21 May 2001 | BrianDanaCamp
Jimmy Wang Yu on the run in 1960s Hong Kong adventure
TRAIL OF THE BROKEN BLADE (1966) is another Shaw Bros. swordplay adventure from the mid-1960s directed by Chang Cheh and starring Jimmy Wang Yu before he became a kung fu star with THE Chinese BOXER (1970, aka HAMMER OF GOD). There is plenty of swordfighting and it's consistently exciting, even though it's not terribly realistic. The hero tends to slash his opponents and kill them dead without much in the way of real sword technique or bloodshed. He also makes those superhuman high leaps and acrobatic flips found in the early swordplay films. More authentic martial arts techniques would take hold the next year with ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN and its sequel, RETURN OF THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1968), both also starring Wang Yu and directed by Chang Cheh, with action scenes by Tang Chia and Liu Chia Liang.
The intricate storyline here has Wang Yu play Li, a fugitive wanted for killing the official who framed his father. His girl, Liu, still pines for him although she is loved by Fang, a swordsman hired by her father to teach her self-defense. Fang, seeking to make Liu happy, sets out to find Li. When he does, the two form an immediate, instinctive bond of friendship. Eventually, Li's enemies locate him and issue a challenge to fight them on Flying Fish Island. Li swims there alone, followed soon after by Fang and Liu who join him for the final battle, although they first have to negotiate a cave filled with traps. There is a tragic ending and a beautiful, heavenly finale.
The swimming scene reminds us that Wang Yu started out as a swimming champ, not a martial artist. He's very good in this film although his melodramatic acting may seem a bit overwrought to fans of his later films. Nonetheless this compares well with his other 1960s Shaw Bros. swordplay films, TWIN SWORDS, THE ASSASSIN, THE MAGNIFICENT TRIO and THE GIRL WITH THE THUNDERBOLT KICK, although his masterpieces of the era remain the two One-Armed Swordsman films.
The film boasts excellent cinematography with scenes shot on lavish studio sets and picturesque outdoor locations. There is a very nice original Chinese score, with some pleasant choral songs on the soundtrack. The Tai Seng VHS edition is in Mandarin with English subtitles, although the full-frame transfer cuts off the subtitles on the sides, making some dialogue difficult to decipher. When are these early subtitled Shaw Bros. films going to be letter-boxed?
ADDENDUM: (9/26/07) This film was indeed released in a restored/letterboxed Region 3 DVD edition from Celestial Pictures on August 1, 2003.