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One-Armed Boxer [Special Edition]
Written by, directed by and starring the late, great Jimmy Wang Yu, 1972's One-Armed Boxer (also known as The Chinese Professionals) tells the story of Yu Tian Long (played, of course, by Wang). He's the best of the best to come from the Zhengde Martial Arts school, led by Han Tui (Chi Ma), and is, for all intents and purposes, a man of honor. The members of The Hook Gang, however, are anything but. More of an international criminal gang made up of members skilled in different fighting styles then an actual martial arts school, they control a lot of the vice that runs through town. When Yu Tian Long gets into a squabble with Ma Tian Bao (Chun Lei) , a Hook Gang member, the bad guys don't just target Yu Tian Long but his school as well.
As the rivalry between Yu Tian Long's school and The Hook Gang intensifies, Yu Tian Long's school are challenged and each time handily defeat their opponents. This doesn't sit well with The Hook Gang's leader, Shao LaoLaoliu (Yeh Tien), who isn't at all happy with their performance. When Ma Tian Bao blames Yu Tian Long for all of this and claims that he insulted Shao LaoLaoliu's martial arts prowess, he confronts Han Tui and demands that his number one student meet him face to face. This leads to Han Tui beating Shao LaoLaoliu in a fight, further angering the leader of The Hook Gang.
To get his revenge, Shao LaoLaoliu calls in a gang of heavyweights: a karate master named Natino Taro (Fei Lung), a Korean Tae kwon do master named Kim Jim Yong (Mao Shan), a yogi named Mura Singh (Chun Lin Pan), and a trio of Thai boxers (Blackie Ko, Ping Su and Yi-Kuei Chang) to take down Han Tui and his students. One thing leads to another and Yu Tian Long winds up squaring off against named Natino Taro only to have his arm karate-chopped off of his body! With most of his school dead and/or defeated, Yu Tian Long is taken care of by beautiful Xiao Lu (Hsin Tang) and her father, after which he trains himself in the art of one-armed boxer and prepares to avenge his school and set things right once and for all.
Yeah, sure, this movie may not be the most original martial arts story ever told as far as its basic plot is concerned, but Wang Yu does a nice job of working in a whole bunch of different fighting styles and weapons techniques to give the movie enough originality to help separate it from the scores of other kung fu movies that were being pumped out in the seventies. A few years later, Wang Yu would take this to even further extremes and make a sequel to this film with Master Of The Flying Guillotine, upping the insanity quotient in a big way and providing the world with one of the most outlandishly entertaining fight films ever made. This earlier effort doesn't go that far over the top, but it still provides virtually non-stop action throughout, the first bout taking place in a tea house no less than a few minutes after the movie begins.
As far as the cast goes, Wang Yu is, not surprisingly, the main draw here. By this point in his career he was a box office draw, his mix of fighting skills, charisma and gritty determination making him the right choice to play a role like this (which he obviously wrote for himself). He handles the material well, bringing the right amount of believability to the more dramatic moments and plenty of fantastic moves to the fight scenes, especially those that take place later in the film once he loses his arm. The rest of the cast are pretty fun, with Fei Lung making for an excellent villain and all of the supporting players who make up the different members of The Hook Gang bringing their own unique style to their respective scenes.
Wang Yu paces the movie quite well. It moves very quickly and really only offers up minimal drama and romance, enough to keep the film's admittedly simple plot from getting lost in all of the fisticuffs that serves as the movie's main draw. Throw in a great soundtrack (that includes some rather familiar sounding tracks here and there!), good cinematography and overall solid production values and One-Armed Boxed remains a kung fu classic for good reason.
Arrow Video brings One-Armed Boxer to Region A Blu-ray framed in 2.35.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition with the feature taking up 30.3GBS of space on a 50GB disc. Taken from a 2k scan of ‘original elements' conducted by Fortune Star and nicely restored, this transfer is pretty solid. Detail is quite strong and there's good depth and texture. Aside from some minor crush in a few of the darker, indoor sequence things shape up quite nicely. Colors look great and skin tones appear lifelike and natural throughout. There aren't any obvious issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement problems.
24-bit DTS-HD Mono options are provided in both the both the original Mandarin and dubbed English options with English subtitles provided for both tracks. The default Mandarin track plays best, despite some noticeable sibilance present throughout, it suits the film more and it sounds quite clean with no audible issues. The English track is fun in the goofy sort of way that dubbed tracks tend to be for older Shaw Brothers movies.
Extras start off with a brand new audio commentary by Frank Djeng from the NY Asian Film Festival. He goes over how this wound up being made by Golden Harvest, the film's release history, the unusual opening that sets the stage for what's to come, details on staging the opening tea house fight, Wang Yu's directing style and what he took away from his experience with Shaw Brothers, plenty of background information on Wang Yu and the other key cast and crew members, how the action in the film is pretty much non-stop but the fluidity of the plot remains solid throughout, the montage of Wang Yu's character being healed after losing his arm, thoughts on the different characters that populate the movie, the depiction of the Japanese characters in the movie and why this is the case, and lots more.
Also on the disc is a forty-one minute Career Retrospective Interview With Wang Yu that was conducted in Nantes in 2001 and which comes courtesy of the Frédéric Ambroisine Video Archive. Wang Yu speaks in English about his background in swimming and water polo, moving to Hong Kong from Shanghai in the sixties, getting his start in the acting business in a 1964 film called Tiger Boy which bumped him to leading man status, his training and education, the importance of One-Armed Swordsman to his career and what it was like playing the different one-armed characters that he played in a few different films, getting along with some of his co-stars over the years such as Cheng Pei Pei, working with Chang Cheh, his contract with Shaw Studios, his thoughts on the differences between Japanese and Chinese swordplay films, making films outside the Shaw Studios system and some of the legal issues that caused leaing him to work in Taiwan, getting into directing with films like Beach Of The War Gods, getting into real life fights a lot during his younger years, the truth about his friendship with a young Jackie Chan, having to keep things fresh and exciting for the audience and plenty more.
Finishing things up are alternate English credits, a still gallery, a Hong Kong Trailer, a US TV spot, a US radio spot and a Wang Yu Trailer Reel (which includes trailers for One-Armed Swordsman, Golden Swallow, Return Of The One-Armed Swordsman, The Chinese Boxer, Zatoichi Meets The One-Armed Swordsman, Wang Yu King Of Boxing, The Screaming Tiger, The Man From Hong Kong, Blood Of The Dragon, Master Of The Flying Guillotine and Point The Finger Of Death).
Additionally, the first pressing will include a color insert booklet that contains an essay on the film by David West titled Jimmy Wang Yu And The Birth Of The Kung Fu Movie, a second essay titled A Farewell To Arms by Simon Abrams as well as cast and crew credits and credits for the Blu-ray release itself.
One-Armed Boxer is a blast, a fast-paced and seriously entertaining fight film that sees Wang Yu at the peak of his powers surrounded by a great cast. Arrow's Blu-ray release offers a really nice presentation and a strong selection of extra features that do a great job of the history of the film and the man that made it. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.