13 Worms (1970)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2009-04-13
A chess master--the saint of chess--shows up just after the big tournament has ended. Since he and his cute but annoying female companion have traveled so far the winner decides to give him a game. If the saint of chess wins the 13 worms (or heroes) represented by the local champion will perform a service for the saint.

He wins an epic game, so fraught with tension that the local champion dies toward the end. In his (apparent) last words he tells his second in command to continue playing. He almost pulls out a hopeless looking endgame but the saint prevails. He needs the worms to free a princess who has been taken captive by a band of uniformed toughs and who are taking her across the mountains to their boss.

The 13 worms don’t try to free the princess through main force—a good idea since they have already been locked up by the local police although they escaped without too much trouble. They intercept the convoy escorting the princess several times on along the way. First they are 11 hopping ghosts accompanied by two Taoist priests, then a couple of Buddhist monks, then a hunchback with the only boat to cross a river and a fisherman who charges 1000 gold taels to save them after the boatman dumps them in the water. One of the worms leaves wine for them and then knocks them down by rolling huge wine jars downhill after they have drunk. They also appear as the proprietors of the filthiest roadside guesthouse imaginable and finally as themselves, a disciplined and deadly band of warriors.

By the final battle the escort has been weakened by the guerilla harassment by the worms along their route. At least two of them are dead—the two phony Buddhist monks were burying them—and the rest have been on a forced march through mountains and desert, have been terrorized by ghosts and fed what they thought were buns made from human flesh. So when the time comes for slaughter it is fast, brutal and decisive, leaving the field littered with the corpses of the escort.

“The 13 Worms is a genre with which I am not familiar. It is more a mean spirited slapstick comedy than an action movie although there is enough action, mainly swordfights and none of them very well done, to put it in that category. There are several musical numbers, some of them diegetic—a woodsman sings a song about the horrors of the mountains they are in and is answered (because this song always must be a duet) by the escorts renegade guide. Other songs are non-diegetic—background music with no source onscreen but still important to the narrative. Enough time and care are taken with the placement of the music, including the lyrics, that the numbers were an essential part of the film. This movie is not a musical but it had much more music in it than what I think is typical of the filmmaking time and place. The songs must have had a greater impact on the Taiwanese audience in 1970 than they did on this viewer.

In the end the princess is saved along with many pounds of precious jewels and everyone from the opening scenes around the chess board are united and happy.

Couldn't figure how to boil this down to a numerical rating.