The Magic Blade (HK 1973)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 3/14/11
Cast: Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Norman Chu (Tsui Siu Keung), Lily Li

A delightfully loopy swordplay fantasy that's punctuated by vivid colors, lavish sets, eye-catching cinematography, excellent kung fu, and a memorable collection of stoic heroes and silly villains. Cynical Fu Hung See (charismatic Ti Lung) is the best swordsman in the world of martial arts, and the film opens with Yen Man Fei (Lo Lieh) challenging him for the title. Their duel is rudely interrupted by a couple of assassins who are apparently out to kill Yen on the orders of the dark lord Kung See Yu. The only way to defeat Kung See Yu is to use the famed Peacock Darts, so it becomes a race to see who can get them first. Along the way, Fu faces an non-stop stream of odd assassins, including a painter, a eunuch, a chess master, some guys who form Chinese letters with their bodies, and a toothless witch called "Devil Grandma." Fu and Yen also get trapped on a giant chess board at one point, which of course is very silly.

While the swordplay looks a little stiff, the choreography and cinematography are excellent. Ti Lung is in top form and favors an odd side-handled sword that works like a bladed tonfa. Despite its short length, he never seems to be at a disadvantage. Lo Lieh is also a lot of fun to watch, although his naïveté and hedonistic vices make you question his skill with the sword and how he's survived as long as he has. Ultimately, this becomes the moral of the story. Rather than indulge in the fame, power, and wealth of being the best of the best, Ti Lung tells his vanquished foes to "offer it to someone who is looking for death." Disheartened, disillusioned, and utterly alone, the film ends with Fu wandering off to contemplate his fate.