In ancient China mystical fruit are a big deal. So when child god Na Cha (You Long), the Bart Simpson of Chinese mythology, shakes loose seven peaches from the Heavenly Tree his dad, General Li Jing, is mightily pissed. The peaches promptly descend to Earth in the form of seven evil monsters to terrorize humankind. Oops! Poor Li Jing is summoned to face the wrath of the Jade Emperor. Whereupon a recalcitrant Na Cha and his two older brothers (both useless) journey to the mortal realm on a righteous mission to save humanity, retrieve the peaches and kick giant monster ass.
Strangely Na Cha and the Seven Devils received its digital release several years after its sequel, Na Cha the Great (1974) which replaced child actor You Long with martial arts idol Alexander Fu Sheng. While the Chang Cheh-directed follow up has a momentum and visceral edge lacking in this earlier Shaw Brothers production, the original is grander in scale and less stage-bound mixing stunning scenery with equally lavish sets. It comes from the creative team behind Toei's The Magic Serpent (1966). Co-directors and special effects creators Tetsuya Yamanouchi and Michiyoshi Doi were among an array of Japanese filmmakers the Shaw Brothers brought to revitalize the Hong Kong film industry at a time when Japanese cinema was the most technologically advanced in Asia. Especially when it came to special effects of the giant monster variety. Of course most of these directors adopted Chinese pseudonyms since bitterness over the Pacific war still lingered in the public mind.
With its freewheeling mix of musical romance, kick ass kung fu action and rubbery monster effects, Na Cha and the Seven Devils evokes Shaw Brothers earlier quartet of Monkey King movies spearheaded by The Monkey Goes West (1964) although for westerners its whimsical tone may prove more reminiscent of The Singing Ringing Tree (1957) (which did not feature any martial arts, but you get the idea). While perhaps not up to the standards set by Godzilla creator Eiji Tsuburaya the puppet creatures featured here are eye-catching and well paired with the film's many surrealistic sets. Among the most impressive creatures is the huge flame-spewing dragon that features in the film's best sequence devastating an entire village. Right before Na Cha jumps on its back and rides it into submission. The film also showcases an entirely different kind of special effect in the form of Tina Chin Fei, glamorous star of Shaw films Summons to Death (1967), Temptress of a Thousand Faces (1969) and later her own talk show The World of Tina Chin Fei, vamping it up as one of the more enticing demons White Fox.
Young lead You Long is a remarkable athlete and likable screen presence with an instantly ingratiating smile. He ably captures the quirky but precise mix of naivety, idealism and super badassery that make Na Cha such a unique and interesting mythological hero. Alas the film spends less time on his super-heroics and the amusing antics of various monster-costume-clad ne'er do-wells than on stale, repetitive scenes of various courting couples. The almost slasher movie like plot trots out several sets of young lovers whose protracted romantic (in some cases bawdy) shenanigans are cruelly curtailed by murderous demons. Until Na Cha flies in on his trademark fiery flying wheels to set things right and wake up the audience. None of the bland human characters bear much in the way of personality. Nor do their individual subplots amount to much. Yet they hog an ungodly amount of screen-time as living embodiments traditional Chinese values of piety, purity and filial duty. At least the finale ramps up the monster action climaxing with a spectacular aerial battle where Na Cha takes on both the dragon and a demon bird. Assisting with the demon-busting is Na Cha's ally the so-called "Celestial Dog" - who turns out to be a jolly German Shepherd in a cute kung fu outfit. Aww.