Like Killer Clans, Magic Blade is a perfect blend of Gu Long story and Yuen Chor directing. It is gritty wuxia in that the ruthlessness of the characters and their passions are on full display on screen, it is fantastic wuxia in its swordplay choreography and use of elaborate weaponry.
The story is fairly simple, two swordsman, Yen Nan Fei and Fu Hung Hsueh, meet during a festival to have a duel. In their previous duel a year earlier, Fu Hung Hsueh had been the victor so they are meeting for an appointed rematch. As they trade sword strikes, assassins leap in and try to kill Yen Nan Fei. This unites the men against a common threat, Master Yu who wants to rule the martial world. First he intends to kill the two swordsman who could stand in his way (Yen and Fu), then he wants to possess a mighty weapon called the Peacock Dart. This thrusts the swordsman on an adventure where they must elude Yu's assassins and obtain the Peacock Dart before he can get his hands on it. Along the way they meet Chiu Yu Cheng, the daughter of the Peacock Dart's protector and the three brave their way to Master Yu's manor. I don't want to give too much way away but the movie culminates in a wonderful final confrontation with fun twists and surprises along the way. The film itself is dark, moody but endlessly inventive with its antagonists and ambushes.
|Ti Lung as Fu Hung Hsueh|
|Devil Grandma taste's Fu Hung Hsueh's|
blood and steals the show
|Yen Nan Fei (left)|
Fu Hung Hseuh (right)
But the Peacock Dart is just one among many weapons here. Weaponry has the ornamentation of costume here. Yen's sword is gilded and fitted with an unusual basket hilt, while Fu uses an elaborate spinning sword that allows for some truly spectacular choreography.
|Fu Hung Hsueh and Chiu Yu Cheng (Ching Li)|
But the fighting here is more than just swordplay. The scenes are engaging not only for the grace of movement and choreography but because they each present their own unique, chess-like, challenges. At one point there is a literal chess board incorporated into the battle. These set-ups work wonderfully because they also give the characters opportunities to exchange dialogue. Given the plethora of colorful foes, it all comes together well as a result.
Magic Blade is a lot like Killer Clans and movies like it in that its focus is the dark underbelly of the martial world. The hero, Fu Hung Hsueh is good-hearted but perhaps weary of the bloodshed (or at least not attached to the pleasures of the world the way the other characters are). It certainly has its share of carnage and nudity (though not as much of the later as one finds in Killer Clans). But it is a touch sentimental in its approach (and I don't mean this as a criticism). There is one scene in particular, where Fu Hung meets a woman who hasn't eaten for three days and offers to sleep with him if he buys her a bowl of noodles. The whole exchange sort of shifts the focus from the martial world to the he real one, in a very interesting way. And we find that it is a world with just as much pathos and beauty as the martial one.
|Master Chiu and his daughter|
Chiu Yu Cheng
Sometimes the wuxia films can load too many characters into a 2-hour film. This is especially a challenge if you are not acquainted with the source material. But Magic Blade manages to brim with characters from the very start and not overwhelm the viewer. I think part of this is because it does a good job establishing who each character is (even listing some of them clearly in the dialogue). Really though, I think the reason it works is because the characters are all so memorable and all contribute to the flow of the movie in their own way (and the important ones usually back again and again).
|Moon Heart (Tanny Ni Tien)|
From a gaming point of view, this is pure gold. You should be able to get five adventures and countless encounters (not to mention NPC ideas) from this. I didn't really get into them in my review much but it also has lots of inspiring locations (temples, villas, fortresses and inns).
*I have been very inconsistent with ordering of surnames on this blog, using this ordering as it has appeared this way in previous reviews on this blog page. Similarly the other names are simply in the order I most naturally lean toward. If you research these names online, surnames sometimes appear before personal names and vice versa. For example, Lo Lieh, is sometimes written as Lieh Lo.