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 also 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 this retro Wuxia 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.
Why do I do this? Because The Battle Wizard never fails to make me grin. Simply put, this is one of the weirdest, oddest, most bizarre Wuxia adaptations ever made, if not hands down the strangest. Thanks to that, it is a wicked barrel of laughs too. Especially so when the ludicrous climax hits.
Ahh …. Where to even begin to describe the weirdness? Well, 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 the important developments are all there. Actually, in some areas, I feel The Battle Wizard is even more faithful than several later TV adaptations.
On the flip side, the lead character of Duan Yu receives a stunningly BIZARRE makeover. The prince starts off largely the same as the written version, i.e., clueless, talkative, wimpy, 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 departs 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 seriously entertains! We are talking about gleeful, over-the-top nonsense here. 70s SFX galore too, as well as audacious genre-mashing with the climax spiritedly galloping into the supernatural.
This being a Shaw Brothers production, action sequences and choreography are naturally eye-catching too. That’s helpful because it distracts you from too much asking of WTH?!?!
… … You know, I seriously love this adaptation, absurd as it is.
I’m going to dig out my DVD after posting this review. Tonight, I’d be going to bed with a grin again.
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