Review: The One-Armed Swordsman (1967)

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Tien Feng, Ku Feng, Yueng Chi-Hing, Cliff Lok, Lau Kar-Wing

Fight Choreography by Liu Chia-Liang

Directed by Chang Cheh

The One-Armed Swordsman is widely considered a classic of kung fu films, and at the time was the top box office earner in Hong Kong, and led to the rise of the disabled warrior that would lead to films like Crippled Avengers and many more. This film also turned Jimmy Wang Yu into an international star.

The movie tells the story of Fang Kang (Wang Yu), a young man from a poor background who studies kung fu at Master Qi Ru Feng (Tien Feng) only because his father years before sacrificed himself to save Master Feng, and in repayment took Fang Kang in as his student and son. Fang shuns the advances of Feng’s daughter Pei, and during a duel Fang wasn’t looking for, Pei cuts off Fang’s arm in anger over his perceived rejections. Fang stumbles away, and is found by Xiao Man, a local woman who nurses Fang back to health, and as he tries to cope with his disability he is given a manual Xiao Man has been protecting–one that teaches Fang how to fight with one arm. Meanwhile the villanous Long-Armed Devil (Chi-Hing), an old enemy of Master Feng, plots to destroy him and his school, and all that stands between them is a fighter with one arm…

One Armed Swordsman moves at a deliberate pace, but it’s a welcome one as we get to know Fang Kang and Xiao Man, and how both of them fall in love even as they learn to cope with Fang Kang’s disability, and wrestle with the life of a fighter versus a life of peace. Jimmy Wang Yu does a fantastic acting job as Fang Kang. He does a great job of selling Fang’s pathos without over doing it, and has a natural gravitas on screen. It’s great to cheer him on as he learns to first manage his disability and then to learn to thrive with it. It’s an inspiring story but it never forgets his difficulties. Chang Cheh tosses in all of his bag of tricks visually to pull off this story, and while the film moves a little slower than most of his kung fu operas, the payoff is worth it! The soundtrack also has a theme song that has a little jam to it, and was well done, and I noticed it immediately. Chang Cheh’s soundtracks are often pretty good but this one may be his best.

The first time Feng Kang uses his sword to truly fight, it’s a fast but crowd-pleasing moment, including the best death by chopsticks you’ll ever see! The final battles are as operatic as you would expect from a Chang Cheh film, and look at Lau Kar Wing rocking it as the bad guy flunkie! The fight with Smiling Face was oddly paced and had a too-quick ending in an otherwise terrific finale (as many great swordsman films often do), and damn Jimmy Wang Yu leaves like a BOSS at the end of the film!

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 10

This film is a kung fu classic that made a star out of Jimmy Wang Yu and deservedly so, with a great story, a hero worth rooting for, and a classic kung fu finale. One of Chang Cheh’s best!