Friday, September 10, 2010

Kant Miss Kung Fu Klassics: The Return of the One Armed Swordsman (1969)

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
Return Of The One-Armed SwordsmanThe One-Armed Swordsman


venoms5 said...

Chang Cheh loved his stylized violence and OTT gore. John Woo was one of his AD's around this time, too. After you see enough of Cheh's movies, you'll notice where Woo got his style from.

NEW ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN is probably gorier than the first two movies combined. David Chiang plays the crippled slayer in that one.

Wang Yu caused a major stir when he skipped town to the competition at Golden Harvest breaking his contract with Shaw Brothers. He was sued and wasn't allowed to make films in HK till his contract expired in 1973. That didn't stop him from taking off to Japan to shoot ZATOICHI MEETS THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN.

Shaw's sued him again but were unsuccessful. He then hopped over to Taiwan and shot movies there many of them quick rip offs of Shaw movies. Later on in his career it became known that he had strong ties with Triads.

odenat said...

lol, here in Turkey, there was 2-3 remake of these movies. I don't know if they will ever be on DVD, but this is an experience of a lifetime. They really redefine the word thrash :o)

Franco Macabro said...

I've watched one of John Woo's martial films, it was called LAST HURRAH FOR CHIVALRY, I guess that film was partially influenced by Chan Cheh's movies. It was also a movie about swordsmen.

Cant wait to see the New Armed Swordsmen, sound like fun, do you know if its available on DVD? I went yesterday to buy FIVE ELEMENT NINJAs but someone snatched it and bought the last copy!

Thanks for the history lesson on the history of these movies, you are an encyclopedia of Kung Fu Movie knowledge!

venoms5 said...

I have LAST HURRAH FOR CHIVALRY. I've yet to watch the recent DD DVD, but used to have it on VHS. It's one of the few lead roles for former FIVE VENOM actor, Wei Pai. He became disenchanted with Shaw Brothers and decided to leave for Golden Harvest thinking he'd hit it big there. He didn't and ended up playing supporting roles in Jackie Chan movies like YOUNG MASTER. He did manage to play lead roles in THE CHEEKY CHAP (1980) and THE PHANTOM KILLER (1980).

His exit also was one of the disruptions to Chang Cheh's awful, but imaginatively gory 10 TIGERS OF KWANG TUNG, a movie that began production in 1978 and shut down till 1980 when the film was drastically restructured and many scenes were excised.

Chang Cheh's style of honor and brotherhood among men is evident in Woo's THE KILLER (1989) and his other movies including the ones he did in America. THE KILLER even has a scene lifted wholesale from Cheh's Wuxia epic, THE INVINCIBLE FIST (1969) starring Lo Lieh.

That's a bummer about that last 5EN copy. Just make sure you're getting the Media Blasters DVD, Fran, or even the HK disc from IVL. There's several bootleg DVD's in stores of the film that are either cut, or sloppily synced.

Franco Macabro said...

I just saw THE KILLER this weekend! It was a decent shoot em up! I think its pretty high up on the "most people shot in a film" list.

I did catch that theme of honor and true friendship amongst men in THE KILLER, and its also a very strong running theme in LAST HURRAH FOR CHIVALRY as well. It seems that this is one of JOHN WOO's favorite themes.

By the way, I defenetly noticed how THE KILLER influenced Robert Rodriguez for EL MARIACHI and DESPERADO.

venoms5 said...

Woo's first showed that manic gunplay action style in A BETTER TOMORROW (1986) starring Ti Lung and Chow Yun Fat. That movie has been imitated a lot, too.

Franco Macabro said...

I should be watching A BETTER TOMORROW sometime soon.

Favorite scene for me on RETURN OF THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN: The scene with the sword/shields, wow I loved that scene where he catches them all with his sword and the hurls them right back at the bad guys!

I also liked the assortment of weapons used: the sword that throws poison smoke, the deadly lady with her hidden knives...awesome stuff!

venoms5 said...

You'll see tons of that kind of stuff in Shaw Brothers movies. They had the best props department. They designed some of the deadliest looking and most outrageous cutlery the world has ever seen.

Franco Macabro said...

This much is true! Last night I finished watching the first One Armed Swordsman movie, and they had this weapon that cut swords in half, it was pretty ingenious! A sword that has the ability to grab other swords and cut them in half, those guys were pretty deadly with those things.

But they had an advantage, because they also used that extra blade to cut their enemies in half with, while they held their sword with the other. Too bad the good guys had to let so many of their best swordsmen to learn how to work around this problem.

Gonna buy KING BOXER on friday, I hope nobody beats me to it.

Sadako said...

I've never really seen any kung fu movies, but your review makes me want to check them out!

Franco Macabro said...

Like the title of the blogpost says: Return of the One Armed Swordsman is a Cant Miss Kung Fu Classic! Never boring, lots of kung fu action, and an intriguing story. I dont think you'll be dissapointed.

If you are interested in more Kung Fu films, check out my post on 10 Kung Fu Flicks You Should See Before You Die. Those are good films to start with if you've never seen any Kung Fu Movies.

Thanks for commenting!

venoms5 said...

8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER (1984) had a similar weapon. It was a pole with a slinky type section with another smaller pole at the end. It would ensnare any weapon and hold it while the wielder or other assailant would kill his opponent.

Without doubt the zaniest weapon in any movie would have to be the 'Five Venom Spider' from WEB OF DEATH (1976).

THE DRAGON MISSILE is pretty wild, too. It's Shaw's own rip off of their FLYING GUILLOTINE (1974). The DM is a large razor edged boomerang.

Franco Macabro said...

We should do a whole blogpost on Kung Fu Weapons alone! We can mention the weapon, what it does, and what movie its from! Sounds like a plan!

venoms5 said...

Sounds good, Franco!


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