Oh this is just a joy from my childhood. I've always enjoyed films that dare to straddle genres and "The Magic Serpent" certainly does that. A fantasy film and a giant monster movie, what is not to like? Now to be sure the version I saw was the american version so who knows what the real film was like. That, however, is for purists. All I know is that this film rocked my world as a kid and is still fun to watch.
It starts in some feudal period of Japan. One of those times where folks have their hair shaped like handles, I guess for easy grabbing after being beheaded. Anyway, we open to a shot of a serence castle by a lake. Very nice minature by the way. Suddenly NINJAS! They must belong to the Big Eyebrow clan. I've seen hedges less bushy than their head gear. They all jump around being ninja-y, and guards die and rooms explode and there is a great flury of action.
In another part of the castle the Lord and his wife wake up wondering who let the dogs out. They are met at the door by the Lord's great friend and second in command. He tells them the castle has been invaded and he has been betrayed and only he can tell the Lord who betrayed him. Blame it on just waking up, but the Lord doesn't take the obvious hint and asks who betrayed him. The second of command says of course it is I who betray you and kills the Lord. The wife gets killed by the new Lord's second in command who is basically a sneer in a kimono. But true villainy never is easy, the Lord's futon rat has escaped across the lake.
Or has he? As the boat rows on across the lake, the lake begins to boil and a huge asian style dragon pops up with stag antlers and begins to kill everyone on the boat. The brat stands firm against the dragon with dialog about as silly as the kid's in "The Phantom Menance." Before the movie gets cut short a huge bird comes down and does a slash against the dragon's face and saves the brat. Now roll the credits and let's really begin this puppy!
Years later, a heroic looking fellow is dodging blades and fire in the wild mountains. Turns out it was just magic training between him and the old magician that sent the bird to save him all those years ago. The hero has convenient amnesia over who his parents are and the Master promises to finally tell him, but first go gather herbs in the woods for no obvious reason. As the hero leaves the Master stabs some dirt which was actually a hidden ninja. So the Master knows there are ninjas all around him and sends his student alone in the woods. Is it a test? Was he trying to save his student? Who knows. Personally, I think a lot of trouble would have been saved if they had worked together, but then it would be a shorter movie.
So in the woods our hero is beset by ninjas. He shows first he can fight very nicely regularly, and then busts out some japanese magic on these goons. At one point it looks like his head falls off, and his headless body is running around hog tying ninjas. He wanted information, but these guys are hard core and bite off their own tongues. Oh well, at least he finds a pretty girl hiding in the woods. She's not with the ninjas, she's on her own quest to find her real father. So he says, you know I really like you come meet my Master. I guess this is feudal Japanese first base, who knows? She says yes, so herbs forgotten they skip off to see the Master.
Master though is having problems. His first student shows up first as a snake and then as the Sneer in the Kimono. They have a tense conversation where the Sneer is like, oh hey I really care for you don't mind the poison right? And the Master is all, look you stole me magic scroll, broke my heart and you never write. Also, the Master points at the scar on the Sneer's head. The same scar his bird gave to the dragon years ago. The Master can't be fooled knowing he wants to kill his new student. Well, actually the Master can be fooled as the Sneer produces the stolen magic scroll. Oh noes it is not a magic scroll it is now a serpent. Bye Master.
Well before the Master dies he manages to tell the hero he's the Lord's son and that the Master was killed by the Sneer. So it's double vendetta time! The girl is all gee I really like to help and all but I still got to go find my father. She visits her grandmother, though maybe it's not her grandmother in the original version. Grandmothers don't usually melt into the earth. Anyway, granny gives the girl a magic spider stick. She can use it to call the mother of all spiders but only once. Plot Point!
Our hero does hero things. Like saving boys from runaway carts and then using his immmense magical strength to lift the cart. I love this. They don't give any rules for the magic here, but after play D&D for years the idea of a buff, superstrong magician tickles me. The family is suitably impressed and they go off together into town. This turns out to be a bad idea. The guards are everywhere and they are wise to who the hero is. The old man of the family tries to convinces the guards that the hero is just his stupid son in law even to the point where he's beating on the hero. This tactic works for like five minutes. Then the guards and the lead baddy kill grandpa. Ooops. Maybe the hero should have started acting like a hero about ten minutes earlier.
Well, he makes up for lost time. He soon has the guards in a magic circle and has made the lead baddy pee his kimono by conjuring up the spirit of his dead father. He should have just killed him there, because suddenly the Sneer teleports in. Sneer and Hero have a battle. The Hero, though, is at a disadvantage so it's splitsville. They also split the rest of the family. The Sneer gets the daughter and the Hero gets the brat. Obviously the Sneer came out ahead in that one.
So time passes, and the word gets out. The son of the original Lord is back and he's a badass. The funny thing is that is the Sneer that's letting the word out. See he has his own plans. The lead baddy is about as smart as jello pants, so why not get rid of him and get rid of the hero then PRETEND to be the hero. It's not like there was a Facebook at the time, no one knows what he looks like. It's the perfect plan.
So the Hero is back on the water. Doesn't seem to be a good place for him. Soon water ninjas attack and the kid in his care gets half drowned. The kid is saved by the girl with the spider stick who now has an old bandit type by her side. Hero and girl compare notes and other things and obvious they have a thing for each other. But there's a problem. The girl has finally found her daddy. Her daddy is the Sneer. SURPRISE!
The Sneer is all, well I dumped you for a magic scroll and I never write but you is my baby and you do what big daddy tells you to do. This being Japan in feudal times it flies better than it would now. The Sneer wants her to poison the Hero to save him time and special effects. So later she does indeed poison the hero, but he's still breathing so she will have to finish him off. But she can't do it. Her mentor/companion/guardian? tells her either she has to do it, or he will have to take care of things.
She still can't, so he takes his sword and kills the ninja hiding behind a grill so word won't get back to the Sneer. Whereupon the Hero pops up all better, though a bit put out by the half hearted attempt on his life. Still, doesn't take long for true love to mend the fence and now they are one big crew looking to take out the baddies. The daughter is even ok with the Hero killing the Sneer. Guess he should have sent her a birthday present or two over the years.
Well the big baddy decides to dangle a little lady bait to get the Hero to come to him. The Sneer kills his daughter's companion. Things are now set up for an incredible ending. Not to give too much away but it involves giant flame throwing toads, spiders, and dragons. Lots of fun for everyone.
If I were to remake this, mostly I would just up the special effects to a decent level and fix some of the obvious goofs the Hero makes. I would love to keep intact the manic speed and fun.