The Peacock King (1989)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2009-11-13
Characters in various types of dramas have been going to hell for centuries. Among the notable voyages taken to Satan’s fiery lake by mortals include Dante Alighieri taken on a tour by Virgil, Orfeo to rescue his beloved Euridice and Don Juan snatched into hell by the Commendatore he killed in the beginning of Mozart’s opera. And so we come to “The Peacock King” in which Yeun Biao, as Monk Peacock, drops into the underworld in order to do battle with Pauline Wong who is not the devil but Witch Raga. He winds up frozen in a block of ice, which the Monk might prefer to continuing the thankless task of keeping the very annoying Ashura (Gloria Yip) out of trouble on earth. Ashura’s animatronic little buddy, an imp who eats like a pig and has the disposition of a mean dog, joins him in this version of Hades but gets there by flushing himself down a toilet,

Your reaction to “The Peacock King” may depend on how you enjoy that specific genre or sub-genre of movies. If you like them it is easy to skip over the logical inconsistencies—action that is not only at odds with what happens in “real” life (such as the laws of gravity) but which is out of step with the reality created by the movie itself. If one likes Danny Lee tough cop movies, for example, it is easy to think that Lee and his squad operate in a vacuum with no help or interference from the command structure of the Royal Hong Kong Police as well as an ethical universe in which it is acceptable to beat up suspects without repercussions from above or moral qualms from below. Fans of westerns aren’t bothered by revolvers that are accurate at 300 yards or horses that can run, if necessary, for days on end. Not being an aficionado of supernatural comedies like this one I found the otherworldly goings-on more distracting than anything else.

“The Peacock King” begins promisingly enough with Ashura riding an elephant down a major street in an Asian city—given the combination of elephants, Buddhist temples and saffron robed monks, it was probably in Thailand, never a good destination for anyone from Hong Kong, at least in the movies. Ashura has been stuck in hell for 660 years but has been able, through a system of prayers and spells that are incomprehensible to the viewer, to get out. Not surprisingly upon seeing the sun for the first time in over six centuries she is happy to be on earth and wants to stay. Based on just about everything she does those she encounters and most of the audience is in favor of casting her back to the eternal darkness, since she immediately sets about upsetting both the natural and occult practices of the people here. She spins prayer wheels the wrong way even after being cautioned by a nun, which cause the sky to cloud up and the sun disappear. She is accompanied by a group of monsters who are only partially under her control—and who spend too much time on screen and are shot from too many angles since the seams and wrinkles in their costumes show up pretty quickly.

One continuing problem is that most of the monsters and demons, whether they are commanded by Witch Raga in hell, hanging around with Ashura on earth or just popping up to keep her imp company are about as threatening as Puck in a summer stock production of “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. If fiends and specters are supposed to scare the audience—or at least make them uncomfortable—they need to be designed and played seriously. If they are there for laughs they need to be funny. If they are carrying out evil deeds but look ridiculous while they are doing so, it is a failure all around. Which the monsters in “The Peacock King” are. The imp/genie that is Ashura’s companion and only friend is a well done and convincing puppet, so the crummy monsters could be caused by lack of money to get them right or lack of interest in doing so.

Gordon Liu, Kara Hui, and Eddy Ko and Phillip Kwak had supporting roles that they seemed to enjoy and Gloria Yip was cute. Yuen Biao is not (or at least at this point of his career was not) a comedian but the action scenes were decent
Reviewer Score: 4