One-Armed Swordsman (1967)

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In what would be the breakout performance of his career, Shaw Brothers veteran Jimmy Wang Yu stars in this very nicely-paced action drama that focuses on revenge and honor.

Fifteen years ago, the evil Long-Armed Devil mortally wounded a swordsman, Fang Chang. Before he died, he asked his teacher, Chi Ju-Feng, to take care of his young son Kang. Chi makes the promise to “adopt” and teach Kang the art of sword-fighting.

Flash forward to present day. Fang Kang has excelled in sword-fighting and yet, is constantly given orders from Chi’s daughter Pei-Erh. Furthermore, Kang is constantly ridiculed by two prominent students of Chi. However, Kang has skills that outshine both Pei-Erh and the two rich boys. When Pei-Erh and the rich boys hatch a plan to go after Kang, at the same time Kang decides to leave the school . When Kang heads towards the forest, he is challenged by Pei-Erh. When they fight bare-handed, Kang wins. However, when he approaches Pei-Erh, she whips her blade out and cuts off the right arm of Kang.

When Kang is found nearby the home of young Hsiao-Mei, she helps nurse him back to health. Kang, shocked that he lost his right arm, decides to live a quiet life with Hsiao-Mei. Meanwhile, Chi has found himself targeted by the Long-Armed Devil, who has conspired with “Smiling Tiger” Cheng Tian-Shou. The Long-Armed Devil has developed a weapon that will counter Chi’s Golden Blade technique. As many of Chi’s students begin to fall under the new weapon, Kang is given a manual once given by Hsiao-Mei’s father, a master swordsman. The manual enables its user to fight one-armed. However, Kang needs a shorter blade and uses his father’s broken blade to combat the new style. When he gets wind of the Long-Armed Devil’s plans, he intends to take him on for both honor and revenge.

The legendary Shaw Brothers and their prolific director Chang Cheh have come up with a brilliant masterpiece with this film. Influenced by the likes of Kurosawa, Chang uses bloody realism to create a visual film that borders not only on terrific action, but inspiring drama as well. Cast as the titular “One-Armed Swordsman” is Jimmy Wang Yu, a former swimming champion turned actor. Wang truly shines in the role of Fang Kang. Seen as a man of honor, he finds himself the target of envy until he falls victim to a jealous spoiled brat who chops off his arm in anger. Wang then displays subtlety as Kang finds himself conflicted with being a master swordsman and wanting to live the life of a farmer after falling for the woman who rescued him.

It is the “love triangle” of the film that helps drives the dramatic side of things. It is clear that Kang sees the jealous Pei-Erh as a “little sister” figure, having himself adopted after his father’s death. However, Pei-Erh eventually reveals her true feelings for Kang. However, Kang has feeling for Hsiao-Mei, the woman who rescues him after his arm is cut off. She feels conflicted as her mother warned her never to fall for a heroic swordsman as he will have tragedy befall upon him. Despite her mother’s words, Hsiao-Mei truly loves Kang and goes as far as help him learn his new style of swordplay.

Choreographed by legends Lau Kar-Leung and Tang Chia, the fight scenes are well done. While the hand-to-hand combat is more reminiscent of the black and white Wong Fei-Hung films than the later days of the 1970’s kung fu genre, the sword fighting scenes are a delight. To drive the film, Chang developed a new weapon called the “blade lock”, which looks like a pair of pliers that locks on the blade of Chi’s students and when it locks, the lock’s user then whips a dagger to kill his opponent. In addition, Kang uses a broken Golden Sword as his new weapon to enable the use of his left arm.

In 1995, Hong Kong auteur Tsui Hark developed a version of this film, entitled The Blade. While the setting is different from this classic, the theme is truly the same. Wushu champion turned action hero Vincent Zhao played the Jimmy Wang Yu role while Xiong Xin-Xin played the role of the “Flying Dragon”.

The One-Armed Swordsman is truly a classic Shaw Brothers film, thanks to the breakout performance from Jimmy Wang Yu and a story that combines frenetic sword fights and subtle drama.

WFG RATING: A

A Shaw Brothers (HK) Ltd. Production. Director: Chang Cheh. Producer: Runme Shaw. Writers: Chang Cheh and I Kuang. Cinematography: Yuen Chang-Sam and Kuang Han-Lu. Editing: Chiang Hsing-Lung.

Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu, Chiao Chiao, Tien Feng, Pan Ying-Zi, Yeung Chi-Hing, Fan Mei-Sheng, Tang Ti, Wong Sai-Git, Chang Pei_Shan, Fan Dan, Ku Feng, Chen Yan-Yan.

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