First in a series of Hong Kong/Taiwanese children’s films about the Japanese folk hero Momotaro, who was indeed born from a peach. Though overshadowed by its outrageous sequel, Magic of Spell (1988), Child of Peach is a lively and often charming mythological adventure yarn. Amidst the mystical Peach Garden, a husband and wife martial arts team raise their infant son whilst protected by three childlike animal beings: Chicken Girl, Doggy and Monkey Boy. Until the day King Devil, a ghost-faced samurai in a fiery red fright wig, kills the spiritual couple and steals their Sacred Sun Sword. All-powerful Little Fairy (adorable child star Liu Chih-Yu) arrives too late to save the lovers, but assigns a gigantic flying, laser-spewing Magic Peach to safeguard the superhuman infant.
He is discovered by an old woodcutter (Gam Tiu) and his wife (Yau Mei-Fong) who, having longed for a child, raise him as their own. Thanks to the ongoing magical intervention of Little Fairy, young Momotaro rapidly grows into a strapping young girl, er, boy (perennial lady-in-male-drag Lin Hsiao Lan). Endowed with super strength and all sorts of magic powers he performs fantastic feats like making a dry well spurt water, felling tall trees with his bare hands and carrying his old man to work every day. Though largely faithful to the Momotaro myth, film fans will note the plot thus far rather resembles Superman: The Movie (1978).
Meanwhile in a creepy cavern bathed in blue light and dry ice, King Devil revives the decrepit Zombie Granny as a rainbow-haired witch and transforms her shaggy-haired undead minions into a colourful army of evildoers. Mistaken for trick-or-treat kids, the villains overreact to this 'insult' by burning an entire peasant village. They then kidnap comely Princess Apple (Pauline Wan Bo-Lin), who refuses to marry either of Granny’s zombie midget sons. “You bitch, who do you think you are? Snow White or Helen of Troy?” gripes Granny.
Chubby samurai lord Knight Melon (Boon Saam) and his ally from the North, Bowie (Chan Chung-Yung), who sadly doesn’t sing Heroes or anything from his Berlin period, stage a contest to recruit wannabe warriors who’ll march against King Devil. But when Peach Boy wins by judo-flipping a huge ox, the pair reject him for fear he’ll show them up. Nevertheless, Peach Boy reunites with his old friends Chicken Girl, Doggy and Monkey and, with Little Fairy watching their backs, they set off to save the world.
Those raised on a diet of slick, soulless computer graphics may well balk, but Child of Peach is a triumph of handmade, uniquely Chinese ingenuity. Its plethora of stop-motion and optical effects are eye-catching and accomplished, while the non-stop stunt-work consistently enthrals. The child acrobats playing Peach Boy’s mighty morphing animal friends put many of today’s wire-enhanced martial arts stars to shame. Lin Hsiao Lan plays her heroic role with great gusto, plucky, cheerful, always ready to lend a helping hand to the downtrodden. Child of Peach is essentially all about teaching youngsters how to be dutiful, filial and altruistic, while a parade of violence, horror and strangeness saves it from being unduly preachy. The film contains the usual crude comedy, as the animals pee in Bowie’s soup, Melon farts in a bad guy’s face and a notable subplot involves Granny getting hot and bothered over the portly warrior. Disguised as Princess Apple she sets out to seduce Melon. Fat comic sidekicks being sexually molested is an unsettling reoccurring element in Chinese children’s films, as indeed are the abundant zombie flesh eaters that would do Lucio Fulci proud.
Chan Jun-Leung has a less hectic style than his successor in directing the Peach Boy movies, Chiu Chung-Hing who handles the action choreography here. Jun-Leung weaves moments of pathos between the battles, though it is the action that proves most memorable including a brilliant underwater fight with a school of shark-men and Chicken Girl’s use of shoulder-launched missiles. Includes the classic line “Do you really want to fight with no pants on?” and music stolen from Jean-Michel Jarre, but all pale before the moment Little Fairy conjures a ten-foot tall stop-motion animated kung fu robot made entirely out of peaches!