Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Yuen Chor
Written by: Kuang Ni & On Szeto
Starring: Lung Ti, Lieh Lo, Li Ching, Ni Tien, Lily Li, Feng Ku, Ching Tang, Szu-Chia Chen, Hui-Ling Liu & Mei Shang Fan
I’m not an experienced connoisseur of kung fu. My only experience with these films has been limited to a couple of trips to a local cinema pub’s free Kung Fu Nights with an enthusiastic friend (who is very much into them). What I’ve experienced thus far in this over-the-top, violent, outright silly genre of B-movies has been fun and stupid in equal measures. My second ever kung fu viewing is THE MAGIC BLADE, which moves at a lightning-fast pace and doesn’t necessarily let the viewer in on the ever-changing plot. If you try to follow the narrative, you’ll likely become lost and constantly be scratching your head. That’s not to say that a story doesn’t matter in a film like this, but it’s definitely not the first priority when you have lots of creative fight scenes, colorful villains, and unintentional laughs every few minutes.
Fu Hongxue is a sword-wielding drifter who has arrived finish a long-delayed duel with his rival Yen Nan-Fei. However, their attempt at fighting is thwarted when some unexpected assassins show up to kill Yen. Fu won’t let anybody take a life that rightfully belongs to him, so the rivals are faced with no other choice but to pair up. Together, they find themselves confronted by an endless array of assassins (including five colorful villains known as “The Big Five”) and take possession of the mystical Peacock Darts, a deadly weapon that could give ultimate power to whoever possesses it. Fu, Yen, and love interest/damsel-in-distress Tsao Yu-Chen must make their way across the violent landscape to keep the magical Peacock Darts from falling into the clutches of Kung-Tzu Yu, a mysterious warlord who wants to rule supreme over the martial arts world.
The plot of THE MAGIC BLADE is totally inconsequential as the Shaw Brothers clearly didn’t have a budget to fully capitalize on the mystical realm of ideas that are presented here. After all, we get demonic characters, mysterious weapons, elaborate traps, and plot twists that come one after another (two of which are directly in a row and contradict each other). If you’re going into this film for a coherent narrative, then you’re out of luck. However, I doubt anyone would be walking into a film called THE MAGIC BLADE looking for a well thought-out, constructed plot. They’re probably going with expectations of mindless violence, elaborate fight scenes, and lots of campy silliness. These qualities redeem the otherwise shaky narrative.
MAGIC BLADE’s pacing moves ridiculously fast, which doesn’t allow for the ever-shifting plotline to drag. It also allows for plenty of absurd moments that are unintentionally hilarious and outright fun to watch in a really stupid way. Take Devil Grandma for example. She’s a creepy, old woman with crooked teeth who indulges in cannibalism, elaborate poisons, and back flips. Then there’s The Big Five, a group of assassins who show up individually in four separate scenes to have a quick fight and then run away…until the climax places them all in one room with blade-wielding Fu.
The ridiculous out-of-nowhere moments don’t end there though. One scene features a violent game of human chess. The aforementioned Peacock Darts shoot off a set of fireworks in the general direction of whoever they’re aimed at. Of course, there’s also a bit of exploitative lesbian action (after all, this is still very much a cheesy 70’s B-flick). Two more points of note involve: a character moving his entire nervous system one inch to the right to avoid being paralyzed, and a male assassin with a woman’s voice (for no apparent reason). Even when the movie isn’t in constant action mode, it becomes hilarious in its more “dramatic” developments as a sympathetic homeless prostitute is brought in and given a quasi-emotional scene purely for the purpose of dying to further fuel our hero’s rage.
I’m not going to lie and say that THE MAGIC BLADE is good in the traditional sense of the word, because it’s not. Oh boy, is it not! However, it’s really fun in a bizarre “what the hell am I watching?” sort of way that greatly benefits from additions of beer, buffalo wings, pizza, and a group of friends who are also into laughing at cheesy B-movies. I’m still very limited in my exposure to the Kung Fu genre (THE INVINCIBLE ARMOUR being the only other kung fu flick I’ve seen), but THE MAGIC BLADE is a good time…even if it’s not necessarily a good movie.