The Magic Blade (1976)
Directed by Chu Yuan
Produced by Runme Shaw
Starring Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Ching Li, Tanny Tien Ni, Lily Li, Ku Feng, Norman Chu
Release Date: March 11, 2008
Master swordsmen Fu and Yen must put aside their rivalry when the mysterious underworld figure Lord Yu begins sending a never-ending barrage of assassins and henchmen to kill the pair. Fu and Yen discover that Yu wants to have complete control over the swordplay world, and in order to do so must dispatch of the pair and then obtain the mythical and deadly Peacock Dart. Without a moment to lose, Fu and Yen team up and ride off into the night to get to the Peacock Dart first.
Their travels lead them through the lawless villages and roads of China, with assassination attempts coming at them left and right from a host of colorful killers. When Fu becomes separated from Yen, he must travel the final legs of the perilous journey to the Tien Wai Mansion alone. There, Fu is tempted with the most decadent of foods and women as a gift to enjoy on his last night on Earth, before facing off against five perfect killers and Yu himself!
Coming out of the incredible movie production powerhouse Shaw Brothers Studios, director Chu Yuan brings together the martial arts and charismatic prowess of Ti Lung as Fu and Lo Lieh as Yen in this lesser-known kung fu flick that is entertaining as all hell. Like the best martial arts movies, the simple plot is merely a trail of breadcrumbs to follow from one action sequence to the next, and like the best of the Shaw Brothers period films, this one too is adapted from a book by Ku Lung.
Chu Yuan was responsible for some of the most memorable of the Shaw Brothers action outings, including Killer Clans and Intimate Confessions Of A Chinese Courtesan to name two of his 120-plus directing credits. Here he blends together the theatrical playfulness and themes of the earlier swordplay movies in the ’60s with the grittier blood-drenched outings that were being churned out in the ’70s, while interjecting just a hint of steamy eroticism. What is most unique about The Magic Blade however, is the undeniable influence that Spaghetti Westerns had on its creation from character design to the dusty roads and tumbleweeds.
At the forefront of this old west connection is Ti Lung, who looks like a lo mein version of Clint Eastwood’s squinting gunslinger with his tattered poncho, scruffy facial hair, and the titular weapon that he wears like a holstered gun. His unique blade, which looks like a cross between a nightstick and machete, has to be seen in action to be believed, and is just one of the many elements that make this movie so memorable to those that have seen it. But while Ti Lung’s appearance may scream “Sergio Leone”, his mannerisms and morals shout “John Ford.” Ti Lung’s Fu is no longer interested in money and fame and the death which would certainly follow, nor in temptation of flesh and desires. Instead, he has grown wise from his years on the road and honed a sense of righteousness that manifests itself with the protection of a young woman. His honor however, is matched only by his speed and the countless corpses he leaves in his wake.
Standing up against Fu is a wicked array of villains with powers and characteristics that border on comic book fantasy, with each one solely focused on dispatching him in order to build their reputation and fill their pockets with gold. With each character armed with a specific weapon and unique personality, the actions stays fresh and furious from the first duel to the final fallen body. Among these villains is a woman with a lute that transforms into a sword, a chess player that creates a live action board which Fu must fight on, and Devil’s Granny, the cackling and cannibalistic witch.
But perhaps most dangerous is Yen, who stays perfectly balanced between friend and foe throughout the picture. Lo Lieh, who is an incredible martial artist and performer, is perhaps best known for the cult favorite Five Fingers Of Death and brings his top skills to the screen here as he flashes that diabolical half-smile which could mean a knife in your back at any moment. His chemistry with Ti Lung is irresistible, and as they fight together and against each other, it is easy to see how these two became part of an elite list of names that were synonymous with kung fu.
The Magic Blade is one of my personal favorite Shaw Brothers films, and I recommend it wholeheartedly and without hesitation to anyone looking for a classic slice of kung fu excellence. There is something for everyone here and whether it be heroic posturing, non-stop fighting, gratuitous nudity, or over-the-top fake blood, Chu Yuan will no doubt leave a goofy grin on your face from start to finish.
In the early 2000s, Hong Kong-based company Celestial Pictures bought the entire Shaw Brothers library and began to painstakingly restore each and every film to their original glory. These were then released in the Hong Kong market for a whole new generation to discover and to allow long-time fans to finally upgrade their shoddy multi-generational copied bootlegs. Now, Image Entertainment has started to bring these titles, including The Magic Blade, to patiently waiting fans here in the United States.
The transfer on this DVD is absolutely gorgeous, with nary a scratch to be found on the print or a crackle to be found in the soundtrack. The original Mandarin soundtrack is presented with optional English subtitles, with the old school English dub soundtrack supplied as well. Although the extras consist of only trailers, Image Entertainment has gone all out in providing a dizzying selection to browse through! With fourteen restored trailers from the Shaw Brothers library, as well as thirteen additional action- and exploitation-themed trailers that look like they’ve just been pulled from 42nd Street, there is no shortage of choices to use for your next intermission during a Saturday night kung fu double feature.
Check out The Magic Blade DVD trailer here.
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