One Armed Boxer
directed by Jimmy Wang Yu
starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Yeh Tien, Hsin Tang, Jen-Ping Su
After a slew of great Shaw Brothers releases, Arrow jumps over to their main rival: Golden Harvest Films, best known for launching Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan into worldwide superstardom. Shaw Brothers is largely considered to be one of the finest studios for martial arts, but Golden Harvest films are usually grittier affairs, both in their visual and fighting styles. After Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, the most famous Golden Harvest star was Jimmy Wang Yu, who is best known for a string of films as the character “one-armed swordsman.” Yu changes things up by directing and starring in One Armed Boxer.
After being twice bested by the honorable Ching Te school, the evil Hook Gang hires an international group of mercenary fighters to take revenge. Fighters from Japan (karate and judo), Korea (tae kwon do), Thailand (Muay Thai), and India (yoga) and a pair of mystical Tibetan lamas all take care of business by killing the master and students of the Ching Te school with only Tien Lung (Jimmy Wang Yu) surviving, but at the cost of his right arm. Tien Lung is aided by a woman named Jade and her father, who helps train Lung and gives him a secret elixir to strengthen his left arm to enable him to return and take revenge on the mercenaries of the Hook Gang.
Whereas Shaw films are mostly set-and-studio bound, Golden Harvest makes good use of location shooting mixed with high-quality sets, and the worlds they create feel more lived in with less theatrical artifice. The film also adds some funk to the film by liberally dropping Isaac Hayes’ signature “Theme from Shaft” (minus the vocals) on the soundtrack. Wang Yu utilizes under-cranking and slow motion to great effect to keep the fights visually interesting, and the variety of martial arts styles really adds flair and menace to the proceedings. The film establishes early that the Ching Te kung fu is quite good, but styles make fights, and the sheer variety of fighters is overwhelming for the school’s students.
As much as I love the Shaws and the recent slate of Blu-ray releases, getting some Golden Harvest into the mix brings me nothing but joy. Arrow has released a gorgeous disc full of great picture and sound and a few extras, including the cracking audio commentary from Frank Djeng, former marketing manager at Tai Seng Entertainment, which was the main pipeline of Hong Kong films to the West throughout the ’90s and into the 2000s. To say the guy knows his stuff is an understatement, and his commentary is wonderfully entertaining and insightful.
Arrow Video’s recent run of must-buy kung fu releases continues with One Armed Boxer. Considering the prodigious output of studio and independent releases from Hong Kong and Taiwan throughout the ’70s and into the mid-1980s, there is a seemingly endless lineup of films, from old favorites to new discoveries, to be unleashed on the West once again.