Written by: John White on April 17th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: Hong Kong, 1976
Director: Chor Yuen
Cast: Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Guk Fung, Tang Ching, Cheng Lee, Lily Li Li-Li
DVD released: 19th December 2002
Approximate running time: 97 mins
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
DVD Release: Celestial
Region Coding: Region 3 NTSC
Retail Price: £15.95
Master Yu is looking for supremacy in the world of swordplay but require possession of the ultimate weapon, the Peacock dart, to defeat Fu. Tricked into seeking the dart, Fu finds himself ambushed by Yu’s assassins as he takes the dart to an eventual showdown with Yu himself. Will he be able to fight off the assassins and protect his friend, Yen Fei, and his love, Chiu. But there is one secret Yu will never possess.
Chor Yuen is the brother of the far better known Yuen Woo-Ping. Whilst his brother has become a byword for wire-fu excellence in films like the Matrix and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Chor Yuen has remained largely unsung by a western audience. This is deeply regrettable as Chor Yuen took the martial arts film into wonderful dramatic and thriller territory with great films like this one, Legend of the bat, and Killer Clans. No one except perhaps King Hu did more to bring Wu Xia to a greater audience.
The Magic Blade takes the much travelled road of having a chivalrous hero who must overcome the wiles of a secret society to bring justice back to the world. In the lead, Ti Lung swashes his buckle, kicks butt and maintains a Sherlock-like nose for mystery. Alongside him Lo Lieh seems to be playing against type as a similar hero but once he shows his true colours the audience is free to hate him as much as usual. Lo Lieh is the best of villains here, in Mad Monkey Kung Fu and many many more films.
The Magic Blade is not simply a beat the bad guys flick, but mixes in horror, adventure, sex and mystery. The assassins and peripheral characters are interestingly written – one assassin is a wizened old hag called Devil Grandma, another plays chess using the hero as a piece and there is a beautiful cameo from a pathos filled diseased prostitute. The setpieces are excellent and uniformly choreographed with chutzpah. If you thought House of Flying Daggers was the last word in Wu Xia then this film proves that plain wrong.
The primary strength of this film is how satisfying the drama is. No more will you find yourself fast forwarding through the talkie bits to the next fight as the dialogue is fun and the mystery is interesting till the twisty end. Great drama, great fights, great wire-fu, girl on girl action and amputations galore! The Magic Blade is one of the finest Wu Xia you will ever see. Do yourself a favour and catch this with the rest of Chor Yuen’s classic films.
Celestial present the main feature in a non-anamorphic print. The original print is clearly excellent but the transfer does not do it justice. Watched on a normal TV this will seem fine but looked at closely this is a very soft print indeed. For a film that uses scope as much as this, this is a pretty damning fault. The sound is good but the 5.1 has little real sense of surround and is flat. The English subs are good throughout.
Best of all the film comes with an English commentary by Bey Logan who motormouths through the film explaining nuances such as the scene with a new dawn directly after some early grapplings between hero and heroine the night before – the fact of sharing a bed for a night couldn’t be shown so was hinted at. Logan is always good value.
Coming soon is a disc of this film from Image which hopefully will bring a sharper print. I would counsel waiting for that disc before purchasing this package from Celestial.