Written by: Michael Den Boer on June 23rd, 2007
Theatrical Release Date: Hong Kong, 1967
Director: Cheh Chang
Writers: Cheh Chang, Kuang Ni
Cast: Yu Wang, Chiao Chiao, Chung-Shun Huang, Yin Tze Pan, Chuen Chan, Pei-Shan Chang, Lei Cheng, Yen-yen Chen, Lung Chiang, Hsiung Chiao, Yuan Chieh, Siu Loi Chow
DVD released: June 19th, 2007
Approximate running time: 116 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Mandarin, Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
DVD Release: Dragon Dynasty
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.97
Synopsis: A servant gives his own life to save that of his master who in return agrees to train and treat the servants’ son Fang Gang (Yu Wang) as his own child. Flash forward years later the Fang Gang now a grown man has become the master premier student which alienates him from the rest of the students including the masters’ only child his daughter Qi Pei. Two students and Qi Pei ambush Fang Gang who has decided to leave the school. During the ambush Qi Pei accidentally cuts off Fang Gang’s right arm. Fang Gang survives his nearly fatal wound when he is nursed back to health by a farm girl who he falls in love with. Meanwhile an old enemy of his Fang Gang’s master reemerges and as fate would have it Fang Gang because of his injury and knowledge of his masters’ enemies’ secret weapon is their only hope for survival.
By the early 1960’s Chinese cinema began to evolve beyond propaganda themed films into cinema that more resemble the Hollywood system in the west. The shift of empathizing more on genre films to reach a more global audience beyond China. Around this time the premiere film studio in China was the famed Shaw Brothers studios who a handful of directors like Cheh Chang and Chia-Liang Liu would help open the rest of the world to Chinese Cinema. By the late 1960’s director Cheh Chang had become the Shaw Brothers number one director creating some of their most memorable films and the reinvention of many genres helping create new clichés for these genres. He would continue to work with the Shaw Brothers until the studio finally closed down operations in the 1980’s.
1967’s The One-Armed Swordsman was Cheh Chang’s first break out film that clearly set him part from his piers. The One-Armed Swordsman’s Wuxia based story not only features impressive swordplay it also features some solid martial arts which by today’s standards looks primitive even though it was cutting edge and way ahead of the curve for its time. One thing that I really enjoyed about the film is how it draws you in and you forget that everything around you is on sound stage and artificially created. Shooting the film on a stage on not on location gives the film a dream like quality that gritty realism would have destroyed.
The violence in the film while not brutal does feature a few grotesque moments like when Fang Gang loses his right arm and later in the film when he chops off all the hands of two his enemies. In the lead of role of Fang Gang is Yu Wang as the one armed swordsman. Yu Wang is brilliant as the brooding and at times reluctant hero of the piece. The character goes through a lot during the course of two hours and the transformation Fang Gang by actor Yu Wang is nothing short of perfect. The rest of the cast are all very good with the two actresses who pursue Fang Gang Yin Tze Pan as Qi Pei and Chiao Chiao as the peasant farmer girl who nurses him back to health giving the two most developed and important roles that help drive the story of Fang Gang. Ultimately The One-Armed Swordsman is an epic adventure that features breathtaking sword play and first rate marital arts fighting.
The One Armed Swordsman is presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the film’s original aspect ratio. This is a nice looking transfer that is colorful, detailed and clean.
This release comes with two audio options Mandarin and English. Both audio options are presented in a Dolby Digital mono. The audio sounds robust evenly balanced and is free of any audio defects. Removable English and Spanish subtitles have been included.
Extras for this release include a photo Gallery with fifty three Stills, the film’s original theatrical trailer and a home video trailer, trailers for other films featuring the cast & crew of The One Armed Swordsman and trailers for Shaw Brothers and Dragon Dynasty films. Other extras include an eleven minute interview with Jimmy Wang Yu, a eight minute interview film scholars David Chute and Andy Klein and a seventeen minute Featurette: the Master Chang Cheh. The main extra included with this release is an audio commentary with film scholars David Chute and Andy Klein. The One Armed Swordsman is one of handful of films that perfectly mixes Wushu with sword fighting. Dragon Dynasty with their initial batch of Shaw Brothers titles have raised the bar for quality and content, two things which have for years been sorely lacking on past martial arts films released on DVD. Now after years of suffering through shoddy presentation fans of martial arts films can finally obtain quality versions of these films and at more than affordable prices, highly recommended.