One Armed Swordsman Double Bill

My good friend Hong Kong Phooey called round earlier this week to remind me I'd been neglecting my Asia-thon 2016 Film Project a little, and also my martial arts movies, a selection of which we had previously reviewed together a while back. So, in an attempt to kill those two birds with one flying kung-fu kick to the head, we sharpened up our weapons and settled down to watch a couple of movies which prove that a handicap, such as having only one arm, should be no obstacle to becoming a kung-fu master like myself and Hong Kong Phooey. 

One-Armed Swordsman (Chang Cheh, 1967) doesn't piss about with its title, relating all you need to know in three words. It's a colourful kung-fu romp from the renowned Shaw Bros Studio, who were massively influential in popularizing the wuxia martial arts genre in the 60s and 70s. Here, baby-faced Jimmy Wang Yu plays the likeable hero Fang Kang, an orphan who aims to honour his dead father by achieving martial arts greatness in his master's School of the Golden Sword. But his devotion makes him unpopular and next thing you know, he has let his guard down and carelessly got an arm lopped off. BOOOO!!! But all is not lost! He is nursed back to health by a good woman, who has conveniently inherited a instruction manual from her dead father which details how to be a deadly martial arts swordsman with one arm! HURRAH!!! Armed with the only keepsake he has from his father, an old broken blade, he sets out to protect his old School from the nefarious attentions of some dastardly mustachioed villains. The stage is set for lashings of artificial blood and some tremendously exaggerated reaction shots from onlookers as the action plays out against some really impressive set design. Disappointingly, however, the chop-socky swordplay sequences are rather underwhelming. If you're expecting long, graceful, gravity-defying wuxia battles, you'll not be impressed by the short, rather slow fights on display here. On the plus side, Hong Kong Phooey and I were impressed by some superior diabolical laughter from the snappily-named villains Smiling Tiger and Long-Armed Devil. Mwwwwuwhahahahaaa!

The Blade (Tsui Hark, 1995) is essentially a remake of the same basic story, but one that delivers a much grittier, gloomy take on things. Neither is it content to be just a kung fu film, striving for something more profound with a 'poetic' narration and a tedious, wholly unnecessary love triangle shoe-horned into proceedings. Unfortunately, the overall effect is rather muddled one, particularly in depicting the various relationships and motivations of the characters, and it has none of the straightforward charm of the original. However, it certainly ramps up the martial arts action from the above film. Our one-armed hero (Vincent Zhao) does have a much cooler fighting style - God of War fans will approve - which he hones during a Rocky-style training montage, then unleashes on various expendable bad guys. The result is some great martial arts action, especially in the final exciting showdown, which is really only superseded by a bit where a horse gets kung-fu kicked in the head. So it's worthwhile remake for the most part, which counts Quentin Tarantino amongst its fans, Best try and avoid the dubbed version of the film, however, which inflicts the already irritating central female character with a catatonic English voiceover, not to mention some sub-standard diabolical laughter.

Sadly, that's all we had time for as Hong Kong Phooey is due back on cleaning duty at the police station, but he will return to help me review some more martial arts movies later in the year. Incidentally, the Asia-thon 2016 Film Project is my New Year's resolution to watch more films from the Far East, a project which is both laudable and insufferably pretentious. A full list of films viewed can be found here.

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