The One-Armed Swordsman (HK 1967)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 7/18/10
Director: Chang Cheh
Choreography: Liu Chia Liang (Lau Kar Leung)
Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu, Chiao Chiao, Liu Chia Liang

Chang Cheh's masterful tale of love, honor, and revenge offers a chance for Jimmy Wang Yu to really shine as an actor. Master swordsman Chi takes a young Fang Kang (Jimmy Wang Yu) under his wing after Kang's father dies while trying to protect Chi. Kang grows up to be an excellent swordsman, but the other students dislike him and eventually force him to leave the school. He loses his arm in a freak accident, and is nursed back to health by a poor peasant girl who teaches him love and kindness. In utter despair at his miserable state, he finally starts training his left arm in order to defend himself, and soon he becomes a master swordsman. This comes in handy, as Master Chi's old rivals Long Arm and Smiling Face are back in town and have a score to settle.

Chang Cheh is in rare form with this film, and his commentaries on love and violence are poignant. He relies more on slick cinematography and tight choreography than outrageousness in this film, which allows the performers to really shine. Wang Yu is superb, and he agonizes with duty, despair, honor, and self-loathing through the entire film. He is one miserable guy, and his feelings are quite tangible and real. His action scenes are also very good, and his one-armed techniques are very convincing, thanks to Liu Chia Liang's choreography and some clever editing. While the pacing is a bit slow and the ending drags on way too long, the film remains engaging due to the strength of the performers and the wonderful scenery. Cheh has crafted some beautiful snow scenes which are a marvel to behold, and his sweeping camera work is inspired. Excellent work all around, and a time-tested kung fu classic.