Magic Blade (The)
R1 - America - Image Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James Teitelbaum (6th April 2008).
The Film

Wuxia is a sub-genre of the martial arts idiom in China. Wuxia is a mix of "xia", or the concept of an ethical knight archetype (think Japanese bushido, American old west gunslinger, or Arthurian knights) with "wushu", or martial arts. Wuxia adventures are often set in ancient China, and often deal with heroes coming of age, or old warriors settling ancient grudges. Fantasy elements are frequently combined with the kung-fu and swordplay. Wuxia tales are told in literature, television, and cinema. The most famous example of wuxia to make it to western shores is the 2000 film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". However, wuxia films go back much farther than that.

In 1924, the Shaw brothers opened their production facilities in Hong Kong and have produced almost one thousand films to date. Employing many thousands of actors, writers, directors, and other assorted craftsmen, the Shaw Brothers have made a mark on cinema that is every bit as important in the East as the Warner Brothers (founded in 1918) are to the West.

Almost since the very inception of the studio, the Shaw Brothers have brought countless martial arts classics to the big screen, including numerous adaptations of the work of the great Chinese author Gu Long. During the 1970's, director Chor Yuen lensed an unbroken string of Long's epics, often featuring the same cast (playing different characters) and crew members. In 1976, Long's classic "The Magic Blade" was lensed by Yuen. Wanting to make this movie stand out from the pack, Yuen filmed it in a lurid, stylized, and exaggerated manner. The end result is a movie that is considered the first true wuxia film, and one by which all others are compared.

The story occurs in a 'jiang hu' or a fantastic underworld. Ti Lung, master of swordplay, stars as Fu Hung-hsueh. He has an old grudge to settle with another expert swordsman, Yen Nan-fei (Lo Lieh), so he crashes a ceremony that Yen is involved in. Two other assassins also show up to kill Yen. Fu and Yen join forces, and learn about the evil Yu, who wants to control an criminal empire. The legendary Peacock Dart is the only hope of stopping Yu, so Fu and Yen go looking for it. Fighting occurs. Fu and Yen get the Dart, and continue looking for Yu. Joining them is the beautiful Chiu Yu-Cheng (Cheng Lee). Yen is lost, Fu and Chiu fall in love, and fighting occurs. Yu gets the Dart, and fighting occurs. Then some fighting occurs. Someone says "don't let's fight", but then fighting occurs.

"The Magic Blade" was filmed with huge and elaborate (if also cheap-looking) sets, equally elaborate costumes (but really bad wigs throughout!), colorful lighting, and fantastic situation after fantastic situation. Reminding me strongly of the old Ray Harryhausen mythological adventure movies (for example "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963) or the "Sinbad" (1958-1977) films) "The Magic Blade" is exactly the Chinese equivalent of the sort of thing that Western kids watched at Saturday afternoon matinées in the 1950's and 1960's (and then glimpsed again as their own kids saw them on Saturday afternoon television in the 1970's and 1980's). The main difference here is that the razzle-dazzle of Harryhausen's stop motion animation effects has been swapped out with amazing fight choreography. Every other scene in "The Magic Blade" is a fight, and they're all astounding in their complexity while also often being hilarious in their excess. Were these fights conducted in a pool of water, the shapes and patterns made of deftly shifting human bodies would put even Busby Berkley to shame! And, just as one waits patiently in a Harryhausen film for the giant Cyclops or the sword fighting skeletons, each new fight scene in "The Magic Blade" is what makes the film worth the price of admission. One difference between these Eastern and Western adventures is nudity and blood on display "The Magic Blade"; clearly the Hong Kong censors were more relaxed than the perpetually uptight western ones can be. This is corny film making, but it is a lot of fun.

Video

"The Magic Blade" is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for widescreen televisions. The transfer is cleaner than what one might expect, with almost no debris or scratches to be seen. The colorful palette used by the production designers and costumers along with the creative lighting effects come across well. A lot of this film takes place at night, showing off the deep if occasionally too-murky blacks. A few scenes were a little soft for my taste, but overall this is not at all a bad presentation for a 1976 genre film.

Audio

Audio is provided in a Dolby Digital 1.0 mono English dub and the original Mandarin Dolby Digital 1.0 mono, with English subtitles. The fun music and the hilarious whooshing swords (often enhanced with echoplex-type tape delay effects) come across well considering the age of the track. There is some hiss and a tiny bit of distortion present, and dynamic range is fairly limited, all as can be expected from the source material.

Extras

There are no extras at all on this disc, which is disappointing, since there was an edition released a few years back (from Celestial Pictures, R3 Honk Kong release) that contained a 5.1 soundtrack an a nice collection of extras.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: B+ Audio: C+ Extras: F Overall: C-

 


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