Thursday, April 10, 2008


Written by Musgo Del Jefe

After 5 Fingers Of Death, 36th Chamber Of Shaolin and The 5 Deadly Venoms, The Magic Blade typifies all that is right with the Wuxia genre of the mid-Seventies. Just a few years after Bruce Lee brought the genre to new heights, the Shaw Bros. pushed the genre forward with high quality sets, lush cinematography, and classic fights with a talented crew of actors and actresses.

The film stars two very familiar faces to fans of Hong Kong films. We first meet our hero Fu Hung-Hsueh (Ti Lung). You'll recognize the young, Ti Lung from many other Shaw Bros. films and especially from his career role in John Woo's A Better Tomorrow. Fu meets up with Yen Nan-Fei (Lo Lieh). Lo Lieh seems to have been in every Shaw Bros. film ever made - including a memorable role in 36th Chamber Of Shaolin. The two talented swordsmen restart a fight of a previously unfinished duel. During their fight, Yen is attacked by a Master Yu. Fu's life is saved by Yen and the two put aside their differences to stop Master Yu from acquiring the deadly weapon called the Peacock Dart.

The Wuxia genre had a huge influence on the Western genre. In this movie, the Western genre pays the Wuxia genre back. From the original fight onward, the movie plays out like a classic Spaghetti Western. Both Fu and Yen wear ponchos like Clint Eastwood in A Fistful Of Dollars. The cities that our heroes travel through are bare and dusty like the classic Western village. The swordsmen carry their weapons like the classic gunfighters would going into a High Noon showdown.

The movie unfolds not unlike many other Wuxia films and not too far from the Kill Bill formula. Master Yu exists unseen in the shadows. He dispatches assassin after more deadly assassin to steal the Peacock Dart and ultimately to kill our heroes. After finding the Peacock Dart, they acquire the typical damsel in distress (played by the atypical beauty, Ching Li). Our heroes eventually get separated. That allows a romantic relationship to develop between Fu and our damsel.

The plot does not go off in any wild, crazy tangents. The assassins' attempt to get the Peacock Dart only serves to slow down the march towards a final battle between our heroes and the evil Master Yu. Throw in an unusual amount of blood for a Shaw Bros. film and a short but exploitive lesbian scene that seems out of place. But out of place is what makes these films stand out over other films of their day. There's a killer named the Devil Grandma and there's a battle on a life-sized chess board. The final showdown is quick by today's standards of "final showdowns" but it brings nice closure to the story.

Viewed as a return of the Western traditions to Eastern cinema, The Magic Blade is a complete package. The two foes become reluctant partners against a greater evil. The sword battles are equivalent to gun fights. The restaurants even double as the Western saloon. And what better tradition than the lone gunman (or two gunmen in this case) against the evil Boss and his never ending henchmen.

There are limited bonus features on this disc. The biggest is the Original Mandarin soundtrack with English subtitles. I've watched these movies for years with the same painful English dubbed soundtrack, so it's tempting to watch it that way again for nostalgia, but hearing the original language is a revelation. The sound effects and score are not buried like they are in the dub version. The disc also includes trailers for 16 other Shaw Bros. classics, so get your pen and paper ready to start your next shopping list.