Gold Ninja Video presents the sole remaining 35mm print of the lost surreal Taiwanese sword and sorcerer epic
Thrilling Bloody Sword is a 1981 Taiwanese face-melter written and directed by Hsin-Yi Chang, who was more established as a writer – having penned more than his fair share of Bruceploitation flicks. The oddest part of this film, which is often compared to Masters of the Universe, is it predated the cartoon by 2 years and hit theaters the same year as the toys. But considering most of the action figures were also made in Taiwan at the time, it’s not beyond the shadow of a doubt that this advanced knowledge of the future toy phenomenon didn’t make its way into this film, or possibly vice versa.
Borrowing rather liberally from everything from Flash Gordon (1980), Snow White to The Ten Commandments, it begins its descent into madness after opening credits play out to the theme from Space Battleship Yamato. A comet strikes the pregnant queen, who’s about to give birth and while the meteor kills the queen instantly, it literally pops out her unborn child, which appears to be a giant gelatinous pulsating flesh bean. Disgusted by this abomination, the king has it put in a basket and sent down the river like Moses. It’s found by seven dwarves, who upon attempting to eat it, accidentally reveal a female child they raise as their own. The film jumps 17 years later and the king is visited by two sorcerers who have their eyes on his kingdom, and fool him into inviting them into his court by vanquishing a cyclops they’ve unleashed.
When the daughter of the king is discovered alive, she is kidnapped and brainwashed into marrying one of the wizards. Her only hope is a handsome prince who hopes to free and marry the woman, but needs to find magic armor and a sword to liberate a powerful imprisoned spirit for help. The film is relentless in its ambition as it somehow pulls this audacious story off, pre-CGI on what appears to be a shoestring budget. But it’s the surreal dream-like look of the film and its cast who give their all to the script that makes this larger than life narrative work. I kept getting echoes of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Hausu in how the visible seams only make the world they show even more charming in its surrealness.
The fim is presented scanned in by Gold Ninja Video from the sole remaining 35mm release print. They made the stylistic choice on their scan, thankfully, not to attempt to fix or apply anything more than color correction and that only enhances the home viewing experience since it retains that gritty organic celluloid feel. Its rough around the edges, just like the film and I think in this case gives us a glimpse of what it was like to see this film on the big screen rather than some super shiny heavily DNR’ed picture.
I was gobstruck from start to finish with the film and fell completely under its bizarre spell thanks to its hand animated magic battles and its thrift store bear costumes. Thrilling Bloody Sword could best be described as a live-action cartoon from the 80s channeled through the mind of Nobuhiko Obayashi. The film just harnesses its own dream-like insanity and pop-culture sensibility, which it uses to keep propelling it further and further until its third act battle royale, which literally decimated my expectations. Not simply satisfied to be a fight film, this mix of sword and sorcery is full of plenty of WTF moments that had me wondering where this had been my entire life. While the Blu-ray is sold out and there is a planned repress, you have the chance to see Thrilling Bloody Sword in a theatrical setting with an audience, I can only imagine how this would have played in a theater and truly envy those that experience this first that way.