The One-Armed Swordsman
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The one-armed hero fights a rival known as the "long-armed devil.]One-armed hero fights long-armed rival.]0]]Chang Cheh]]]Wang Yu]Pen Yin-Tso]]]]]]]]
"You made me a cripple, so I'll make you a cripple, too," sneers charismatic swordplay superstar Wang Yu, clutching his severed member, in this 1967 classic of manly suffering and bloodshed. Because of its implacable-revenge motif, and its extended training sequences, this is sometimes cited as the first true martial arts movie--a transitional film between the old-school swordplay and the contemporary kung fu genres. Whatever you call it, it is easily one of the most influential Asian action movies ever made. A master of long-sword fighting techniques, Wang loses an arm in the early innings. (It is hacked off by the woman he loves.) In order to exact payback, he has to master the unfamiliar short-sword style, using the stump of his symbolically shattered blade. Meanwhile, enemies of the long-sword school have invented a sneaky "sword-clamp" device and deploy it against the good guys. Issues of fighting style and discipline are central; one technique trumps another, and the hero triumphs because, driven by rage, he practices more obsessively than his foes. This is a lean, effective piece of genre craftsmanship from the great director Chang Cheh, finally available in the U.S. in a letterboxed version that gives his shapely widescreen compositions a fair shake. --David Chute
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In the process of running away after getting his arm cut off, the one-arm swordsman ends up being saved by a beautiful country girl and she nurses him back to health. He begins training using his left arm (He was right-handed)and becomes even better after years of hard training. He winds up saving his former Master's life by defeating those who plotted against the master. Finally, the one-arm swordsman gives up being a swordsman and leaves with the girl who saved his life.
In conclusion, there is not as much martial art action as many of the other Asian martial art films I have seen; nevertheless, this one has a great story and good character development that makes this movie enjoyable. It also has some great weapon fighting scenes which makes this a must see martial arts film for those who enjoy these kind of movies.
Rating: 4 Stars. Joseph J. Truncale (Author: Advanced PR-24 Police Baton Techniques)
Wang Yu had already acted in a couple of Chang Cheh films, but it is his performance here as Fang Gang that would make him a star in Hong Kong. Fang is an orphan whose father had perished saving the life of Qi Ru-feng (Tien Feng: King Boxer (1972)). Qi shows his gratefulness by taking on Fang as a student. Fang also obtains the broken sword that was used by his father, but it could not possibly be of any use. He quickly becomes an adept student that because of his success and austereness has earned the ire of not only a couple of rich students, but also with Qi Pei-er (Pan Ying-zi: The Magnificent Trio), the daughter of the sifu, when he rebukes her advances. It is usually a bad idea to turn down your teacher's daughter and in this film it is no exception.
Fang's skill level is so advanced that he toys with the other students and Pei-er when they intend on teaching him a lesson. He completely outclasses them with his masculine masterful display of martial arts. However, since he is only toying with them he lets his guard down not expecting that the petulant daughter will exact her revenge by cutting off his right arm. It is not difficult to see this as a castration allegory for not only embarrassing her in the fight, but also not returning her affections.
Blooded and broken, Fang stumbles off leaving a crimson trail (while not bloody by later Shaw Brothers standards, this was quite gory for its time) until he gets found and saved by orphan Xiao Man (Lisa Chiao Chiao: The Assassin (1967)) who hates the world of martial arts because it lead to the death of her father. Yet when Fang wakes from his shock induced slumber, later gets beat up by a couple of ruffians, falls into a deep doleful state she takes pity on him and gives him her father's manual of martial arts. While part of the manual is missing it luckily has the "left-arm" portions. A few days later he is an accomplished one-armed fighter. Obviously it is unrealistic that in a short time he could lose an arm and then become an accomplished fighter (and one scene of him displaying his power of chi should probably have been trimmed as it really does not seem to fit in with the rest of the film) this treatment is probably copasetic with the Jin Yong novel The Return of the Condor Heroes (1959) that the movie is influenced by.
Meanwhile Qi Ru-feng has decided that he is going to retire from the martial arts world at the age of 55. With all of his success as a swordsman he has created many enemies. Two brothers Smiling Tiger Cheng Tian Shou (Tang Ti) and Long-Armed Devil (called this because of his whip played effectively by the ubiquitous Yeung Chi-hing) have devised a way to destroy him and it involves a weapon that can render Qi's Dao sword that his entire school uses useless. The lesson behind this is to always teach your students to be proficient in more than one weapon and do not always cling to one approach to fighting. With Qi's best student missing (in more ways than one), and his other disciples being removed from this planet, his reign as head of the martial arts world seems to be at an end.
Wang Yu gives a good performance as the stoic brooding loner who is a combination of a wuxia hero and James Dean. He is not the most adept martial artist though. His Narcissist nature angered many actors and gave way to mediocre performances in the 1970s and beyond. Because of this and his later exploits in Taiwanese triads his reputation has suffered quite a bit among Hong Kong cinema fans. For the most part I tend to agree with the critics and fanboys on this except for his most famous One-Armed roles he seemed born to play (even if he does have two arms).
While the influences of such Japanese films as the Zatoichi series (these were shown in Hong Kong; later there would even be a Zatoichi Meets the One Armed Swordsman (1971)) are strong on this movie, it still has uniqueness to it that interests me. This would be a highly influential film to the Hong Kong audience not only on technical issues such as it is one of the earliest uses (and overuses) of hand-held camera in HK, but in thematic elements as well. It is enjoyable to see the whole martial art world questioned and Fang's subjugation to his principles are reminiscent of a Randolph Scott character in a Budd Boetticher western. This movie would spawn several sequels, remakes and retreads and certainly up the ante for use of blood packets, missing limbs and stomach slashes. While the action scenes might feel dated and might not be plentiful enough for some viewers, I still think it is one of the better Hong Kong films of the 1960s. It certainly is one of the most important.
I really enjoyed the extras on this release. The commentary by David Chute and Andy Klein is good, with David being the more knowledgeable of the two, with discussion on everything from biographies, homoerotic subtext and the meaning of the dao versus jian swords. I was happy to see Dragon Dynasty employ David Chute for this. However, the back cover has one little gaffe where it states Quentin Tarantino is on the commentary, which he is not. This has rightfully angered many reviewers. I just noticed another mistake, they have Chang Cheh spelled Chang Cheuh on the credits on the back cover. The Master Chang Cheh (17:30) is a good documentary, but this is the same documentary that is on Ten Tigers of Kwangtung (R1 Tokyo Shock) except it has a different translation (it seems better on that one). The other highpoint is the Interview with star Jimmy Wang Yu (10:55). I did wish that was longer though. A nice little bonus is that fact that the original Shaw Brothers trailer is on here as well as several other original trailers. Too many Shaw Brothers releases have eschewed the original trailer for the new Celestial trailer (that is on here too) which just never feels right to me. In addition there are a Stills Gallery, an Interview with film critic/scholars David Chute & Andy Klein (8:08) and Commentator Biographies.
- Mike S.