Saturday, 31 March 2012

Mao March Marathon #4: Broken Oath (1977)

We enter the final week of the Mao March Marathon and this week I'll be taking a look at what is arguably one of Angela's most popular movies among fans. It is of course, Broken Oath!

Angela is Liu Jie-Lian, a woman out to avenge the death of her father. With the help of a pickpocket and an undercover Imperial agent, she uses her deadly skills in Kung Fu to do what she does best. Beat the living crap out of anyone stupid enough to go up against her.

As I mentioned at the beginning, Broken Oath is arguably one of Angela's most popular movies and for good reason. With a plot line that owes more then a little to the classic Japanese revenge movie Lady Snowblood and some tremendous fight choreography from Yuen Woo-Ping, it's easy to see why this is such a big hit with fans. Angela plays the type of character she was best know for. An extremely focused, angry and deadly female who can take a beating as well as give one back. She gives it her all and the end result is a performance that is played with complete conviction and is ultimately satisfying to watch.

Supporting her are, as you'd expect, a group of very familiar faces. Liu Jun-Guk plays the mischievous pickpocket helping Jie-Lian in her mission. He was very likable but it was apparent he wasn't a fighter so he didn't really get to fight anyone. Wang Lai plays Jie-Lian's Godmother and gives a very good performance throughout. Also appearing is Bruce Leung as a super kicking Imperial Agent and Chan Wai-Man as the bad guy out to kill everybody. Also Sammo Hung and Han Ying-Chieh turn up as two bad ass bodyguards who get to kick some serious ass during the run time. Everyone fulfills their roles competently and maintains the same level of quality in the other Angela Mao Golden Harvest productions.

Out of all the movies I've reviewed this month, Broken Oath by far has the most varied in terms of the martial arts action. Yuen Woo-Ping not only gives us a number of traditional empty handed fights but a good quantity of weapons fighting is thrown into the mix. Working along side veteran actor/fight director Hsu Hsia both men show that two heads can be better then one and combine their talents to create some truly memorable action scenes. There's a wonderful scuffle in a forest which we see the introduction of one of Angela's character gimmicks in which she uses scorpions to disable and frighten the enemy. I loved this as you never really saw anyone else use this kind of idea in any other movie at the time and it's just one of many great ideas which were used in Broken Oath. 

One thing is immediately noticeable about the action is the speed in which they are choreographed. During this time while fight choreography was incredibly intricate and well executed, Fast is not a word I would normally associate with it. That's not the case here. The movements are incredibly fast when compared to films such as Hapkido or Lady Whirlwind. Not so fast that it becomes distracting in any way but fast in a way that becomes quite impressive to watch. It doesn't take a genius to work out who might of been the champion of going in this direction. Yuen Woo-Ping was always an action director wanting to try new and interesting things with each film he made. Whether it's with traditional Snake Fist martial arts put together with the completely fictitious Cat's Claw Kung Fu in Snake In The Eagle's Shadow or mixing Tai Chi and Drunken Fist in Drunken Tai Chi, Sifu Woo-Ping was always trying to stay ahead of the curve when it came to action film making.

Speed seems to be the thing which we find him experimenting with here. Putting together a complicated sequence of moves is one thing but to push it that little bit further by making a little bit faster and tighter and it gives it just that little touch of realism. Not too realistic, after all this is a 70's Kung Fu picture we're talking about here but enough so that it makes it stand out from the crowd. There are a number of very well done and very memorable fight scenes throughout. A fight which sees Angela use a Bo staff is very good with some good moves shown throughout. Chan Wai-Man goes up against Fong Yau in a fight which sees Chan dish out some nasty looking blows to the head. I liked this one especially as it showed why Chan Wai-Man is one of the more under appreciated Kung Fu stars of this era. Woo-Ping and Hsu Hsia obviously saw something in him that could be put to great use here and he gets to show some very impressive punching combinations that compliment his hard hitting style.

If you ever talk to fans about Broken Oath one thing they will inevitably say is how Broken Oath has one of the best final reel fight scenes of it's time. Having watched it, I would whole-heartedly agree. Everyone involved and I mean everyone gets to really show their stuff. An excellent scene sees Kuo Cheng-Yu fight a fire breathing Han Ying-Chieh. Kung Fu bad guys always had some sort of gimmick during this time. I think it mostly stemmed from the type of Kung Fu action pictures Shaw Brothers were making at the time. Han's gimmick is that he breathes fire but also wears a pair of steel toes caps. It's a short scene but both men get to make a wonderful Kung Fu fight. Angela uses double short swords against a starknife wielding Sammo Hung and this is why Broken Oath has such a good reputation as a weapons film.

You can see both Angela and Sammo really trying to push themselves to do the choreography justice and it's an excellent fight and reminds me while I prefer more grounded swordplay to that of the fantasy style seen in films such as Swordsman II. Not that there's anything wrong with that style of action. Each type have their pro and cons but to me movies like Broken Oath are more to my liking when it comes to on-screen martial arts. If seeing Angela take on Sammo wasn't enough, we have Chan Wai-Man fight Bruce Leung. Broken Oath is a good example of why Bruce Leung, much like Dorian Tan, was one of the more under appreciated boot men of this era and had the talent to hit it big but for one reason or another never did. Leung's fight with Chan is excellent with Chan using some stiff looking kicks and punches and Leung really showing his knack for fancy kicks.

Broken Oath is a fantastic piece of late 70's Hong Kong martial arts cinema and is a definite must see if you like Golden Harvest or Shaw Brothers movies. Having this as the film to conclude the Mao March Marathon has been wonderful and I can only hope that I'll be able to review more of Angela Mao's films in the future. So that's it. Thank you all for coming onto my blog week after week. Be sure to keep checking for more reviews, retrospectives, columns and articles throughout the coming weeks and months.

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