Bizarre is the word you’d keep thinking of when watching Shaw Brothers’ The Battle Wizard.
The Battle Wizard (天龍八部) Synopsis
Based on the first story arc of Louis Cha’s celebrated Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, The Battle Wizard narrates Dali Prince Duan Yu’s many misadventures upon leaving the protection of his kingdom. After surviving various out-of-the-world encounters, he ends up imprisoned by a sinister cohort. He ultimately learns that he is destined to repay the sins of his womanizing father.
I have an odd relationship with this 1977 Shaw Brothers Studio Wuxia flick.
I bought the DVD well over 15 years ago but have only ever watched the movie in full once. On nights when I’m bored silly, though, I would launch the disc using my PC and re-watch some of the fight scenes. Then I go to bed happy.
Yeah. It’s very odd. And that’s because this is easily one of the oddest Wuxia adaptations I’ve ever watched. If not the strangest.
Where to begin to describe the weirdness … I think it starts with the peculiar blend of the respectful and disrespectful in the plot. As in, the decision to both respect and (shockingly) deviate from the source material.
Several events depicted closely follow those in Louis Cha’s original saga. I wouldn’t say it’s to the dot but what’s key are all there. Actually, in some areas, I feel The Battle Wizard is more faithful than some later TV adaptations.
On the flipside, the lead character of Duan Yu received a stunningly BIZARRE makeover. The prince starts off largely the same as the written version i.e. clueless, talkative, and overall, rather annoying. Once the action starts hitting in full though, he quickly morphs into the sort of shirtless kung-fu champion Shaw Brothers is world-famous for. It is also at this point that the story enthusiastically deviates from the novel.
It is just so … random, if you know what I mean. Doubly so for me given Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils is one of my favourite Wuxia stories.
But, I’m still giving this flick a higher rating because it ultimately entertains. It really entertains! We are talking about gleeful, over-the-top nonsense here. 70s SFX galore too, as well as audacious genre-mashing with the ending spiritedly galloping into the supernatural.
This being a Shaw production, action sequences and choreography are eye-catching too. That’s helpful because it distracts you from too much asking of WTH?!?!
… … You know, I actually deeply love this adaptation, absurd as it is. I’m going to dig out my DVD after this. Tonight, I’d be going to bed with a grin again.
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