Chung Sun came to Shaw Brothers' studio in 1971. The first project he directed for Shaw was The Devil's Mirror (Feng lei mo jing; or in Catonese, Fung lui moh geng, 1972). This has been remastered for letterbox presentation with optional English subtitles, the ideal way to see such films short of a big-screen movie house.
A sorceress called "the Jiuxan witch" is the tepid villain of the piece. Her most evil trait is that she likes sex. As played by Li Chia-chien, she laughs like an hysteric rather than a madwoman, let alone a leader with absolute authority over the Bloody Ghoul Clan of Ghost Valley.
Li Chia-chien's not all bad in her action scenes, but for her character design, she wears enough make-up for six witches, as though she's trying to make an impression on the last row at the Chinese opera. The extra eyeball glued sideways to her forehead is nice touch if being silly was the intent.
While most of the martial sequences are done with down-to-earth choreography rather than the wire-fu work that is such a grin, the Jiuxan witch being magical does get to defy gravity, by means of swinging back & forth or spinning around on the wires, still laughing like an hysteric & struggling against the impossibility of seeming threatening rather than merely unable to control which way the wires swing her.
Some of her evil minions have color-coded hair or cheap clown wigs. Her best swordsmen are captive kung fu masters who she has fed "corpse worm pills" & they must do her bidding in order to gain the antidote, which eventually they do notice she never voluntarily gives to anyone, mean ol' witch that she is. They go into battle wearing masks so no one can see how the corpse-worms have ravaged their complexions, making them look like some kids ribbed green & grey Playdough all over their parents' faces.
Martial actress Shu Pei-pei fares much better as a screen presence. She made only a few films beginning 1966, before leaving the film business to marry in 1974. Yet her selective career included many fine if minor classics of the era, notably The Golden Knight (Jin yi eda xia, 1970), Thundering Sword (Shen jian zhen jiang hu, 1967), & Fourteen Amazons (Shi si nu ying hao, 1972).
She plays Feng-erh of the Bai family, a swordswoman of noble disposition, & a good judge of character.
The Bai & the Wen are two closely alligned families who possess one mirror each which, when brought together, release great powers. The Bai family possess the Wind-magic mirror. The Wen family possess the Thunder-magic mirror.
These are kept hidden in secret places. Both mirrors belong the Wen family's Golden Lions Clan, but the elder Wen has been loathe to keep the two mirrors together, as the power would not only kill many foes, but potentially destroy the whole environment, so the elder Bai has been entrusted with one of the two mirrors to insure that they are hidden separately.
There is an emergency afoot, however, as the Bloody Ghouls Clan is spreading its reign through the region, by means of cruelty & force. Leng Yun, the sinister spy trusted within the Bai family, informs the Jiuxian witch where the Wind-magic Mirror is hidden, & she immediately dispatches her diseased warriors to steal it.
If the witch can get both mirrors, she will have power to rule the whole of the martial world forever. With the mirrors' power she intends to open the ancient tomb of Emperor Wu wherein she can filch the Fish Intestines Sword of invincibility (too bad it didn't look like a fish spine or something; it turns out to be a regular ol' sword) & a charm for longevity that'll keep her regime thriving under her evilly preserved self for generations.
The inside of the tomb when at least revealed turns out to be all spray pointed gold. Oh wait, it's all pure gold, that's right. I suspect the budget ran out by then as there was an awfully big build-up to reveal the tomb to be made out of spray-painted crinkled wrapping paper.
The witch now has the Wind-magic mirror stolen from the Phoenix Tower, but without the Thunder-magic mirror, it does not have power. The old patriarch Wen is framed by Leng the spy, so that the patriarch Bai seemingly believes the old coot stole the Wind-magic mirror. His niece the noble swordswoman knows old Wen could never have done such a thing, & goes against her father's wishes to join forces with the Chief Wen's son, Jianfeng Wen (Liu Tan/Lau Daan), to attack the Bloody Ghoul Clan & restore the honor of the Wens.
The plot gets seriously muddled in here. I tried to follow it carefully & though such unnecessarily convoluted stories can confuse anyone, I'm pretty sure nowhere in the story does it show the witch actually obtaining both magic mirrors.
When she attacks the Wen household for the Thunder-magic mirror, she kills the patriarch & gets the mirror handily enough, but we'd recently been informed that the Wind-magic mirror she already possessed was a fake. The real one is at the Wen palace, & she might have gotten it, but at no point that I caught does she realize she doesn't already have the real one.
Thus I'd expected the mirror-power to fail her when she held them up like fancy pie tins as though about to clang them together for some Chinese New Year racket-making. If her big moment fizzled, then the heroic swordsman & swordswoman could be the ones to arrive with the real second mirror & use that power for better purposes. But no, when the witch goes to Emperor Wu's tomb, the all-powerful pie-tin cymbals work perfectly well at forcibly opening the tomb. The fake mirror is just never again mentioned.
But getting nitpicky about story consistency in kung fu movies is like expecting three year olds to have enormous vocabularies. For swordsman & swordswoman action The Devi'ls Mirror is nowhere near a classic of The Lady Hermit variety, but stands halfway between the maximumly absurd & credible if somewhat generic action. As a rather adolescent sword & sorcery story, it more than gets by, supposing one already sort of likes such silly films & is willing to be a little forgiveness.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl