On his way to a congress of kung fu masters, an initiate falls from a high cliff, only to be rescued by lovely Tien Lam (Anita Mui), who rides a huge (and sorry-looking) crane. The rest of ...
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On his way to a congress of kung fu masters, an initiate falls from a high cliff, only to be rescued by lovely Tien Lam (Anita Mui), who rides a huge (and sorry-looking) crane. The rest of the movie features a battle between warring martial arts factions, an equally fierce rivalry between the two daughters of the Crane Master, the accidental empowerment of an unprincipled master after having eaten half of a secret scroll, a battle with an immense tortoise whose spleeny vapors save a group of poisoned swordsmen, lots of great aerial fights against nearly invincible villains, and the usual blood spurting from assorted mouths. Written by
High-pitched wire fu fantasy with a flying Anita Mui
Produced by the prolific Tsui Hark, THE MAGIC CRANE (1993) is one of a number of 'wire fu' costume fantasies from Hong Kong that flooded the market in 1992-94. While it's not as inspired as KUNG FU CULT MASTER, SWORDSMAN II and THE EAST IS RED, it boasts non-stop action, far-flung supernatural elements, broad humor, and delightful performances by a large cast headed by Anita Mui, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Rosamund Kwan, Damian Lau, and Norman Chu. While it has no genuine fighting leads like Jet Li, Yu Rong Guang or Donnie Yen, it doesn't really need them because there isn't much genuine fighting. It's all about people flying and making objects fly, be they unswirling bolts of fabric, tables, doors, bamboo curtains, spears, swords, a giant bell and just about anything that isn't nailed down that the combatants can kick or simply point at to direct it at their opponents.
The story is rather complicated and involves a congregation of martial arts schools during which two rivals emerge for a battle to the death. A parallel story involves two flying women (Anita Mui, Rosamund Kwan), each with a super-powered musical instrument, who have bad blood dating back to childhood. Into this mix come a wide-eyed martial arts student (Tony Leung) and his humble teacher (Damian Lau) who both try to maintain peace among all the other characters.
The flute-playing Anita Mui (who sings the catchy title song with Jacky Cheung) rides atop a giant crane, whose flapping wings come in handy when they ward off an attack by killer bats. Later, the crane fights an ancient giant turtle (shades of Gamera!) so that the heroes can get the turtle's gall bladder to use in a cure for the martial arts masters poisoned by the bats. Things come to a head when one of the two rival masters (Tielin Zhang) finds himself in a cell with an imprisoned legless old master who transmits his kung fu powers to the younger man, who then proceeds to wreak havoc on all the others, forcing a showdown with the four heroes and heroines.
The special effects may seem crude in this era of CGI, because, aside from a handful of optical (lab-created) effects, all the effects are mechanical, created in real time in front of the camera. Fans of wire fu like the fact that everything the actors/stuntmen do is all in front of the camera requiring no lab or computer work, just wires. The giant crane may seem unconvincing to all but little children, but at least it's in the frame with the actors and doesn't involve jarring computer effects. I would argue that it's not only more comforting that way, but also more authentic for the audience since the sudden intrusion of a matted-in computer creation or an enlarged stop-motion miniature would call too much attention to itself in a story that's not meant to be taken as seriously as, say, a Ray Harryhausen film like JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.
The film dispenses with the bitter romanticism of SWORDSMAN II, the melancholic undertone of EAST IS RED, the sprawling historical factionalism of KUNG FU CULT MASTER and the social justice themes of IRON MONKEY. Instead, it adopts a high pitch of flying action from the very beginning and maintains it throughout, keeping its protagonists up in the air and off the ground as much as possible. Kung fu purists may object, but if you're a fan of wire fu and you find nothing more satisfying than an image of the lovely Anita Mui in a flowing white robe with billowing sleeves circling about in the air, then this is a must-see. (And Rosamund Kwan, with her lethal lute, is no slouch either.)
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