The Magic Blade (1976)

The Magic Blade [天涯明月刀] (1976)

Starring Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Ku Feng, Tang Ching, Ching Li, Lily Li Li-Li, Fan Mei-Sheng, Chan Shen

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: High.


My expectations for this were just soaring after watching Shaolin Intruders. The two films have absolutely nothing to do with each other except that they’re both Shaw Bros. pictures and Tang Chia choreographed the fights, but you could connect most any Shaw Bros. film with that logic. Needless to say, I was let down. The Magic Blade is an interesting movie as it doesn’t really contain a magic blade. You might expect there to be one in a film titled The Magic Blade, but not in this film. There is the rather neato blade that Ti Lung uses throughout the film, but magic isn’t exactly the adjective I’d use to describe it. It’s on a harness attached to his arm that allows it to spin when he wants it to, but it isn’t really used all that much in the film so don’t get too worked up about it. This is possible magic blade candidate number one. Number two is where I’m placing my money though, as the film revolves around everyone trying to get a hold of it. The weapon in question is the mysterious Peacock Dart, a weapon so powerful that — well, I’ll let them explain it.

“The Dart when hurled, emits mysterious and beautiful rays, and the victim dies in a mysterious way.”

“And no one is immune to it.”

After which the dart is thrown, resulting in multiple explosions of light and smoke that very conveniently kill only the hero’s enemies. No one is immune to movie logic either I guess. Anyway I don’t mean to complain, that shit was fun to watch.

The film opens great. A rich man (Lo Lieh) and his entourage enter Phoenix Town under the cover of night. The servants quickly set up a red carpet and a little stage and put on a dance performance for Lo Lieh. But not for long as the performance is interrupted by Ti Lung, who has come to face off in a duel to the death. They draw their blades and swing them in displays of power and might. These guys are so bad that when they do this, tree limbs and house shutters a hundred feet away fall to the ground cleanly sliced. If you can do that, you’re pretty badass. This doesn’t deter either fighter though and they begin their swordplay. Midway through the fight, a tree suddenly slides over to the fighters, bursts in two and another swordsman jumps out! Then two hands reach out from the Earth and grab Lo Lieh’s legs!  Pretty soon the two that had been fighting each other to the death are now faced off against Earth Evil and Wood Evil, who have come to slay them both! They didn’t count on how badass these guys were though, as the Evils don’t last more than about thirty seconds. Too bad, I enjoyed the Evil’s shtick of busting out of stuff.

Devil Grandma

After they are defeated we are treated to another great subtitle/editing exchange. Ti Lung says, “Why do they want to kill you? Who are they?” and Lo Lieh replies, “Who cares? I only want to have a drink.” Followed directly by a cut to a sign that reads “BAR.” I laughed at this way more than I probably should have, but the editing here was just perfect. Anyway the two swordsmen realize that they must team up to find the Peacock Dart to defeat their mutual enemy, Mr. Yu. Out of the bar scene we are introduced to one of the minor baddies, the cannibal Devil Grandma. Can’t go wrong with a Devil Grandma. She’s one of the highlights and has a few good scenes throughout.

For me this was a lesser Shaw Bros. film but it’s still got that wonderful production value and raw talent that any film they made has. Personally, I didn’t think the direction was as good as it could have been, but there’s nothing terribly rotten about it. The fights are odd in that they are all so short and insignificant. There’s a lot of little fights instead of a few big fights, and the little fights all seem to end just as they start to show signs of getting good. It’s a shame as there’s a lot of potential here for a great film.

At one point, Mr. Yu rounds up five underworld assassins to kill our heroes. As you can probably imagine, each one has their own style and weapon, but as I said before, the fights are short so that you never really get to see them in action much. Also, the sound of the swords striking each other was different than the standard Shaw sword strike sound that I love. This was off-putting, but ultimately a minor complaint. I just enjoy that particular sound byte so much, I was sorry not to hear it.

The last two fights are excellent fun but aren’t enough to pull this out of being a mid-range film for me. At the end of the day, it’s an average Shaw Bros. film that I enjoyed but am already starting to forget. Check it out if you enjoy films with a heavy dose of swordplay. Ti Lung is great in it as well, deflecting darts like a pro, so fans of his should definitely track this down.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYuhERUynwo

6 comments to The Magic Blade (1976)

  • Uncle Jasper

    Although I think I liked this movie a little more than you did (which may just be my Shaw bias coming out) I do think you hit on pretty much every flaw, which sucks because I do agree that with a little more inspired choreography this film really could have stood out. Maybe in the hands of Chang Cheh or Lau Kar-Leung this film would have amounted to a little more.
    You brought up a pretty funny point about the English titles of Shaw Bros films though. Most of the time they have little to do with the actual movie itself… Like 7 Blows of the Dragon, which did not even contain one blow of the dragon if I remember correctly. Good point. Great review!

    • Thanks. I liked it, it’s a fun movie, but I was just frustrated with the short fights mostly. Like the chess part is a great idea, but they didn’t do anything particularly special with it when I think they could have hit a grand slam. I was thoroughly entertained with the movie though so I shouldn’t bitch too much. Ti Lung was great.

      Can you read the Chinese title?

  • Uncle Jasper

    Yeah I think this movie was aiming more for mood than genuine popcorn entertainment. It kind of had a Yojimbo type vibe to it, albeit not nearly as good.
    I think the Chinese title is something like Bright moon blade from heaven, or something vaguely along those lines… still not the magic blade we were promised in the English title.

    • Hmm, Bright Moon Blade from Heaven sounds more like the Peacock Dart than Ti Lung’s blade to me.

      The movie does have a unique mood, almost horror movie-ish. I can see what you’re saying with Yojimbo as well. I also wish they had subtitled the character’s names when they came up on screen at their first appearance.

  • Richard Li

    This sounds like a fun movie you’d watch by yourself on a Friday night. From the looks of it, you DID enjoy this production to a certain extent, but felt the fighting scenes were a bit of a let down, a very fair comment I suppose. I actually like films that are not of the horror genre but TRIES to create that vibe, maybe it’s just me but the slow and intense build up gives me a thrill. Anyway, have to check this out!

    • It is a fun movie. This review was actually one of the main things that pushed me towards my chronological Shaw series. The more I thought about this movie afterwards, the more I felt like I had been unfairly critical to it. Thanks to doing the series I’m now much more well-versed in wuxia films, so I’m pretty sure I would like this one a lot more the second time around. I look forward to revisiting it. Lots of people adore this movie, too, so definitely give it a shot!

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