magic sword" or "shooting a fireball out of your hand" or "turning your enemy into butter" or whatever, happens every three seconds.  I've already mentioned that, but until you see this thing, you'll have to assume there's an importance to my repetition.  Hell, it might even be a warning.  So yes, Legend of the Sacred Stone may indeed cause kung-fu induced seizures in small children.  I wouldn't be surprised.

The bad guys, roughly translated to "The Unfriendly" (as opposed to "The Slightly Miffed"), first show up as demonic bits of computer animation.  They're actually pretty cool like this, though the fact that there's highly sophisticated bits of CGI attacking wooden puppets just seems unabashedly unbalanced.  Luckily, they eventually calm down and revert to their "combat form".  By this I mean that they all turn into Skeletor.

 

The Unfriendly may be the really cool thing in the film, if you can qualify any wooden puppet as "cool" in any sense.  With their skeletal features and giant claw-tipped fingers, they're the essential bad guys...though I might be guilty of racial profiling right there.  I'm sure that if I had the head of a corpse and razor-sharp talons on my hands, I'd be pretty pissed if people only judged me by my appearance.  Maybe I'm a really sweet guy....with the head of zombie and eyes that burn with unholy fire.  Hell, I might be great with kids.  Your kids in fact.  Why don't you trust me?  You won't invite me to your Christmas Party?  Fine, I hope you like the sucking chest wound I just clawed into your body.  But don't worry, I'll call the paramedics.  You know, because I'm really a nice guy.  I swear.

:deep breath:

Sorry about that.  I think I'm just in a weird mood, because, now that I sit down to write this article, I realize that the whole thing could be summarized by the sentence:  Legend of the Sacred Stone is a kung-fu puppet movie that causes seizures in small children.  Oh well, so much for brevity, right? 

All I can say, in closing, is that Legend of the Sacred Stone is fast-paced, bizarre, and often well-made.  Of course, it's also so surreal and SO fast-paced that even a sugar-addict ADD lad like myself can't follow it without an artery in my brain popping.  As much as I joke about something making your head explode, I mean it in all honesty this time.  I liked this movie, but man, it hurt me in a way that no film has ever hurt me before.  And that's saying a lot, really.

Good luck to any of you who quest for the secret of the Sacred Stone.  You'll need it.

-jared 

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Copyright 2006 jared von hindman, except for those images which are used via Fair Use.  This article is far too short.  As such, you'll find no clever messages down here...though I will admit that the Brothers Quay give me nightmares and that sex scene from Team America: World Police was hot in a spooky, spooky way.  Gah.