One-Armed Swordsman

dir. Chang Cheh

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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Top Shaw Brothers director Chang Cheh had his first big hit with this brutal and bloody martial-arts epic about a mutilated fighter who teaches himself a deadly new form of single-armed swordplay.


One of Shaw Brothers' top directors in the sixties and seventies, Chang Cheh achieved great success with a series of brutal and intensely self-serious martial-arts epics heavy on bodily mutilation and homoerotic male bonding — an aesthetic he passed on to his one-time assistant director John Woo, who would transpose the Chang style to the modern era with A Better Tomorrow, The Killer and Hard Boiled. While it would be difficult to single out any one "greatest" film from Chang's impressive oeuvre — which includes such classics as Golden Swallow, Five Deadly Venoms, and the fabulous Crippled Avengers — it's hard to top Chang's first big hit One-Armed Swordsman. The erratic but enormously talented Jimmy Wang Yu — who yearned for but never achieved the international success of his rival Bruce Lee — became a star as an orphaned martial-arts prodigy whose career is cut short when he loses his right arm in a street battle. After teaching himself a new one-armed style of swordplay from a half-burnt training manual, he returns to the martial-arts world to defend his school and master from the vicious gang that killed his father. Remade by Tsui Hark in 1995 as The Blade, One-Armed Swordsman is an unquestioned high point in the careers of its director, star and studio.

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