The One-Armed Swordsman (Chang Cheh / Hong Kong, 1967):
(Dubei Dao)

Chang Chehís ornate Freudian joke -- the de-feminization of martial-arts spectacle streamlined into the showdown between noble broken sword and nefarious vaginal clamp. The hero is an orphaned brooder (Wang Yu) trained by his adopted guardian, a master warrior (Tien Feng) with a petulant beauty for a daughter (Pan Ying Tze). The amputation is staged under a gentle mock-snowfall, as part of the spurned maidenís tantrum; Wang staggers through the studio-bound snow and tumbles off a bridge onto a peasant girlís lap (Chiao Chiao). The fighterís recuperation (The Far Country, Yojimbo, One-Eyed Jacks) is duly sketched, he gives farming a try but itís no go, a manual on left-handed demolition restores his strength. Meanwhile, a rival clan uses a treacherous new technique to slay Tienís disciples; the villains have names like Smiling Tiger and Long-Armed Devil and scheme a gory takeover, the maimed warrior slashes to the rescue. "Look at what the martial-arts have gotten you so far," the virtuous heroine cries, but let King Hu ponder the spiritual dimensions of the arena -- sensible nesting canít hold a candle to violating macho flesh in Changís world, particularly when said flesh is always buffed, stripped to the waist, and lacerated as decorously as St. Sebastianís. Wang extends his symbolic castration to a couple of thugs ready to ravish the kidnapped Pan, though his one-armed sword style isnít fully inaugurated until later at a roadside tavern, quelling a roomful of opponents as a chest-level camera seesaws through the melee. The masterís axiom ("Death before dishonor") is maintained up to the final duel, yet it's a different adage ("It's not the size that counts...") that ultimately wins the day. Triumphant, the hero embarks on the road to pacificism, which leads to Return of the One-Armed Swordsman, The New One-Armed Swordsman... With Wuang Chung-Hsin, Chang Pei-Shan, Tang Ti, Feng Ku, and Yang Chih-Ching.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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