Oath of Death [萬箭穿心] (1971)
Starring Lo Lieh, Tien Feng, Wai Wang, Ling Ling, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Yeung Oi-Wa, Bolo Yeung, Gam Kei-Chu, Lee Siu-Chung, Wang Ping, Liu Wai, Law Hon, Chiang Nan, Lee Wan-Chung
Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li
Expectations: Moderately high.
Oath of Death doesn’t waste any time getting to the action. It begins immediately following the familiar Shaw fanfare, but this explosive opening is somewhat misleading. After the first act of the film sets up the characters and their struggle for righteousness, just about the entire second act is completely devoid of action. It was during this section that I became somewhat bored (despite enjoying a lot of the tension at work between the characters), but then a magical thing occurred. The final 20 minutes of this movie are incredible. The stuff contained in these 20 minutes are the epitome of what I want out of a Shaw Brothers film. This raises my estimation of Oath of Death quite a bit, and I doubt that any fan of gore could contain themselves as the final moments play out. I may not remember the story beats one-by-one, but I will never forget how this movie ends.
Oath of Death tells the story of three sworn brothers. They are valiant Song supporters fighting a rebellion against the ruthless invaders, the Tartars. Together, the blood brothers build a fortress to gather an army, because, as Tien Feng tells his brothers, in unity there is strength. When the fortress is complete, the three leaders (played by Tien Feng, Lo Lieh and Wai Wang) swear an oath to each other to do everything in their power to thwart the Tartar rulers, and whoever doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain will be killed without mercy. The story expands from here, involving lots of tests of their brotherly bonds and grand bloodshed. The plot is somewhere in between a wuxia and a martial arts film, forming a great bridge for the two genres to get to know each other.