• One-Armed Swordsman, The

    Released by: 88 Films
    Released on: March 26th, 2018.
    Director: Chang Cheh
    Cast: Wang Yu, Guk Fung, Ting Fung, Pan Yin Tze, Chaio Chaio, Tang Ti, Yeung Chi-hing
    Year: 1967
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Directed in 1967 by Shaw Brothers’ workhorse director Chang Cheh (who also co-wrote the film with frequent collaborator Ni Kuang – a writer with literally a couple of hundred credits to his name, including The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, Flag Of Iron, Five Deadly Venoms, The Brave Archer films, Black Magic and scores more!), The One-Armed Swordsman is widely – and rightly – considered a high point in the history of martial arts films.

    The film tells the story of a young man named Fang Kang (‘Jimmy Wang Yu), recently accepted to the prestigious Golden Sword School because of the noble sacrifice his father made when he died to save the school’s master during a bandit raid. While Fang is glad to be accepted and study with Master Qi Rufeng (Ting Fung), who raises him like his own son, he gets the impression that many of his classmates are holding a grudge against him even as he proves to be the best student in the school.

    Eventually, he has enough of this and he leaves the school, but not before his teacher’s dangerously flirtatious daughter, Pei-erh (Pan Yin Tze), challenges him to a fight. He refuses, and she chops of his right arm! He falls off a bridge into the waters below and is left for dead. But Fang got lucky. While he’s obviously seriously wounded, he landed in the boat owned by Hsiao Man (Chiao Chiao), a beautiful peasant girl. She nurses Fang back to health and, once he’s done feeling sorry for himself, he decides to train himself in the art of one-armed sword fighting. How? His new lady friend’s dearly departed father happened to leave behind a manual that teaches left-handed sword techniques. With his training complete, he returns to the school he left to save his former teacher from rivals the Long-armed Devil (Yeung Chi-hing) and the Smiling Tiger Cheng (Tang Ti), much like his father before him did.

    The One-Armed Swordsman was a huge success when it was first released in Hong Kong, raking in big bucks at the box office and propelling its young leading man to superstardom. Successful enough to spawn two sequels (though Wang Yu would not appear in the third film), the picture is nothing short of iconic. Chang Cheh’s direction is tight, with an emphasis on violence and honor (setting the path for many of the heroic bloodshed films that would follow, and the pacing is strong. Like a lot of Shaw Brothers films, much of the film appears to have been shot on sets and soundstages, but that’s just part of the studio’s look and to some of us, that’s a pro rather than a con. The bloody action set pieces are beautifully staged and showcase some fantastic fight choreography, and the movie benefits from a rousing and appropriately melodramatic score.

    The cast are in good shape here. Yeung Chi-hing and Tang Ti are fun as the primary villains and Pan Yin Tze does a great job as the master’s spoiled brat of a daughter. Ting Fung brings a sense of nobility to his part as the teacher while Chiao Chiao is nothing short of adorable as the female romantic lead. But, as anyone who has seen the picture knows, this is Wang Yu’s show first and foremost. As Kang he’s a brooding, distraught man, clearly and understandably upset and completely disenfranchised from the martial arts world because of what has happened to him. However, despite the fact that he doesn’t really want anything to do with his past, when his teacher needs him, he puts all of that aside and does the right thing… by slaughtering a whole bunch of bad guys to save the man who needs his help. It’s interesting to see the character shift the way that he does, and Wang Yu plays the part perfectly. If he didn’t have the moves of some of the Shaw Brothers’ better martial artists or the raw intensity of someone like Bruce Lee, he did have plenty of charisma and screen presence, all of which is used very well in this film.


    The One-Armed Swordsman arrives on Region B Blu-ray from 88 Films in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen on a 50GB disc that looks quite a bit better than the old DVD releases we’ve seen in the past but which seems to be taken from the same older master used by Celestial in 2007. There’s still some softness in the image but detail is noticeably stronger. Color reproduction looks excellent, those trademark blue skies of the sets pop quite nicely while the bloody reds look intense without appearing oversaturated. Black levels are strong and there are no noticeable problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement. Some light DNR might have been applied to the image, as skin tones look a little waxy, but otherwise this shapes up rather nicely while still leaving room for improvement.

    Audio options includes the original Chinese language track and the English dub, both in LPCM Mono format. The Chinese track sounds a bit cleaner and is obviously more authentic but the English dub is fun in the way that English dubs for old martial arts films can be. Quality of both tracks does reflect the occasionally tinny sound effects quite accurately, with properly balanced levels throughout. The optional English subtitles, which appear in white text and translate the Chinese track, are easy to read.

    The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary by Bey Logan that, like his other tracks, does a great job of providing plenty of backstory and history on the making of the picture. There’s a lot of talk here about Chang Cheh’s talents as a director and Wang Yu’s importance as an actor, the influence that this film had on the martial arts films of its day, pictures that might have been an influence on this film and lots more. The disc also includes a seventeen-minute interview with Hong Kong Cinema expert David West that focuses on the production history of the film with some insight offered into what makes it work and what went into getting it made.

    As to the packaging, The One-Armed Swordsman with a nice website exclusive slipcase (when ordered from 88 Films direct) that uses the original theatrical poster art. Additionally, we get a reversible sleeve that uses the photo image cover on one side and that aforementioned poster art on the reverse. Included inside the Blu-ray case is a color insert booklet containing an essay on the film from Calum Waddell that note the importance of the film and its influence.

    The Final Word:

    The One-Armed Swordsman remains one of the finest wuxia to have ever hit the silver screen, a true classic of martial arts cinema and one of the best Shaw Brothers films of the late sixties. 88 Films brings it to Blu-ray in decent shape and with some nice extra features as well. An essential film for anyone with an interest in martial arts movies.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Lalala76's Avatar
      Lalala76 -
      Really enjoyed this one. Something about those early Shaw films and the way they looked. This one kicks ass though.