|(All images courtesy Celestial Pictures, unless noted otherwise.)|
BACK when The Deadly Breaking Sword was released on 4/12/79, the second movie by director Sun Chung to co-star Fu Sheng and Ti Lung had to contend (primarily) with the kung fu comedies then trending at the HK box office. As a result, the Shaw Brothers production simply (according to writer Mark Pollard) "appeared at the wrong time", and it wasn't long before it was gone, replaced by other Shaw pictures of varying quality. Today, the film lingers in the shadow cast by its predecessor, the cult classic The Avenging Eagle (1978), rescued from obscurity as much by Fu Sheng's untimely death in 1983 as it is by recent critical reassessments of Chung that rank him as one of Shaw's better directors.
|left to right: Fu Sheng and Ti Lung|
|left to right: Ti Lung and Michael Chan Wai Man|
In a town not far from Changqing's location, Dao finds himself temporarily working as a security guard at a gambling house, owned by Luo Jinhua (Lily Li Li Li), in order to pay off his gambling debt. If that wasn't bad enough, Jinhua's smitten with him, and she's determined to keep him there permanently. As soon as Dao earns any taels of silver, she tricks him out of his money.
|left to right: Lily Li Li Li and Fu Sheng|
|left to right: Michael Chan Wai Man and Ku Feng|
|left to right: Ngaai Fai and Ti Lung|
Unlike Chung's previous two wuxias (The Proud Youth and TAE, both '78), Ni Kuang's script for TDBS is not an adaptation from a work of popular Chinese literature, which is a big plus. Minus the hang ups of a complicated scenario with too many characters to keep track of, the story (save for a few hiccups) flows nicely with no trace of padding. Along with a balance of the usual action and suspense is a marked streak of satire that pokes fun at the kind of movies that were Kuang's bread and butter, as evidenced by the narcissistic, quirky Changqing and the "loose cannon", comedy relief Dao. (Some consider Dao to be a Jackie Chan-type of clown, but I think Kuang could've been inspired by Sammo Hung as well.)
The cinematography by Cho On Sun and Lam Nai Choi is rich and atmospheric, notable for some flourishes with the Steadicam and the occasional use of a freeze frame for punctuating some of Dao's antics. The editing by Chiang Hsing Lung and Yu Siu Fung keeps pace with the varying tempos of the film with assurance, particularly giving a spark to Tong Gaai and Wong Pau Gei's fine action choreography, which keeps mostly to the ground except for rare wirework.
|Another picture of Shih Szu, just for the heck of it.|
I should say I have a slight bias toward TDBS, having seen it before TAE, and after watching both several times, I still get a kick out of TDBS, while conceding TAE is the stronger picture. With Kuang's original story, Chung doesn't have the (presumed) burden filming an adaptation can have, so he directs with a relish that carries over to the cast and crew. There's a near-perfect balance of light and dark that helps sell the heroes and the leading ladies; if the mood were all somber, it would be hard to find affinity with four people who aren't exactly amiable. Overall, TDBS is another enjoyable film with the winning combination of Chung, Lung and Sheng, and it's lamentable the fates conspired in such a way there wouldn't be any more.
Brother Fang Cuts to the chase: "A subversive send up of 'Old School' wuxia movies that doesn't lack for drama or thrills. An essential addition to your Shaw Brothers collection if you love Sun Chung, Ti Lung and Fu Sheng. Three and a half stars (out of four)."
Keeping it trivial....
Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.
P.S.-- Buy The Deadly Breaking Sword here.