J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Angela Mao Ying Collection: Broken Oath

She retired in 1992, but she is still one of the biggest stars around. She brought down the house presenting the Asia Star Award to her frequent co-star-action choreographer Sammo Hung and if the producers of the proposed Expendabelles film cannot lure her into a big screen return than they simply should not bother going any further. Viewers can appreciate her power and presence in Shout Factory’s 3-DVD Angela Mao Ying Collection, on-sale today, which includes Jeong Chang-hwa’s Broken Oath (trailer here).

Lotus Liu never knew her mother, but she inherited her drive for revenge just the same. After four turncoats murdered her father, the principled General Liu, her mother Yee-mei was consigned to the remote Wolf’s Teeth Island prison, where she dies during childbirth. Thousand Hands, Lotus’s not so rehabilitated pickpocket god-mother, raises her as her own daughter, but never reveals her birth mother’s tale of woe, in hopes of breaking the cycle of violence (in addition to her titular oath). Right, good luck with that.

Eventually, Lotus is expelled from her Buddhist nunnery, discovering her true origin story shortly thereafter. With the help one of Thousand Hands’ stealthy-fingered associate, Lotus proceeds to hunt down her father’s four betrayers one-by-one. So far, so good, but she is not quite sure what to make of the mysterious stranger, who frequently materializes to point her in the right direction.

Often cited as a fan favorite, Broken was Mao’s final film for Golden Harvest (considered the successors to the Shaw Brothers as the next great HK distributor-production house). It is easy to see why. While technically a period wuxia film, it definitely has the sensibilities of a 1970s revenge thriller. There are also the exotic Devil’s Island style prison scenes, a small army of undercover cops targeting enemy #4, and a dash of Buddhist teachings.

Most importantly, there are some spectacular fight sequences featuring Mao and her co-stars, including Hung in as a featured bodyguard. Action directors Yuen Woo-ping and Hsu Hsia frequently mix martial arts styles to play to the strengths of each cast-member, but they always keep it dazzling cinematic and impressively kinetic.

Mao electrifies Broken, brooding with intensity and throwing down with authority. She is unquestionably the star, even though the big fight sequences are distributed surprisingly equitably amongst the ensemble. Wang Lai also lends the affair plenty of grace and dignity as Thousand Hands, while Ho Mei makes a strong impression in her brief but fan-serving appearance as the wronged Madame Liu.

Broken Oath seriously delivers the goods for martial arts connoisseurs in general and Angela Mao Ying fans in particular. It is a perfect opener for Shout Factory’s highly recommended collection, now available on DVD. More coverage to come.

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