Based on the novel The Demi-Gods and She-Devils by author Chin Yung, The Battle Wizard was released in 1977 and directed by Pao Hsueh-Li known for helming Shaw Studios must sees such as The Boxer from Shantung and The Water Margin. With The Battle Wizard we would see a spin placed on Chinese mythology utilizing the then innovative and elaborately grandiose special effects of the era.
Two decades after having his legs severed by prince Tuan Zhengchun (Si Wai), Wong Po-yen AKA: Yellow Robe Man (Shut Chung-Tin ) makes good on his vow to exact revenge by setting his lobster clawed hoodlum Canglong (Kong Do) out to capture Zhengchun’s son Tuan Yu (Danny Lee Sau-Yin). 20 years prior Zhengchun, brother to the emperor had an affair with the Yellow Robe Man’s wife Qin Hongmian (Gam Lau). When the Yellow Robe Man stormed in on the twos canoodling, enraged he pounced on Zhengchun trying to kill him, yet his aggression was met with the Yi Yang Finger, as a blast of energy emitted from Zhenchun's finger which would inevitably lead to the amputation of both of the Yellow Robe Man’s legs and his vow of vengeance to befall 20 years later upon his escape.
Pregnant with Zhengchun’s child, Qin pleads with Zhengchun to take her away with him but is quickly denied following the entrance of Zhengchun’s fiancée Shu Baifeng (Hung Ling-Ling), Shu declares that Zhengchun could never take someone of such a low status as his concubine. This leads inevitably to Qin’s own embitterment, which she eventually would pass on to her lovechild with Zhengchun, daughter Mu Wanqing, along with her a deadly martial art which utilizes a peculiar "bone-cutting sword" and giving her instructions to kill Shu Baifeng should ever they meet.
Now nearly 20 years of age Tuan Yu has little interest in martial arts, he’d much prefer to stick to his scholarly interests and avoid the potentially dangerous aftereffects of fighting. His father on the other hand is infuriated with his lack of interest in becoming a fighter, touting that since his uncle has no sons he’s next inline for the throne and must be apt in the martial arts if he hopes to be a capable ruler.
This sends Yu off on his own to discover whether or not he can manage in this world without the fighting skills he has so little interest in acquiring.
While on his travels he happens upon a young girl named Zhong Ling-erh (Lam Jan-Kei) who is covered in snakes, frantically he attempts to bat them away from her but is struck across the face by Ling-erh for his troubles. She exclaims the snakes are her friends, and shows that she wields a strange power over them. Yu then explains the origin of his journey to Ling-erh, who later purposes that she teach him martial arts in exchange for learning how to read. Yu quickly accepts, but soon realizes that learning too fight requires much hardship and which is something that he wants no part of. Ling-erh responds with the legend of a giant red python, the blood of which when drank offers instant martial arts prowess and the potential for invincibility. Yu jumps at the idea of this, and the two make their way in search of the mysterious red python completely unaware of the lurking plot against the Tuan family, and the order of Yu’s capture from the Yellow Robe Man.
While the plot for Battle Wizard is an involving one for sure, it’s surprisingly quite easy to follow and well presented. It offers a variety of universal themes via a supernatural package all of which is uniquely brought to the big screen in true Shaw Brothers fashion.
This is one outrageously over the top endeavor, and one sure to entertain whether it’s from the seemingly non stop action, colorful effects or its often just outright bizarreness. We see everything here from finger beams and energy blasts, to dagger shooting bone swords, giant magical snakes, fire breathing and iron legged bird feet having sorcerers, lobstermen, flesh burrowing snakes and a savage man eating gorilla. The effects while arguably as laughable as the premise they attempt to showcase, work well and can be surprisingly convincing bearing in mind the scope of the films absurdity. A lot of creativity went into the intricacies of the lavish plot devices, ultimately making for some damn good entertainment.
While the film does have its moments of on screen martial arts, it should be noted this isn’t so much a film about watching great kung fu as it is a fantasy fueled effects heavy feast. It’s bloody and fanciful; reality is thrown to the wind but bear in mind it is this absurdity which makes The Battle Wizard as enjoyable as it is. It’s a visual delight, and one certain to please.
The film is quite short with a running time clocking in at a mere 73 minutes, leading many to ponder whether this is the fully uncut version. Despite the possible lacking footage, the frenzied pacing makes for all the more intense of a viewing experience, with surprisingly a lot happening in an especially short span of time.
Well Go USA’s recent release offers the film in an anamorphic widescreen presentation which preserves the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, sadly its been converted from a PAL sourcing utilizing mediocre English subtitles. Also rather unfortunately the provided audio doesn’t include the original Mandarin mono, and we’re left with an altered celestial 5.1 remix. However a point of light for some will be the inclusion of the original English dub, which apparently is incorrectly listed as a new recording on the packaging. Extra’s on the disc are slim, limited but to the new celestial trailer which is also incorrectly listed as being the original theatrical on the outer packing.