THE FIGHT STUFF #1: BROKEN OATH’s Zhao Cai

by Kim A. on August 3, 2016 · 2 comments in Buddhist Blog

Welcome to The Fight Stuff, a column where we will explore the fighting styles and skills of favorite old school characters. Note these are spoiler filled, so if you haven’t seen the film, please do not proceed. My thanks to Kung Fu Bob for his fu based corrections and additions to this piece.

In this edition of The Fight Stuff we explore the period piece bashing and Eagle Claw techniques of Zhao Cai, Broken Oath‘s most memorable big bad.

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Character: Zhao Cai, (as performed by “Michael” Chan Wai-Man)

Styles: Eagle Claw, other fist sets, also powerful kicker

Weapons: Sword (only in flashback), needles

While he may be slight, Zhao Cai is blindingly fast as a fighter and strategist. 

Choreographer: Yuen Woo-Ping

This aging enforcer has agility, speed, and intellect on his side. Through the use of intimidation, Zhao not only sizes up potential traitors but opponents too. A well-rounded fighter, Zhao Cai deploys fists and feet in a relentless fashion.

This piece will cover three fights: the brief forest rumble between Zhao Cai and an undercover Imperial agent (Kuo Cheng-Yu), Zhao against one of his former partners-in-crime Wen Jiu (Chen Feng-Chen), and Zhao versus another Imperial spy, Chen Bang (performed by “Bruce” Leung Siu-Lung.)

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The forest fight between Zhao and Imperial Agent: this is one of my favorite scenes in Broken Oath, as so much is revealed about Zhao Cai. Pretending to be Miss Liu’s protector, Zhao advances on the young Imperial agent, using intimidation tactics, before unleashing a series of fist and Eagle Claw strikes. Of note, there is a single small kick involved to push the younger man back before Zhao Cai reveals his Eagle Claw moves, including a strike to the belly. Zhao quickly overshadows his opponent, not allowing the younger man to issue a single punch or chop. After Zhao’s Eagle Claw to the gut, the Imperial Agent is pushed back with a lightning fast, double back-handed blow.  The mix of Eagle Claw and basher styles confounds and startles the younger man.  Given the speed in which this brief mano-a-mano occurs, these strikes feel like they would seriously hurt.  Zhao often targets his opponent’s stomachs and faces, as blows to these points usually put his adversaries down.

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While Miss Liu (Angela Mao Ying) watches the men fight, we see the Imperial agent attempt to attack Zhao Cai by kicking at him, but the undercover agent is put in his place by three kicks, including a painful strike to the back of the knee that sends the younger man to the ground. A look of utter surprise and worry on the beaten fighter’s face, as the elder looms. With this, the younger man flees. 

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The switch from primarily fists to feet is an interesting tactic which reveals Zhao Cai’s use of strategy in fighting and intelligence gathering. In this particular case, I can imagine Zhao thinking. ‘Kicks now, eh? I’ll show you a thing or two about kicking, son.’ 

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Consider that Zhao Cai is rooting out Imperial spies for his overlord, the combination of fists and feet try the younger man and push him to flee. This retreat further arouses Zhao Cai’s suspicions about this opponent. With this small victory, the ruse is unfurled as Zhao Cai continues the intelligence gathering by discovering  just who Miss Liu is too. 

The brief tangle in the forest speaks volumes about Zhao Cai’s experience as a warrior and observer. He can size up and defeat opponents quickly.

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That Zhao is so experienced allows him and others to defeat enemies. A case in point, Zhao’s knowledge of his former compatriots fighting skill help Miss Liu eliminate Dou Qi. Sharing this lore with Miss Liu serves Zhao’s agendas, while allowing him study of Miss Liu’s kung fu prowess. 

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Moving on to the fight between Zhao and his former comrade Wen Jiu, Zhao uses a hand technique which focuses on deploying the heel of his palm with considerable force.

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 The palm heel to the heart and face are delivered almost boxing style, as Zhao uses both hands here. This moment not only calls back to Chan Wai-Man’s Western boxing skills, but to his earlier roles in basher fu films with choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping. Each time I see that two palm move, I wince. 

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When Wen and Zhao face off for their duel, Zhao Cai’s palms are prominent, facing outward. Another basher style move is the punch to the gut, quickly followed by a kick to the face. As he did with the Imperial agent, Zhao’s nasty footwork hurls Wen Jiu onto the ground. Despite a boot to the face, Wen Jiu will not give up; this defiance  pushes Zhao into killing mode. Forcing Wen Jiu onto his knees, Zhao ruins his opponents’ hands before killing Wen with pressure point blows to the head.

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One of the things I appreciate in these fights is how painful and real a lot of Zhao Cai’s blows look. This efficient delivery makes the character a bit more dangerous. Zhao’s speed and agility also say a great deal about the characters’ experience. This man fought many times over the years, and his timing has not slowed with age. These traits are on display throughout and are most noticeable here, and later, when Zhao catches the sword thrown at him.  

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Zhao Cai’s keen observation skills are also shown multiple times; Zhao knows there is an audience watching his fight against Wen Jiu: he alerts the onlooker twice. Once with his hat, the second time with a needle. 

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In the final fight, we see a bit more of Zhao Cai’s strength as he push-punches Chen Bang (Leung Siu-Lung) through a closed door (screen). Initially, Zhao holds his own against Imperial agent Chen Bang; as Zhao Cai can predict some of the younger man’s early moves (catching Pang’s kicks and hand strikes). Here, Zhao Cai deploys the palm and claw strikes along with a few kicks (though he has nothing on the younger man in the footwork department). 

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Early on, Zhao’s use of his palm to Bang’s elbow is combined with an instant follow-up blow of the palm to Pang’s forehead. As this fight progresses, the variety of hand moves Zhao deploys are delivered throughout this epic, and sadly, too short match up with an interesting tweak.   Zhao shifts his point of attack from Bang’s gut to the upper chest, delivering several painful blows to his opponents’ heart.

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Zhao’s arrogance is his undoing as he does not anticipate Bang is also a strategic fighter.  Bang studies his opponent while fighting as fast as the older man. The young man delivers a series of rapid strikes, ultimately outgunning Zhao Cai in the kicking department.  Bang’s victory nearly undone by Zhao’s use of an arm twisting Chi-na lock. 

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My only complaint about the fighting in Broken Oath is the use of the yo-yo. I think that cheapened Miss Liu’s fighting prowess and felt out of place in nearly every fight. Bang kicked the snot out of Zhao Cai and sent him into her blade. Miss Liu could throw one of the daggers from her twin bladed staff at Zhao Cai to distract him, rather than the yo-yo. An aside, a shame Zhao and Liu only have a few seconds of fighting each other (when he protects his overlord from her wrath).

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*Interestingly, Leung Siu-Lung has gone on record with Hong Kong Cinemagic, as saying the director wasn’t happy with his performers’ fighting. “…we had difficulty with the director, he was very stubborn, we did not understand what he wanted, whatever we did, he was not satisfied so at the end I thought ‘Let’s fight for real to see what you want.’” (Arnaud Lanuque, 1) 

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Broken Oath is one of those films that keeps on giving with characters, fights, and story. I do hope Shout! Factory or Fortune Star gives this the Blu-ray treatment, as this is too fine a movie not to earn an HD release.  With Zhao Cai, Chan Wai-Man plays his most manipulative and most vicious older fighter. Zhao’s Eagle Claws and palm strikes can kill almost as quickly as his sword, while his kicks are nearly as deadly. His fighting skill as sharp as his lies, and cold as his stare. In fact, even after his heart is pierced and his fate sealed, he still manages to deliver what may wind up being a death-blow to the film’s heroine, Miss Liu! I appreciate that Zhao Cai fights as much with his mind as he does with his kung fu. He’s the reason why I love this great movie as much as I do. No arm twisting required. 

All screenshots copyright Fortune Star from Shout! Factory’s release of Broken Oath, available as part of Shout!’s Angela Mao Ying Collection

Work Cited:

Lanuque, Arnaud. “Interview, Bruce Leung, Crazy Kung Fu Fighter.” Hong Kong Cinemagic. P.1 16 Mar. 2006. Web. 9 July 2016.

http://www.hkcinemagic.com

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Koray August 6, 2016

An interesting read and a great idea too! Ncely pit together, I look forward to more entries in this on-oing series

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Kung Fu Bob August 3, 2016

A huge thank you to Kim A. for this excellent article and for the whole idea for THE FIGHT STUFF as an on-going column! Please show her some love for this piece. Kim will be returning with more entries to this series, but this is a column that’s open to all interested writers/kung fu fans to contribute to. So if you have a favorite old school character and fighting style you’d like to wax poetic about, you’ve found your outlet. 😀

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