Chinese Magic (HK 1983)

Rating: **
Review Date: 7/19/20
Cast: Shih Szu

"Catch twenty-four virgins for my practice!"

The 1980's were a totally bonkers time for Asian cinema. Fresh ideas and new techniques ushered in a new wave of filmmaking, but the explosion of creativity didn't always produce good results. "Chinese Magic" capitalizes on the Taoist mysticism craze of the time and sees an evil sorcerer named Hsu Tu-Shan who is trying to ruin a certain family for unknown reasons. Shih Szu is a mischievous young woman who lives at a convent and knows a little bit of Taoist magic. She gets expelled from the temple and then disappears for the next hour. During her absence, the villain's lackeys cause mischief and one of Hsu Tu-Shan's old rivals shows up to get revenge for killing his master and raping the master's daughter twenty years ago. It turns out the only way to defeat the powerful Hsu Tu-Shan is to have a virgin boy and girl train with the +/- mirror (which is an edged weapon in the form of a Yin-Yang symbol) and to douse him with a virgin's first menstrual blood. This apparently happens to be readily available, as it takes hardly any time at all to procure it. I wonder if this is something that's normally stocked at your average magical supply store?

The film makes no sense at all and is just an excuse to string together a bunch of crazy set pieces. Unfortunately, it's a pan-and-scan mess and the subtitles are cropped off the bottom of the screen, so it's impossible to figure out the dialog. While it's not as exhaustingly ridiculous as a film like "Holy Flame Of The Martial World" (1983), it does feature some crazy characters in colored bodysuits that pop in and out of existence. Another highlight is a "devil baby" that bursts out of a woman's chest in full "Alien" (1979) style, although it doesn't seem to serve any purpose other than shock value. There's also some unsettling animal cruelty thrown into the mix, which was common for the genre and time period. The scenery and location work is gorgeous and overall the film looks great. Unfortunately, the characters are uninteresting, the acting is a bit wooden, the visual effects are cheesy, and the pacing is disappointingly sluggish. Shih Szu is cute and charming, but like many of her starring roles, she only shows up at the beginning and the end of the movie. The kung fu and swordplay are decent, but not particularly memorable, and the Taoist magic scenes mostly boil down to a lot of exaggerated arm flapping. Other films handle the genre and material better.