There's a funeral procession making its way through town, and when the coffin reaches the graveyard, there's a decidedly un-funeral like development: the coffin is opened to reveal it is full of stolen jewels and valuables. Suddenly, the pallbearers, actually lowly thieves, are attacked by the mourners, actually martial artists, and slain. Then, from the open grave, a masked figure rises up and makes fast work of killing the mourners with his sword. This is all witnessed by local lawman Chin (Chang Yi) and he confronts who he now realises is notorious but anonymous criminal Brother Dragon, resulting in Brother Dragon having his arm cut off but escaping nevertheless. And this isn't the last Chin will hear of this enemy, as they are about to have another encounter...
In this film, one armed men are like buses. You've waited ages for one to show up, then three come along all at once - more than three in fact, there's loads of actors hiding their arms behind their backs here. I suppose it makes a kind of sense, after all there are plenty of injuries to be endured in martial arts films, so why shouldn't there be a high quotient of characters who have lost limbs in combat? And if they all seem to be hanging around the same town, then why not? It's not as if this film, One Armed Swordsmen, aka Du Bi Shuang Xiong, is aiming for gritty realism.
Jimmy Wang Yu, the original One Armed Swordsman from the sixties, here teams up both on and off screen with The New One Armed Swordsman, David Chiang, as they both direct here, presumably knowing more than anyone how to approach such material. However they don't get along with each other straight away in this story, as after Chin is murdered by Brother Dragon, an act only witnessed by his young pupil, everyone is on the lookout for one armed men who may be the villain. Of course, the fact that anywhere else in the world the relevant one armed man would be easy to spot is complicated here.
We first meet Jimmy (as I'll over-familiarly call him) in the one armed person of Fong who walks into a restaurant and demands a mountain of food and many bottles of wine. Instantly he raises suspicion, then is surrounded by extras convinced he is the bad guy, and he indulges in a bit of acrobatics to fend them off and carry on with his meal. It would appear that having one arm is not a disability at all, and actually means you are a much better fighter than someone with the regulation number of arms.
Another martial arts legend, Lo Lieh, also turns up as the man hot on the trail of Brother Dragon, and quickly this film develops into a murder mystery that Columbo himself would have trouble working out. Just to complicate matters, Chiang plays Li Hao, who is a, yeah, one armed swordsman and also becomes a suspect. He gets into an argument with Fong and they make plans to meet the next day to sort out their differences and find out who is the best of the one armed swordsmen, but is someone behind this, pulling the strings? The fighting isn't the very best on show, but isn't bad, fills the needs of the plot and is varied enough to be welcome. Add that to an increasingly ridiculous plotline (were there really rubber masks like that in the China of that era?) and you have solid, if daft, entertainment.
Chinese actor/director born Yu Wang, who has worked almost entirely in the martial arts genre. A former swimming champion, Yu became one of the biggest stars of 70s kung fu for his work in films such as the The Magnificent Trio, One Armed Swordsmen and Dragon Squad. Often directed himself in his films and produced the Jackie Chan-starrer Island on Fire.