Monday, August 1, 2011

Sha chu chong wei (aka Breakout From Oppression) (1978)

Well, that was unexpected. Despite being featured in a Martial Arts 50 movie pack, Breakout From Oppression (not to be confused with the 1973 kung-fu film Breakout From Oppression starring Gordon Liu) is actually a fairly competent thriller sunk by some of the absolute worst dubbing you're likely to encounter. There is some slashing and chopping action, but the film has more in common with "seemingly normal people are actually insane" films like Psycho (which, of course, gets a tribute here) or Fatal Attraction then the action films that populate the rest of the collection.

Of course, the actual plot of this film might be a little different than what is presented in this dubbed version. Director Karen Yang has no other credits on the IMDB, and the film was credited as written by Godfrey Ho, a man notorious for editing the work of others together and calling it his own. Thankfully, there isn't a ninja to be found here, but the editing is often bizarre and characters' actions equally so. It's fully possible that this is a severely edited version of the original production, though it's equally possible that this was another half-completed film that Ho "rescued".

Fonda Chiu (Fonda Lynn) has recently been released from prison after an eight year stint for the murder of her married lover, and is looking to forget her past by taking an editor's assistant job at a newspaper in a seaside community. While she was lured by a letter from the President of the company, he's currently missing leaving the staff a bit confused by her arrival. Still, editor Simon Chang (Alan Tam) finds her a job in the office where she quickly thrives - despite the irritance of the editorial manager and the jealousy of young Sheena (Lona Chang). While she hides her background, Simon is soon making the moves on Fonda which leads to some odd behavior from Sheena - who fancies Simon herself, but spends most of her time taking care of her grandmother since the death of her parents.

But here's the twist! Sheena is actually the daughter of Fonda's supposed murder victim, and she's psychotically insane because her mother offed herself after the incident. She's actually keeping the newspaper's president in her basement (and, eventually, kills him), and soon traps poor Simon down there as well. Hints of this nuttiness should be fairly apparent to everyone around her - she cuts the brakes on Fonda's bike, she puts glass in her spring rolls, and she kills Fonda's pet monkey - but it takes a final confrontation between the two ladies (which ends with a decapitation!) to bring things to a... head. Yes, I went there.

Despite an odd premise, along with plenty of slow-building melodrama, Breakout From Oppression actually builds to a rather impressive level of weirdness. While the dubbing will continually raise eyebrows - and cuts the tension off at the knees - once Sheena reveals herself as a loony things get a lot more enjoyable. And violent. Actually, while the level of violence isn't so surprising, there are a few shots: maggots on the President's corpse, a brutal stabbing, and the climactic decapitation - which give the film a surprising kick. Acting quality is difficult to judge, but Lona Chang is properly wild-eyed once her crimes are discovered and Fonda Lynn makes for a suitably spunky protagonist.

But let's talk about that dubbing. Chinese films are notoriously difficult to dub, but here we have the lethal combination of stilted, badly translated dialogue ("Your death alone will dispel my hate!") and actors who appear to be reading their lines from cards. You get the usual mix of British and Australian accents (and actors obviously doing multiple roles), but the performances make even serious lines ("What a bitch. She's
jinxed!") laughable. Add to this some choppy editing - again I wouldn't be surprised if Godfrey Ho had a hand in chopping the final product - and you're likely to find yourself baffled by what seems like a fairly straight-forward maniac tale.

Breakout From Oppression has been altered from its original aspect ratio, and it shows. Shots are almost always much too tight, and many scenes feel like a series of close-ups of faces. Image quality is also very fuzzy and dark, though that's almost to be expected when dealing with a pan and scan transfer of an obscure film of this vintage. A lot of the film takes place in darkness, but it only occasionally lapses into being frustratingly difficult to make out.

I do want to mention the bizarre soundtrack by Stephen Tsang, who also composed music for most of Godfrey Ho's ninja epics. It's memorably weird, with soft synth mixing with strange, experimental-sounding noises. It calls attention to itself a bit too often, but certainly adds to the madness on display.

This is from a Millcreek budget collection of public domain titles, so there's certainly no special features available. On the bright side, we at least get four randomly placed chapter stops. Hooray!

Psycho Killer . Qu'est-ce que c'est. I wish this movie was fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better. While building to a properly demented climax, and with gruesome moments sprinkled throughout, a weak presentation and bad dubbing rob most of the enjoyment from Breakout From Oppression. Perhaps in its unmolested original version it would be able to rise above being an average psycho romp, but in its current (and, to my knowledge, only available) form it's simply too slow moving to recommend.

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