This Thai cinemutation may
have been intended as a (more-or-less) serious horror/fantasy extravaganza, but
to us Westerners itís something else entirely: an outrageously psychedelic blast
of action, color and really bad special effects.
Iíve been unable to uncover much info about the production or reception of
GINSENG KING (1989) outside a few surface details: it was made in Thailand by
somebody named Ru-Tar Rotar, who according to the imdb hasnít directed anything
else before or since. As to further cast and crew members, or even alternate
titles, Iím at a loss (the credits, after all, are all in Thai). Some believe
the film was an unauthorized remake of THE NEVERENDING STORY, which may be
partially true. It does contain similarities to that film, and I noticed
additional elements filched from EXCALIBUR and TIME BANDITS.
As for obtaining a copy of GINSENG KING, good luck! Itís only commercial
release appears to have been via a Japanese subtitled VHS, which is now long out
In an enchanted forest the Ginseng King, a peace-loving wood demon, is
kidnapped by emissaries of an evil three-headed monstrosity, and a young boy
living in the forest witnesses the act.
The kidís life is further complicated when his mother
is bitten by a Nazi zombie whoís always bumping into things and giving a
ďSieg Heil!Ē salute. The zombie is stopped by being shown a swastika, but
thatís no help in saving the boyís mother. It seems the only way she can be
restored to health is through the ministrations of the kidnapped Ginseng King.
The boy consults an ancient sorcerer, who leads him into an underground
cavern. There a pair of clairvoyant creatures reside, one of whom has a pop-out
eye with a limitless range of vision. The eye settles on a far-off fortress
where the Ginseng King is imprisoned.
The boy and wizard make their way to the fortress by
hitching a ride in a giantís knapsack. Upon reaching their destination they
become ensnared in a labyrinthine series of tunnels packed with inhuman servants
of the fortressí three-headed ruler(s). In the resulting melee the wizard is
killed but the boy forges on, assisted by a scantily clad warrior woman unafraid
of using her fighting skills to kick lotsa mutant ass!
The Ginseng King is found bound in the cavern and the
boy endeavors to find a way to rescue it. In the meantime the warrior woman
takes on the fortressí three-headed ruler, who fights back by firing lasers (or
something) at our intrepid heroine.
In this film ambition was clearly high but the budget wasnít. Thus the
quality of the special effects--encompassing a half dozen or so creatures, a
zombie and a myriad of animated lightning bolts and laser beams--is pretty much
as youíd expect.
The film is competently made, with crisp photography
and a good kicky pace, but sorely lacking in dramatic intensity. The overall
tone is unwaveringly staid and laid back, presenting its many bizarre sights in
an unimpressed, matter-of-fact fashion...which only heightens the weirdness.
And believe me, it IS weird, in a manner only an apparently mainstream
production from a distant culture can achieve. Itís possible that Thai
audiences back in 1989 may have found this film ho-hum, but to Americans twenty
years later GINSENG KING is a cinematic acid trip well worth taking.
Director: Ru-Tar Rotar