New One-Armed Swordsman Review
|Return of the One-Armed Swordsman|
|New One-Armed Swordsman|
When main star Jimmy Wang Yu left Shaw Bros for greener pastures, Chang Cheh decided to re-imagine the One Armed Swordsman franchise with his two new favourite leads: David Chiang and Ti Lung. Dubbed “The Deadly Duo” this young talented partnership (with Chang’s direction) was the biggest box office draw at the time and The New One Armed Swordsman further cemented this status.
David Chiang stars as Lei Li, a skilful but naïve young man making waves in the Swordplay world, easily crushing his opponents with his Twin Swords fighting technique. News of the talented young swordsman spreads, and when Hero Lung (Ku Feng) learns of Lei Li, he decides to get rid of his competition by framing Lei for a crime he didn’t commit. Hero Lung is an evil manipulator, a fraudster who has garnered a chivalrous reputation by thwarting, then banishing innocent swordsmen. As strong as Lei is, he’s no match for Lung’s deadly three-section staff technique, specially styled to counter Lei’s Twin Swords. He is quickly defeated. Tricked into repenting for these fake crimes by his sneaky opponent, Lei swears an oath to never practice Kung Fu again and in a suitably excessive gesture, cuts off his right arm. Lei then spends the next year moping around and waiting tables at a rundown inn, but things start to look up for him when dashing fellow Twin Swordsman, Fung (Ti Lung) arrives in town. A deep friendship is forged between the two men but proceedings take a tragic turn when Hero Lung turns his attentions onto Fung.
Re-imagining such a well established franchise isn’t easy, but Chang managed to pull it off with aplomb by combining the best features of the previous films: the deep characterisation and themes of the original and thrilling excessive action and bloodletting of the sequel. Adding to all this is another major theme that defined much of Chang’s work: chivalry and the deep bond of friendship it forms. Although Lei has a beautiful woman fawning over him, he isn’t stirred out of his lethargy until he meets the dashing swordsman Fung. There’s an obvious attraction between them, with Fung being drawn to Lei’s self-discipline and righteousness while Lei recognises his former consummate self in Fung. However, both men are constantly touching and embracing each other and looking longingly into each other’s eyes, lending a somewhat homoerotic undercurrent to proceedings. Looking at their relationship some ironic parallels can be drawn to the original One Armed Swordsman: In the first film our hero promises to settle down as a farmer with his sweetheart, but breaks that promise to fulfil his filial duty to his former master. In this film it is Fung that our hero promises to settle down with as a farmer and he breaks his pledge never to fight again to avenge his beloved friend.
Chang has replaced the first film's theme of filial duty with chivalry, but the representation of this new theme lends itself to some homoerotic subtext. Both the principal protagonists are conveyed as chivalrous and talented heroes with fanciful individual horseback introductions, shot from below making them look tall and majestic. They fearlessly ride into battle and devastate their opponents with swift swordsmanship. Consequently, while their chivalrous nature draws them together it’s their individual reputations as men of valour that grabs the attention of the antagonist, the smarmy false hero Lung. A man famous for being just and decent, but it’s a reputation he’s built by persecuting chivalrous men. Could Chang and writer Ni Kuang have been using chivalry as a metaphor for homosexuality? It's certainly an interesting thought, especially given the homophobic climate of the time, but alas Chang’s films were always so baroque that the homoeroticism is probably just a quirk of his stylistic approach rather than an attempt to subvert mainstream sensibilities. But there’s no denying that of all the films in the trilogy, the New One-Armed Swordsman has the best mix of action and substance.
Not everything is improved over the original though; the principal character of Lei Li isn’t quite as engaging as the original one-armed swordsman. Some fans blame new lead David Chiang but I think this is a little unfair. While he does have an elfin appearance that may seem a little weedy compared to Jimmy Wang Yu’s gruff manner he was a very expressive performer that could do brooding self-pity as well as anyone and he puts in a fine performance with very little dialogue to work with in the mid-section of the film. The character is more a victim of some lacklustre plotting. Unlike in the original One Armed Swordsman this hero already has the requisite fighting skills to thwart his opponents, but he is holding back his abilities because of the pledge never to practice Kung Fu again. It’s good to have a honourable hero but frustrating for the audience, who are aware that this pledge was made on false pretences and have to wait patiently for Lei to snap into awareness and start kicking ass. But alas this isn’t realised until the closing act, which means for most of the film the primary physical protagonist is Fung. On the plus side Ti Lung was probably the most effective screen fighter of the two, so the quality of the action remains high and his acting wasn’t too shabby either, lending a boyish enthusiasm to the part of Fung that contrasts perfectly with the melancholic Lei. Ku Feng also puts in a delightfully wry performance as the predatory villain, Lung.
Once again the fight scenes are choreographed by the great partnership of Lau Kar-leung and Tang Chia. This time round the action is much more grounded with just subtle use of wires, probably because the principal actors in this film were more talented physically than in any of the previous films and Davd Chiang in particular had more acrobatic ability, which meant more intricate flips and spins could be incorporated into the action. Likewise the actual weapon movements are more complex with the principal villain using a three-sectioned staff, a complicated weapon to use, but one that looks awesome on film. The fight locations are also suitably epic, with a finale set on a massive wooden moat bridge as the hero reigns bloody vengeance upon evil Lung’s army that is truly astounding. It’s a fitting end to one of the most exciting and groundbreaking action trilogies in HK film history.
PresentationReleased as part of the One-Armed Trilogy Boxset by IVL/Celestial this title is currently unavailable on individual DVD release. To view reviews for the other titles in the boxset, please use the navigational banner at the top or the drop-down menu at the bottom of this review.
Presented anamorphically at about 2.32:1 we have another excellent transfer, although maybe not quite as good as that for the 2nd film. Colours, contrast and brightness levels are excellent. There are almost no film artefacts aside from the occasional fleck and digital noise is also minor. Detail levels are high, but the image is a little less sharp than the transfer for Return of the One-Armed Swordsman. As with the previous discs in this set, the transfer is interlaced.
the single audio track is a Mandarin DD5.1 remix with the left, right and rear channels being used for environmental sounds only and everything else constrained to the center channel. Having never heard the film in its original Monaural I can’t comment on whether the environmental effects have been newly created for this DVD. I can comment on the quality of the dialogue and music and it’s pretty good, with only minimal sound break up when the action (or score) kicks in. The bass seems a little fuller compared to the other films in the set, giving the score a little more oomph.
Traditional Chinese & English subtitle tracks are present and as with the other films I cannot recall any spelling or grammatical errors.
ExtrasOnce more there are minimal extras. First up are 2.35:1 anamorphic trailers for the main feature and The One Armed Swordsman, The Return of the One Armed Swordsman, Golden Swallow and The Singing Thief (as usual there are no original theatrical trailers on this disc, just the ones specially created by Celestial). Moving on we have: Cast & Crew Bio/Filmographies, Production Notes, the Theatrical Poster, a Movie Stills gallery and a Behind the Scenes gallery. It’s a shame that IVL didn’t include a documentary or even a written article on the legacy of the trilogy.
OverallPerhaps the most accomplished film of the Trilogy, the New One Armed Swordsman incorporates all the main themes and explosive action that made Chang Cheh one of the most important HK directors of the 60s/70s and it remains an enduring favourite among genre fans. As with the previous titles in the set the IVL/Celestial have done a great job with the DVD.
As a whole the quality of the film presentations across the boxset have been very high, making it an easy recommendation to any fan of the genre. Non-fans may also want to check it out as an excellent introduction to a great director’s work.
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Last updated: 24/06/2018 09:45:31