I have doubts the Dragon Ball saga is ever really going to end, especially in its "Z" incarnation. Now that it's an international hit beloved by generations and one of the most successful and recognized anime cartoons of all time, forget about it ever concluding. There were several points during the original run where Toriyama wanted to stop the story, but the money kept getting waved in his face and he kept having to invent even more outlandish ways to top himself. He finally got a rest after the Buu saga, but it wouldn't last. Dragon Ball is surging back with a new continuation, Dragon Ball Super, as well as movies like Resurrection F that have done surprisingly well at the American box office. We've got UFC fighters professing fangirlish love for the series while wearing Vegeta T-shirts in the ring. This won't be over until Goku reaches Power Level 900,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 at the very least.
Getting to the point, I'll never forget that glorious weekend, many years ago, when I was flipping through the stations and found a Spanish channel that was showing, for some reason, a really really low-budget movie adaptation of Dragon Ball. Dubbed into Spanish from its original Taiwanese, I couldn't understand a word, but that was part of what made it so great. Officially titled "Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins," it was a live-action remake of the first Dragon Ball feature film, shot in and around the jungles of Taiwan. And you better believe it was unauthorized.
An English-dubbed version of this movie DOES exist, called "Monkey Boy" and made well before anyone in the States knew what Dragon Ball actually was, but why would I use that one? It's crucial for the film to work that I just barely comprehend what anyone is saying. And you have not lived until you've seen Asian teen actors trying to recreate over-the-top theatrics like punching each other in midair or kicking off the side of a mountain at topspeed, using only a suspended harness and a budget of $1.36. Let's take a look through the entire thing, shall we?
The story starts off in a pagoda-crowned village where the citizens have all gathered for some kind of ceremony between them, the ruling family, and a group of monks. Mr. President Monk holds a Dragon Ball aloft while giving a speech that sounds like "Hai dorg mee bai ookie oona leesh!" Suddenly, in a complete reversal of tone and setting, sci-fi-looking spaceships with giant mounted guns drop down from the sky and start shooting lasers that blow up buildings. A massive army approaches over the bridge, led by Zebrata and Maria, henchmen to the cause.
That's when we meet our Big Bad, the Power Rangers reject known as King Horn. King Horn takes the village's Dragon Ball for himself, then wastes the palace and wrecks the village. I probably don't need to tell you that his mission is to collect all the Dragon Balls and take control of the world, but just in case anyone had any doubts, that's his motive.
As Horn is holding a Dragon Ball and trash-talking the villagers, we cut to a remote monastery in the woods and Grampa Harry Potter here. He was deep in meditation until he suddenly felt a disturbance in whatever passes for the Force in Dragon Ball lore. He seems to quickly put it behind him, though, and continue with his main task -- training his pupil, Son Goku, in the ways of battle. Actually I shouldn't call him "Grampa Harry Potter" because his actual name is far far better: "Sparkle."
As the fight progresses, they constantly pluck powers out of nowhere, which I guess is faithful to Dragon Ball, though here it's at 50 times the storytelling speed. Midfight, Grampa Sparkle is able to turn himself into steam and race toward Goku as a cloud. "HOUAAAAAAAAA!!!" Goku shouts in surprise, leaping up 50 feet into the air. Goku then whistles for his Bo staff, which comes racing to him like a supersonic puppy. He tries to trip up Sparkle with it, but that just results in this happening:
So you could say Goku has quite a way to go. He seems happy with himself, though. He flies off, bouncing along the tree trunks, unaware that King Horn is after the next Dragon Ball, and Sparkle happens to keep it in his shack.
Here is Goku's encounter with an alligator. A real alligator start swimming up behind Goku, then a puppet alligator says "HA HA HA!" (literally) and starts charging. Goku turns around, shoves his bo stick in between the alligator's jaws and then starts PUNCHING IT IN THE FACE.
As Goku is carrying his lunch back to the hut, suddenly a Jeep comes barreling straight for him. He does what anybody his age would do and slams his hands directly onto the hood, stopping the Jeep in its tracks through sheer strength. Now the driver is mad, and leaps out of the car to tell him off. It's the next central character to be introduced -- Seetoe, otherwise known as "Bulma Ripoff."
But would Bulma ever do this? Goku refuses to let the car pass, so Seetoe reaches under the dash, PULLS OUT A MACHINE GUN AND SHOOTS GOKU ABOUT FIFTY TIMES. I am going to be hitting the Caps Lock a lot in this review.
UPDATE: I've been informed that Bulma apparently would do this.
Goku is fine, though -- no explanation why, as the bullets clearly hit him. He gets right back up. Seetoe tries to shoot again, but her gun jams up. Goku isn't going away, so he and Seetoe have an argument that I can't understand the words to. It abruptly ends when Goku recognizes the shine of a Dragon Ball in Seetoe's backpack. Seetoe seems to suggest that she doesn't know what it is. When Goku informs her what she has, she suddenly leaps around the area with joy, shouting "WOOCHOW NANA! WOOCHOW NANA!"
Seetoe then mentions that before she met Goku, she ran into some fearsome-looking men in tanks who were heading in the direction of his house. Goku realizes that's bad news, and races there as fast as he can -- yet he's too late; the house is a charred mess, and Grampa Sparkle is nowhere to be seen.
Whoever did that is going to PAY! Goku flies off so fast (literally) that Seetoe can barely keep up in her Jeep. She finally catches up and yanks him down into the passenger seat, suggesting something to the effect of "we do this together." They catch up to Zebrata and Maria, but they're packing serious heat. Zebrata pulls out a ROCKET LAUNCHER and fires several rounds in the car's direction. Seetoe is able to avoid them through some tricky driving maneuvers, but eventually the car gets stuck and they have to bail, then watch helplessly as their only ride explodes in a fiery ball.
The only good news is that Zebrata and Maria think they were still in the car, and now dead, so they won't be searching for them anymore. But where are they going to find another ride?
Well, never mind about that question -- in the very next scene they're riding on top of an elephant. This was the era of Ancient Japan where Jeeps and elephants were both used as transportation.
As Goku and Seetoe are talking, Goku suddenly spots something strange in the tall weeds to the left of them. We're about to meet the next two characters. One is the princess from the tribe we saw at the beginning of the movie. Her name is Jen Jen, and she's running for her life from....
This guy's name is "Piggy," because what else are you going to call him? He's basically the same thing as Oolong from the actual series -- a greedy shapeshifting pig man. The shapeshifting aspect is used to the production team's advantage by having him shift into a normal-looking guy after this and keeping him that way for the majority of the runtime. But for now, we get what may be the best part of the movie, or at least one of the 57 best parts: Goku and Piggy's fight.
Goku follows Piggy, who transforms into a Taiwanese singer to distract him before sucker-punching his face, turning into a rubber bat and flying off. He's bad at this, though, and slams right into a wall, where he turns into his human form on impact and stays that way.
Piggy pleads for mercy and promises to be good. But just when Goku thinks he's gotten his problems out of the way, ANOTHER person with a machine gun approaches from behind and starts rapidly shooting at them both! Is it Zebrata or Maria?
Negatory on either -- it's La Ping, otherwise known as Yamcha were this an official adaption. He's a notorious bandit and sees what he thinks are his two next pilfering targets. He has a wisecracking cockatoo on his shoulder named Miss Knowwhat who's constantly delivering what I'm guessing are one-liners. La Ping's bird would be a lot more annoying if I could understand her.
La Ping fires his gun at Goku, but he just deflects the bullets away by spinning his Bo staff. Then they fight for five minutes, in a battle so over the top that they actually turn into CGI characters for a few seconds.
Their tiff only ends when Seetoe approaches. Seetoe immediately takes a shine to La Ping on sight, but La Ping looks like he wants nothing to do with her. This is in contrast to most other male characters in the film (with the exception of Goku), who go gooey-eyed for Seetoe the moment they see her. Goku takes advantage of the momentary disruption by punching La Ping so hard that he flies off a large structure onto the ground below. La Ping decides not to stick around after this, and leaves. Seetoe isn't happy about that.
Later that evening, the four new friends are sitting around a campfire. Seetoe asks Jin Jin where she came from, and Jin Jin tells her backstory and what happened to her village. It's nothing but straight conversations for the next few minutes, which makes it hard to discern what they're talking about, but as best I can figure, someone gets the idea that they could find help by visiting a certain bald man in sunglasses who lives in a small shack on an island.....
Now we're REALLY going to have some fun. Meet this movie's Master Roshi, only here his name is "Turtle Man." He is exactly like Roshi, except he's also literally half turtle. There are parts where he dodges gunfire by hiding in his shell. He's glorious.
The next morning, La Ping is seen digging in an open-air temple. He unearths a small treasure box, which produces a Dragon Ball when opened. Then he, his new Dragon Ball and his parrot head to Roshi's island on a jet ski they just happen to pluck out of nowhere. As La Ping is chatting with Roshi, Goku and the others catch up on a speedboat (again, no explanation as to why they have a speedboat, and I doubt whatever was in the dialogue explained it either). Roshi, being Roshi, goes "BOI-OINNNGG" at the sight of Seetoe (with the literal sound effect and CGI eyeballs bouncing out of his glasses).
Roshi agrees to help Goku hone his skills. Specifically, he teaches him the art of cloud-surfing. He does his crazy dance again and summons a cloud, then climbs on top of it -- but it bucks him off like a bronco. Next La Ping attempts to ride, but the cloud dissipates the moment he makes contact with it, causing him to land on his bum. Finally Goku tries to ride the cloud, and is an instant natural.
The gang has a secret conversation inside the hut. Roshi, like nearly everyone else up to this point, possesses a Dragon Ball. But he carries it on his person, and the only way to nab it from him is to distract him. But what could possibly distract Roshi....oh right, he's an easy one, you just need a pretty girl. Too bad any self-respecting pretty girl would refuse Roshi on sight. Both Seetoe and Jin Jin won't do it.
So Seetoe gets the idea of using Piggy. If Piggy transforms into a pretty girl and distracts pervy Roshi long enough, the others can get the Dragon Ball in his pocket well before he notices it's gone. Piggy gives it the old college try, but just turns into a man in drag (complete with comical music). The others plead with him to try again, and this time he gets it right -- but he turns into Seetoe.
Seetoe isn't pleased with the view from the window, watching herself dance and flirt with Roshi. Piggy caps the act by unbuttoning "her" top and FLASHING Roshi, causing his face to EXPLODE with wacky ecstasy. Roshi then falls flat on his back, and being part turtle, he's stuck that way and can't right himself. Lost in the moment, though, he doesn't seem to mind.
Now our heroes have more Dragon Balls in their possession than King Horn does. Unfortunately King Horn has been tracking them and now knows the teens are the sole thing between him and world domination. His battleships arrive quickly and start firing, causing everyone to scatter and Turtle Man to hide back into his shell. Zebrata and Maria beam down from the ship, fire bazookas and BLOW UP KAME HOUSE. NOOOOO!
That makes Roshi so mad, he busts out his secret move.
The group hastily jumps around in an attempt to dodge all the gunfire. In her haste, Seetoe accidentally drops all the Dragon Balls she was carrying. She doubles back to pick them up, but Maria spots her and fires several rounds between them. Goku manages to summon another cloud and the gang escapes on it. Then they helplessly watch as the bad guys leave with all their Dragon Balls, and blow up the entire island for good measure.
Are things hopeless? Piggy seems to think so, but....
.....it turns out he's held a Dragon Ball this entire time and didn't know what he had. As he's carelessly tossing it in the air while bemoaning their situation, everybody has a FIT. This is the seventh and last Dragon Ball -- if King Horn gets this one, he'll be able to summon the dragon and wish for world domination. This time, they're not just going to sit around and wait for that to happen. They're bringing the fight to HIM!
Back at the village King Horn took over, Piggy arrives at the bridge entrance and fires a machine gun, toppling over about a thousand mooks at once. Then he throws a small bomb and takes out about fifty more. While that's going on, Goku and La Ping are able to sneak past the army and into the village -- but Maria is waiting for them!
Goku and La Ping throw their best karate moves at her, but she's good enough to take them both on. Suddenly someone offscreen -- it isn't established who -- fires another machine gun. It hits Maria in the chest seventy times and she falls over, dead.
That leaves Zebrata, who has an all-out, kicking, high-flipping kung-fu fight with Master Roshi. Roshi fires his best Kame blasts, but Zebrata is quick enough to flip out of the way. Then Seetoe comes up from behind, packing a GIANT BFG, and BLOWS HIM UP. And I mean blows him up; it's not just an explosion, you can see Zebrata blowing up. You can't see his parachute. He deeead.
But OHHHH dear, here comes King Horn. He wants that final Dragon Ball. Roshi stands in his way, and he's able to hold the line. It actually looks like the good guys will take this one flawlessly, until suddenly King Horn pulls out his trump card...
Goku's Grampa Sparkle is alive! King Horn has held him prisoner all this time, and will only exchange him for the last Dragon Ball. Otherwise, he's history!
The team refuses to surrender, however. It seems like Horn was bluffing when he kicks Sparkle over to Goku's way, but maybe he just got a better idea. He suddenly realized "Right, I have these tremendous powers of mind control that I haven't used until now." He shoots out a massive blast of light, the entire area turns a shade of blue, and all the villagers rise up as one and box our heroes in, coming closer and closer, about to rip them to shreds.
Roshi and Sparkle come up with a solution I have to say I wouldn't have thought of. If King Horn wants the last Dragon Ball so badly, by golly, let's GIVE it to him! And they let him have it by shoving the ball down his throat. He swallows it and obviously can't digest it, for he's about to explode. Horn manages to beam himself back to his ship right before he goes out in a fiery superball.
And this, for some reason, makes the dragon appear. Master Roshi is about to make a wish when Piggy covers his mouth. Then Piggy is about to wish when Goku covers HIS mouth. The one who needs to do the wishing here is Jin Jin. She falls to her knees, addresses the dragon politely by name and wishes for her village to return to normal.
The villagers wake up from their trance, surround Goku and his friends and cheer. Jin Jin is reunited with her mother and father, who lift her up in the air. As for Goku, he flies off to continue his fight with La Ping. They both turn into CGI again, hit fists and the credits roll.
And that, my friends, is the greatest Dragon Ball movie ever made.
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