Every now and then I would jump over the great firewall of China and check what's on Facebook. Early this morning I discovered Dragon Ball Z: Saiyan Saga. This fan-made film brought joy to my eyes as I clicked on link after link trying to learn more about the project, however my joy was soon overshadowed by doubt and sadness brought on by a memory of a Dragon Ball movie. Unfortunately the movie that I recalled wasn't the recent American made live-action with Justin Chatwin but instead the terrible 1991 adaptation Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins.
For many of our younger readers, and non Dragon Ball fans, Dragon Ball, Z, and GT is an animated series and comic from Japan. The story follows a young boy (Son Goku) and girl (Bulma) in their search for the mythical Dragon Balls, seven magic balls that when gathered summon a wish granting dragon. The series of course moved on from its simple search and collect story to a much more muscle bound action series as it went on.
Dragon Ball was immensely popular in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong if not all of Asia. It was so popular that it spawned a Taiwan made live-action movie. Luckily for the creator of Dragon Ball and the company that owns the license, the movie was unofficial. Why? Because the movie was terrible.
Loosely based on the first story arc of Dragon Ball, the 85 minute film was like a terrible mashup of bad puppetry and wire kung-fu. Since it was an unofficial movie, the names of the characters were all changed to avoid copyright issues (although the Chinese names are all the same as those found in Dragon Ball). On top of the name changes, new characters were introduced and some characters were completely redesigned.
Plot-wise the story starts with Ya-Tou's (Bulma) village being burned down to the ground by Big Horn (they made Pilaf into the Bull King from Journey to West!) and his army of what looks like stormtroopers. Looking to prevent Big Horn from gaining the "dragon pearl", Ya-Tou's father gives Ya-Tou the pearl. In her quest to avenge her village she runs into "Monkey Boy".
Its quite interesting how the film makers were able to shrink and introduce the majority of the characters from the animated series, although the introduction and redesign of Oolong comes off as very racist. Another character the film takes liberties with is the character of Master Roshi; the film makers decided to play up the fact that he's a pervert more than the cartoons ever did. Personally I liked this version of Roshi better than the Chow Yun-Fat version, mostly because he looks like Roshi.
Now at this point you may be asking; "Eric, what makes this movie so terrible?". Well the reason why I found this movie terrible was for the fact that it tried to incorporate all of the first season of Dragon Ball into it. About 30 minutes into the film, there were already too many characters to keep track of. The added characters leave little to no space for any character development, it felt very much like a bad JRPG. It was almost a "meet a guy listen to his tale, he joins up and the quest continues" kind of thing. In addition, the movie sticks too closely to the Dragon Ball story. Unless one is a fan of series, its way too much to swallow in one sitting.
The whole video is available online in its original mandarin dubbing with english subtitles. I warn any reader who is interested in viewing this movie that despite the 85 minute runtime, it will feel much much longer.