6 May 2007 | ChungMo
"Portrait in Crystal" - Swords and magic and confusion
Wuxia or martial world genre, take your pick. Obscure Shaw director Hua Shan, best known for the absurd "Super Inframan", is getting a reassessment with the re-release of the Shaw library. Whether that reassessment is deserved is another matter.
A crystal carver applies his blood to his most recent creation, a statue of a maiden, despite the protests of his overweight assistant. The assistant has just finished reading how blood applied to crystal will awaken a malevolent spirit. So after a crystal woman warrior fights and kills several members of the Poison clan, fingers are pointed at the sculptor. The clan sends it's best men out to kill the crystal warrior as well as the sculptor. The sculptor and his buddy set out to find the crystal warrior and stop the killing spree that's being blamed on them. Turns out the sculptor was once a talented swordsman so he's quite able to defend himself. His fat buddy is no slouch in the kung-fu department either. Everyone ends up at the "Du" mansion, a strange place run by a woman warlock who has some hidden agenda.
The film bears comparison to other martial world films out of Shaw. While treading a similar territory, Portrait in Crystal is different in several ways. The photography is interesting at times with some very excellent compositions and color design. Other times it's as garish as you can imagine. While the standard Shaw sets do come up, much of the set design is different from other films. Several props seem to come from the local Plexiglas store. There is more comedy then I've seen in wuxia films, supplied by the fat guy. Unfortunately the story gets very confusing and the end is very abrupt and unsatisfying. Hua Shan has some interesting ideas but it's offset by the confusing editing. The martial arts are mostly done with wires and simple editing tricks, that's to say that there are no real martial arts on display. However, the final sword fight is well done.
Depending on your taste for garish Shaw style wuxia, you might have a good afternoon with this one. A warning, however, there's a rather extreme torture performed on a naked woman constricted in a fishnet. Not for children!