One-Armed Swordsman, The (1967) Review

"The One-Armed Swordsman" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The One-Armed Swordsman" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Chang Cheh
Writer: Chang Cheh, Ni Kuang
Producer: Runme Shaw
Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu, Pan Yingzi, Chiao Chiao, Wong Chung Shun, Tin Fung, Guk Fung, Liu Chia Liang, Yeung Chi Hing, Chen Yan Yan, Fan Mei Sheng, Wong Kwong Yue, Tong Gaai, Gai Yuen, Cliff Lok, Yen Shi-Kwan, Yuen Cheung Yan, Yuen Wo Ping, Tong Dik, Mars
Running Time: 110 min.

By JJ Hatfield

When I first saw this film I was certain it would be bad. Absolutely terrible. I have seen enough one – limb – missing and other disability type fighting/ cripples/ hunchbacks/ missing a leg (flashback to Dragon Fist) and there are more than a few one-arm missing movies. I did not believe it could be entertaining with a guy trying to hide his arm, unsuccessfully, as he fought bravely or whatever.

Well, after people stopped telling me I would see God if I watched this, I decided to view it. While I didn’t see any deities, I am very glad I watched the film. A Chang Cheh-directed and co-written (with Kuang Ni) Shaw Bros. production, it is one of the better movies when it comes to swordplay and martial arts. The film is loosely based upon a Chinese novel The Return of the Condor Heroes, the second of a three series story by Jin Yong. (There are now many more books in the series). If you are familiar with the books there is more variety of violence in the novel compared to the movie.

Everything is going well at the Golden Sword School where students learn the “Chi” form of kung fu. From out of nowhere, chaos erupts as the school is attacked by vicious bandits from another clan. Ambushed, they had no time to prepare, and many were injured or killed. When the attack turns on the Master himself, a heroic student saves him, knowing he would lose his life instead. The Master is overwhelmed with such a sacrifice. The dying student asks for only one thing: to take in and care for his young son Feng Gang (Jimmy Wang Yu) and to train him in the school’s form. The Master says he will honor the wish.

Time passes and Feng grows up to be a talented student. Unfortunately, he is teased and mocked by the other students because of his relationship to the school Master. The other students are jealous, because they think he does not work as hard nor is he very good at fighting. They try to get him into fights, but he wants no part of it. He is alone and miserable, with no one he can talk to. Depressed, he decides to leave the school. Just as he is nearly safe from the assholes at school, they suddenly confront him. It does not go well for Feng, and his right arm is sliced from his body.

Almost miraculously, he lives and the film slows down a bit as Feng begins to heal with the help of a young woman (Xiaoman). Regaining his health is difficult and depressing for him. How can he ever fight again without an arm?

Xiaoman is at her wit’s end. She has found nothing to bring him out of his depression. Reluctantly she gives him something that may separate them forever.

The third act is full of tension martial arts, sword work, and all kinds of weapons. I am not a huge fan of Wang Yu, but he really came across more talented than most of his other films. Wang Yu has never had any formal training in martial arts. He essentially bought/favored his way in whether he could fight or not. Fortunately, he really pulls off an amazing performance, both in acting and fighting. For those wanting bloody, hard hitting action, you will not be disappointed!

However, there is more to the film than the violence. I credit Cheh with making the characters seem real, as if they weren’t just walking through the part saying lines. The viewer does get enough character development to feel concern, especially for Feng.

The cinematography is as good as it gets for the time period. They didn’t have any fancy equipment to work with, but there are occasional scenes that are simply stunning. The martial arts sequences are a bit slow, but it’s not obtrusive.

This was the first HK film to make $1 million (HK) at the box office. This insured Wang Yu was a hot property.

Cheh was one hell of a master when it comes to films and this movie is one more of his excellent and highly entertaining works!

There is a surprise in the ending. I will only say a number of Shaw movies are just stopped at the end, this one has a resolution. The viewer doesn’t know if it’s good or bad, until they watch this great Chang Cheh directed and molded film!

JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 8.5/10

By Mighty Peking Man

When the Golden Sword School is attacked, a student sacrifices his life to defend his teacher and peers. In return for his heroic efforts, the teacher of the school promises to accept the dying man’s only son, Feng, as a student. Years later, Feng (a much older version, played by Jimmy Wang Yu), now the school’s most skilled student is an outcast. Other students are jealous of the extra treatment Feng gets from their teacher, so they constantly make fun of – and pick fights – with him every chance they get. On a snowy night – just as Feng decides to leave the school, blaming himself for the others’ attitudes towards him – he crosses paths with the mean-spirited students. They insist on challenging him, Feng rejects and in the process, his right arm is sliced off.

Feng manages to escape and is rescued by a farm girl, who aids in healing him. However, Feng is depressed, especially when he learns how helpless he is without his right arm. He soon gains hope and starts practicing a new method of fighting, which consists of his dad’s broken sword and a mysterious martial arts manual that is half-burned. Using the skills he has learned from his school, the mysterious manual, and adapting to the fact that he only has one arm, he develops his own unique style and becomes one of the most deadly fighters in the martial world.

Feng’s skill is put to the test when he learns that his old school is, once again, under attack by the same evil clan, opposing an even larger threat than ever before…

While everyone was rushing into theatres watching Jet Li fly around like a multicolored Peter Pan in “Hero,” I was sitting at home in my underwear, watching a film called “One-Armed Swordsman” – directed by Chang Cheh and starring Jimmy Wang Yu, at their ultimate best. It’s films like these that redefined the martial arts genre, even a few years before Bruce Lee would add his own touch. Yeah, it was made in 1968 and the fight scenes were not exactly swift and technical compared to today’s standards; but I can tell you right now, this film has more balls and feels more like a martial arts movie than any overproduced Yuen Woo Ping-ized and/or Ching Siu Tung-ized flick in the last 5 or so years.

I forgive Jimmy Wang Yu for “Killer Meteors” and “Fantasy Mission Force.” In fact, even his most noted post-Shaw Brothers classics like “Master of the Flying Guillotine” are shit in disguise compared to what he offers us in “One-Armed Swordsman.” Sure, he’s one of the most unskilled on-screen fighters of all time (in fact, he’s never had any formal martial arts training at all). He’s also one of the most notorious (“They call them Triads…” – Stanley White). Wang Yu’s performance in this film is stellar; and it’s no wonder why he practically became a household name and one of Shaw Brothers’ most valuable properties. Robbed by Bruce? Probably not. Underrated achievement? I’d say so. Basically, if you want to see the role that Jimmy Wang Yu was probably born to play, look no further.

And what’s there to say about director Chang Cheh that I haven’t already said in past reviews? The guy was a fucking filmmaking genius, plain and simple. “One-Armed Swordsman” is just another example of a solid, action-packed classic that can only be done the way Chang Cheh can.

Mighty Peking Man’s Rating: 9/10

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About JJ Hatfield

i like movies
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