I guess you can’t really know what a joy it is to see these Shaw Brothers films presented in clear, remastered editions without having been around in the pre-Celestial era where the only way to see these incredible films was on 2nd and 3rd generation dubbed bootlegs. Clear transfers, Chinese language and novelties like translated songs and signs make for a well-deserved, first class viewing experience.
That said, while I eventually came around I wasn’t that into The Deadly Breaking Sword, a Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng starring feature, for nearly sixty minutes of its running time. It started out promisingly enough with a strong opening set-piece and a very creative “hook” (the titular “Deadly Breaking Sword”) and then it proceeded to meander a bit through the next hour.
The problem with that middle hour is that it moves in a lot of different directions, focusing on several different threads- the two largest of which come complete with their own tone. The primal Ti Lung plotline is a solid story of intrigue, revenge and martial exploits. Typical Shaw Brothers stuff. Balanced against that is the slightly goofy story of Fu Sheng’s Xiao Dao, a down on his luck gambler who provides Jackie Chan style comic relief while running interference for a gambling house. Both threads are cool on their own, but I felt like the the split attention lessened the impact of both. Toss in the multiple layers dropped on top of each plotline and you can see where they lost me for a bit. I’m used to more focus out of the Shaw studio so maybe it was my own expectations holding me back, but I definitely lost my connection to the film during that section.
And then near the end of the film, it all clicked into place. All those threads came together in the wild, action packed (and slightly blood soaked) final reel. Fifteen or twenty minutes of villain-slaying, emergency acupuncture (to revive a guy from near death,) limb-hacking and general martial arts mayhem and I went from being positively neutral about this film to being pleased with the rental. Overall, this isn’t the greatest movie in the Shaw catalog, but it’s definitely a solid entry for genre fans.