"The gore factor isn't nearly as high as in a Chang Cheh movie, but blood does erupt from the occasional sword slash."
Magic Blade (1976)
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.
Plot: Tale of two rival swordsmen in imperial China vying with a power-hungry villain for possession of the dangerous "Peacock Dart".
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
JOE909'S REVIEW: 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