One Armed Swordsmen (1976)
Director: David Chiang and Jimmy Wang Yu
Writers: Ku Lung
Starring: David Chiang, Jimmy Wang Yu, Lo Lieh, and Yi Chang

The Plot: This classic wuxia tale begins with a police officer being struck down and his arm being removed by a bandit, but during the battle he also lobs off the arm of his opponent. The police officer decides, despite losing his limb, to continue studying the martial arts, and does this by reading the one-armed swordsman style handbook that was left for him by a friend. As he begins his studying, he is once again attacked – but this time by a one-armed ninja! The black-hooded ninja kills off the older lawman, but unknown to the murderer, a young child was hidden in the room and saw the death of his master. So, with this established, we move to our main story which focuses on two men: Fong Ping (Jimmy Wang Yu) and Kao Shing (David Chiang). These two men are the most powerful one-armed martial artists around. Wah (Lo Lieh) suspects Fong Ping or Kao Shing as the culprit, but he is not fully convinced yet. As he follows these two around, we find that the lines between hero and villain can be quite blurred within this small world.

The Review
Unfortunately, I was a bit late to the party when it came to the One Armed Swordsman series. Although I have been an active fan of Jimmy Wang Yu for several years, up until recently I had only seen the films of his that could be considered slightly more outrageous. I didn’t originally know that this was the series that originally put him on the map. So, going back in time, after the success of the original The One Armed Swordsman, Jimmy Wang Yu eventually had a dispute with the Shaw studio and this led to David Chiang stepping in to replace him in the role. Well, five years later, it appears that there was little bad blood between the two actors, because they came together in order to co-star and co-direct this joint venture in the One-Armed Swordsmen universe. Having previously enjoyed Jimmy Wang Yu’s breakthrough role, and knowing my affection for the two principal leads in this movie, I thought that their combination on the screen would make for something dramatic. Good or bad, the combination of egos onboard with this film had to be immense – and depending on the backstage conflict, interesting things could very well arise from such circumstances. Unfortunately, that ultimately doesn’t prove to be the case for One Armed Swordsmen. Although I expected something tremendously good or horrendously bad, what we inevitably end up with is a middle-of-the-road action title that never reaches the promise of what it could have been.

While not directed by a hand as deft as Chang Cheh’s, I was surprised to find One Armed Swordsmen is a title that actually seems to come with an air of professionalism to it. During a scene very early in the movie, where Jimmy Wang Yu is nearly attacked by Lo Lieh’s army inside of a small teahouse, I found myself very surprised with the patience shown in the storytelling within the film. More than what I would expect from two actor/directors that both seek the limelight at least. The scene is established with dialogue and is played out with a lot of great cinematic tension. Will we see the room fill with blood? Will the One Armed Swordsman be allowed to walk out? Will the two children, unfortunately pitted between these two factions, be harmed amidst all of the brawling? The film doesn’t rush to answer any of these questions, and over the nearly ten minute scene, the filmmakers show a remarkable amount of compsure. The buildup to the initial fight between Jimmy Wang Yu and David Chiang is also equally as suspenseful. There’s no rush during this introduction, and the film is low on complications at this point, so it becomes easy to navigate the plot. We begin to understand just what is at stake, and this helps the film tremendously. While it isn’t a “great” movie by any stretch of the imagination, the solid editing and directorial work was certainly a surprise from what I had expected.

This most certainly is an action film, but I must reference the way the movie heavily leans towards scenes of exposition. While the story is hardly anything completely original, there are numerous characters floating around within this story and several of them wear similar clothing and are missing appendages. It is the sort of movie where it actually pays to take notes whilst watching it. Unfortunately, if such a thing is an active requirement for interpreting the story, one must concede that the film is off balance in its narrative functions. Despite this, I have read about even worse edits of this movie. Ones that supposedly become incomprehensible, and apparently only tie together the main fight sequences. The version that I am reviewing, which comes from VideoAsia and it pairs together both One Armed Swordsmen and One Armed Swordsman vs. The 9 Killers, and unfortunately the video quality is pretty awful. This is most unfortunate, because by its looks, this little independent production had a certain majestic feel to it at points. It certainly has the epic quality that one might expect from a film featuring the two “One Armed Swordsmen” from the past.

There seems to be a consensus about The One Armed Swordsmen that says the movie itself is a bit wasted when you consider the magnitude that a project like this should have had. You have the two men who filled this same epic role meeting together in one story, but unfortunately both men seem to sleepwalk through their roles. Jimmy Wang Yu is his normal stoic self, but David Chiang is surprisingly lacking in his regular charisma. This seems to come from his lacking anyone else to play off of. His scenes are often limited to either acting very strong for the camera or being bland during scenes of heavy dialogue. The camaraderie between our two one armed swordsmen can thus rarely be felt, and when they do share a “moment” together, it feels false. The action (while not great, it is energetic) and the plot, no matter how convoluted it often feels, are what holds the movie together, which is a shame when you have so many talented hands on board.

The Conclusion
Despite the elements within One Armed Swordsmen that are worthy of praise, the bottom line is that the movie ultimately isn’t very interesting. This is sad for a regular movie, but downright awful when you consider the big cast that the film has assembled. Overall, the movie peters upon being average, but doesn’t get very far ahead of that. I give it a disappointing 2 out of five. It’s worth watching for any person who has kept up with this vast series, but not something I would recommend to anyone else.

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