|Flying Squirrel Boxing Productions|
|The KO Picture Show|
|Presents. . .|
|One-Armed Boxer (1971)|
|"My Wife: 'Everyone on the cover has two arms. Who's the One-Armed Boxer?' "
"Me: (after a long pause)'... it's complicated...' "
|As soon as I popped One-Armed Boxer in the DVD player, I was faced with a predicament. I had to decide what level I was going to enjoy this particular version of Asian cinema on. Back in my single digit years, I had no choice. The only films from the Far East that were available to me were Channel 5's "Kung Fu Theater", a Saturday afternoon staple back in the late 70's and early 80's.
And in that incarnation every movie had a plot outline that you could set your watch to; good guys defend their honor against small group of bad guys; bad guys run back to their master or teacher and say they were wronged by the good guys; bad guys and their master (with maybe some assassins in tow) show up and wipe out all but a small group of the good guys (or, in many cases a single student survives); the good guy master should beef it too (otherwise the lone survivor can't yell "YOU KILLED MY TEACHER!" later on); single student goes through insane training ritual to gain super strength, and we finish up with the now nearly indestructible student chopping everyone into coleslaw. As a kid you could depend on wall-to-wall fighting, horrifically bad dubbing, and, as per broadcast standards, a nearly bloodless afternoon of kung fu. And while I can vividly remember sitting and watching these battles (and the subsequent recreations of the battles in the backyard with my brother, complete with vocally produced limb cracks and whooshes), I have no memory of any particular story or even the title's of the movies I might have been recreating.
That has all changed now. Dubbing is nearly verboten, and the kung fu of today is a intricately plotted (and, in some cases, yawn-inducing) affair, with subtitles and all the pomp and circumstance afforded to many other non-Asian, non-kung fu- related foreign films. Whether the fight choreography or the extended dramatic detours are a good thing is open to debate. What I had to decide was whether to enjoy this on the purely visceral level of my youth or the more profound drama-fu of today. And I, of course, chose the former.
Truthfully, how could I not? This film had neither the special effects nor the narrative drive (beyond what I described from my "Black Belt Theater" days above) that today's fu has. Within the first 10 minutes I realized that "dialogue" and "plot" weren't going to be this flick's strong suit, as the dubbed voices and English subtitles rarely matched, sometimes to a startling degree (the difference between "don't be silly" and "don't be an idiot" is something that the translators have not quite grasped yet).
Master Hang Tui is just minding his own business when the merciless opium dealer Chao (who they chose to dub with a Peter Lorre sound-alike) and his Hook Gang start some stuff. Good guys kick their butts, bad guys regroup and then attack with some hired muscle and wipe out everyone but the best student at the school, Tien Lung (Jimmy Wang Yu), whom they leave perpetually left handed.
Of note in this particular offering was the array of villains that show up and kick butt for the bad guys. I've never seen a more snicker-inducing rogues gallery in my entire life. Conveniently they are introduced in the order of least powerful to most powerful, and that, of course, is also the order they eat it in.
Meet the goofiest assassins in all the world:
The Tae-Kwon Do expert, Chin Chi Yung
I call him Bluto-san, due to his unfortunate likeness to the Popeye villain. A bit of a sham as far as assassins go. I mean, yeah, the guy is big and brawny, but all he does as a show of his "powers" is bite a bottle in half and then drink its contents. What's he going to do when the s*** hits the fan? Beer bong these guys to death? Fulfills his duty as a good guy scrub pummeler, but doesn't last long in the face of real danger.
Judo master, Kao Chiao
A bit self-important for the second wimpiest guy in the gang. Kind of bland too. Even his only piece of flair, a facial scar/birthmark, is kind of on the small side. Not so much a battle scar as a shaving nick. He also takes out his fair share of good guy fodder, but he's easily disposed of when someone who actually has a name steps into frame.
Thai kick-boxers, Ni Tsai & Mi Su
For a couple of guys wearing Olivia Newton-John headbands, they also take themselves very seriously. They possess some gnarly looking legs and feet, and since they're kick-boxers, they rarely use their arms. Certainly the most interesting aspect of their style was their pre-fight warm-up, which consisted of about 30 seconds of hopping in place. That's all. Just hopping. No one thinks to start kicking their butts mid-warm-up; they just sit there in awe of their bounciness. (Actual Line: Student: "Teacher! What are they doing?!", Teacher: (with, I detected, just a hint of resignation) "It's a ritual... performed by Thai boxers before they fight." Thanks for the update, Teacher...)
Indian yoga expert, Mura Singn
By far my favorite assassin, just because of his sheer goofiness. This guy is about as Indian as I am. Nothing more than some beefy guy who rubbed soot on his face and put on a turban. It would almost be offensive if it wasn't done SO poorly. At any rate, he possess the non-yoga related powers of regeneration (which he proves by taking out a dagger and comically plunging it into himself and then removing it, none the worse for wear. In fact, his shirt not only doesn't get bloody, it doesn't even rip!) I'd like to see that maneuver worked into a yoga class: "Okay class, breathe... now this next pose is called 'shish-ke-bob'..." He's also good for some poorly edited flips and at one point decides to use the "I'm-balancing-on-one-finger" sneak attack! It really has to be seen to be believed!
These guys know how to make an entrance! During the assassin introductions, they come crashing through the ceiling and immediately go into ass kicking mode. No names given for them, so I just called them Yellow Robe and Orange Robe. Personally, I think Yellow Robe's a little high strung for a monk. The slightest questioning of their skills brings on prolonged bouts of squealing, jumping, and chopping. There were also some continuity issues with his hair, with his shaved dome getting significantly shaggier in the later fighting scenes. Orange Robe is far more contemplative than his buddy in yellow. Orangey also keeps the 'do high and tight, but he does have some unfortunate and, let's face it, downright counter-productive eyebrows. May be time to trim them back a bit, buddy. If they're actually blocking your vision, then it's time to think of function over fashion. Orange Robe also has the inexplicable power to "puff up" his torso to a nigh impenetrable defense shield (the only explanation we get for "Inflat-O-Monk" is an awed whisper of "Tibetan Style!" from Master Hang Tui). Both of these guys are not to be messed with.
The Big Boss (and his 2 flunkies, er..uh, students)
I think they were shooting for some degree of menace with this guy's costume and make-up. Sufficed to say, they missed. By a wide margin. The wig looks like a yak pelt. The mustache looks like a caterpillar got just under his nose and then called it quits. And I've seen pronounced canine teeth, but I can't say that I've ever seen pronounce pre-molars. Lord knows why he's got 'em, but there they are. And we get ample viewing time of those chompers, as rarely a moment of the Big Boss's screen time goes by where he's not snarling and posing. Appearances aside, he's a one man wrecking crew, and he's the reason why our hero eventually ends up one-armed.
Ah yes... our hero. Yes, they did kill his master. And, as the title suggests, they chopped off one of our main man's arms (manually, no less. I mean, the Big Boss actually just karate chops that sucker off, suturing the wound in the process). His healing time is dealt with in a comically short span, actually giving us a still photo montage of his time spent with an ancient medicine man and his nominally hot daughter. The medicine man's got a highly suspect means of rendering our hero's remaining arm invincible, and it involves burning the arm to a crisp and then pouring ancient chewing tobacco spittle on it. And, believe it or not, it works. After a little "Please don't go Tien Lung!" "I must avenge my master!", were just minutes away from a twist on the old saying; we soon learn that a one-armed man does significantly better than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.
Am I surprised this one was left out of the running for "Best Picture" in 1971?
No. But did I have a good time? You can bet your remaining arm I did!
|The Fightin'! -|
|1 - 2 - 3 -
4 - 5 -
|You certainly can't say that One-Armed Boxer doesn't deliver on the quantity front. It's wall-to-wall fighting for the most part. Sure, it's not as visually arresting as wire-fu, and the choreography isn't as tight as some other kung-fu efforts that I've seen. But we get the prerequisite demonstrations of each martial artist's style (usually at the expense of one of Master Hang Tui's poor students) and all the howling and posing that one comes to expect in this sort of movie.
There certainly was more blood in this outing than there ever was in the censored films of my youth. Was it realistic? No. But we're talking about the kind of people who live through getting their arms removed by hand. Every battle gets the red stuff flowing, and no matter where they're kicked/punched/stabbed on their body, blood pours out of their mouths within seconds, which is the universal signal for "I'm dying!" But honestly, are you watching this for the gore? You want guts, go watch an autopsy. If you want a one-armed man fighting with a marshmallow-middled monk, you know where to go...
This movie isn't just another entry in Jimmy Wang Yu's long line of "one-armed" protagonists. Wang Yu (who, for the record, has full use of both his arms) had done a couple of one-armed swordsman movie for the Shaw Brothers, and the sequel to this particular movie, Master of the Flying Guillotine (which Andrew at BadMovies.org is reviewing for this get together) is the more celebrated of his solo armed efforts. But this film is generally credited as the beginning of the primarily un-armed (weapon-wise) combat films that took over in the 1970's. (movie facts taken from the wikipedia entry) But beyond the honor of being first, there isn't much here that wasn't done better and with more flair (even by Jimmy Wang Yu himself) in later efforts. Still, it gets above average marks for it's villains and the willingness to shake off what other movies would see as "critical absurdity mass". It's just good ol' fashioned fun.
|Overall Rating -|
|1 - 2 - 3 -
4 - 5 -
|Starring: Jimmy Wang Yu
|"Reviewing the best (and worst) in Pugilistic Pictures!"|
|The KO Picture Show's entry to these One-Armed Shenanigans!
Click on the banner below to check out my friend Andrew Borntreger's site, BadMovies.org, and his review of "Master of the Flying Guillotine"!
|Orange Robe Monk
Trying to concentrate with those eyebrows in his peripheral vision.
|Yellow Robe Monk
Barely keeping it together here.
|The Big Boss
Working as an assassin strictly to pay for his orthodonture.
|The Yoga Expert
Preparing to get 'knifey' with it.
|The Bad Guys!|
|The Big Boss's "Students"
I think their names were "Punch Me" and "Kick Me".