Magic Blade, The (1976) Review

"The Magic Blade" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Magic Blade" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Chor Yuen
Producer: Runme Shaw
Cast: Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Guk Fung, Tang Ching, Cheng Lee, Lily Li Li-Li, Fan Mei Sheng, Chan Shen, Cheng Miu, Goo Goon Chung, Ha Ping, Lau Wai Ling, Norman Chu, Yuen Wah, Tim Lei, Wong Pau Gei, Alan Chui Chung San, Yuen Shun-Yi, Kong Yeung, Ng Hong Sang
Running Time: 93 min.

By Joe909

Magic Blade hits the ground running and doesn’t let up for its first hour. From the opening challenge between Ti Lung and Lo Lieh, to the mortal combat between the duo and a legion of weird killers, to the swordfight-filled conclusion, this movie is action-packed to say the least. But around the one hour mark it lands in sappytown, and then struggles to righten itself.

Magic Blade is the beginning of a loose trilogy of films directed by Chor Yuen. Ti Lung’s Magic Blade character makes a brief appearance in Death Duel, a 1977 film that features Derek Yee as a master swordsman looking to become the greatest in the land. Death Duel also contains a brief appearance by Lo Lieh, as twisted killer Hang Tan, a role Lo first portrayed in 1976’s Killer Clans, which featured neither Ti Lung nor Derek Yee. So there’s your trilogy. Like I said, loose.

This is a swordplay film, so there isn’t much kung-fu acrobatics. Instead, there’s lots of flying around and other supernatural feats. But all of it’s done in an old school style, so there’s none of the fast-cut editing that distinguishes much of the gunk which makes up more recent swordplay films. The movie takes place squarely in the “martial world,” where fighters battle for prestige, not revenge or any other universal motive. Instead, everyone wants to be Number One, and will do whatever it takes to reach that goal. This is also one of those movies where everyone knows each other, either through reputation or legend; and just so we’re not left out of the party, every time someone new comes into the story, they’re accompanied by an on-screen credit. It does get annoying after a bit.

In fact, the multitude of characters is one of this film’s impediments. The first hour is a torrential flood of character after character who shows up long enough to challenge Ti Lung and Lo Lieh, and then get killed by one of them. Luckily these guys mostly don’t stick around very long; otherwise you’d need to keep a character list to keep track. Enemies who team up to discover who’s attempting to have them killed and capture the dreaded Peacock Dart, Lung and Lieh are Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef respectively, and this movie is more Sergio Leone-influenced than any other Hong Kong movie I’ve seen. From the music to the shot angles to Lung’s twirling, tricked-out sword, the movie is a true Eastern Western.

The characters up against this pair are all “straight out of a comic book,” to quote Jim Kelly. In this aspect the movie reminds me of another Shaw Brothers production, Avenging Eagle, which also featured crazily-named villains who used even crazier styles and weapons. The Devil Grandma is probably the best representative of the villains in Magic Blade: a decrepit old witch who pushes around a cart that contains everything from dying captives to deadly swordsmen.

As mentioned, things get sappy around the hour mark. Lung and Lieh split up, and Lung runs into a starving woman who prostitutes herself for food. This sequence is so unnecessary it isn’t even funny, and really halts the flow of the movie. Things get back on track once Lung hooks up with Cheng Lee, who plays the daughter of the Peacock Dart’s owner. Cheng gets captured, and Lung must free her, battling several new (and old) foes.

The movie takes an interesting turn into the metaphysical toward the end, as Lung, victorious, is informed that the mysterious pursuer of the Peacock Dart, Yu, the man he has been hounded by throughout the movie, doesn’t exist. Instead, whoever rules the martial world becomes Yu. This is an interesting, Eastern twinge to the film, but then it’s ruined when the real Yu comes charging out and attacks Lung. The fight between he and Lung is great, and Lung dispatches the guy with a neat twist, but I would have preferred the more philosophical conclusion that was hinted at.

But what it all comes down to is the fighting. I’m happy to say that, even though I don’t love the swordplay genre, I thought the action scenes in this movie were very well done. Since Ti Lung is our main character, he does a lot more fancy footwork than actors like David Chiang or Wang Yu ever could. His opponents also come off very good, so the fights in this film are more protracted than other swordplay movies of the era, which generally were over in a few unsatisfying seconds. Since all of the characters are veritable martial gods, expect lots of inhuman feats, but they’re all pulled off impressively, and believably within the context of the film. The gore factor isn’t nearly as high as in a Chang Cheh movie, but blood does erupt from the occasional sword slash.

Since this is a Chor Yuen film, the sets are meticulously constructed and look fabulous. Costumes are also impressive across the board, with Ti Lung really sporting a Spaghetti Western look in his poncho. Lung is as usual excellent, though his character is a bit too superheroic for me. Lo Lieh is as evil as always, and Cheng Lee, though she doesn’t get as meaty a role as in Yuen’s Web of Death, is fine in a part that doesn’t ask for much but to look scared.

Joe909’s Rating: 8.5/10

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on Google+

This entry was posted in Chinese, Reviews, Shaw Brothers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Magic Blade, The (1976) Review

  1. Masterofoneinchpunch says:

    Here is one of my favorite wuxia films (my rating would be at least a half point higher). Heck I even wrote a 1000+ word essay on it. Here it is of course.

    While I have found some decent to good reviews on this movie, I haven’t found as much in book form (with the exception that I write on in my essay).

    • JJ Hatfield says:

      Hello Masterofoneinchpunch. I don’t believe I have seen your name here at COF before. And a fan of the great Ti Lung too. Welcome!

      Well I gave it at lowest an 8.5/10 If you would add a half point for 9 / 10 that is really almost the same. I did add the higher score for fans because in this film it makes all the difference in the world. If a viewer hates Ti Lung (who could?) they would not give it a 10. So I would say for perhaps different reasons we gave it virtually the same score. Whatever rating this is a must see!

      It is a fantastic movie and Ti Lung is exceptional! He is one of my greatest screen heroes! And from what people have told me about working with him he is a genuinely nice man with a sometimes wicked sense of humor. He is one of the very, very few people in films that I truly respect and honor.

      I had to grin at your comment about 1000 + word essays. If Mighty Peking Man, the site owner ever sets a limit – see I just had him convinced 1000 words was a “brief review”, lol.

      As a writer it is always a fine line between providing the audience with enough foundation on the subject to overwhelming with copious amounts of mind numbing data.
      Maybe no one else runs in to this issue but I have especially with epic, period piece, wu -xai (spelling?) and just plain complex films. Films based on one or more books or folklore are even more difficult to decide which references must be included.

      Did you have a particular question or aspect in mind? I would be happy to help you track down the answer if I can. And we have a great group of folks here who have an amazing amount of information about all things film. (I am not including myself. MPM just lets me write here to be nice)

      With “The Magic Blade” I held off on most of the written material as I felt with this film it would hamper the Magic, literally. I also try and remember there are those who don’t care about references. So I have to edit somewhere or my reviews will be 10,000 words,lol.

      I’m curious what are some of your other Ti Lung favorites? Do you prefer the old school, such as “The Magic Blade”, or (the) ” Blood Brothers” or “City War”, “A Better Tomorrow” etc.?

      I hope you come back to COF to post again. I do enjoy sharing about the Shaws – so many wondrous films, but I’m not limited to any particular genre/sub genre. Just time, never enough.

      JJ

      • Masterofoneinchpunch says:

        First time poster though I’ve been reading more and more reviews here over the past few months. I was brought attention to the site by mpm at kungfucinema who asked me if I was interested in possibly writing for here. However, the problem is that I tend to write a review a month so I’m a bit slow 😀 and I ponder too much. No idea if that offer still stands anyways :D.

        When writing it always depends on who your audience is. I’m influenced by David Bordwell so I tend to mix an academic approach with a populist one as well as have fun with the essay when I write.

        Quick rundown on myself: admin/coowner of criterionforums.com, I study all cinema so I don’t get to watch as much HK and Asian as I like. I’m probably more jack of all movies rather than master of any genre (though in several topics like silent and some HK areas I could easily write a book on). Still so much to learn, not enough time.

        I’m not sure how someone could dislike Ti Lung. My favorites roles so far are Delightful Forest (1972), The Duel (1971), A Better Tomorrow (1986) and many more (even with David Chiang). Yeah I have a lot of respect too for his work ethic and attitude. I tend to prefer old school, but I still have tons of his films that I need to see.

        This film is currently in my top 50 HK movies and so far my favorite Chor Yuen film.

        Do you think he is in the top 3 of the Shaw Brother’s directors?

        • JJ Hatfield says:

          Hi! Wow you have a lot of experience! I want to know how you find the time : )

          There are several people who don’t care for Ti Lung, but I am not one of them. Old school, heroic fighting, “brothers” – he can do it all!

          Hmmmmm……directors. I’m not a huge fan of using numbers as ratings ….primarily because it’s difficult to match a definitive, the #, when there are so many different aspects in a film that may or may not be controlled by the actors.

          I’ll see if I can come up with just three.

          JJ

          • Masterofoneinchpunch says:

            The reason I ask is that many think of the top 2 being Chang Cheh and Lau Kar-leung and often state Chor Yuen as the third. Tony Liu Jun-Guk gets mentioned as well with Ric Meyers being quite a fan of his (I’m a fan of Liu’s as well).

            Some critics add King Hu but I’m not a fan of that since he did very little for Shaw Brothers (though I do like Come Drink With Me quite a bit).

            But I don’t read as much on others. My opinions may change on this when I watch more of the Shaw Brothers output, of course the majority of Shaw films I have seen have been from the ones I mentioned above.

  2. Masterofoneinchpunch says:

    Also, does anyone know of a (or some) Chor Yuen interviews online?

    • I doubt it. Might get some luck in some of those Asian film magazines though. As far as some of my other favorite shaw directors: Cheng Kang and Hoh Mung Wa (their films are just as enjoyable as some of the best Chang Cheh and Lau Kar-leung flicks).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *