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天涯明月刀 (1976)
The Magic Blade


Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 02/24/2013


Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Masterofoneinchpunch
Date: 07/09/2011
Summary: "No one shall kill him for his life is mine" -- Fu Hung-hsueh

In lust of power and wealth, hair turns gray.
On mountains old, the pine and bamboo grow.

The prolific Chor Yuen (Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972)) whose work covers many genres was an important director with The Shaw Brothers, but today his oeuvre is known less than Chang Cheh and Lau Kar-leung. The genre that I am most familiar with from his films are the wuxia adaptations from the Gu Long novels including this one which was taken from a popular novel (the Chinese title of the film is the same as the novel). While his direction was usually fine he had a habit to trying to fit in an overabundance of plot turns and characters that can be typical in adaptations of literature. I felt this was a hindrance to many of his directed films such as Bat Without Wings (1980), but in this movie it worked quite well. So far, and I have many more films that I would like to see of his with most not available on R1, this is easily my favorite movie directed by Yuen.

The Magic Blade is a consummate wuxia adaptation in the jianghu universe (jianghu literally means lakes and rivers but has come to mean the fictional world these fighters inhabit). The best wuxia films have hearty heroes, sundry and plentiful villains, diverse powerful weaponry and a complicated plot that I will eschew discussing too much about in this review. This film has all of that. We start with the solemn hero with an absolute code of ethics bemoaning a lost love because of his quest in becoming the number one martial artist. Who better to play this than the stoic Ti Lung as Fu Hung-hsueh? He resembles Client Eastwood in the Sergio Leone's The Man With No Name trilogy* in attire while his character is much more chivalrous. Every wuxia badass must have a sublime and deadly weapon and Fu has his unique titular sword in tow. It is a blade that can swivel like a tonfa and looks like it would work well in mowing down your lawn as well as your enemies.

To be number 1 in the jianghu universe it helps to have spent years dedicated to becoming the best swordsman possible. It also helps to obtain a weapon that is so incredibly powerful that it can be used against those swordsmen who have wasted years learning their art to be number 1. What is a sword compared to the powerful Peacock Dart which can kill everything in range except your own fighters? How the device knows that I am not sure but I liked it much more than the spider weapon in another Chor Yuen film The Web of Death (1976). It does have another issue where it can only be used a few times, but we will ignore that as well. The Peacock Dart has been safely hidden away for many years at Peacock Mansion but a rising antagonist the mysterious Master Yu wants to obtain this magnificent weapon. Fu is entrusted with this weapon as it is no longer safe at the Peacock Mansion, but that now makes him an even bigger target than before. Will Fu survive the onslaught to finally face Master Yu (whoever he/she is)?

There is so much to like in this film. Tang Chia's (Shaolin Intruders (1983)) and Wong Pau-gei's fight choreography is excellent. While each fight tends to be short (Dr. Craig D. Reid notes that there are 22 fights for a total of 14 minutes and 8 seconds of action in his fun compendium The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s) the variety of weapons and situations employed are awesome. One of my favorite fight scenes is the human Chinese chess game where Fu gets caught up in the schemes of mini-mastermind Ku Wu-chi. The characters, especially the bad guys, are diverse, plentiful and quite memorable. My favorite is Devil's Grandma (Teresa Ha Ping who has been in at least 243 films) a cackling elder, who has a penchant for human pork buns, can do complex martial arts and would probably poison her son. But there are many other characters from bad guys who would rather play chess, an effeminate swordsman, a sympathetic Lo Lieh character (or is he) and countless others who will be introduced and then dispatched with quick efficiency by the hero (for example: here's a bad guy who gets a Chinese title on the screen, you think he must figure prominent in the story, wait now he is dead, never mind). The story while somewhat complicated but not overly complex like Chor Yuen's The Duel of the Century (1981) is full of plot turns and interesting scenarios with my favorite being the town of the dead (Yuen would repeat this scene in Bat Without Wings).

I easily recommend this to fans of wuxia. I am not sure how well others take to this because there is a fantasy element to these films that some people have trouble connecting to (not sure why when there are so many sci-fi and comic book hero films that skew reality) and the plot is one you do have to pay attention to and a second viewing does help. But this is a brilliant and fun film. The cinematography by Wong Chit is beautiful (he had already been working 20 years), the sets are ethereal and beautifully crafted and the fights, scenes, characters mentioned earlier help form one of my favorite Shaw Brother's films. Now taste my thunder bullets.

The movie has a sequel named Pursuit of Vengeance (1977: Chor Yuen).

The Image R1 release I reviewed is good though it could have been clearer in the transfer. It also does not translate signs which can be annoying for films from this genre where they are prominent and important. There is an English mono dub as well as a Mandarin mono dub. For extras there is a Production Stills Gallery, 16 new Shaw Brothers trailers at a little over 17 minutes and incredibly under Other Titles You Might Like a total of 13 Image Asian trailers that is over 46 minutes long. Unfortunately, and this upsets me, the IVL R3 release has interviews with Chor Yuen, Ching Li, Yuen Wah and Jade Leung. It also has a commentary with Bey Logan.

* Another western influence can be seen from the beginning with a tumbleweed blown in a windy deserted Phoenix Town leading up to a duel between Yen Nan-fei (Lo Lieh) and Fu (Yuen Wah doubles these leads for the more difficult martial art scenes). I would like to ask Chor what American and spaghetti westerns he was influenced by and how much did chambara films influence his direction.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 11/07/2008
Summary: Really something.

Chor Yuen’s The Magic Blade is really something. Director Chor draws his hero through Kurosowa and Leone while the Shaw Bros. Studio turns the production values way up. The costumes, set design, and camera department come with their best craftsperson’s. The film looks terrific, bringing to life the somewhat interesting adventure scenario. Here’s the best part of the film; sultry Tanny Tien Ni gets naked for our hero Ti Lung while two unknown, and naked, starlets put on a lesbian show for his entertainment. Don’t miss it.


more at happyfortune.org

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 03/24/2008

The Magic Blade's story centers around a swordsman for hire named Fu (Ti Lung), who has been hired to take care of Yen (Lo Lieh). It seems Yen's a popular guy, since a group of thugs sent by the evil Master Yu (Tang Ching) also shows up at the same time with Yen's blood on their minds.

Yen manages to convince Fu to help him to kill Yu, which will not be easy, since the only weapon powerful to do so, the Phoenix Dart, is well-guarded. Complicating matters further are a series of five extremely potent assassins sent by Yu, each more powerful than the last.

Okay, yeah, the plot's not going to win any awards, and the acting's nothing special either. Ti Lung in particular looks to be nearly sleepwalking in certain scenes where he really does nothing more than put on his best imitation of Clint Eastwood in a Leone western. And since this is a Shaw Brothers movie, some parts look incredibly cheap -- the Phoenix Dart's "special" power looks like it consists of some smoke bombs and strobe lights.

What really makes The Magic Blade special are the action scenes. Ti Lung has a gimmick of a spinning blade which is pretty cool in and of itself, but each fight presented here has its' own flavor, whether from the fighter's style, their weapon, or the environment around them. The cinematography and editing are also a little more dynamic and fluid than what you might expect from a movie of this type.

The Magic Blade might not be one of the more well-known Shaw Brothers releases, but if you're looking for some very solid oldschool action infused with a bit of fantasy, then it's right up your alley.

DVD Information

The Eastern Masters release is solid for the most part, with the transfer coming from Celestial's remaster. Of particular note are the extras, which consist of a large amount (nearly three dozen) of original Chinese trailers, which can be played in sequence, rather than having to go back to the menu for each one. If you're a trailer junkie, it almost makes the purchase of this DVD worthwhile just for that, especially given the relatively low price.

[review from www.hkfilm.net]

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: bkasten
Date: 01/13/2005
Summary: Beautiful

While I have to admit to being a bit disappointed over Ti Lung sporting a Clint Eastwood Italian western look--replete with flip of the poncho and spinning weapon, etc--the similarities between the two characters end there. The Eastwood character is completely invincible, but he is also amoral, self-centered, and not particularly principled. On the other hand, Ti Lung's Fu Hong Xue character is similarly invincible but he uses his strengths and virtues in only a positive fashion. He is clever, moral, and highly principled. Truly chivalrous in every sense, and best exemplified by the opening duel with the Lo Lieh character (Yan Nan Fei) in the way they interact and respect one another. Ti Lung's onscreen "presence" here is truly formidable.

What the movie lacks is any real character development, which is something I appreciate in the wu xia stories with which I am familiar. The Fu (Ti Lung) character is already fully developed, and this story is seemingly his ultimate and maybe final set of challenges and temptations. And while not a bad thing, per se, it is just not as fulfilling to see a perfect superhero whom you know will always be triumphant.

Otherwise, the cinematography, sets, female actors, and the colors are simply breathtaking. In a sense, these qualities almost make it an art house movie. I don't know if it is because I am watching the Celestial DVD remaster or it is just me, but I just don't remember this much color and beauty in seeing these movies back when they came out in the theater.

Speaking of Celestial, the DVD has some "extras" which include fairly interesting interviews with Chu Yuan (Chor Yuen) and Cheng Li--both ostensibly retired (despite the occasional cameos by Chu Yuan in some recent movies), as well as Yuen Wah. Also included was an entirely superfluous interview with the wholly vacuous Jade Leung whose relatively irrelevant career and inoperative comments about this movie lead one to wonder the reasons and motivations behind her inclusion here.

And lastly an interview with the gasbag gwailo Bey Logan who if nothing else shows a suitable and appropriate level of respect for HK cinema and Chinese peoples and culture. I appreciate that. But I do not appreciate his fanboyism, and name dropping. To gwailo "kung-fu fanboys," he's a decent evangelist who is capable of making coherent commentaries, observations and sometimes reaching interesting non-trivial conclusions. Otherwise, he's about as relevant in HK cinema as Jade Leung, which is disappointing given the context of a movie as important as this one.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 10/07/2003
Summary: Average at best

I am not sure if this movie helped me goto sleep or i was tired!!

Anyway a predictable movie with average fight scenes. Though there a few twists here and there which do keep it interesting, the rest of the movie feels like there is not much of a story.

Lo lieh and Ti lung look like they aren't even trying to act.

Overall, a average film, though the few plot twists are the only thing keeping this movie fro being a total disaster

6/10


Reviewed by: balstino
Date: 08/15/2003
Summary: On Repeat Viewings is Bloody Excellent...

A romp through the underworld with an invincible swordsman played by Ti lung, who gives the finest martial arts acting performance ever.
The production values are high, weapons interesting, fights nifty, story tidy, characters strong and dialogue fairly intricate. Overall, I love these type of films and the Magic Blade is one of the best.


Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 02/08/2003
Summary: Good!

THE MAGIC BLADE is a very enjoyable wuxia pian from director Chor Yuen, adapted once more from a novel by Gu Long. The subject is once again the fight for dominance of the jiang hu, with a weapon called the Peacock Dart playing the central role as it is believed that whoever holds it will have invincible power.

Ti Lung plays a morose but chivalrous swordsman, reckoned to be the top fighter of the martial arts world. He unites with Lo Lieh to attain the Peacock Dart before it can fall into the hands of the villainous Master Yu. The plot is a complex web of deceptions, intrigues and ambushes as only a wuxia movie can be, but is much easier to follow than many or most others.

There's lots of action, all of a fantastical nature with wires and trampolines and cunning editing all featuring more prominently than the physical skills of the performers. It's well choreographed but looks technically primitive now, and isn't at the same level as the best action from that time period.

The sets and costumes are all very lavish, and have that unmistakable Shaw Brothers vibe. There's some very nice cinematography throughout.

A good movie, probably one of the better attempts at wuxia from the 70's.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: mpongpun
Date: 01/08/2003

Watch PURSUIT OF VENGEANCE for the prequel.


Reviewed by: danton
Date: 12/30/2002

Like Killer Clans, this Chu Yuan swordplay film is another adaptation of a Gu Long wuxia novel, starring Lo Lieh as well as a young Ti Lung, who memorably plays a poncho-wearing, unshaven swordsman hero clearly inspired by the Clint Eastwood character from any number of Spaghetti Westerns.

Shot in 1976, the film features the usual assortment of genre elements, including poison, secret trapdoors, cannibalism, competing martial arts clans, eunuch-like kung fu villains, as well as a colourful assortment of mysterious supernatural weapons such as "thunder bullets" and the deadly "peacock dart". The latter is a powerful weapon that is being pursued by both good guys and bad guys in their quest to achieve ultimate rule over the martial arts world. Ti Lung plays the lone, stoic swordsman with deadly skills and a unique, rotating blade who manages to obtain the weapon and must now use it to defeat the villain and his numerous henchmen while also saving the heroine (the lovely Cheng Li). Of course betrayal plays a role, and everything culminates in a final duel to the death.

The tone and atmosphere in these Shaw Bros. wuxia films from the 70s appears much more grave and serious than the later HK wuxia films from the early 90s - characters quote poetry and speak in a very literate manner, they adhere to notions of chivalry and honour, and there is none of the low-brow comedy that often turned 90s-era wuxia movies into outright parody. And of course the fighting is not quite as over-the-top and makes much less use of wires and various other FX. The action choreography feels much closer to the more restrained, formalized fighting familiar from Japanese Chambara films. However, in this particular movie, the action is consistently inventive and exciting and can easily hold up in comparison to later works.

The storyline adheres to the genre formula, but due to the strong characters (Ti Lung in particular) and the linear, straightforward plot the movie manages to build and sustain a tight pace and suspenseful narrative. I found this film to be quite entertaining and actually a lot more gripping than Killer Clans.

Recommended.


Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 04/12/2002

This movie is really bad. Completely predictable and forgettable. It's a total waste of time, and it took me many attempts to complete the film, because if I tried to finish it with one view, it would have killed my brain. So I had to stop after about 20 minutes each time and come back to it when I had forgotten the irritation of its stupidity. I'm not sure if the director thought we audience were complete morons or if it was just cool to make everything look stupid and fake. I mean, Ti Lung and Lo Lieh are up to a duel to the death, yet their conversation is like a friendly chat, with everything speaking out truth in a terribly corny and stupid way. It only makes the characters look like idiots, thus making the movie a dreadful sit-through for Mandarin speakers like me. A much better example of this type of Shaw Brothers movie would be the Sentimental Swordsman.

[4/10]