Hong Kong in the 1970s was ruled by kung fu. At the forefront of the kung fu movement was the legendary Shaw Brothers studio. There was no shortage of films, as the studio churned them out, all with similar looks, made with a similar cast of characters, but all achieving a good level of quality.
Over the years many of these films have taken on classic status in their native land, as well as with martial arts aficionados around the world, thus making names like Lau Kar Leung, Chang Cheh, King Hu, Gordon Liu, Wei Pai, and Ti Lung household names — at least, household names among those with the love.
The Magic Blade is a 1976 outing directed by Yuen Chor (brother of the more famous Yuen Woo-Ping, who has worked on films such as The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), a director who is well respected, yet not nearly as well known as many of the others (I admit to not being aware of him prior to seeing this film). Is it a good movie? Yes and no. It is definitely memorable for its oddness.
At its heart, The Magic Blade is a Clint "Man with No Name" Eastwood-styled film about a noble hero on a quest to keep the land safe from evil. Of course, it is a quest that is not without its dangers; there are plenty of twists along the way to keep you guessing, not the least of which is the plot itself.
As the movie opens, a brash young swordsman, Yen Nan-fei (Lo Lieh), arrives at an inn in the dark of night. With his arrival a celebration begins; however, it is cut short with the arrival of a man in the shadows, a man with a grudge against Yen. The shadowy figure is revealed to be Fu Hung-hsieh (Ti Lung). The two men begin to duel, but before they can finish they are interrupted by Wood Evil and Earth Evil. The oddly named assassins emerge from a tree stump and beneath the dirt, respectively. At this point, I began scratching my head.
With the arrival of the two Evil assassins, Yen and Fu are forced to team up in order to protect their own skins if they want to resume their own battle. Once the battle is over, the bigger picture of the plot begins to take shape. Well, sort of.
It turns out that someone named Mr. Yu is in search of a powerful weapon called the Peacock Dart. It also turns out that the only major obstacle to his acquisition of the weapon is Fu. That fact explains why Wood Evil and Earth Evil are attacking them, not to mention an entire host of faceless assassins. Oh yes, there is also a curious killer called Devil Grandma, and her specialty is demolition as she never hesitates to try and blow our heroes up. So, after fending off the attacking horde, Fu and Yen go off in an effort to get to the Dart first.
At this point the plot becomes sort of easy to follow, as the Dart becomes the focus of everyone's attention, and the attempts by both sides to possess it become the driving force as we follow Fu's efforts.
The Magic Blade is a curious film. It combines action, drama, romance, fantasy, and horror into one way over the top concoction. While the overarching plot of the Peacock Dart comes into focus, the rest of the film exists in a fog. Sequences are strung together with very little thought to geography, a character will say where they are going and the very next scene will have them there. At random times gangs of would-be assassins spring out of the woodwork.
While the connective tissue appears to be missing, there is no denying the fact the fight choreography is very well done — nothing mind-blowing, mind you, but nicely done and fun to watch. It helps that Fu is armed with a pretty cool looking sword that comes equipped with two different grips and can be spun in place, allowing for the smiting of many enemies simultaneously. It also does not hurt that the lead performances are strong, particularly Ti Lung's stoic portrayal of Fu.
What I thought was strange was the lack of mention of the magic sword of the title. I am not sure what they were referring to; was it Fu's swordsmanship? Or perhaps his funky sword? When I started watching I was sure it would wind up being some legendary weapon they went to acquire, but then the film would have been called The Peacock Dart.
Definitely worth your time if you are a fan of kung fu flicks, or Shaw Brothers films, although I would hesitate to recommend this as a place to start. I would look to the likes of Five Fingers of Death or Shaolin Master Killer as better starting points.
Audio/Video. This release features both the original Cantonese track as well as an English dub. Both sport decent audio quality, with the original language track easily being the better of the two; it is bright and crisp and sounds good. The video is anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen and considering the age and likely low budget, it looks pretty good; it is a bit soft, but still has good detail and color and is easy to watch.
Extras. Not much to speak of. The primary extra is a collection of stills that runs for just over two minutes. Besides that, there is a large collection of Shaw Brothers trailers, as well as other non-Shaw flicks of interest.
Bottom line. This is a fun, weird movie that will leave you shaking your head at some of the goofy sequences and odd transitions. It does feature good action and decent acting. I also like the collision of genres. It is certainly unique in my viewing experience.