When members of the notorious Hook Gang hassle a humble bird seller, heroic Yu Tien-Lung (Jimmy Wang Yu) and his slap-happy pals intervene, bashing bad guys to a bloody pulp. One survivor demands a rematch at the nearby valley. “I’ll be waiting”, snarls Tien-Lung, then delivers a flying jump-kick to his face. Cue freeze frame and famed studio Golden Harvest’s flashy animated credits. You are watching Jimmy Wang Yu’s lone-limbed kung fu classic: One-Armed Boxer.
After becoming the first actor to break his contract with Shaw Brothers, Jimmy Wang Yu was briefly blacklisted within the Hong Kong film industry. This proved little hindrance to the superstar who promptly signed with rival studio Golden Harvest and started making movies in Taiwan where he enjoyed greater creative control as writer and director. Jimmy’s first directorial effort, The Chinese Boxer (1969), pioneered the modern kung fu film long before Bruce Lee arrived on the scene. His second, One-Armed Boxer, was an even bigger smash despite essentially recycling his Shaw Brothers’ breakthrough: One-Armed Swordsman (1967).
With his thugs thrashed, the humiliated Hook Gang chief, Master Chao (Tin Yau), whose hobbies include opium peddling, prostitution, and racketeering, challenges the good guys led by Master Han Tui (Ma Kei), which precipitates an epic punch-up he promptly loses. Not one to quit, Master Chao hires a gang of grubby mercenaries that include a tae kwon do expert (Shan Mao) who eats glass bottles, an Indian yoga master (played by Chinese actor Pan Chun-Lin, in blackface!) who hops on his hands, a Tibetan Lama (Su Chen-Ping) able to inflate himself like a balloon (?!), assorted judo experts and Thai kick-boxers, and a snarling Okinawa karate champ (Lung Fei) who sports a pair of fangs. What is he, a vampire? This joker chops Jimmy’s left arm off with his bare hands, while his colleagues slaughter every good guy around.
Jimmy flees the scene (naturally, he doesn’t bleed. Cos he’s just that tough, y’all!) before being rescued by a wise, old herbalist and his daughter (Cindy Tang Hsin). With obvious impatience, Jimmy the director races through the usual peasant girl-revives-then-falls for-injured warrior scenes by reducing them to a montage of still frames! The herbalist gives Jimmy a dose of his “special medicine” that renders his remaining right arm strong as steel, able to kill a man with a single blow. Whereupon he finally faces all his outlandish opponents, where else but in a rock quarry (groan) near an active volcano (that’s better).
In terms of theme, One-Armed Boxer anticipates Golden Harvest’s future smash hit: Fist of Fury (1972). It’s manly stuff: pride, honour, standing up for what is right. All values Jimmy evidently took to heart, both onscreen and off where he would often cite this age-old credo to justify all sorts of cantankerous bad boy behaviour. Story-wise it is one-dimensional compared to the impassioned likes of Fist of Fury or indeed One-Armed Swordsman. The plot runs secondary to showcasing as many varied martial arts styles as possible. Hence the lengthy midsection where heroic and villainous combatants face off, one by one. Frankly, for all the martial arts grandstanding this sequence is a bit of a drag. Nevertheless, choreographer Chen Shih Weh brings a gritty edge to the action (e.g. the fight at the timber mill where victims are flung into vats of boiling oil) and the camerawork is impressively fluid with inventive angles and editing. Unlike Bruce, Jimmy takes one heck of a battering before he comes up trumps, but is not above indulging the occasional outlandish flourish. Notably the moment he one-ups the astounded Indian yoga master by hopping on one-finger or repeatedly springs up like a jack-in-the-box whenever he’s knocked over. This being a Golden Harvest film, production values are a lot slicker than in some of Jimmy’s later rough-and-ready efforts. Much adored by fans of old school kung fu, the film was nevertheless eclipsed by its amazing sequel: Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976).
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.