The New One Armed Swordsman

Reviewed by Yves Gendron

THE NEW ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN is an early seventies swordplay directed by martial-cinema master Chang Cheh, part of his "blood brother" series of violent and gloomy martial films pairing David Chiang and Ti Lung. Just before the impromptu coming of Bruce Lee, they were the biggest things in Hong Kong martial cinema.  Of the dozen “blood brother” films made, NEW ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN is actually one of the most reputed titles among them.

In classic period China, seemingly righteous but actually devious martial master Lung (Ku Feng) seeks to get rid of the highly talented knight-errant Lei Li (David Chiang) and so he frames him for a plunder attack, challenges him in a duel, beats him and has Chiang cut off his own arm by using his pride against him. One year later, Lei has become a despondent cripple hostel waiter brooding endlessly despite the tender attention of Pao Chin the daughter of the local blacksmith. Only the friendship of a follow knight-errant named Feng (Ti Lung) and the admiring attention he gives Li finally succeeds in making him come out of his shell. However, Feng happens to be the next victim of Master Lung’s devious scheming. Feng falls into his trap, is killed and when Li hears of this all hell breaks loose, as he once again has to pick up his sword and thus becomes the New One Armed Swordsman.
Dating back from 1971 (predating The BIG BOSS Bruce Lee’s Hong Kong martial art debut by a matter of weeks) NEW ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN, might be considered as fairly dated and cheesy looking by today’s standards (as well as further damaged by bad dubbing and a full screen video format that most viewers are forced to see it in). This is the brand of movie that earned Chinese swordplay their derisive pun "chop-sokky" back in the old days, although in the case of NEW this is a most literate description.  Still, despite some slow parts, the movie can be considered as having a sound drama. Some of the action is of the swinging sword-dozen fall dead variety, but other parts - especially the one on one duels are exciting and intense. Ti Lung as Feng is his usual majestic self, while character actor Ku Feng (better known by today’s audience for his role as the malignant police chief officer in PEKING OPERA BLUES), creates a deliciously devious villain who fakes being a honourable master and handles the three-handle staff pretty well.
Actually, what many might consider as the movies main liability would be its hero star player, David Chiang. In the old days he was Ti Lung’s starring equal, as he was physically capable and gave a haunting quality to the wily or brooding characters he played. Nowadays though, while Ti Lung’s reputation has become legendary, David Chiang has become one of the most under-appreciated players from that period. To a contemporary audience, he looks rather unconvincing as an action star with his sleight build (even though he was a stuntman in the industry after his child star period), and his screen persona can come across as annoying. In this particular movie he is called upon to sulk for half of the movie and then slaughters about a hundred guys in two minutes, which is a bit much. Also, he has something of a modern urbane look to him that make him look somewhat out of place in a period movie. He fits better in either contemporary or early Republican martial movies. Still, if one can ignore that, then the viewing should be rewarding. The spectacle of Chiang’s mass slaying has to be seen to be believed and the finale between Chiang and Ku Feng, while perhaps overusing the trampoline, is dramatic and excellent.  Incidentally, it is because of the villain’s use of the three-section-staff that NEW ONE ARMED is also known as TRIPLE-IRON, another name for that sort of weapon.
The film is called the NEW ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN not because a one-armed guy replaced another in the movie but for more complicated reasons. The original cripple knight was  (Jimmy) Wang Yu who created the part for the classic titular movie back in 1967 and its sequel was made in 1969. But then in 1970 Wang left Shaw Brothers, the movie studio that had made the one armed movies, carrying with him the character for another picture. Needless to say the Shaw Brothers bosses were none too happy about this situation and so they commissioned Chang Cheh, who made the original pair of One-Armed movies, to recreate the franchise with another actor - in this case David Chiang. There are some interesting differences and similarities between the two heroes. First of all they are both initially proficient swordsman until they are both similarly crippled - both physically but also psychologically as well and change into brooding loners. On the other hand, while one-armed swordsman 2 was a confident and wily fellow, the first was already a born brooder to begin with, feeling ill at ease and out of place in his master's school. Unexpected events lead both swordsmen back into action but while the first one acted to defend his master against an old rival, the second one acts out of pure revenge becoming almost an enraged psychopath coming to the enemy and killing everyone in his path; an hundred strong army of men in this case. This is an interesting distinction that says a lot about how within four years Chang Cheh’s themes evolved, how the socio-cultural background within the martial genre changed (from empowering fantasy to revenge one) and how Chang envisioned his actors differently. Quite ironically after Chiang left Shaw later on he would team-up with Wang-Yu in a movie putting their respective cripple knights together in ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN, which he also directed in 1976.
Overall while NEW ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN could be considered as having a somewhat dated look, it still remains an eminently watchable swordplay yarn, especially for those who have gone through all the wire-fu stuff of the nineties. It might be cruder by comparison but it has solid qualities and it sure delivers quite a wallop in an over the top brand of action that is mostly lacking in the more special effects driven martial art fare of recent years. For those who want a change of pace, this is really most recommended.

Rating: 7.0