Director: Wang Yu
Starring: Wang Yu, Tien Yen, Tang Hsin, Lung Fei
Jimmy Wang Yu was Hong Kong's biggest action star prior to Bruce Lee. Though not actually a martial artist himself (he was a champion swimmer and overall athlete), he made for a compelling screen hero who starred in (and sometimes directed) a series of astonishingly mounted action epics that really pushed the envelope of human endurance. Film after film featured scenes of mass slaughter that few were able to match.
Then Bruce came along and showed audiences what actual martial arts looked like on screen and almost overnight, Jimmy became somewhat obsolete. Though he kept making movies well into the mid seventies, his glory days (at least at the box office) were well behind him.
"The One Armed Boxer" made in 1971 (the same year as Lee's first film "The Big Boss") was something of an all out, kitchen sink attempt. It was a combination of two previous Wang Yu films, 1967s "The One Armed Swordsman" (the first Hong Kong film to feature a nihilistic antihero) and 1970s "The Chinese Boxer" (considered the first film to use unarmed combat). In it, Wang Yu portrays the top student in a "good" martial arts school who's in your face attitude causes him to butt heads with a "bad" school that deals in drug trafficing and other unsavory antics. The bad school marches into the good school, looking for redemption against Wang's character and is thoroughly trounced. Then, the film gets... weird...
Normally in these school vs school epics it is the bad school that is superior, causing the main hero to develop a special technique to defeat the baddies. Not so here. Now it is the villainous school that must come up with something. That something is the decision to hire a gang of mercenaries. This utterly bizarre group includes a fanged Japanese karate master (the leader, looking something like a giant vampire bat) Muay Thai boxers, an Indian Yogi who walks on his hands (circling his opponent at great speed), and Tibetan Lamas who "inflate" due to great control over their "chi". This group completely massacres the good school. Only Wang Yu survives (after having his right arm cleanly chopped off by the fanged karate master). Escaping, he meets a kindly old master who teaches him the nearly invincible one armed technique ("We will need to kill all the nerves in your arm. Should even one survive, it won't work"). Then, it's revenge time.
I've seen literally thousands of Hong Kong movies, but I don't think I've ever seen a wilder or more amped up flick than this one. It is not only arguably Wang Yu's masterpiece, but one of the most purely insane action movies ever made. It can be enjoyed both as a straightforward basher and as an unintentionally (?) hilarious farce. It is 90 minutes of crazed, energized action that ultimately made me feel like I got my head caught in a pinball game.
In 1975, Wang Yu lensed a sequel, the more well known "Master of the Flying Guillotine". Though that film may have featured even wilder concepts and characters, overall it can't quite match the sheer adrenaline level of the original.
**** / ****