One Armed Swordsman
AKA: The One-Armed Swordsman
Director: Chang Cheh
Stars: Jimmy Wang Yu, Chiao Chiao, Huang Chung-Shun, Pan Yin-Tze
A talented student (Jimmy Wang Yu) is resented by the master's daughter (Pan Yin-Tze), so she challenges him to a duel. Wang Yu refuses to fight, but Chiao Chiao's rage cannot be contained, and she ends up cutting off his arm. The now crippled swordsman is nursed back to health by a peasant farmer (Chiao Chiao), and seems poised to settle into a new life, but is called back to his school when his master is attacked. Unable to defeat the villains at first, Wang Yu returns to learn a devastating one-armed style before taking his revenge.
One Armed Swordsman is undoubtedly one of the most influential Hong Kong movies of all time. During this period, Shaw Bros. was losing a lot of business to Japanese swordplay films, and so they made a decision to make "harder" movies, and Chang Cheh was largely the spearhead of this movement. Though he had started to develop his formula with a couple of previous films, One Armed Swordsman was the one that cemented it, and created the template for countless kung fu movies to come. All of the classic elements are here, from the revenge plot to violent, weapons-based combat to a stoic and powerful anti-hero. The movie was a huge success upon its' release, and spawned a series of sequels and outright knockoffs, such as One Armed Swordswoman. One Armed Swordsman's influence continued into the modern period of Hong Kong movies, with films like Tsui Hark's The Blade.
Though it might seem dated by today's standards, One Armed Swordsman still provides some excitement for the modern viewer, mostly through Jimmy Wang Yu's performance. Though he was never formally trained in martial arts (Wang Yu was a champion water polo player -- this casting also heralded a trend, as it showed that "real" martial artists could be replaced by more general actors), Wang Yu manages to create an interesting and powerful hero that still captivates audiences to this day. Some elements of One Armed Swordsman might come off as almost amateurish and slow-moving, but one must keep in mind that the modern kung fu movie was in its' infancy at this point. So, no, you won't get guys flying around or gushes of blood with One Armed Swordsman, but you will get a solid story with some excellent acting, something which many modern action films -- even with their huge budgets and greater techincal know-how -- can never match.
Back to Movie Review index