The Magic Legs (1989)


China. 1989.


Director – Wenhua Li, Screenplay – Hai Peng & Zhoucheng Zhou, Photography – Qingwu Guan, Music – Wen Zhongjia, Art Direction – Hao Jiangyuan. Production Company – Beijing Film Studio


Wang Qun (Wu Jiatai)


Wu Jiatai swears vengeance against the bandit Iron Palm after he kills Jiatai’s father using his deadly Iron Palm blow. Jiatai falls in with the beautiful Fenglan dancer Fengni and learns from her the family secret of the Magic Legs, which become his means of defeating Iron Palm.

This is a rather dull and dreary kung fu effort from the Chinese mainland. It has been made as a clear attempt to imitate the fodder churned out by their Hong Kong cousins. However, as with other similar Chinese attempts – see also The Magic Flying Mouse – the film lacks the vital pulp energy of the Hong Kong product.

The Magic Legs tries very hard – in fact, almost too hard. There are stretches of the film – like the last twenty or so minutes – that consist of nothing else except long, extended kung fu sequences. For a time, this is interesting, but eventually the sheer repetitiveness of it wearies. Director Wenhua Li has an almost fetishistic fascination with seeing things being smashed – a fight in a pottery shop concentrates not so much on the fighting but rather the slow-motion smashing of pottery, other sequences likewise. Any actual plot is so rudimentary it could almost be a dot-to-dot drawing used solely to connect the action sequences.

Unfortunately, the action sequences, while endless, lack conviction. At times, they seem too obviously to be just stunt-people pretending to exchange blows. During the climactic twenty minutes, after about the tenth consecutive shot where someone falls from a roof and the actual landing is hidden by a hedge or pots conveniently located in front of the camera, one wants to throw something at the screen at the transparency of the wool the filmmakers are attempting to pull over one’s eyes. One irritating aspect of the film is also that one never finds out what the Magic Legs are – it is supposed to being some mystical art and after discovering it the practitioners seem to do lots more kicking, but nothing that doesn’t look like a standard kung fu blow.

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