Dubei dao (The One-Armed Swordsman) is much touted as a staple classic in the martial arts wuxia genre of Hong Kong cinema. According to this article, the film's significance is that it established a number of trends which would later define the genre: heavy bloodshed, alienated anti-heroes and - disappointed "aww!" from the feminists among us - the shift from a female to male perspective. The PPCC doesn't know enough about old school wuxia to comment on this; can anyone recommend some of the female-perspective classics pre-One-Armed Swordsman?
The One-Armed Swordsman's titular protagonist begins with two arms. Back in the day, Qi Rufeng's (Feng Tien) Golden School of martial arts was attacked by some bandits. Rufeng's servant, Fang Cheng (Feng Ku), died trying to defend him and - in exchange - Rufeng agreed to teach Cheng's son, Fang Gang (Yu Wang), in the ways of awesomeness. Yet as Fang Gang grew up, the other students - who we like to call Lavender (???), Lumpy (???) and Crazy (Yin Tze Pan) - were always bullying him. One evening, they confront Fang Gang in the forest and, after repeated challenges for a martial arts showdown which he refuses and/or easily brushes aside, they satisfy themselves with... cutting his right arm off!
It is, in particular, Crazy Lady who cuts off Fang Gang's arm, later claiming she did because of her tumultuous love/hate feelings towards him. Whatever, crazy lady! Keep her away from sharp objects!
Fang Gang's got one arm and half a broken sword. And he can still kick your butt.
Anyway, Fang Gang hobbles off and collapses into the boat of the pretty (and sane) Hsiao Man (Chiao Chiao). As Hsiao Man nurses him back to health, he despairs that his life will now be meaningless without martial arts. Yet, after the pair are harassed by some wandering goons, Hsiao Man finds her father's old kung fu manual which - irony of ironies! - was accidentally set afire and only the chapters on left-handed techniques remain! Despite promising the pacifist Hsiao Man that he will soon abandon martial arts to lead a pastoral existence in the country with her, Fang Gang trains himself in left-handed swordsmanship - just in time for the massive showdown which is brewing between his old Golden School and the villainous brothers, Long-Armed Devil (Yang Chih-Ching) and Smiling Tiger Cheng Tianshou (Tang Di). As Long-Armed Devil and Smiling Tiger pick off the more inept Golden School students one by one, it's up to the mysterious one-armed swordsman to defend the very people that maimed him.
The Golden School of martial arts, good at losing and quasi-accidentally cutting each other's arms off.
This is a fairly entertaining film told, to our eyes, in a straightforward, lightweight way. Indeed, if we hadn't been told it was a classic, we would have assumed it was just a throwaway 60s martial arts flick. This article provides interesting commentary:
"Virtually every aspect of this film has been exceeded and improved upon by later offerings, but this is where it all began in its primitive violent form...With One Armed Swordsman the ultimate anti-hero was born; a macho, resolute, honour-bound character who had little to live for, but a lot to die for."
Since we live in a post-One-Armed Swordsman world, it's difficult to gauge the importance of this film - much like it's difficult to explain the importance of, say, Dilwale Dulhanie Le Jayenge to Hindi cinema to someone who's only ever watched Shah Rukh Khan films. As we said earlier, we'd be very interested in seeing a typical wuxia film from the pre-One-Armed Swordsman days.
Something that did make us understand the cult legendary status of the One-Armed Swordsman was his later appearance in the Japanese Zatoichi film series. Just as Toshiro Mifune's legendary Yojimbo appeared in the film Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo for some clashing of the titans, so too do Zatoichi and Gang Fang duke it out in Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman. Now that sounds cool!
Pics from Wikipedia and DVD Beaver: One-Armed Swordsman.