Jimmy Wang Yu Slays
Arrow Heads — UK-based Arrow Films has quickly become one of the most exciting and dependable names in home video curation and distribution, creating gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging, and bursting with supplemental content, often of their own creation. From cult and genre fare to artful cinema, this column is devoted to their weird and wonderful output.
My man Jimmy Wang Yu (may he rest in peace), had no qualms about embracing the weird.
My understanding is that Wang Yu wasn’t a lifelong and highly trained martial artist in the way so many of his Shaw Brothers co-stars were (though, to be clear this film in question today is a Golden Harvest production), or other breakout stars like Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. His approach to countering that seems to have been a mixture of charisma, hubris, and straight up weirdness.
Here with One Armed Boxer, Wang Yu stars, writes, and directs the film that birthed one of the most defining characters of his career: the titular Yu Tian Long. Long begins as almost a bit player in his own movie; just a student at a martial arts school that is being plagued by attacks from a rival school that he himself had some role in stoking. So in various escalating conflicts, Tien Long finds himself recovering and out of the fight during one skirmish, and then in a fateful encounter, a rival warrior with straight up fangs for teeth just casually chops of one of Tien Long’s arms with his bare hands. Mind you, the rival gang is known as the “hook gang”, so a much easier way to lop off an arm was present and available.
Eventually Long will undergo an excruciating process of severing the nerves in his remaining hand to level up, Darkman-style, to a new kind of master who can wield his remaining fist with impunity. Like many big screen heroes with physical differences, Long becomes a bit of a superhero, with the ability to rise from the ground Count Dracula-style, and even hop around on a single finger. Like I said… Wang Yu is out to entertain you, and has no fear going to weird places to do so.
It does take quite a while to get to this point, however. You’d be shocked how much of the runtime of One Armed Boxer features a definitively Two Armed Boxer. And Long’s upgrade to super powered master takes place in a highly truncated training montage that is nowhere near as satisfying or earned as those you might see in something like 36th Chamber of Shaolin, in which the training montage is the movie. Compensating for some of these rhythmic irregularities are dozens and dozens of martial arts battles featuring a colorful (and culturally insensitive) host of villainous masters from other martial arts styles and regions of the world. Wang Yu would later rely heavily on this same kind of trope in this film’s sequel, Master Of The Flying Guillotine, to a similarly entertaining result. There’s the aforementioned fanged villain, One Armed Boxer’s “big bad”. But you’ve also got wicked shaolin monks who can blow themselves up into hilarious blimp-like people, a yoga master with a bizarre secret move achieved by old school in-camera tomfoolery, Thai boxers for whom music appears out of nowhere every time they arrive on screen (the music appears to be diegetic as they are always dancing to it), and more. Wang Yu will stop at nothing, including theft, to entertain you. (Isaac Hayes’ Oscar winning theme to Shaft is used frequently and without credit).
In terms of getting what you paid for, One Armed Boxer delivers in spades. Huge swaths of the runtime here are non-stop martial arts battles featuring a host of different styles and secret powers and general weirdness to keep you hooked. There’s not a whole lot of meaningful character development or characters acting like the walking and talking human beings most of us would recognize. But this era of kung fu movies, and Wang Yu’s particular version of them, live on today for a reason. The weirdness is glorious. The swings taken result in some home runs. Jimmy Wang Yu would lose an arm if it meant it would entertain you.
(Photos my own, Product Features pulled from Arrow Video’s product listing)
- 2K restoration from the original elements by Fortune Star
- High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
- Original lossless Mandarin mono audio, alternate Mandarin soundtrack and original English dubbed audio
- Optional English subtitles, plus hard-of-hearing subtitles for the English dub
- Commentary by Frank Djeng from the NY Asian Film Festival
- Career retrospective interview with Wang Yu, filmed in Nantes in 2001 and never released before, courtesy of the Frédéric Ambroisine Video Archive
- Trailer gallery, featuring the original Hong Kong theatrical trailer, a US TV spot (as The Chinese Professionals) and over half an hour of trailers for other Wang Yu classics including One-Armed Swordsman and Master of the Flying Guillotine
- Image gallery
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ilan Sheady
And I’m Out.
One Armed Boxer is now available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.