In his feature debut, Sun Chung - one of the most interesting filmmakers at Shaw Brothers - helms this wild tale of two martial arts clans who each possess an amazing mirror with supernatural powers. The mirrors are coveted by the evil Jiuxian Witch (Li Chia-hsien), leader of the Bloody Ghouls Clan (sure, name your clan that and how do you expect them to turn out?), who plots to use them to enter the tomb of Emperor Wu and ransack his magical treasure. A gang of masked ninjas - in reality, captive swordsmen poisoned by the witch’s “Corpse Worm Pills” - steal the first mirror from one-legged clan chieftain Bai Tian Xiong (Wang Hsia), whose duplicitous lieutenant, Leng Yun (Tung Lam) drives a wedge between him and rival Chief Wen (Ching Miao). Nobody suspects he is working for the Bloody Ghouls Clan and sneaking off for occasional hot, between the sheets action with the sexy, three-eyed, super-witch. Eventually, star-crossed lovers Bai Xiaofeng (Shu Pei-pei) and Wen Jianfeng (Liu Tan) team-up to see justice is done.
Whereas Sun Chung’s later films are renowned for their innovative storylines and cynical (almost fatalistic) outlook, The Devil’s Mirror is a fairly conventional wu xia, distinguished by its demented plot twists (watch out for the bit involving Bai Tian’s missing leg!) and outrageous gore. It is easily one of the bloodiest movies Shaw Brothers ever made, with a non-stop onslaught of limb-lopping violence, decapitated heads, exploding chest wounds and - most memorably - a blow-pipe rammed down the throat of one would-be assassin. Ouch. At one point, our heroes clash swords in a throne room still splattered with blood from the previous day’s battle. There isn’t a spare moment for anyone to clean it.
Production values are customarily high, with the Jiuxian Witch’s giant skull and lava pit lair particularly evocative. Her pink silk veiled boudoir receives a fair deal of attention and the sexually voracious villainess even drugs Wen Jianfeng to get him into bed. The dumb lug wakes up to find the naked witch straddling his torso, but heroically resists her charms. He shows more restraint than most men. Actress Li Chia-hsien later withdrew from acting after winning a cookery contest organised by Asia Television and the Hong Kong Tourism Council. She became a columnist at Next magazine and today, co-hosts a cookery show with her son! How’s that for contrasts?
The biggest star here is Shu Pei-pei. Discovered in a beauty contest run by Shaw Brothers, she came second but won a five year contract and beginning with a classic, The Thundering Sword (1967), graced countless wu xia movies until marriage in 1973 brought about her retirement from acting. Since the late seventies she’s managed a successful travel agency. I like to think she brandishes a gleaming sword at board meetings…
While the story is essentially one gory fight scene after another, Sun Chung helms some outstanding action sequences. The undoubted highlight is the jaw-dropping ninja raid on Phoenix Tower, where the phenomenal stunt-work will leave you breathless and - needless to say - the walls run red with blood. After all that gore, you might feel an urge to settle your nerves with a nice Doris Day movie.