The One-Armed Swordsman- -
An evil gang attacks the Chi school of Golden Sword Kung Fu. One student sacrifices his life to save his teacher and his school, his dying wish is that his son be taken in as a student. Young Fang Kang grows up in the school and treasures his father's broken sword and the memory of his father's sacrifice. The other students (including the teacher's daughter) resent him and try to drive him away. The teacher's daughter challenges him to a fight and when he refuses she becomes enraged and recklessly chops off his arm! He retreats, broken and bloody, and is found by a young poor girl living alone who nurses him back to health. Meanwhile, the evil gang who originally attacked the Golden Sword school develops a weapon that renders the Golden Sword useless and starts killing off all of the schools students. Fang Kang eventually recovers with the girl's help but must now face a life with only one arm. Will he be able to recover and live to defend the school as his father did?
More than Come Drink with Me by King Hu, The One-Armed Swordsman is the real archetype of wuxiapian – so much so that Chang filmed the sequel Return of the One-Armed Swordsman in 1969 and a remake, The New One-Armed Swordsman in 1971.
It is an archetype for its themes (the pupil who avenges his master, the lone hero dedicated to sacrifice), for its macho ideology and the level of violence. Wang Yu, a former swimming champion, plays Fang, an orphan brought up in the cult of sifu Qi; he is derided by his co-pupils, in particular by Qi’s daughter, for his humble background. It is Qi’s daughter who mutilates him in a duel, “the first explicit example of a symbolic castration in Chang’s films” (Stephen Teo). One-armed and fighting with a broken sword, Fang manages to defeat his master’s enemy who uses a tricked sword.
“I am aware of interpretation of the sword as a phallic symbol”, said Chang Cheh on being interviewed by Stanley Kwan in the documentary “Yang ± Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema (1996), “but to me a sword is just a sword”. Chang, in the film, has an interest for emotional conflicts as well as for the spirit of chivalry which is threatened by the fatal intrusion of women. Actually, the figure of the evil female character is balanced by another girl who helps Fang, openly showing a pacifist spirit and a critical attitude towards the code of honour. Any love story is banned.
Chang declared that it was not by chance he felt near to the thoughts of Gu Long, the most influential Taiwanese writer of wuxia novels in the Sixties who advocated the return of Confucian teachings. The One-Armed Swordsman is also a lesson in film direction. Having learned from the Japanese cinema of the Sixties, Chang invented a new style; action is really concrete – and necessarily crude. The editing does, however, disassemble it (in the duel sequences each shot lasts on average just one second: a tour de force challenging the prodigies now achieved with Avid) both by lengthening and shortening the action. Realism and constructivism together create a vision of unequalled richness. This is one of the alternatives offered by the Hong Kong cinema alongside King Hu’s. It all started here.
Thanks to Far East Film Festival