The Devil’s Mirror [風雷魔鏡] (1972)
Starring Shu Pei-Pei, Lau Dan, Lee Ga-Sai, Wang Hsieh, Tung Lam, Cheng Miu, Chan Shen, Tong Tin-Hei, Lee Ho, Chai No, Shum Lo, Law Hon, Wang Kuang-Yu, Yau Ming, Lei Lung
Directed by Sun Chung
Expectations: High. The Avenging Eagle is one of my favorite Shaw films, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of director Sun Chung in this review series.
The Devil’s Mirror is a wuxia film that takes the supernatural roots of the genre, laces them with a heavy dollop of black magic and goes for broke. It is one of the most fun films I’ve seen yet on my chronological course through the Shaw Bros. martial arts catalog, but yet somehow it was not a success upon its initial release. I guess Hong Kong audiences weren’t ready for disfiguring curses caused by consuming corpse worm pills and an evil witch with a third eye as the main villain. Their loss.
The Devil’s Mirror opens with a large assembly of clans. These clans have pledged to disperse all evil in the land and uphold justice, but there is one major thorn in all of their sides: the Jiuxuan witch and her Bloody Ghouls clan. Many virtuous heroes have gone missing and her ultimate plan is to steal the Wind Magic Mirror and the Thunder Magic Mirror — which, according to their current owner, will cause “rays of cosmic power” when used together — so that she can open the Emperor’s tomb. There she will retrieve the Fish Intestines Sword and the Thousand Years Ganoderma and then no one will be able to defeat her! Now it’s up to couple of wily 20-something kids, Wen Jianfeng (Lau Dan) and Bai Xiaofeng (Shu Pei-Pei) to unravel the witch’s schemes and stop her before it’s too late!
So yeah, wuxia and black magic are an amazing, awesome genre combo. The Devil’s Mirror doesn’t lean too heavily on either genre, so the result is a perfect melding of the two. It also doesn’t fall into the convoluted story trap that wuxia films usually exhibit; the story here is quick and easy to follow, and it also has a resolution that doesn’t lead into some other storyline that we’ll never get closure on. I guess in this way it’s shunning some of what makes wuxia the epic-minded genre that it is, but it’s all in the name of raw entertainment.
The action here is especially swift and violent, reaching levels of bloodshed and general mayhem that are usually reserved for the Chang Cheh-directed films. For instance, there’s an amazing decapitation that will delight the horror fans in the audience. The choreography was handled by the team of Simon Chui Yee-Ang and Chui Chung-Hok (who had previously done Duel for Gold and Finger of Doom together), and it’s really well done. The violence is often punctuated with wild, fantastic moments, things like slicing off chair legs and flinging them with a sword into henchmen’s faces, or a huge concrete slab being thrown around as a weapon. These moments work exceptionally well, thanks to the choreography and the camera placement which captures these fun elements in the best, most believable way possible. There’s also quite a few moments of wirework late in the film that are easily among the best that this era of Hong Kong cinema has to offer.
Director Sun Chung is one known to Shaw Brothers fans, and The Devil’s Mirror is his first film for the studio (and only his second film overall). It doesn’t exhibit his trademark slow motion, but it is an impressively well-directed film for someone without much experience in the director’s chair. His composition is always interesting, something hard to do when hundreds of similar films have been made on the same sets and seemingly every angle has already been captured. Just on the strength of this film, I would have guessed that the Shaw Brothers would have had Sun Chung slaving away at as many similar martial arts films as he could crank out. Instead, he got to try his hand at other genres before finally returning to martial arts in 1975 with The Bloody Escape. I know it’ll be a while until I get there, but I can’t wait to see if that film lives up to the fun I had with The Devil’s Mirror.
Some viewers will definitely balk at my high estimation of The Devil’s Mirror because it’s a trashier take on the wuxia genre, and things like a peg-legged man holding his own in a fight on the beach stretch the realm of believability. It’s all in the name of fantasy entertainment, though, and The Devil’s Mirror brings together the exact type of reckless movie fun that I love. There are few films in this entire Shaw run that have entertained me as fully as The Devil’s Mirror. It’s definitely not one of their best films, but how can I not love a movie that mentions a hero named Thunder King Kong and has wuxia villains passing a magic mirror around a courtyard like the Harlem Globetrotters? I was powerless against the cinematic, cosmic rays of The Devil’s Mirror.
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is The Deadly Knives (AKA Fists of Vengeance) from Korean director Chang Il-Ho! See ya then!