Plot: After his father was killed in a battle with bandits, he was taken in by a martial arts master who was also involved in stopping the bandits’ crimes. This was as a tribute to his father’s courage and heroism, so he would be raised by the master and taught in the ways of martial arts. As he is from a lower class background, he is often taunted and harassed by his adopted siblings and they prod him to train with them, hoping they can show him up. In one instance, he refuses to practice with swords and offers to train bare handed combat, then trounces his sister. She takes offense to this and pulls her blade, lopping off his arm in the process. He is left for dead, but is recovered and nursed back to health by a young farm girl. As time passes, he falls in love and wants to leave his old life behind, including martial arts and violence. But when his former master needs his help, he finds himself back in the world he sought to leave behind.
Entertainment Value: A breakout hit that dazzled audiences at the time, The One-Armed Swordsman remains a solid, fun martial arts picture, even if it is a little on the antiquated side. But let’s be honest, how many movies don’t feel at least somewhat dated after five decades, so I think the movie holds up well. The narrative is familiar, but has enough fresh elements to not feel like a retread, while the story really pulls you in and keeps you hooked. Not to say the narrative is all that deep, but it is well told and never fails to hold interest. The action is frequent and when it was first released, had to have blown audiences back, as this is some remarkable martial arts action. The pace isn’t rushed, but feels right and allows time for both development and action, with neither being neglected. Jimmy Wang Yu has the lead and is a lot of fun in the role, handling the action, drama, and humor well. The cast is fine across the board, but he is the real star here and shines in this performance. The visuals are also memorable, with bold colors and some capable set designs that help bolster the atmosphere. This is an influential, crucial movie in the martial arts genre, but The One-Armed Swordsman is no dusty relic and remains a relevant, effective action movie.
No nakedness. No sleaze in this one, but there’s ample action and some fun, red tinged kills are present. The blood isn’t over the top, but it flows nicely in a number of the kills and dismemberments, to be sure. When Fang loses his arm, it is shown in vivid detail and likely the most graphic of the violence, but the movie has a number of slashes, stabs, impalements, and such that yield some fun bloodshed. The action is a nice blend of weapons and more hand to hand combat, so martial arts fans have a lot to soak in and enjoy here. The dialogue has some silly banter at times that is fun, with insults often popping up. The One-Armed Swordsman also has more intentional humor than some of its peers, which ups the fun quotient. As for craziness, Fang is an odd dude and his behavior adds a point, but this one isn’t all that wild. I love the scene where Fang tries to hide using a mask, despite being the only one-armed man around. A lot of small, but great moments of humor are sprinkled throughout this one.
Overall Insanity: 1/10
The Disc: 88 Films issued this with a new HD treatment that looks clean and shows more than solid detail. Some softness is present, but the movie is over fifty years old, so to expect a flawless visual treatment is unrealistic. The colors are bright and vivid, which is important given the movie’s rich visuals. English and Chinese soundtracks are offered, as well as English subtitles. An interview with genre expert David West runs over fifteen minutes, while Asian cinema expert Bey Logan contributes an audio commentary track that is loaded with information on the genre, the cast and crew, and the film’s influence on action movies.