Written by: Carroll Jenkins on March 29th, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: Hong Kong, 1977
Director: Chung Chang Wha
Writer: Shih Kang
Cast: Angela Mao, Chan Wai Man, Liang Xiao Long, Sammo Hung
DVD released: June 13th, 2006
Approximate running time: 93 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: IIB (Hong Kong)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Mandarin
Subtitles: English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese
DVD Release: Joy Sales
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC (Hong Kong)
Retail Price: $9.99
That’s the bare bones plot for Lady Snowblood, which serves as the framework for this tale. One difference is that the God Mother does not tell the child of her tragic past despite her vow, and thus the ‘broken oath’. Angela Mao portrays the daughter who is thrown out of the Buddhist Monastery for having a belligerent nature (and gleefully killing people). The title actually should have been ‘Lady Scorpion’, since her trademark is death via her pet scorpions.
This was Angela Mao’s last film for Golden Harvest, and it is her best showcase. She’s in top form in both acting and martial arts, and gets lots of screen time. The supporting cast is outstanding and the acting is excellent all around. The martial arts are creative and exciting, though they don’t dominate over story or characterization. There are mysterious characters, insidious poisons, and the humor doesn’t have a cultural bent (as in many Golden Harvest productions). There are exploitation elements including several attempted rapes, nudity (not Angela, of course), and Angela sells herself into a brothel at one point. Besides the scorpion kills there are a variety of weapons used, and the action is a blend of long shots of actual action with the occasional enhancement of camera trickery, off screen trampolines, and wire work. The editing is fast paced, though the flashback sequence is hard cut and looks at first like a bad reel change. Just as Norifumi Suzuki blends artistic flourishes with mundane setups, so Broken Oath contains impressive shots and sets followed by rather pedestrian scenes of people walking around (pun intended).
The quality of this Joy Sales release is both a blessing and a curse. Presented widescreen anamorphic with original Mandarin and removable English subs from a very nice unrestored print. Because of it’s high quality it’s doubtful that Dragon Dynasty will want to invest in restoration since the niche market has already been breached.
Martial arts genre fans might seek out films with more action and lament the scorpion kills, intricate plot turns, and mysterious characters even though they applaud the quality if not the quantity of the action scenes. Fans of Angela Mao may decry the fact that she doesn’t show up until 15 minutes in. For the general exploitation fan this is a film that not only successfully breaches genres but presents the diva of 70’s HK action films in her finest vehicle.