The One-Armed Swordsman – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Directed by
Chang Cheh

Cast:
Jimmy Wang Yu … Fang Gang
Chiao Chiao … Hsiao Man
Chung-Shun Huang … Wei Hsuan
Pan Yingzi … Qi Pei Er
Chuen Chan … Chi student
Pei-Shan Chang … Sun Hao
Lei Cheng … Teng Chung
Tien Feng Qi Rufeng


The Movie:

To watch Chang Cheh’s The One-Armed Swordsman is to watch the modern Kung Fu film in its infancy. While its choreography is crude and its pacing not as brisk as would be the norm in Hong Kong in the decades that followed, the film is an important moment in Martial Arts cinema and created a character that would endure for some time. With proficient storytelling, a charismatic lead, and a solid host of villains, The One-Armed Swordsman is a still a very powerful experience, 40 years after its initial release.

The story revolves around Fang Gang (Jimmy Wang Yu), a young man who watched his father give his life for his master, and in turn has given his life to his training in sword work and martial arts. Though he is basically adopted by the same master, it is established early on that he is so devoted to his training that he becomes an outcast amongst the other students, even rebuking the master’s daughter Pei Er (Pan Yingzi). When she forces Fang Gang to duel with her out of spite, she cuts off his arm in a fit of rage, and the events of the film are set in motion.

Though its fight scenes may be a bit antiquated, what is immediately striking about The One-Armed Swordsman is just how well it’s shot. From the beginning to end, the film’s look is absolutely phenomenal, borrowing from Japanese cinema to create a unique appearance in the genre up to that point. This is evident early on as combatants in the snow fight for supremacy in a Samurai style sequence, with dire consequences on the line. Later on, a pivotal fight scene in a bar is very reminiscent of the action of many Zatoichi films, its violence sudden and stark.


The film was part of a movement by the Shaw Bros. studio to produce films that would feature grittier, more realistic heroes, and Director Chang Cheh was more than up to the task. Casting Jimmy Wang Yu was a stroke of genius, the actor displaying just the right amount of angst and heroic zeal that this role required. He’s also helped by a pretty terrific supporting cast, especially Tien Feng as his master, Qi Rufeng, who brings a quiet strength to the picture.

While not as shocking as when it premiered, the movie’s bloody violence is still very effective, especially the moment of Fang Gang’s arm being severed. Also, for a picture of this time period, the movie as an amazingly high body count, as dozens of Qi Rufeng’s students die horrible deaths at the behest of a mysterious villain named Long-Armed Devil (Yang Chih-Ching). The director smartly holds our attention by not revealing his villain’s identity for the longest time, making the final showdown as monumental as possible.

Historically speaking, The One-Armed Swordsman is one of the most important Martial Arts films ever made, with King Hu’s Come Drink with Me and A Touch of Zen being the only Martial Arts films of the late 60’s really able to match it for quality. Consistently entertaining, with a very strong lead performance, the film is still a benchmark that is a rousing time to this day. Despite lackluster pacing, the movie’s charms completely outweigh any problems it has incurred with the passage of time.


The DVD:


The Video
Especially when compared to older editions of this film, the movie looks particularly stunning on this new disc. With such a terrific print, you can really see the work that went into this film’s particular look and atmosphere. The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

The Audio
The Audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and is also a vast improvement over previous editions. Whether listening to the film’s English dub or original Chinese track, you shouldn’t be disappointed with this audio track what so ever.


SPECIAL FEATURES:
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Feature Commentary by Film Scholars David Chute and Andy Klein – This is an absolutely terrific commentary track by these two scholars, who obviously have a love for this movie and genre. The entire track is filled with little moments of trivia, from talking about the movie’s patchwork score to costumes to the movie’s importance in the larger spectrum of Hong Kong cinema.

Interview with Star Jimmy Wang Yu – The actor goes into a lot of detail about his career and about the hardships he had to go through to keep acting. Apparently acting was not a very lucrative position in Hong Kong at the time he was acting, as he actually made less money then most regular workers did.

Interview with Film Scholars David Chute and Andy Klein – This interview does recycle some of the material from the commentary track, but is still very interesting to watch. This goes about 8 minutes or so.

The Master: Cheng Cheh – This is a 17 minute featurette with many of Hong Kong’s greatest film makers putting in their two cents on the greatness of Cheng Cheh. Tsui Hark, John Woo, Andy Lau, and others all give their opinions on Cheh’s work and his legacy. I especially love hearing Woo talk about how much Cheh was influential in his career, as he was actually an Assistant Director for Cheh early on in his career.

Trailer Gallery – If you like old school Kung Fu trailers, this disc is one for you. It’s packed with trailers for this film and other Dragon Dynasty releases, but also has some terrific trailers for other Shaw Brothers classics, such as Crippled Avengers.

Commentator Biographies

Posters and Stills Gallery

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for
The One-Armed Swordsman
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

7.5
THE VIDEO

8
THE AUDIO

8
THE EXTRAS

7
REPLAY VALUE

8
OVERALL
7.5
(NOT AN AVERAGE)