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TI LUNG - a change of pace - in an actioner with a misogynistic twist, and KU FENG relegated to a secondary role
THE DEADLY BREAKING SWORD stands apart from other Shaw Bros. productions starring TI LUNG in making him an unsympathetic, even an unlikeable character. The more SB films one sees, the more rewarding it can be as you see how the filmmakers would attempt to move beyond the genre formulas, even though they used the same actors and production crews.
His role as TUAN CHANGQING, the Deadly Breaking Sword, puts him at odds with the rest of the martial world. He is an aberration of his famous heroic roles, eg. THE SENTIMENTAL SWORDSMAN cycle: he is no longer a protector of the weak, and the old, nor is he a defender of helpless women (though one might argue, there are no so called helpless women in this story).
He looks ahead to the likes of FRANKIE CHAN's nobleman in THE PRODIGAL SON and Donnie Yen's General in the superior ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA II. A superior fighter who provokes less fighters into mortal combat; a sadist who not only provides his quarry a coffin but who also relishes detailing his deadly breaking sword technique.
The film cleverly begins with a duel with LIAN SAN (WAI-MAN CHAN) whose own reputation rests with his Throat-Piercing Halberd. The two fighters are well matched, and both sustain serious wounds. The contest ends with LIAN's flight to safety.
LIAN's miraculous recovery is brought about by GUO TIANSHENG (KU FENG). GUO hides behind a facade he has skilfully created in which he is a warm, compassionate and peace loving man. He has an ulterior motive for saving LIAN's life.
The catalyst for the ensuing action is LIU JINHUA, a successful prostitute who comes to town, and hopes to enlist TUAN's services to kill GUO, whom she believes betrayed her brother years ago.
Add to this potentially confusing mix, FU SHENG playing his patented scoundrel, except this time, he is too blind to comprehend that the beautiful LUO JINHUA (LILY LI) is totally in love with him. XIAO DAO (FU) spends most of the film trying to get out of his indentured status. His need for quick, ready cash sets him on a collision course with both TUAN and GUO (aka THE KILLER DOCTOR).
There are several scenes where the key characters confront one another: in one, the smooth, sly GUO easily deceives TUAN; in another, TUAN accuses LIU of lying to him; in others, TUAN, still fooled by the KILLER DOCTOR, attempts to stop XIAO (FU SHENG) from taking on the mission of eliminating the Doctor - for money, and then there is the drastic course of action that FU SHENG takes when he fathoms what LILY LI has been doing.
There is a lot of action, well up to the usual house standards, and well staged too. But what stayed with me was TI LUNG's character TUAN CHANGQING, who is every bit the hypocrite that the good DOCTOR GUO is. It's a great scene when TUAN sitting down with XIAO tells him how wonderful he is as a fighter, and if he only had principles...
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