In China’s mythical Martial World, the balance between good and evil is threatened by a newly discovered super-weapon: the Peacock Dart. So powerful a single golden feather can blow up one hundred men. The world’s number one swordsman: dishevelled, poncho-clad Fu Hung Hsueh (Ti Lung) and suave arch-rival Yen Nan-Fei (Lo Lieh) set aside their differences and go questing to stop mysterious evildoer Mr. Yu getting his grubby mitts on the dart.
Sexy femme fatale Ming Yueh-Hsin (Tanny Tien Ni) drops some handy hints as to its whereabouts, but Yu sets five hired killers on their trail: lute-playing kung fu gal Yu Chin (Lilly Li) able to leap tall buildings in a single bound; a eunuch dubbed with a female voice (Goo Goon-Chung); mad monk Wu Hua (Fan Mei-Sheng); cold-blooded crimson-clad Hsiao Chien (Ku Feng); and most memorably, Devil Granny (Theresa Ha Ping) - a cannibalistic old witch who pushes a fast-food cart full of stewing victims and death-dealing gadgets (“Don’t mutilate their bodies - I need them for cooking! Heh, heh, heh…”).
Fu and Yen eventually trace the Peacock Dart to its protectors, sagely Mr. Yu (Tang Ching) and his lovely daughter Chiu Yu Cheng (Ching Li). But that’s only the start of several shocking twists and turns that keep Fu Hung Hsueh spinning his amazing magic blade.
Produced by Shaw Brothers studios, this is another of Chu Yuan’s wu xia (“swordplay”) movies based on the novels of Gu Long. The Magic Blade races along at a fair clip and boasts a dense mystery plot sure to keep viewers guessing, constantly on the edge of their seat. As with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), the somewhat esoteric action is merely a peg upon which hangs a character study observing chivalric codes that govern the Martial World. With time-outs for romance, poetry and melancholy musings (the super-literate characters long to lay down their swords for a peaceful life) amidst the frequently surreal set-pieces, including our heroes being trapped inside a living chess game and a forest fight where Fu bounces off trees facing twenty swordsmen forming a human pyramid.
As always Chu Yuan utilises his extravagant sets, sumptuous costumes and artful matte paintings with a painterly eye and reworks elements from spaghetti westerns, horror movies and soft-core erotica. Seductress Ming Yueh-Hsin tries to lure Fu over to the dark side by commanding her sexy Amazons to strip naked and make love to each other, then disrobes for an encore. While that would be enough to convince most men, virtuous Fu is fortunately made of sterner stuff. The dashing Ti Lung excels in this kind of role and ably handles the subplots that shift from tragedy to comedy, as when Fu takes pity on a starving girl who sells her body for a bowl of noodles, or spares a supposedly fearsome warrior unmasked as a phoney with a fake sword and no knowledge of kung fu (“I was only hired to scare you!”).
The mind-blowing triple twist finale keeps pulses racing and gives us something to muse on after the fadeout.