Title: The Return of the One Armed Swordsman (1969)
Director: Chang Cheh
Thanks to the Weinstein Company re-releasing a bunch of the Shaw Brothers Kung Fu movies on DVD I've finally been able to catch up with a lot of these martial arts films that I had not yet seen. For example, I recently had the pleasure of watching The Return of the One Armed Swordsman, which by the way I bought on a whim. I simply said “whatever, lets see what this is all about”. I’m glad I picked this one up! This is one of the most enjoyable Kung Fu movies I have EVER seen! Upon doing a little research on the film and its director, I find out that the fact that this movie is so awesome isnt pure happenstance. The filmmakers behind this movie were masters on their own right!
The Return of the One Armed Swordsman tells the story of this tournament that’s being held by a clan of swordsmen called ‘The Eight Demon Swordsmen’. This clan has invited all the senior members of each sword school and asked them to participate in this tournament to determine once and for all which of all the schools is the best of all. Problem is that if you don’t go to this tournament, you’ll be killed! In other words, you have to fight or you die! This naturally forces all the senior members of the different schools to go. I guess they figure “sure, what the hell; this is what we train for anyways!” Unfortunately, there is a trick behind the whole thing. Once all the senior masters are in the tournament, they are taken hostage by the Eight Demon Swordsmen! So now, it’s up the sons and daughters of the sword masters to rescue their fathers! Can the junior swordsmen take the Eight Demon Swordsmen on their own? Or will they need the aid of someone with far more experience and swordsmanship?
Before talking about Return of the One Armed Swordsman I guess it is important to mention that this is a sequel to a film called The One Armed Swordsman (1967). The cast and crew from the original film return, with The One Armed Swordsman being played by the same actor, Jimmy Yu Wang. The first film is a great one, but it’s a bit different from its sequel, the first film is more of a drama, with few martial arts sequences through out the film. The focus of that movie is not the action, or the fights, but the story, the drama. This is great because I’m all for a well told story, and for all intents and purpose, the original film is just that. We get to see how the One Armed Swordsman looses his arm, and why. It’s a great film, but the sequel is a bit more entertaining in a way. Its more action packed!
Should I or shouldnt I? That is the question!
This second film plays out a lot like a western, you know, kind of like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992). If you remember that one, we have this old gunslinger trying to retire and live the quiet life, until he is called out of retirement to help a town with his gun shooting skills. On Return of the One Armed Swordsman, Fang Kang (the titular character) is trying to live the quiet life of a farmer with his wife. He has left his sword fighting days behind. It seems that he will be happy growing rice on his fields for the time being. That is, until the younger students from all the different sword schools come knocking at his door requesting his legendary abilities to help them rescue their seniors from the clutches of the Eight Demon Swordsmen. And of course, Fang Kang seeing the great evil that is being done agrees to help them. Now, after this set up, the film is a non stop roller coaster of action all the way to the very end!
The good guys have eight masters to fight through before they finally arrive at the school where their fathers are being held hostage, so it’s kind of like a road trip where along the way, every five minutes we stumble upon a different bad guy. And each one of them has a different fighting style, a different weapon. And this is really where this movie earns its awesomeness. The good guys use regular swords. For example, Fang Kang uses a sword that belonged to his father, which was cut in half in a brutal battle. But Fang Kang is most agile when using this damaged sword, it’s kind of his thing. But the bad guys? Man, these guys go all out in using awesome weapons! One has a scythe that is attached to chain, and there is this whole sequences where he uses this weapon, that is just wow. We get swords that extend themselves, we have shield that are made of knives. And there is this one amazing sequence where the good guys finally arrive to rescue their fathers…that is one awesome brawl! Trust me; you haven’t seen a good Kung Fu fight until you’ve seen this one! The villains all have these shields that have swords attached to them, when they throw them like frisbees they impale their opponents! Trust me; you have to see it to believe it!
I was blown away by this movie! It was only later (thanks to this awesome blog post from Cool Ass Cinema on Chang Cheh’s best films) that I discovered that the reason why this film is so awesome is because of the director behind it. Chang Cheh is this legendary Chinese director that made hundreds of films, many of them Kung Fu films. Upon watching this one I couldn’t help thinking that this film along with a couple other Chang Cheh films (like Five Element Ninjas (1982)) might have been the catalyst behind John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (1986). The thing that makes this director’s films great is that he takes special care in making sure that visually, everything looks beautiful. The colors, the sets, the wardrobe. He makes sure his characters are fleshed out and have a meaning and a purpose for everything they do. And finally, Chang Cheh knew what people wanted from a good Kung Fu flick: Non stop Kung Fu Action! And by awesome I mean bloody! And freaking entertaining! Everything is made that much more interesting because attention to script and storyline are not sacrificed at all, they are excellent as well. So, add this one to your list. One of these days, when you feel like checking out an old school Kung Fu flick, pop this one in, you wont be disappointed!
Rating: 5 out of 5