As our story opens, Prince Tuan Zhengchun (Si Wai) and Qin Hongmian (Gam Lau) are indulging in some sweet, adulterous lovin', when Qin vomits in her mouth a little, and admits that she's two months' pregnant...
|Looove, Love, Looove! Looo-oove, Song-Dynasty Style... |
truer than their ruling Taizu-ooo-ooo-ooooooh!
|The heartbreak of simple, chronic Halitosis...|
Not a problem for our horndogging Prince Tuan, who advises her to tell her husband, the sartorially-monikered Yellow Robe Man (Shut Chung-Tin), that it's his baby.
|"--Or maybe you could tell him the baby was sent to the wrong address!"|
Genius plan there, Johnny One Time... except her hubby's been away for six months, and...
|"What? 6 > 2?!? I don't understand math... I HATE math!!"|
Oh, look-- speak of the devil, he's just come home, sword in hand, ready to lop off your head for assisting his wife in cuckolding him! Oops!
|"Hi, honey... evening, Prince... I believe we can resolve this infidelity |
bugaboo like calm, rational adults, but first...."
No worries, though... after some nimble sword-dodging-fu, Prince Tuan makes a finger-gun and --pyew! pyew!-- shoots blue lasers (!) into Yellow Robe's knees, crippling him. Ah, yes... the old Yang-Yi Finger Technique [tm]! Understandably upset over this unfortunate turn of events, Yellow Robe Man vows revenge, "--Even if it takes twenty years!" (foreshadowing, perhaps?), and nevertheless manages an impressive escape-jump, fifteen feet up from the ground to the top of the garden wall... but not before Prince Tuan zaps him a couple more times, severing both legs! Yet, incredibly, it still doesn't stop the Yellow-Jacketed One from getting away.
|"Eureka! I just invented the laser pointer!"|
|"Ah, there's your trouble, Fred... Water-Margin-on-the-knee!"|
|"This calls for some Martial Art-throscopic surgery!"|
|"Dammit, this isn't how I wanted to learn about the Massacre at Wounded Knee..."|
|Ultra-Brite gets you noticed...|
|--Ask Yellow Robe. For weeks, he was being played by his wife, Qin,|
the concubine... but to Qin, he was damaged goods, leaving him
without a leg to stand on.
|"These legs are made for dropping... and that's just what they'll do..."|
|"...one of these days these legs are gonna drop clean off of you..."|
|"Damn you, Tuan..."|
|"--You've DORFED me!!!"|
|"Don't you dare make a comedy golf video! I'll leave you for good!!"|
With that, Prince Tuan nonchalantly decides to call it a night --after all, how could anything possibly top what's just happened? He brushes off Qin's pleas to leave with him, when Shu Baifeng (Hung Ling-Ling), Prince Tuan's fiancee, instantly pops in... because she just heard he was in a fight (apparently the housemaid, whom we see briefly, is a blabbermouth).
|"Oh very well... have your Date Debate, girls... guess I'll have to act as arbiter..."|
Shu lets it be known that she and Prince Tuan are to be married within a month, and snootily tells Qin that he's too high-class to bring home a tramp like her. This is all news to Qin, who doesn't take it well (and notices a conspicuous red mole on Shu's wrist). Double-oops! All of this stuff takes place in just over four minutes of screen time.
|"Sorry, kid... the next show's at eight."|
|David Crosby has seen better days...|
...and then briefly displays his own mechanical, stalagmite-busting, telescoping chicken legs [tm] (!), for the benefit of the audience...
|Cheer up, Old Yeller... maybe someday you'll meet a nice gull and settle down...|
|--That is, if you put your best foot forward. No, wait! Stop!! You're overdoing it!!!|
|"Hmm... 'WANTED: Sheltered Fop for full-time position as Human Punching|
Bag. No prior experience required. Must be willing to part with teeth'..."
Elsewhere, the still-resentful Qin has her grown daughter, the lovely Mu Wanqing (Tanny Tien Ni), demonstrate to her the culmination of ten solid years of training in the art of fighting. Naturally, this involves picking off coins (dangling on strings) with a semi-automatic dagger-shooting plastic femur (!), The Bone-Cutting Sword [patent pending]!
|"Skeletor, you are AVENGED!"|
Suitably impressed, Qin sends her off into the world, telling her to be a stone-cold ruthless bitch, as well as making her promise to A.) kill Shu Baifeng on sight ("Just look for that red mole on her wrist!") and B.) keep her face covered with a mask, because "--all men (like, for instance, her biological father... that no-good, cheatin' King Zhengchun) are worthless trash"! She also gives her a jade talisman thing as a keepsake.
|"Those aren't loaded, are they?"|
|"Hey, want a semi-deadly phosphorescent gummy worm?"|
|"No thanks, I'm trying to cut down..."|
|Lance Link... what'cha gonna do? Prince Tuan's about to kung-fu you!|
|Louis Cha, aka Jin Yong|
Despite my jokey plot description above, the title of the source novel helps to explain some of the strange goings-on in the film. We're dealing with mythology here, a world where magic and half-gods are almost commonplace, so things like drinking the blood of a giant snake for invincibility isn't all that different from Achilles achieving the same result when dipped in the River Styx as a baby... it's just that, in this movie, all of it comes from out of left field, with no explanation, in what would otherwise be assumed to be a standard, period-set martial arts film. Combined with the (intentionally) broadly-played characters, --which is a tradition in popular Chinese cinema-- the colorful and kinetic (if rarely convincing) special effects, plus the typically sloppy, slapdash "old-school" English dubbing... and you have a kooky kung-fu cocktail, guaranteed to provide an amazing and amusing good time. And, at a trim 73 minutes --with nice fight choreography, as well as camerawork and editing that rarely takes a breather-- there's little opportunity for boredom to set in. At the very least, fans of John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China (1986) should give The Battle Wizard a look, for the bizarre, effects-laden magical fighting scenes; one could easily picture Kurt Russell's "Jack Burton" spouting one-liners as he's trounced by the likes Yellow Robe Man and the jovially evil Canglong.
Screenwriter Ni Kuang is the likely culprit for many of the outlandish touches throughout The Battle Wizard. Incredibly prolific, he has scripted nearly 200 films, including such classics of the genre as The One-Armed Swordsman (1967), Fist of Fury (1972), Shaolin Martial Arts (1974), The Five Deadly Venoms (1978), The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) and Mad Monkey Kung Fu (1979)... as well as fantasy films and oddities like Killer Snakes (1974), The Fantastic Magic Baby (1975), The Super Inframan (1975), Black Magic (1975), Black Magic 2 (1976, a.k.a. Revenge of the Zombies), The Magic Blade (1976), Web of Death (1976, a.k.a. Five Venom Sect), The Crippled Avengers (1978) and Human Lanterns (1982).
Director Pao Hsueh-Li began as a cinematographer, joining Shaw Brothers in 1966 to shoot films such as Trail of the Broken Blade (1967), Golden Swallow (1968), The Bells of Death (1968), The Magnificent Swordsman (1968) and The Twelve Gold Medallions (1970). Before long, he would make the jump to directing with Finger of Doom (1970, a.k.a. Tai Yin Zhi, though actually released in 1972), involving a vampire-esque sorceress who shoots toxic darts from her metal fingers, which change her foes into zombie slaves... sort of a warm-up for the craziness of The Battle Wizard. He kept busy throughout the 1970s, co-directing a number of action films with veteran director Chang Cheh, including The Water Margin (1972), Man of Iron (1972), The Delightful Forest (1972), The Boxer from Shantung (1972), The Iron Bodyguard (1973), as well as solo efforts, like Oath of Death (1971), Five Tough Guys (1974, a.k.a. Kung Fu Hellcats), The Imposter (1975), Hero from Shanghai (1977, a.k.a. Lay Out) and the Charlie's Angels knock-off, The Deadly Angels (1977), among others. The Battle Wizard was his last effort for Shaw Brothers, though he continued his directing career independently, with such films as The Hero Tattoo with Nine Dragons (1978), Bloody Treasure Fight (1979), Revenger (1979) and Wu Tang Clan (1980). Branching out, he formed a production company, Yu Fung, with his wife, Katy Chin Shu-Mei, a screenwriter, and made a handful of films, including Night of the Assassins (1981), Beauty Escort (1981, a.k.a. Samurai Bells of Death), Ninja in the Deadly Trap (1981, directed by Philip Kwok), etc.
Danny Lee as Prince Tuan Yu... A big name in Hong Kong and Taiwanese popular cinema for over a quarter-century, Lee began as a Shaw Brothers star and supporting player in the early 1970s, including, most notably, The Water Margin (1972), River of Fury (1973), The Iron Bodyguard (1973), All Men Are Brothers (1975); as the legendary martial arts star in the title role of the exploitive Bruce Lee and I (1976, a.k.a. Bruce Lee... His Last Days); a bionic superhero in the previously-mentioned The Super Inframan (1975); as a vicious (and viscous!) vigilante in the bizarre horror sleaze-fest, The Oily Maniac (1976); and as the male lead in the King Kong rip-off, The Mighty Peking Man (1977), opposite the blonde and beautiful Evelyn Kraft. After tiring of period kung fu roles, and given the opportunity to produce and direct, he was most often seen in the 1980s and 1990s as a determined cop in a succession of crime thrillers and police procedural stories, such as Law with Two Phases (1984), Organized Crime and Triad Bureau (1994) and Asian Connection (1995). From this latter period, Lee is probably most familiar to modern Western audiences for co-starring with action star Chow-Yun Fat in director John Woo's breakthrough hit, The Killer (1989), and as gangsters in Ringo Lam's heist thriller, City on Fire (1987, with a plot that Quentin Tarantino later borrowed for Reservoir Dogs (1991)) and John Woo & Ma Wu's gangster drama Just Heroes (1989, made to benefit the directors' debt-ridden mentor, Chang Cheh, and current Hong Kong superstar Stephen Chow's film debut).
Tanny Tien Ni (a.k.a. Ni Tien) as Mu Wanqing... Tien was a popular actress at both Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest, who began her film career with Sword of Endurance (1969), after working in television. The sleepy-eyed beauty had female leads and supporting roles in a diverse array of genres, including three roles in the comedy anthology The Happiest Moment (1973); as a pickpocket in the crime comedy The Rat Catcher (1974); the revenge-seeking fiancee of an undercover policeman in John Woo's solo directorial debut, The Young Dragons (1975); as the detective who helps Tamara Dobson discover what happened to her missing friends, in the cross-cultural blaxploitation epic, Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975); the manipulative beauty, "Moon Heart", in the fantasy-adventure, The Magic Blade (1976); the murder victim who won't stay put in the Les Diaboliques-like Hex (1980) and was cast in several other horror films: A Haunted House (1975), Black Magic (1975), Black Magic 2 (1976), Crocodile (1979), Corpse Mania (1981) and Human Lanterns (1982). She's long been married to Hong Kong film star Hua Yueh (Come Drink with Me (1966), Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972), Killer Clans (1976), etc).
Lam Jan-Kei (a.k.a. Chen Chi Lin) as Zhong Ling-ehr... A cute, spunky ingenue in a brief run of Shaw Brothers productions in the latter half of the 1970s, she can also be seen in Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975); as the title con-artist's accomplice-in-drag in The Spiritual Boxer (1975); the female lead opposite star Ti Lung in the musical adaptation of Madame White Snake, The Snake Prince (1976) and as the "Lady in Red" (with major bangs) in the Hell segment of Chang Cheh's strange fantasy of the afterlife, Heaven and Hell (1980, a.k.a. Shaolin Hellgate). Just prior to her retirement from acting, she had a strong role as a sadistic blackmailer of three students involved in a fatal hit-and-run accident, in Tsui Hark's early directorial effort, Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind (1980, a.k.a. Don't Play with Fire), and finished up, interestingly enough, as part of the cast of the aforementioned 1982 feature film adaptation of Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils.
Shut Chung-Tin (a.k.a. Chung Tien Shih) as Yellow Robe Man... A fixture in many kung fu and swordplay films of the 1970s, a highlight being a starring turn in Rivals of Kung Fu (1974), as real-life figure Master Wong Fei-hung (later portrayed by both Jackie Chan in his Drunken Master films, and by Jet Lee in the Once Upon a Time in China series of the mid-1990s), along with Iron Man (1973), Spiritual Boxer (1975), Challenge of the Masters (1976), Shaolin Temple (1976), as the evil "Captain Pa" in The Iron Monkey (1977), and many others. He was often cast in Battle Wizard director Pao Hsueh-Li's other projects, including Five Tough Guys (1974), The Taxi Driver (1975), The Imposter (1975), Hero from Shanghai (1977), The Hero Tattooed with Nine Dragons (1978), Duel at Tiger Village (1978), with Danny Lee in Mask of Vengeance (1980), Beauty Escort (1981) and The Kung Fu Emperor (1981). Beyond the early 1980s, his career pace slowed down, but was still seen in a few lower-budget features, like Godfrey Ho's crazy hopping-vampires-and-gangsters opus, Devil Dynamite (1987), Young Kickboxer (1990), The Dignified Killers (1991), The Killer from China (1991) and Country Side Hero (1995).
Chiang Tao (a.k.a. Kong Do) as Canglong... Chiang Tao was a very busy guy from the early-1970s onward, his prime years almost exclusively in kung fu films, such as Man of Iron (1972), Chinese Hercules (1973), one of the villainous quintet matching the Five Shaolin Masters (1974), Shaolin Martial Arts (1974), Disciples of Shaolin (1975), with Shut Chung-Tin in Challenge of the Masters (1976), Executioners from Shaolin (1977), Pao Hsueh-Li's Hero from Shanghai (1977), 10 Magnificent Killers (1977), Shaolin Abbot (1979), Return to the 36th Chamber (1980), with Lam Jan-Kei in Heaven and Hell (1980), the comic book adaptation Holy Flame of the Martial World (1983), Fighting Madam (1987, a.k.a. Iron Angels), with Danny Lee in Just Heroes (1989), and tons more. In one of the weirder movies in his filmography (apart from The Battle Wizard, that is), he played the trainer of Bruce Lee clone #1 (Dragon Lee) in the wacky 'Bruceploitation' oddity, The Clones of Bruce Lee (1977).
Gam Lau (a.k.a. Lu Chin) as Qin Hongmian... Another ingenue from the era, though with a slightly colder, tougher sheen than usual. Aside from The Battle Wizard, her highest-profile role to Western audiences was undoubtedly as the sultry drug connection, who makes out in a bar with grope-happy former 007, George Lazenby, before luring him (under orders from future star/director Sammo Hung) to a back alley beat-down, in Stoner (1974, a.k.a. The Shrine of Ultimate Bliss). She can also be seen in The Association (1974), Death Duel (1977), The Mad Monk Strikes Again (1978) and Challenge of Death (1979)
Si Wai (a.k.a. Wei Szu) as Prince Tuan Zhengchun... Si Wei had an eight-year run in films, mostly modern-set crime, horror, drama and soft-core erotic tales, including Ghost Eyes (1974), the first segment ("Haunted House") of the ghost story anthology Fearful Interlude (1975), The Drug Connection (1976), the first story ("Hidden Torsos") of the crime anthology The Criminals (1976), The Forbidden Past (1976), Dreams of Eroticism (1977), with Danny Lee in The Call Girls (1977), Pao Hsueh-Li's The Deadly Angels (1977), The Psychopath (1978), Return of the Dead (1979), Shaolin Abbot (1979), etc.
Hung Ling-Ling as Shu Baifeng... In a film career that spanned twenty years, beginning as an extra in the early 1960s and graduating to mostly smaller supporting parts from the 1970s into to the early 1980s, she played a multitude of maids, nurses, wives, village girls, gamblers, best friends, and especially prostitutes and madams. She can be seen as star Lo Lieh's courtesan in The Magic Blade (1976), a jurist in the Danny Lee monster movie The Oily Maniac (1976), and in King Boxer (1972, a.k.a. Five Fingers of Death), Fists of Vengeance (1972, a.k.a. The Deadly Knives), Gambling Syndicate (1975), Mantis Fists and Tiger Claws of Shaolin (1977), The Boxer from the Temple (1979), The Brothers (1979), Possessed II (1984), and loads more.
Keung Hon (a.k.a. Han Chiang) as Sikong Xuan (leader of the Poison Drinking Cult)... A familiar face in Hong Kong action films of the 1970s and early 1980s, Korean-born Keung Hon was mainly seen, as with The Battle Wizard, in roles as second-string bad guys and/or fighters, appearing with Tien Ni in The Rat Catcher (1974), as a Korean boxer in the Shaw Bros/Hammer Studios co-production Shatter (1974, a.k.a. Call Him Mr. Shatter), with Lam Jan-Kei and Shut Chung-Tin in The Spiritual Boxer (1975), Killer Clans (1976), King Gambler (1976), with Danny Lee in The Oily Maniac (1976), The Chinatown Kid (1977), The Vengeful Beauty (1978), The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), Dirty Ho (1979), The Boxer from the Temple (1979), Monkey Kung Fu (1979), Abbot of Shaolin (1979), The Deadly Breaking Sword (1979), with Lam Jan-Kei and Chiang Tao in Heaven and Hell (1980), with Chiang Tao in Holy Flame of the Martial World (1983), and Bloody Parrot (1981), to name but a few.
San Shu-Wa (a.k.a. Shu-hua Hsin) as Chief Zhong (Ling-ehr's father)... There's not much background info (in English, anyway) to be found on this character actor, who apparently acted mainly in smaller roles in films, sporadically, between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, which leads me to believe he was probably a lot more active in television and/or on the stage. His feature career peak was easily 1977, when he appeared in seven films, playing parts like middle-aged film directors, party guests, aging fathers, a police sergeant, and a royal court member or two. His magic-wielding elder in The Battle Wizard may well be his showcase role. He can be spotted in The Yellow Muffler (1972), King Gambler (1976), The Deadly Angels (1977), The Call Girls (1977), The Mad Monk (1977), The Dream of the Red Chamber (1977), Gambler's Delight (1981), Hex After Hex (1982), Passing Flickers (1982), Winner Take All (1982) and the sci-fi comedy, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (1983).
Here's the original trailer for The Battle Wizard, designed for the international market:
Like a good number of Shaw Brothers films, The Battle Wizard has gotten a decent DVD presence in several territories. Well Go USA released it here in North America in 2008, as part of their Sword Masters series, and it remains in print, available fairly cheaply from the usual online retailers. It's a nice, colorful remastered print, in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The language options for the Region 1 release include both Chinese (with some newly-added stereo sound effects) and English (an old-school dub) soundtracks and removable subtitles in either language. The only extra feature is a brief, modern trailer for the film (not the vintage one shown above), which is par for the course with these Celestial Pictures-licensed releases of classic Shaw Brothers titles. Sadly, none of the major, legitimate streaming services in North America seem to offer the film at the moment, but Netflix has it as a disc-by-mail rental, which is how I first got to see it, back in early 2009.
Now... feast your eyes on more amazing sights from The Battle Wizard!
|"Egads! Otis has escaped!"|
|"Did someone here call for a can opener?"|
|"Help, Cecil, help!"|
|In a Big Country, dreams stay with you, like a henchman's claw, 'cross the mountain siiiiiide... stay a-liiiiive...|
|"Wow, it's true what they say... There's no beating... Deep Heating!"|
|Only YOU can prevent forest fighters...|
|"What do ya feel like doin' tonight, Marty?" "I dunno, Ang... what do YOU feel like doin'?" "I dunno."|
|"Whoops, sorry... too much pre-recall Bud Light!"|
|"I honestly didn't know the tail light was broken, officer..."|
|The tell-tale sign of gorgon alopecia...|
|"Indiana Jones....... adieu!"|
|"The rift between the parties grows ever wider... Irving R. Ravine, NBC News, Washingtonnnn..."|
|Live, on-stage! It's The Crazy World of Arthur Brown!|
|Yes, Frog [tm]... all kids love Frog [tm]...|
|"I've got your blood transfusion right here! Hold still..."|
|Susan Boyle joins The Nairobi Trio at The Royal Albert Hall for ONE NIGHT ONLY!|
|"Gahh! This must be kharmic payback for years of mocking all those 'Hang in There, Baby!' posters!"|
|"Mom, Dad... meet the wife!"|
|"Eeek!! I hereby renounce my love for tentacle porn!"|
|"Ughhh... damn, playing Gears of War is tougher than I thought!"|
|"Philistine! I'll teach you to better appreciate the artistic truth of Leapy Lee!"|
|"Right back at you, little mama!"|
|"My Dianetics is stronger than your kung fu!"|