29 December 2018 | BrianDanaCamp
4th in a series of "Monkey King" films from Shaw Bros.
THE LAND OF MANY PERFUMES (1968) followed three earlier films produced by Hong Kong's Shaw Bros. studio and based on parts of the Chinese epic, "Journey to the West": THE MONKEY GOES WEST, PRINCESS IRON FAN, and CAVE OF THE SILKEN WEB (1966-67). This film follows its four protagonists, Xuan Zang, the Tang monk (Ho Fan), Sun Wu Kong, the Monkey King (Chow Lung-Cheung), and Pigsy (Pang Pang) and Sandy (Tien Shun), a pig demon and river demon who have both been reformed, as they continue their journey west from China to India to obtain a set of Buddhist scriptures to bring back to China. The film is a delightful fantasy adventure from start to finish, with lots of comic scenes, inventive special effects, and dozens of beautiful actresses as the antagonists faced by the party of travelers.
The chief obstacles here are three sets of gorgeous women, two of which have supernatural powers, just like the Monk's three companions. The four Devil Sisters and their competitors, Snake Spirit and Scorpion Spirit, all have their own ulterior motives for capturing the monk and take on different forms in order to trick each other and the Monk and his party. The Devil Sisters take on the forms of the Monk and his three companions when they arrive at the Land of Many Perfumes, an all-female kingdom that is overjoyed to see a man at last. The monk impostor agrees to marry the Empress (Li Hsiang-Chun) when he returns and he and his party soon leave. When the real monk and his companions arrive, the Empress demands he marry her and soon her daughter, the Princess (Fang Ying), wants to marry him as well. Eventually, the Monkey King figures out who's responsible for all the mischief and undertakes a battle royale against the female demons, using every trick of sorcery in his repertoire, aided by Pigsy and Sandy.
There are many exciting scenes in this, such as the Monkey King's battle to overcome Ru Yi, the Fairy God, who has taken over the Monkey King's domain, at the Spirit Sisters' urging, and imprisoned all of his monkey subjects. Wu Kong eventually earns Ru Yi's undying gratitude, which comes in handy late in the film. When the Monkey King takes on the Devil Sisters, he uses his powers over nature to uproot trees and mountains and rivers and consign them to an amusing fate. At one point, Pigsy, basically a pig who walks on two legs and speaks, takes on the form of the monk so he can gain entrance to the Empress' boudoir and attract the attention of all her handmaidens. His distinctly un-monk-like behavior constantly gets him into trouble and provides plenty of comic relief. (The rotund actor, Pang Pang, is a remarkable physical comedian.)
The special effects may seem crude by today's standards, but they're done with so much cleverness and imagination that I enjoyed every scene with them. Granted, you can do the same things so easily with CGI these days, but there's something about lab-created optical effects and hand-crafted real-time on-set mechanical effects that make these films look so unique and give them a vivid sense of Chinese mythical fantasy that you wouldn't find in any other country's special effects films from 50 years ago. Also, there is a charming animated credits sequence.
For the record, I have reviewed two of the previous Monkey King films, PRINCESS IRON FAN and CAVE OF SILKEN WEB, on this site also. Actress Fang Ying, who plays the Princess in this film, also starred in the Taiwan-set melodrama, MIST OVER DREAM LAKE, which I've also reviewed, the same year. She's quite an unsung Shaw Bros. talent and left the studio much too soon.