Dubei dao / The One-Armed Swordsman

Dubei dao / The One-Armed Swordsman (1967)

Not shown: Fang Gang trying to tie his shoelaces

Director: Chang Cheh
Writers: Ni Kuang, Chang Cheh
Date: 1967

Genre: Wuxia
Description: A one armed swordsman, trying to forget your past life, repaying kindness, an evil plot, saving one’s master and brothers, doing the right thing, giving up kung fu

Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu, Chiao Chiao, Pan Yin Tze, Tang Ti, Tien Feng, Yang Chih-Ching

Crew of note: Tang Chia and Lau Kar Leung acted as action directors

Runtime: 112 mins.
Color: Color

As a child, Fang Gang witnesses his father, a servant at this famous martial arts school, save Master Qi from the Long-Armed Devil. Upon his death, Master Qi takes Fang Gang as one of his students to repay the father for his sacrifice. More than a decade later, Fang Gang becomes on of the school’s best students, but is looked down upon by the others because of his background. They ostracize him, and eventually force him to leave the school. An accident causes Fang Gang to lose an arm, and he decides to give up martial arts until…

A great wuxia movie that deserves its reputation, but what really sets it apart is a plot that goes much deeper than your average revenge or honor plot. There’s actual character development (gasp!), and Wang Yu shows that he can actually act, despite the fact his face really stays the same shape no matter what he does. Fang Gang actually has some depth to him, and his armlessness, his past, and his future all present difficulties that he faces with much reflection, and not just with testosterone. His motives are explained, and we are enlightened about the character’s feelings, and his true wishes. Some might be screaming “cut to the action already!!” during these more timid scenes, but they truly make the film more enjoyable because of the sympathy one feels for our reluctant hero.

Though there are now many “one last job” movies, this could have been one of the first (this is just a guess), and perhaps the most real in terms of plot development. Again, Chang Cheh shows that with enough thought, these types of movies can have some depth. They won’t change your life forever, but at least your brain gets some exercise, not just your fist. Doing fist pumps of awesomeness. The only thing really lacking is music, which was a great addition in the beginning but suddenly disappears (or at least fades away) halfway into the film.

Fang Gang is the quintessential anti-hero. He has given up martial arts and has found something else that he loves more than kung fu. However, circumstances force him to act against his wishes, and throughout the movie it is impossible to forget the conflict that boils inside him. Thus there is a greater build up of tension and greater satisfaction in denouement. And he kicks ass.

This isn’t one of the most magical or technically brilliant wuxia you’ll ever see, but what truly sets it apart is the unique hero that is Fang Gang. Yes, there’ll be tons of blood. Yes, things will get severed. And yes, swords and other weapons will be swinging wildly. But at the same time, you will care about our reluctant hero, and sympathize with his every difficult decision. Enjoy the action, but pay attention to the story.

things to take note of
The amount of drama time Fang Gang gets
The arm
The number of people that die
and the action of course

best moment
Fang Gang becomes the one armed swordsman

why you should watch this
Lots of action and… death (which is a good thing I guess)
There’s a lot more characterization than most swordplay movies
Chang Cheh + Lau Kar Leung + Jimmy Wang Yu. Duh.

rating: 8.1

Plot: B+
Cast: B
Cinematography: B
Music: C
Entertainment: B+

similar movies, maybe:
The other two One-Armed Swordsman movies
Other Chang Cheh films, maybe The Brave Archer
Swordsman by King Hu / Tsui Hark / others