The Magic Blade
Reviewed by YTSL
Up until Celestial Pictures began re-releasing
the films from the Shaw Brothers library that they had acquired, my principal
knowledge of the individual who has been hailed as “the real discovery
among the directorial talent represented by the new Shaw Bros. DVDs” (by
Brian Camp on Mobius’s Asian Cinema Discussion Board) was by way of his
on screen appearances in post 1980 Hong Kong movies. Perhaps most
notably, Chor Yuen (AKA Chu Yuan; real name Zhang Baojian) had the role
of the main villain in Jackie Chan’s “Police Story” and Carina Lau’s character’s
father in “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Father” (plus lent his name to Tony
Leung Chiu Wai’s character in that U.F.O. production). Additionally,
he can be spotted making cameo appearances in movies like the nostalgia
tinged as well as parody oriented “Those Were the Days” (1997) that had
a contemporary director modeled after Wong Kar Wai being made to go back
in time to the days when his local cinema was dominated by a Shaw Brothers-like
Somewhere down the line, I also learnt that the
critically plus commercially successful “92 Legendary La Rose Noir” plus
its sequels were based on, or at least inspired by, the Chor Yuen directed
“The Black Rose” that had been a hit with Hong Kong audiences back in 1965.
Still more recently, this (re)viewer realized that one of her favorite
Chow Yun-Fat comedies -- “Diary of a Big Man”; a star-infused work whose
cast includes Sally Yeh, Joey Wong, Waise Lee and Carrie Ng -- also was
helmed by this enduring entertainment industry personality. And while
I’d not go so far as the likes of “The Illuminated Lantern”’s Peter Nepstad
in declaring, in a Mobius post, that “Chu Yuan is a God”(!) whose adaptations
of Gu Long’s historical swordplay novels are “filled with more inventiveness
than 10 ordinary films”(!!), here’s pointing out my willingness to at least
state that: Chor Yuen’s light hearted “The House of 72 Tenants” and darker
THE MAGIC BLADE are -- along with the legendary King Hu’s “Come Drink With
Me” -- the digitally restored Shaw Brothers classics that I do rate most
highly of the eight, and counting, which I’ve viewed thus far.
As Bey Logan informs listeners on this wuxia work’s
DVD’s commentary track, THE MAGIC BLADE is one of several Chinese cinematic
adaptations of the writings of the late Gu Long (AKA Ku Long), a Hong Kong
born “pulp fiction” novelist who spent much of his adult life in Taiwan.
At the same time, this 1976 offering’s director -- and his team (e.g.,
co-scriptwriters I Kuang and Szu-Tu An) -- managed to inventively incorporate
“spaghetti western”, Japanese chambara film and Hammer horror movie elements
into that which still could function as a “purveyor of traditional Chinese
values” as well as piece of mass entertainment. And so successful
were their efforts that viewers like myself didn’t think to question much
such as the historic viability of its “wandering swordsman” protagonist’s
poncho-style costume plus consider the insertion of Ha Ping’s cackling
“Devil Grandma” character in the picture to be one that ruined the mood
of an action production that benefits quite a bit from having its fair
share of stylized as well as stylish sections.
Another major plus point possessed by THE MAGIC
BLADE comes by way of its leading man being the immensely charismatic plus
handsome -- maybe especially when in slightly disheveled guise, like he
is in this film -- Ti Lung. Supposedly, the Tong Gaai and Wong Pau
Gei action directed movie’s title really refers to the sought after --
including by the fairly linear, even if also multi-character plus -stranded,
story’s chief villain, an elderly but powerful man known as Master Yu (who
is portrayed by Tang Ching) -- explosive projectile weapon that gets named
in the English subtitles as “the Peacock Dart”. However, Ti Lung’s
Fu Hung-Hsieh character’s handling of his unconventional individual weapon
of choice -- a rectangular blade whose handle resembles that of a policeman’s
nightstick -- was what looked particularly magical to me.
Lest there be any doubt, here’s stating that THE
MAGIC BLADE’s imaginatively choreographed fight scenes -- all of which
involve Fu Hung-Hsieh, and pit him against killers who work for Master
Yu (including those played by Ku Feng, Lily Li, Fan Mei Sheng, Norman Tsui,
Lui Hui Ling, Hsu Shao Chiang and Koo Koon Chung) -- are very watchable.
This fact notwithstanding, its principal star’s appeal also can be appreciated
in those quieter portions of the offering -- like that which had him interacting
for a few precious minutes with a supporting actress who Bey Logan didn’t
identify (and, instead, only talked about as an example of the efforts
made by the Shaw Brothers to invest their productions with the presence
of females who are attractive to the women as well as men among the audience).
Still, this is not at all to say that the heroic Mr. Fu majorly comes across
as a ladies’ man. Indeed, despite this film’s containing shots of
female nudity and a suggestion that its protagonist did go to bed with
at least one of the women who figure in the frame, Ti Lung’s character
did strike me as placing as little value on sex as he did power, fortune,
fame and/or being Leader of the Martial World (AKA Jiang Hu).
In this and other ways (including visual ones
that often had this dark clothed individual’s opponents dressed in white
-- the color of death for many Chinese; rather than that which invariably
signifies purity, like when it is worn by Ching Li’s “pure-hearted”, predominantly
white robed Chiu Yu-Cheng character), Fu Hung-Hsieh is made to stand out
from, plus stand in contrast to, THE MAGIC BLADE’s plethora of other personalities.
All in all, it retrospectively appears far from co-incidental that this
enthralling work that’s set in a mythical as well as historical feeling
“Wild East”’s opening scenes are ones that show Lo Lieh’s sword-wielding
Yen Nan-Fei character -- who, incidentally, is introduced to the movie’s
audience before the much more austere Fu -- in his hedonistic glory.
On a related note: Tanny Tien Ni’s Ming Yueh-Hsin character can seem to
be ultimately more disapproved of due to her being a “woman who plays fast
and loose” than because she also is “heartless”.
My rating for this film: 8.