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Monday, March 14, 2016

THE BATTLE WIZARD -- Movie Review by Porfle

If you ever wondered what Hong Kong action flicks look like to crazy people, THE BATTLE WIZARD (1977) should give you a good idea.

This is one seriously nutty flick that left me doubting my own sanity even more than usual.

As the film opens, the Emperor's brother Tuan Zhengchun is caught messing around with Hongmian, the wife of Yellow Robe Man, and when her husband attacks, Zhengchun defends himself by using "Yi Yang Finger", which he performs by making pretend shooting motions with his index fingers and firing destructor beams that sever Yellow Robe Man's legs.

Yellow Robe Man swears revenge, and twenty years later we see him in his chintzy-looking cave lair with a new pair of telescoping robot bird legs, ordering his cackling monster henchman Canglong to kidnap Zhengchun's son, prince Tuan Yu.

This is just the set up. We then find that Tuan Yu has left the palace because he's a pacifist scholar who doesn't want to learn martial arts ("One could get hurt, and very sweaty," he fears) and wants to see if he can survive in the outside world without them.

Needless to say, everyone within fifty miles starts attacking him and he is aided by an enchanted snake-handling girl named Ling-erh, who throws glowing green snakes at the leader of the Poisonous Moths Clan which burrow under his skin.

Tuan Yu escapes and seeks help from the dreaded witch-woman Xiang Yaocha, who has sworn that if any man sees her veiled face she will either marry him or kill him. Tuan Yu sees her face, of course, and after they're betrothed he discovers that she is his half-sister, Wanqing, by his father and Hongmian.

All of this brings us to the film's free-for-all finale in which Yellow Robe Man conspires with another warlord to capture Tuan Yu and Wanqing so that Tuan Zhengchun and his wife will be lured to their doom. The young protagonists are hurled into a pit where they are attacked by a "giant gorilla", which is a man hopping around in one of the worst gorilla suits in film history.

Tuan Yu, who now has super powers after drinking the blood of the Red Python and eating a glowing green frog (don't ask), takes on the various bad guys and their minions amidst a flurry of hyperkinetic editing, colorful animated special effects, and visuals that seem to have been conceived by a committee of schizophrenics.

My favorite part of the whole thing is the sight of a wildly-emoting Yellow Robe Man stalking around on his metallic bird-leg stilts.

Hsueh Li Pao's direction and editing are all over the place in some scenes but that only contributes to the disorienting strangeness of this wacky cartoonish adventure.

There are several fun setpieces including the fight with the Poisonous Moths Clan, Wanquing's frenetic battle with a group of bandits (in which she displays her great skill with the "bone-cutting sword" technique), and Tuan Yu and Wanquing's flight from a Tasmanian Devil-like Canglong.

I don't know if John Carpenter ever saw this, but it's certainly the kind of movie that served as the inspiration for his BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA.

With its comically exaggerated acting and characters, hilariously melodramatic action, and "anything goes" special effects, THE BATTLE WIZARD is pure Shaw Brothers fun. It isn't often you'll see a movie that is this deliriously bizarre. I just had to sit there for a few minutes wondering what the heck I'd just watched.

Read our review of the SHAW BROTHERS COLLECTION


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