A HERO is a hero except when he isn’t. Literature on “One-Armed Swordsman” suggests its influence in starring Shanghai-born Jimmy Wang as an anti-hero, perhaps the first in Chinese cinema.
It’s also an early kung fu flick, a genre that would come to define the aesthetic of the Shaw Brothers Studio.
Both of these are true, as Wang himself would later star in one of my favorite movies that shows this influence, “Master of the Flying Guillotine.”
The 1976 “Guillotine” stars Wang as a one-armed fighter with a less-than-sterling attitude who engages in kung fu antics.
It’s shot with a great deal of visual wit that highlights the action scenes of its stars, features a bevy of absurd and interesting supporting characters, and has a tight plot that gets straight to the point.
Unfortunately, it’s only the form that “Swordsman” passed to “Guillotine” and not the content. We get the one-armed fighter, but not the great action.
It opens at a sword-fighting school, where the master (played by Tien Feng) believes he has a letter being delivered to him, but instead is jumped by an evil posse. His servant (Fang Cheng) comes to his protection but is killed in the process. The master then takes his servant’s son as his own.
The fight scene here is stilted, with some obviously missed sword swipes.
Years later, the boy (Jimmy Wang) is a student badgered by his peers, including by the master’s daughter (Angela Pan). It’s an interesting, if unexplored side of the story that this girl is considered an equal in the testosterone-dominated world of sword fighting.
After she forces the boy into a challenge, she unexpectedly slices his arm off, a moment that certainly shakes the viewer after mostly lame sequences.
The boy runs away and is raised by a peasant family. He recovers, and relearns martial arts via a ridiculous method too silly to even mention. Of course, he finally gets a chance at revenge against those who killed his father.
Perhaps it’s a consequence of comparing it with some of the real fun films it was inspired by, but “One-Armed Swordsman” doesn’t hold up.
‘One-Armed Swordsman’ (1967)
• Where to see it: Anywhere. The film is available online at many popular video-streaming websites such as Youku.
• What to see: This early Shaw Brothers Studio kung fu flick features Hong Kong film legend Jimmy Wang in the titular role.After his sword fighting father is killed in an ambush, and he unexpectedly loses his arm when a petty fight escalates, Wang must recover his ability and defend his old sword fighting school from the fiendish Long Armed Devil, played by Yeung Chi-hing. “One-Armed Swordsman” was selected by the Hong Kong Film Awards Association as the 15th best Chinese film of all time in 2005.