It doesn't surprise me that I've seen this dvd in the cut-out bins for three dollars. The Deadly Sword (Li bi dia, 1978) is hands down the worst kung fu film I've watched in a couple of years, & I've watched some pretty shlocky stuff.
I'm not saying it's the worst swordplay kung fu film that you can lay hands on, as there are scores of them so bad they can induce psychosomatic blindness. But I usually have an ability to pass over the ones that are this rotten as there are usually a dozen clues that we're not at risk of skipping past a classic.
I did know it wasn't going to be one of the good ones, but I wanted to see Candy Yu anyway (her role wasn't worthwhile as it turned out). I just never imagined it could be as meritless as it proved to be.
First of all, the film is the worst case of dubbing I've listened to ever. I'm sure the story only barely resembles whatever it may have been in Mandarin.
It was tempting here & there during the film to give it the benefit of the doubt by assuming disrespectful film-destroyers intended it to be a laughable parody. But nothing suggests they were anything but fabulously untalented writers & vocal actors who just happened very often to come up with funny lines. The opening scene in which one character, holding a sword, asks, "Why do you call it 'the deadly hook'," & has it carefully explained, "Because it's deadly. Anything it strikes will become a dead thing. If it strikes your foot, your foot will say, 'Goodbye to you!'"
Then we have what was originally a scope film not merely shown full-screen with both ends cropped off, but with the top & bottom also cut off, apparently to remove subtitles burned into the original print before it was dubbed for the American action circuit in the early 1980s. It probably adds up to fully half the screen image being missing from every frame, resulting in extremely incomplete compositions.
Deadly Sword is not available in Mandarin with English subtitles, though its offered in Taiwan in Mandarin with simplified Chinese subtitles for Cantonese speakers. So for the time being, only this dubbed version is available for who does not know Chinese.
Now & then (not often) there's a beautiful setting for swordplay action, & at least one mountain trail setting that was as beautiful as a classical painting. This hints that maybe, just maybe, if the film were available remastered fresh in widescreen original language, & subtitled for western wuxia fans, it would have some effective bits.
So it would be unfair to judge the original Li bi diao negatively on the basis of so wholeheartedly a ruined an English dubbing.
On the other hand, the badness of the choreography, with the goofiest of weapons including the wobbliest of tinfoil swords, indicates that even a restored version of the film couldn't be very good. If you look at the portrait on the box for the Taiwan release shown at the left, you'll note that even held perfectly still, the sword is bending under its own slight weight. Soon as the action starts, these toy props come off about as substantial as chewing gum wrappers.
In it's present form, at least, the only possible merit of Deadly Sword would be to please devottees of ultra-shlock who're forever on a quest for films even worse than the worst of Ed Wood. Deadly Sword would in that case fill a special need.
Lost in this mess is a mystery tale of a heroic agent of the law penetrating a secret society's conspiracy involving a number of magic swords, the most magical & deadly being the titular Deadly Sword.
In an auction sequence we see the Dragon Sword which can cut through ice (big deal) & the Icy Sword which can turn a bucket of water into a block of ice by the touch of its point (another big deal); these'd make a good pair of swords at a party as you could make & shave your own snowcones on the spot. Then there is the Rusty Sword which looks worthless but is in reality The Needle Sword which can cut needles in half lengthwise.
I don't know why I even stuck it out except it was pissing me off so bad that I wanted to write a killer review. I was also holding out for the possibility of a big climactic duel that might entertain in a mindless sort of way; I'm actually a lot easier to please than the present review might indicate, & a film has to really stink beyond the furthest realms of stinkery for me to get nothing out of it.
The final duel between Barry Lu Xiao Chan as the good guy & Ling Yun as the bad guy was the best part of a bad film but still pretty bad because the wobbly tin swords were so ridiculous. Still, how our hero defeats the undefeatable is nice & gorey, so that there five or ten seconds of film-time which come within milimeters of being worthwhile.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl