Daredevil jewel thief and soldier of fortune Andy Lau (Andy Lau - what fascinating double lives Hong Kong movie stars lead!), his young nephew Pin-Pin (Siu Ban-Ban) and portly comedy relief Pancho (Wong Jing) travel to Greece in search of their missing friend Shen (Phillip Ko Fei). Shen is on the run from the KGB and Interpol, having discovered a rare, invaluable gem which he later hides in Pin-Pin’s backpack. This glowing green rock turns out to be an alien life form stranded on Earth for billions of years. Communicating telepathically, the magic crystal befriends Pin-Pin and changes his life with an array of amazing super-powers. Evil KGB chief Karov (Richard Norton) wants to harness its powers, but our heroes team up with American agent Cindy Morgan (Cynthia Rothrock) and her Interpol partner (Max Mok) to ensure the crystal stays out of his hands and fulfils its special destiny.
Producer-director Wong Jing went on to become a big time movie mogul, responsible for such effects driven blockbusters as Storm Riders (1998) and A Man Called Hero (1999), but for much of his career his name was synonymous with schlock. Some good (Naked Killer (1992)), some bad (Liquid Sword (1992)) and some downright nasty (Raped by an Angel (1993)). His best films combine an “anything goes” atmosphere with frantic action and lowbrow comedy, and it is in that spirit he made The Magic Crystal. Nobody could have expected Wong Jing to make one of Hong Kong’s first major science fiction movies inspired by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, but that’s exactly what he managed with this fun, fast-paced and cheeky nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982) (right down to that famous “fingers touching” scene).
Having a glowing rock for an alien is both an outrageous, budget-saving device and a neat sci-fi concept, but Jing stages some flashy optical effects as the crystal swaps body parts and endows its friends with superhuman strength, and whether by accident or design includes some interesting ideas. Notably the concept that the gods of ancient Greece were really visitors from outer space. It is a glossy looking production, including plenty of tourist shots about Athens, while the fight choreography and jaw-dropping stunts rank among the best in any Hong Kong action movie. Andy Lau’s astounding athleticism here bears the same high quality of Jackie Chan or Sammo Hung. Cynthia Rothrock, one of the few American martial arts actors to have some measure of success in Hong Kong cinema, handles the rigorous stunt work very well, while Aussie legend Richard Norton ably demonstrates his lethal skills as the memorably well-mannered, yet despicable villain.
While Jing’s antics as whiny, sex-obsessed Pancho do wear thin, much of the comedy is quite agreeable: including Nat Chan Pak-Cheung as a lecherous neighbour fooled into thinking he has psychic powers, and a priceless scene where Pin-Pin’s seemingly mild mannered mother (former Shaw Bros. starlet Wong Mei-Mei) turns out to be this amazing kung fu acrobat and wipes the floor with a whole hit squad of Rambo look-alikes. The make-it-up-as-we-go quality tends to dwell on superfluous supporting characters like Sharla Cheung Man as a lycra-clad damsel in distress and Shek Kin (Mr. Han from Enter the Dragon (1973)) as a comedy cop who comes to a sticky end. But the plot takes some entertaining twists and turns and builds to a show-stopping showdown in an ancient underground ruin where Andy and Cindy battle Karov atop a giant UFO. Keep watching for the end credits that feature a shameless plug for Singapore Airways (“The only way to fly!”).