Thursday, 29 December 2016

One Armed Swordsman (1967)

Possessing many of the virtues and faults of the genre, One Armed Swordsman is a success, despite uneven pacing and overlength, largely due to it’s charismatic star and some well-directed gory fight scenes.

Fang Kang (played by Jimmy Wang), has been raised as a disciple of master swordsman Qi Ru Er, after Fang's father died saving Qi's life. A violent fight with a group of fellow disciples leaves Fang minus an arm and left for dead. After being found and nursed back to health by the peace-loving Xiao Man, he lives out a tranquil existence of farming and fishing, until the day he finds out that his former master’s old enemies, Smiling Tiger and Long Armed Devil are planning to attack and murder Qi on his 55th birthday. Kang is forced back to his warrior ways but can he adapt his two armed fighting style to his one armed circumstances?

Like many films in the martial arts genre, when the action is in full swing, it is an exhilarating ride, with stylishly choreographed and bloody (even if it is bright red paint like blood typical if the era) fight sequences. It might be one thing accidentally getting a fist or a foot in your face, a sword could do something more permanent, as it did to Fang. However, once the fighting stop, things get too talky, and any momentum is soon dissipated. Jimmy Wang is an excellent leading man, who gets tp showcase his fighting skills and a sense of menace and danger.

The script does have some intriguing and loopy ideas, such as the half burnt instruction manual, useless to most fighters, but perfect for a man with only half the number of arms of most people. Wang would reprise a similar role in two films that he both wrote and directed, One Armed Boxer and Master of the Flying Guillotine, where this dreamlike lack of logic would be taken to even more satisfying extremes.

Many of the tropes that I always associate with martial arts films are here throughout the film, such as melodrama, crash zooms, and loud bombastic music. However, one cliché that was noticeable by its absence during my last viewing of this film was bad dubbing. This had always been an essential part of the viewing experience for Westerners, but now it seems the pendulum has swung the other way and many of these films have been reissued with original dialogue soundtracks and subtitles. This certainly makes One Armed Swordsman feel a little less goofy and a bit closer to being a straight action and drama film.

There are also some interesting themes in the script as illustrated by the two important lessons that Fang learns. The other warriors, both good and bad, are locked into their own rigid systems of fighting, unable or unwilling to change, which will ultimately lead to defeat for them. By being forced to adapt his style, Fang finds a third way, that allows him to become victorious. However, he also realises that ultimately revenge only leads to more revenge and eventually someone needs to walk away in order for the cycle to be broken, or as the Buddha himself said "Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world, only by non-hatred."