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Broken Arrow (1996, John Woo)

After delivering recognizable Hong Kong action style in his American debut Hard Target (some of which was too strong for censors), John Woo proved with his second Hollywood film he could do a movie in the vein of Die Hard and Under Siege. Which unfortunately means quite a bit of his cinematic self takes a step back and only appears in competent bursts. Broken Arrow certainly doesn't scream imported auteur but his perception in the American mainstream would change with Face/Off. There we DID get the Hong Kong master playing with a set of Western toys to great effect.

Although John seems curiously absent, there is bombastic style and cool present. Whether talking the opening boxing match between trusted friends about to turn enemies or how Woo shoots John Travolta with a sense of poetic, untouchable cool. It isn't terrible foreshadowing and build up and Travolta never proves to be an overacting clown of a villain either. As it turns out, he's the asset of Broken Arrow, proving the balancing act between fun and generic can be done the right way, when you walk the line well. While not distinguished style-wise, Woo does keep the camera moving, picks bursts of slow motion to enhance the frame rather than focusing on the show stopping moments and before desert warfare, before Slater and Travolta's pilots are separated, there's irresistible style here. Even if it feels shamelessly indulgent too. But it merely lands on generic despite loud booming shots of helicopters and cars going through frame, explosions, military jargon, a Mexican standoff and more than capable, even exhilarating stunts. Combine that and Travolta as Deakins who remains impeccable as a villain, never getting as much of a scratch before the finale and the movie is on to something. But a lot more Woo would've been a game changer for the genre it places itself in and we wouldn't have been comparing it to other films. Standouts sequences are the mine shootout and train cart fight where the balletic rhythm to the choreography is expertly put on display in an American film. But again, delightful in spots only and it's like the studio weren't ready to let Woo play full on with the bullet ballet madness AND his colorful, flamboyant villains. Some of it is here, even clinched and no wonder Travolta was cast for Face/Off as well where duality and playfulness combined with exquisite style, violence and heart was the name of the game.

Broken Oath (1977) Directed by: Jeng Cheong-Woh

The wife (Ho Mei) of a betrayed general gets sentenced to prison where she gives birth to her daughter Jie Lian. In need of revenge on the people that killed her husband, she asks her daughter to be taken care of and taken to Shaolin Temple. When grown up (and played by Angela Mao), soon pure buddhist thoughts are indeed ejected in favour of revenge and with her scorpions, Jie Lian attempt to start her killing spree...

Although melodramatic, the atmosphere echoing feelings of gloom and issues of the downbeat kind is actually well above average martial arts cinema from Jeng Cheong-Woh (King Boxer) that doesn't quite provide the same atmosphere once his revenge-tale is in full motion. The impulse of hatred is an interesting dissection taking place briefly in the film and there's nothing wrong with the movie being basic in its structure as Angela Mao tries to take out her opponent either via scorpion poison, kicks or fists. The movie eventually does get quite clogged up by characters and loses sight of a simplicity it needed. Broken Oath does have in its favour, hugely, the pure embodiment of female fury in 70s martial arts cinema in the form of Angela Mao and action-directors Yuen Woo-Ping and Hsu Hsia make sure the movements on-screen (especially when emphasizing the action with weapons) are very fluid, crisp and clear as well. Made at Golden Harvest and featuring the likes of Michael Chan, Dean Shek and Sammo Hung.

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Broken Sword (1971) Directed by: Sun Yung

Heavyset Master An (Got Siu-Bo) receives a message from a dying imperial messenger and finds himself to be the hunted due to the defining, powerful nature of the message. A reluctant hero and not a fighting swordsman at heart (his sword is bent and worn), he's defended by mainly a duo of females and a sneaky swordsman played by O Chun-Hung. The animated opening credits promises something different, something light but once the novelty of having a hero like An at center wears off (and it does so quickly), Broken Sword moves at the pace of a snail and has no exciting action to offer up as a distraction.

Brotherhood (1987) Directed by: Billy Chan

Mostly known as Code Of Honor and sold as a starring vehicle for Chow Yun-Fat, in actuality Chow's role as the son of O Chun-Hung's gangster boss Ho Chen Tung barely qualifies as a supporting role and the movie is in fact bearing the original title of Brotherhood (not to be confused with Stephen Shin's 1986 movie of the same name, starring Danny Lee who has a cameo in Billy Chan's movie at hand here). A simple, familiar tale of an elder gangster boss wanting out to re-unite with his son but when betrayal hits hard, it's also hard to get out of the triad circle. A hot headed cop played Dick Wei also uses dubious tactics to trap Ho Chen Tung. The friendship between Ho and Han (Lam Wai) seems to be then only intact one and Han, like in the past, is there for Ho too... even violently. The beats are familiar but a combo of an gritty 80s look, familiar faces (Shing Fui-On, Shum Wai, Sunny Fang, Dennis Chan etc), occasionally very graphic triad violence, stunts and brawls makes Brotherhood an easy one to endure. Dramatically it does have some strengths in the interplay between O Chun-Hung and Lam Wai as well that creates a fairly believable friendship.

Bruce And Shaolin Kung Fu (1978) Directed by: James Nam

Less of a Bruceploitation package but nevertheless close to generic. I say close to because Bruce And Shaolin Kung Fu passes time adequately thanks to a few minor positives in James Nam's frame. The stock Chinese vs. Japanese plot takes place mostly in the cold, harsh Korean landscapes, which makes for some cinematic flair. Also adding Bolo Yeung as a gorilla style fighter (hence the German title being Der Gelbe Gorilla) helps a certain excessiveness a generic exercise like this almost MUST achieve, at least in my untrained kung fu mind. An over the top villain, exploitation elements and an almost out of place visual style at times are also pro's for those looking for elements outside of the action to fall for.

Starring Bruce Le, an obviously talented martial artist, he's got the stock Bruce mannerisms down but he has to rely on the fighting scenarios being wild in order to stand out. Thankfully through his bout with Bolo and the fun finale with twin brothers equipped with nifty weaponry makes him end up in the middle of the road critically. As does Bruce And Shaolin Kung Fu as a film when measured out against the crowded genre. Something that should tell you it's simply a little bit more entertaining than most. Co-starring Chan Sing.

Bruce - King Of Kung Fu (1980) Directed by: Daniel Lau & Bruce Le

SAYING you're telling the true story of Bruce Lee doesn't make you less of an exploiter of the late martial arts legend. Bruce Le depicts Bruce's street fighting days, forays into blindfolded martial arts but ultimately drunken snake fist is the chosen style for this one. Making the production feel suspiciously like one that rips off what made Jackie Chan famous in the process. Ultimately very unfocused, unfunny (planting goofy, fighting characters like Alan Chan's is no draw for the movie) and lacking in the action-department, Bruce Le brings a very apparent skill-set but can't put it to effective use on screen. There's flashes of it in various scraps with Fung Hak-On and Bolo Yeung and it's a minor, dumb delight to see Le picking said style. But even when you get a finale versus Enter The Dragon's Sek Kin, the fumes Bruce - King Of Kung Fu very sporadically operated on are long gone.

Bruce Lee Against Supermen (1975) Directed by: Chia Chun

Another one of countless vehicles exploiting the legend of Bruce Lee (hence the term Bruceploitation). While it's shameless for even doing so, thankfully Bruce Lee Against Supermen has no cinematic qualities that can rival the few but classic works that Lee managed to put out. The film sees Bruce Li in Green Hornet mode (but also doning some truly heinous alternate super hero wear late in the film) trying to save his girlfriend and father from thugs on the hunt for a secret formula.

Independent and totally low-budget, one thing director Chia Chun clearly hasn't grasped is the tool of tightening up a film. Instead he stretches the most common things such as walking and driving to ludicrous lengths just to get his film up to 80 minutes and to top it all off, the only potentially saving grace, the fight action, is sluggish and generally sloppy. However, Bruce Lee Against Supermen is a whole lot of fun as it's ripe for tearing apart Mystery Science Theater 3000 style-style. Among the hokey highlights is a female cat fight and the supermen of the piece that are a bunch of lethal, laughing circus clowns. Priceless. Leung Fei (now widely knows as Master Betty from Kung Pow: Enter The Fist) co-stars.

Bruce Lee & I (1976) Directed by: Joe Law

Less Bruceploitation in intent but instead the desire is to tell Betty Ting Pei's side of the story as Bruce Lee did die in her apartment. Shaw Brothers and Joe Law instead generates atmosphere that leans more towards the goofy despite serious intentions. Betty plays herself as we see her trying to explain to a bartender (and the Hong Kong public who weren't fond of her at all in light of Bruce's death and that he was married with children) her story in the entertainment business. Suffering through the hardships of merely being cast for erotica (and subsequently encountering sleazy producers) and latching onto rich men to feed her gambling habit, meeting Bruce Lee (Danny Lee doing an admirable job in the action department and has enough of an resemblance too the late superstar) creates a bond where he tries to give her a break, encourage and better her. All good stuff in intent but spicing things up with bright colours, tilted angles, pot smoking and romantic montages involving pillow fights in Lee's apartment/gym with tons of pictures of himself on the wall, Joe Law's direction isn't easy to take seriously. At times not even a flattering portrayal of Bruce as he's taking out his frustrations when not being with Betty via alcohol, other women (there's almost a rape scene here), Law's frame is still goofy fun even if not intended to be and the production values are expectedly above average coming from Shaw Brothers. The hypocrisy at hand where it's said that Bruce should not be made into a caricature is strikingly odd since Shaw Brothers gave us the production they did but Bruce Lee & I is still not AS much shameless Bruceploitation like we're mostly used to.

Bruce Lee Fights Back From The Grave (1976) Directed by: Doo Yong Lee

When the filmmakers behind what was reportedly during production called The Stranger realized that they had an inept film and a genuine turkey of a martial arts actioner on their hands, they decided to capitalize on the wave of films featuring Bruce Lee copies (aptly named Bruceploitation). A completely unrelated and illogical opening was shot, featuring Bruce Lee (or a white guy in jeans rather) being resurrected during a thunderstorm and then The Stranger opens, a film not in any way whatsoever related to the shameful phenomenon known as Bruceploitation (the English dubbers now and again reminds us of the fact that we're supposed to think it's a Bruce Lee movie by dubbing in the famous war cries).

Featuring a Korean actor credited as Bruce K. L. Lea, he admittedly got a few nice moves and the movie is hokey fun at certain points. The fun lasts very briefly though and Bruce Lee Fights Back From The Grave becomes more and more a chore to get through. It still remains entertaining when examining the behind the scenes information alone and that opening is something else in terms of low points.

Trivia note: sources claim Umberto Lenzi (director of Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive) directed this, something that probably is difficult to believe yet it hasn't been confirmed either. Even the name Bert Lenzi occasionally appear when researching the film.

Bruce Lee Superstar (1976) Directed by: Ling Ping

Also known as Chinese Chien Chuan Kung Fu, Bruce Li is Bruce Lee in a very spotty bio flick and from a production not too concerned about much of anything. Do some familiar-ish beats out of Bruce's life but don't linger on any key events really seems to be the agenda. At 83 minutes, it's the journey of Lee dedicating himself to martial arts, makes a name for himself in movies and dies. In between there's a challenge or two outside of and on set of productions and supporting his best friend (Au Yeung-Chung) trying to develop as an actor as well. Bruce Li shines in the short bursts the action scenes offer up but overall Bruce Lee Superstar is straightfaced Brucesploitation not really caring or taking the time to make a full biographical picture. A fascination for the genre helps and the movie is thoroughly watchable despite its spotty ways. Featuring footage from The New Game Of Death. Also with Lung Fei, Wei Ping-Ao, Tse Ling-Ling and Tai Leung.

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