Monsoon-A-Day: ‘The Ginseng King’ (1989)

Welcome to Monsoon-a-day

Where I watch and review a movie a day. Or whenever I fucking feel like it.

Day 118


After the numerous director’s cuts and extended editions, you’d think there wouldn’t be anything from the books Peter Jackson left out of his Lord of the Rings adaptations but there was one minor character that fans were slightly disappointed didn’t make the cut: Tom Bombadil.

Appearing briefly towards the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring, Bombadil is a jovial wizard of the woods who has a penchant for singing and other than giving the hobbits some knives and sage advice, he’s ultimately pointless to the plot; which is probably why Jackson decided to give him the boot.

Well, if you’re one of the dozens of fans that were left crestfallen at his omission, I have good news for you. There’s an entire movie all about your beloved Tom Bombadil.

I mean, some liberties were taken of course. Like the fact that instead of being a happy go-lucky wizard, he’s now an anthropomorphized sentient piece of ginseng that looks like Marty Feldman knocked up Dobby from the Harry Potter series, who then drank paint thinner throughout the pregnancy and instead of constantly singing and dancing, he looks like he’s internally screaming at God to end his life.

Everyday I pray for the sweet release of death.

But other than those minor differences, it’s essentially the same character.

The Ginseng King (or alternatively the Three Headed Monster, if you’re nasty) is about a little boy named Hsiaoming who befriends a talking piece of ginseng while he’s forging for herbs and roots and shit out in the forest. They’re playing a game when the boy unexpectedly gets bit by a snake. Realizing that the boy will die if he doesn’t intervene, the baby ginseng calls upon his ancestor(?) Father(?)–the 1000 year old Ginseng King to save the day.

Anyone with a gun or a knife or a sharp enough rock, end my life. Please.

Using his mystical ginseng magic, the Ginseng King effortlessly heals the boy, who after awakening from his little bitch baby coma (seriously, it was only a snake bite. Grow some balls), immediately bolts it the fuck out of there. Not because he got a look at that hideous motherfucker and decided to 23 skidoo but because it was now night time and he had to go home to his sick mother.

While he’s running home, Ol’ Ginseng is just walking around the forest, minding his own business, when some poorly dressed ninjas pop out of nowhere and try and kidnap him. The boys all get into some roughhouse’n and at some point in the altercation, one of the Ginseng King’s  whiskers gets cut off and it lands on a grave near by.

The ninjas eventually fuck off but the thing about the Ginseng King is–he has the power to resurrect the dead; and that grave the whisker landed on? It was the grave of a Nazi vampire.

This, this is when shit gets weird.

The Nazi stumbles around the woods for a bit until he reaches Hsiaoming’s house. Being a Nazi asshole, he immediately starts fucking shit up. He chases the mother and son through the hut, destroying their home in the process, until the mom tells the boy to go get help from the monk that lives down the road. The mother keeps him distracted until Hsiaoming comes back with the monk, who’s supposed to be super old but he looks no older than 35. Whateves.

Once the monk enters the film, you realize the only reason a Nazi vampire is in a Taiwanese fantasy film about talking ginseng Gods and three headed monsters, is because of the swastika gag. You see, before Hitler turned it into a symbol of hate, the swastika was a symbol of good luck and prosperity in Buddhism, with many statues and buildings being adorned with the symbol. As were monks.

You can guess where this is going.

The Nazi, upon seeing the symbol, freezes in a salute. It takes a minute for the monk and the boy to figure out why the Nazi won’t attack but once they do, they begin to fuck with him.

It’s not the greatest joke in the world, nor is what they do to him any funny but it’s kind of insane that the only film to make this joke, is a forgotten adventure film from Taiwan. How has this joke never been made before? It kind of blows my mind that something so obvious hasn’t been done to death.

After they explode the Nazi vampire by leading him to a minefield, the film becomes a typical fetch quest film that’s extremely reminiscent of the Never Ending Story (1984). The Ginseng King gets kidnapped, the boy needs him to save his sick mother, he teams up with a wise old man, they get help from some talking rock men, yada yada yada.

While it never gets as crazy as Nazi vampire swastika shenanigans, it continuously throws original and interesting things at the viewer and it has one hell of an ending. Spoiler alert: it gets bleak.

If you’re into the obscure and don’t mind the weird and the bizarre, I highly recommend The Ginseng King.

God has forsaken me.