The Deadly Breaking Sword (1979)
Director: Sun Yee
Writers: Ni Kuang
Starring: Fu Sheng, Ti Lung, Ku Feng and Lily Li

The Plot: Our story begins with Tuan Changqing (Ti Lung) ordering a coffin for a duel that he is to have with a speerman name Liu Yinxu (Szu Shih). Tuan, who is a martial expert, takes his duels very seriously. Notorious for his habit of breaking a piece of his sword inside of his victims within each duel, he is one of the most feared swordsmen across the land. He soon defeats the spearman, but Liu runs away before the fight can be finished. Xian Dao (Fu Sheng) is a gambling addict who is more than a little down on his luck. When he is tricked by the young heiress of a gambling den, he believes that he owes a large amount of money. This leads him to becoming a indentured servant, but he doesn’t realize that the entire reason for this servitude is that the young heiress fancies the young lad. Xian Dao eventually meets Tuan Changqing outside of a teahouse, where the young gambler is caught admiring the fancy ruby that adorns Tuan’s horse. Tuan at first assumes that the young man is a thief, and thus a bit of antagonism is felt between them. When the brothel that neighbors Xian Dao’s new home at the gambling den acquires a very famous worker, it seems that she is the toast of the town. However, this new worker has some form of revenge on her mind, but who are the characters that she wants revenge upon? And what about Brother Liu Yinxu, who escaped Tuan Changqing’s wrath in our introduction? How long before he is finally able to begin practicing again and take his own revenge against Tuan Changqing?

The Review
Director Sun Yee may not have the name power of someone like Lau Kar-leung or Chang Cheh, but he too was one of the notable directors working within the Shaw studio during its prime. Best known for his work on Human Lanterns and The Avenging Eagle, he didn’t have the vast catalog that Chang Cheh would create, but his work often speaks for itself. Never afraid to get his hands dirty, the early part of his Shaw Bros. tenure was spent making sexploitation films. He eventually made a name for himself with “female avenger” films such as The Drug Connection (which is touted as a Hong Kong remake of Pam Grier’s Coffy), Big Bad Sis and The Lady Exterminator. After this, he headed towards the end of the seventies by making a string of martial art epics that starred the biggest names within the Shaw Studio. The Deadly Breaking Sword comes from this era of the filmmaker’s career, and has him working alongside Alexander Fu Sheng, Ti Lung, Ku Feng and Lily Li. Although the movie isn’t the very best of its genre, this director certainly proves to be fairly underrated because his visual prowess is certainly felt throughout The Deadly Breaking Sword.

Ni Kuang was never the strongest writer when it came to vast sweeping epics that used huge ensemble casts, but without the harsh historical context that some of these films seem to have, Deadly Breaking Sword remains very linear and straight to the point. Similar to his better known work with Chang Cheh, there is a underlying theme of masculine bravado at work here. Perfectly executed for any Chinese men who were still hanging onto some of their less-than-progressive ideals of the past, Deadly Breaking Sword certainly presents a world that is dominated by men. Both Fu Sheng and Ti Lung’s characters completely reject the wiles of all women when confonted by their sexual advances, and instead they remain committed only to their own machismo, as well as the job that they have at hand. While this isn’t the nicest of concepts within the film, and is certainly not of the politically correct variety, this otherworldly attitude certainly makes the film more interesting to me. Women are shown no mercy throughout the film, with several lines of dialogue outright berating all women as liars and leeches. This might be tough to overlook for those who are sensitive to this subject, but for some others it could very well prove to be unintentionally entertaining. As Fu Sheng barks out lines like “I tend not to trust women, because they’re all liars,” you can either laugh at how childish the film is in this regard or you can allow yourself to get mad. I choose to laugh.

The film is certainly one that doesn’t pander to its audience. Despite being constricted by genre aesthetics, the film does a good job of zigging whenever one expects it to zag. For instance, Ti Lung, who is almost always cast in the role of the never-fledgling good guy, is slightly ambiguous in his role. Although it is hard to imagine him as anything other than the good guy, this is a role that really pushes the boundaries between simple bravado and pure conceit. This character, at some point, really starts to resemble something darker than a general Kung Fu hero, but this is a movie with few shades of white or black. Despite being a chauvinist, and a all around narcissist, Ti Lung somehow still manages to come across as fairly charismatic. He is the sort of man’s “man” that we like to see in our martial arts film, quiet and self-confident, but unfortunately whenever he opens his mouth he proves to be such a totally unlikable character. However, this isn’t necessarily a negative attribute in my opinion. Anything that differs from the norm in a conventional Kung Fu movie generally proves to be valuable.

When Brother Lin emerges again, toward the back end of the movie, we are taken yet again outside of the normal. We are taught throughout the majority of this movie that it takes place within a heightened sense of reality, obviously. With Ti Lung breaking swords off inside of his enemy, the gimmickry of this title certainly isn’t a direct reflection of reality. Even with this, when Lin returns looking like a anime character, the movie defies all established rules of logic. After treating his wounds, caused by Ti lung during the introduction, Brother Lin’s hair for some reason grows out by a foot (as does his beard) and all of his body hair seems to bleach white. Yet, in the midst of his bleached white hair, he has several strips of red that run down his head. Despite looking incredibly cool, what this transformation means, or how it came about, is utterly lost on the viewer. Still, this is where the movie establishes that no set of rules are going to be conformed to. Whatever Ni Kuang and Sun Yee want to do, that is precisely what will be done. For better or for worse, I think most will agree that Deadly Breaking Sword is quite off kilter in comparison to many other Kung Fu titles from this time and era

The Conclusion
The Deadly Breaking Sword is pure pulp. Martial mayhem at its finest, this is a title that should please those fans who know what they are in for. While it remains far from perfect, the chauvinism can be a bit much and there are few “wow!” moments during the movie, but I still remain a fan. I give it a four out of five, and highly recommend it to anyone who thinks the above might sound interesting.