Time is illusory. Therefore, so is continuity.
That seems to be the Taoist, or sometimes Buddhist (the dubbing kind of switches back and forth) lesson to be learned from Shaolin vs. Evil Dead
and it's -- sequel? Prequel? I'm not quite sure -- Shaolin vs. Evil Dead: Ultimate Power
(For the form's sake, I'm including this warning that there will be spoilers, but I honestly can't recommend highly enough your not caring.)Shaolin vs. Evil Dead
actually doesn't start out bad. We open on some (presumably) Evil Dead, hopping menacingly toward a house of frightened... householders. (Chinese vampires, for those of you not in the know, traditionally hop. It's a whole subgenre.) However, almost immediately, we have the cultural rug pulled out from under us, and are switched to a scene of similar-looking but docile hopping undead (called "zombies", and acting a bit like them) under the control of a monk. We discover that
A) he's considerately leading them back to their graves so they can rest in peace
B) they’re hopping because he makes them do that so they won't cause trouble (though they seem to be under his direct control and stand around like cordwood when not doing anything else, so what’s the point?)
C) the classic zombie pose, arms outstretched, is also the priest’s doing, so they won’t bump into the ones in front of them
D) the priest has until now left his two bumbling assistants/acolytes/novices/whatever/sid
ekicks completely in the dark as to what he does and why, apparently so that they can have clumsy expository dialogue in the opening scene (which is how we learned B and C).
Okay, so far so good. The basics are covered: Evil (or at least unpleasant) Dead, and what is clearly a Shaolin monk.
Except that it soon becomes clear that Shaolin Temple has nothing to do with this. In fact, the priest, as has been indicated, spends the majority of his time as a Taoist, though he does significant Buddhist duty as well. (Presumably he got his Wiccan phase over with in high school.)
It doesn’t take long for the bumbling sidekicks (one a grown man, one a kid) to scare up trouble (see what I did there?) with their characteristically buffoonish insistance on eating. (Notice how action heroes, east or west, are seldom hungry. They seem to eat only out of grim logical necessity.) They find a restaurant and start gulping down noodles; only the priest’s tingling Tao Sense (which, honestly, kind of make sense) alerts him to something wrong. An incantation shows him the true nature of the haunted village; the other diners are rotting ambulatory corpses! And the Bumbling Sidekicks (hereafter refered to as “BSes” to avoid wear and tear on my keyboard) are eating not noodles, but… worms!
Our heroes are immediately Heisenberged, as the zombies immediately launch a shambling assault; though capable of at least rudimentary kung fu, they still move at a snail’s pace. Also, the illusion of warm, maintained earth tones fades to an appropriate creepy greenish-blue. Looks like there are Evil Dead after all.
They try to settle this with good old fashioned kung fu -- and the action’s not bad -- but they soon need ot start using ore magic, sucking otheir sould out with magic “soul egg” stones. In classic zombie fashioned, though, they’re overwhelmed by endless waves of undead, until they’re saved by two mysterious figures in black, who do the ame sort of kung fu/soul egg stuff, only at Vampire Lestat speeds.
The two are only mysterious for about a minute because as soon as the underad are eliminated, the priest (who, incidentally, wears awhite) refers to the newcomer as “brother” and admonishes him for having “tortured” the souls he collected. (I didn’t see a lot of difference in technique, except that he did it at range.) It’s made clear that “brother” is not just a term for another monk, because the stranger bristles at the term and makes it clear that he’s some sort of prodigal son, and all full of teenagey bitterness about having been passed over as head of the clan, blah blah.
Man in black (MIB) is, in fact, one of the better characters at this point. He has a terrific bad-guy face: handsome and brooding, streaks of gray in his hair, with a villain beard and awesome scowl. Hi black outfit is cool, in the best kung fu movie tradition. He, of course, has a non-bumbling sidekick (No-BS), who happens to be a good-looking female in a similarly ornate outfit. Anyway, he makes it clear he wants nothing to do with the good duys, who he then spends the rest of the movie following around.
The movie kind of meanders plot-wise after this, as we’re shown multiple examples of the priest laying the dead to rest and freeingtheir sould for reincarnation, and the counterpoint of the bad guys being awesome but, well, bad guys, the man in black getting crueller and crueller while his No-BS seems to get increasingly uncomfortable with this but stays with her master anyway.
Sidekick subplots provide some distraction: an amusing one where the kid gets possessed from having swallowed a spirit egg, and attempts to hide this from his master (which seems kind of like a doctor’s assistant getting a nasty infection and going to great lengths to hide it from the doctor), and a less amusing star-crossed lover story between the No-BS and the adult BS.
It isn’t long before the MIB to have his Kick the Dog Moment
, summoning a spirit that just wanted to be laid to rest, so he can publicly kill it to impress some villagers, then control the village kids with magic. Fortuntely our priest reveals his bad-guyness (followed by a cool, if not particularly sensible scene of kid-on-kid violence in magic kung-fu chess) and the village turns their back on him.
Things go predictably bad when the bad-guy steals a treasured gem from the village, thereby releasing a super-powerful demon, which he temporarily seals away. Eventually it breaks loose starts killing people, and comes after him for the stone that had imprisoned it. (I don’t get that part. Were I him, I’d want that stone as far from me as possible. But whatever drives the plot at this point.)
Shit really hits the fan when the badass MIB becomes posessed by the badder-ass demon, becoming an Ultra Badass Big Bad that all the heroes, with the No-BS (who we know by now is really a good guy in her heart, just the victim of misguided loyalty) have to fight.
So they start to fight, and… the movie ends.
Wha? Yes. Out of nowhere, actiuon stops and credits start rolling.
But that’s okay, you figure, because right behind it is Shaolin vs. Evil Dead: Ultimate Power
! Clearly the Ultra Badass Big Bad (UBBB) is the Ultimate Power in question, and the movie will pick up where the first left off. That is entirely reasonable, and completely wrong.
In fact, Ultimate Power
seems to be a prequel, and spends the first 10 minutes dealing with MIB’s heroic kung-fu master parents. One thing I immediately noticed was a distinct lack of Evil Dead. Or dead of any kind, except the regular sort of dead that happens when people kill one another. It seems the mother is pregnant when poisoned by a throwaway over-the-top villainess. She sacrifices her life to give birth to their son, but we learn the baby is still carrying the poison -- apparently a moral poison, which may turn him evil – which may cause it to grow up evil.
The father overcomes his own poison via a potion, long enogh to raise the child (which makes me wonder why he needed to have been poisoned in the first place), and teach him his “Ice Heart” technique, which might allow the son to overcome the poison in his beins… somehow (we don’t know, because it’s never mentioned again until the very end).
The child is put in the care of the who is kid version of the good-guy priest from the first movie, who is admonished to treat him as a brother.
Unfortunately, all the kidness and wisdom doesn’t take, and the MIB is revealed to have been pretty much an asshole from the beginning. There’s a sort of the Anakin/Obi-Wan thing, only if Anakin’s childhood were never shown and he were always a complete prick who never had any respect for Jedi wisdom, and Obi-Wan were really, really wishy-washy.
Since we already know what happens – the MIB is passed over for leadership of the clan in favor of the priest, and leaves all butthurt – it is unnecessary to draw it out over the next hour, but we’ve got a movie to fill. When he finally leaves, he steals the clan’s treaures, including the map to the hidden Magic Sword, which, in combination with the clans unhidden
Magic Sword, will make him super-powerful. With those, he then starts killing the leaders of all the other clans, for no discernable reason (there’s a suggestion it’s to start a war with his old clan, but that doesn’t seem to happen). The priest, meanwhile, has gone into seclusion to learn the clan’s Code of Leadership, which is apparently something he’ll need in order to keep the MIB from ruining everything. (Really? You’re already in a monastery. How much more seclusion do you need?)
Now’s where it starts to get weirder. In the first movie, I got the idea that the MIB was steadily progressing down the path of darkness to the point of irredeemability, but in this he goes Vader right from the get-go, summoning spirits of darkness to make him super-powerful (which involves a pretty cool makeup job that makes him look rather panther-like).
While he’s doing this, the priest has worked out that he can use five elemental stones to make a magic tower that might cure his brother of the poison. He makes that, and figures his “brother” will show up. Which he does, pretty much right then. Apparently he happened to be in the neighborhood.
They set up the magic tower and start “fighting” – apparently their spirits are pulled into other, elemental planes, because their bodies just stand there. The elemental planes are, for the most part, well disigned, wit minimal CGI (good, because it sucks where used) -- apparently when one or the other wins, they move to the next plane.
Priest and MIB seem to be evenly matched. This is where the Ice Heart finally comes into play, and turns out to be rather literal: the priest freezes the bestial MIB in a huge block of ice. He then somehow sets the MIB’s true self free, and he comes out without makeup and fangs, though they move to the next plane and continue fighting anyway.
Unfortunately, MIB’s power play seems to have had the side effect of waking up a graveyard full of hopping vampires -- in the same scene that opened the first movie! These converge on the tower from all directions, with only the adult BS to fight them off. Fortunately, he’s already been imbued with the priest’s power – which you can apparently hand off like a set of keys – so he can do cool stuff like multiply himself. Note that this iis pretty much all the Evil Dead we see in this movie.
Now in what seems to be the Plane of Wood, the MIB still won’t listen to reason, so the priest pulls out his trump card. Which is basically a note form the MIB’s father saying “Aggression achieves nothing. Life and death are one.” Now, I can’t believe the father never said this before, but for some reason, the MIB totally gets it this time, and becomes a good guy again, and agrees to team up to fight his “evil self” that’s trapped in the ice. Which conveniently, at that moment, breaks free and enters their plane as a giant phallic wood pole that drives MIB through the floor.
Back in the real world, the No-BS (who’se gotten an Evil Hottie makeover with skimpier outfit) joins the vampires in attacking the BS. Not sure why; looks a bit like she’s being magically controlled. This seems to be borne out when BS blasts her with a forehead bolt in the way the priest did to imbue him with his priest powers, only to have her wake up and start fighting on his side.
Back in the alternate plane, the priest and now-good MIB are fighting the phallic log containing the evil self, which is carrying the MIB downward. They get the brilliant idea to break it open the log, instead of simply getting off of it and letting it plummet downward. Well, they musty know something. So they both break it open, and causality along with it.
The evil self come out, and looks to be… the demon from the end of the first movie! You know, the one that hasn’t happened yet? It re-possesses the MIB (guess he didn't make his exorcism payments, hahaha!), making him the UBBB again, just as the vampires bring down the magical tower by throwing themselves at it like it’s a giant bug-zapper. The UBB now takes th stone he was looking for at the end of the first movie (which, again, has not happened yet) and apparently becomes unstoppable, heralding the end of the world. Priest says, “We’ll need a miracle!” when, lo and behold, a metor appears in the sky.
The priest has just enough time to get the BS and No-BS tied to a floating paper lantern, which carries them sto safety (apparently he supercharges it) just as the meteor strikes, turning priest, UBBB, and vampires into ashed.
Cut to the BS and No-BS waking up on some grass as the credits start to roll.
The kid BS has been nowhere to be seen this whole movie, presumably because they haven’t run into him yet. Which apparently now they never will, because the main characters are dead.
Now, there are a number of ways you can go in a time travel plot. You can do the Heinlein thing where you can’t change the past because you didn’t. You can do a Butterfly Effect, where you go back, then return to where you left off, only to discover the results of your actions upon history. You can to the Back to the Future, where you can change the past and then have to put it right to avoid paradox. You can do a Terminator, where you go back into the past, only, and you can change it from that point on, and somehow causality is never a problem.
This case would seem like one of those last, except for one thing: It’s NOT A TIME TRAVEL MOVIE! There is NO apparent reason for the demon at the end of the first movie to appear where and when it does, much less to do something that would keep it from ever having been released.
So. You’ll have a fun time if you can ignore little things like this (or if, like me, you enjoy
things like this). I’ve also read that the dubbing and subtitles don’t match; I didn’t have access to the subtitles, so I wouldn’t know for sure, but it sounds likely.