The One Armed Boxer [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (18th May 2021).
The Film

The Hook gang, operating out of a local martial arts school, run drugs and a prostitution ring, and are not above flaunting the law in broad daylight. When lower-tier Hook gang member Ma (Lightning of Bruce Lee's Chun Lei) attempts to intimidate a local businessman, Yu Tien Lung (The Killer Meteors' Jimmy Wang Yu), Second Brother of the Zhengde School, steps in and humiliates Ma and his fellow gang members in a scuffle. Ma challenges him to another fight in the local quarry where the Hook Gang members are once again soundly trounced. When the gang boss Shao Liu (Blood of the Dragon's Yeh Tien) demands an explanation, craven Ma tells him that Yu Tien started it and furthermore insulted the boss' martial arts skills. Shao Liu takes the gang to the school and demands teacher Han Tui (The Invincible's Chi Ma) hand over Yu Tien. When Han Tui refuses, stating that he has already administered punishment to his student (not for stopping the robbery but for the subsequent fight in the quarry), Shao Liu threatens to tear down the school only for the older teacher to best him physically.

A humiliated Shao Liu then summons a gang of mercenaries fanged Okinawan karate expert Natino Taro (The 36 Shaolin Beads' Fei Lung), his two best pupils (New Fist of Fury's Yung-Sheng Wang and Shaolin Deadly Kicks' Hung Tsai), judo expert Koji (Evil Slaughter's Tung-Chiao Wu), Korean Tae kwon do master Kim Jim Yong (A Touch of Zen's Mao Shan), brown-faced yoga guru Mura Singh (Chun Lin Pan), a pair of Thai boxers (5 Masters of Death's Hung Kuan and Crime Story's Blackie Ko), and Tibetan Zen boxer Lung (The Last Duel's Jen-Ping Su) and Fu (The Fists of Vengeance's Yi-Kuei Chang) to destroy the Zhengde school and its industries in return for a share of the profits from the Hook Gang's drug trade. After the mercenaries brutally cut down several members of the Zhengde school at the brick works, Shao Liu and the mercenaries then crash the school's memorial service for the dead. Yu Tien steps up to challenge them but Natini Taro easily bests him and chops off the younger man's right arm with a swipe of his Iron Fist. The mercenaries then slaughter Han Tui and all of the students. Yu Tien survives and crawls down the road where he is discovered by an herbalist (The Merciful Sword's Ming Min)and his daughter Xiao Lu (Kung Fu Mama's Hsin Tang). They nurse Yu Tien back to health but he despairs of the loss of his arm and the murders of his teacher and brothers; whereupon his carers treat and train him in the use of the Crippled Fist technique which will render his remaining limb unbreakable and allow him to avenge himself upon Shao, the Hook Gang, and the mercenaries.

Star Jimmy Wang Yu's third directorial effort and his first after walking out on his Shaw Brothers contract and going to Taiwan, One Armed Boxer was also his second film distributed by Shaw's rival company Golden Harvest (founded by former Shaw executive Raymond Chow) and seems in its retreading of Wang Yu's Shaw success as The One-Armed Swordsman as much a jab at the former studio as the actor/director getting to do the concept his own way (reverse motion Nosferatu-esque plank rising, backwards leaping and all) with martial arts instead of wuxia swordplay. The plot is so streamlined to spare space for its lengthy fight sequences that the transitions between scenes feel blunt and the obligatory love interest angle suffers most with Yu Tien's healing scenes reduced to a montage of stills and Xiao Lu on and off the screen in just a few minutes of the third act. Where Wang Yu succeeds in this approach is conveying the treachery of the two-dimensional villains with a few choice lines of dialogue, pulled faces, and mannerisms that makes one feel less sorry for them as a healed Yu Tien turns utterly ruthless in cutting down not only the main villains but anyone even mildly impertinent. The ending is just as abrupt with no comedown after the final fight scene in spite of his love interest's misgivings about his increasing bloodlust; however, since the One-Armed Swordsman spawned a couple sequels, that was likely a consideration with this film which would soon be followed up by Master of the Flying Guillotine (also known as One-Armed Boxer II).
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Video

While One-Armed Boxer was distributed in a heavily-cut X-certificate version in the U.K. in 1973 by Cathay Films (distributor of Bruce Lee's Golden Harvest productions), it got more of grindhouse treatment stateside from National General Pictures under the title The Chinese Professionals with promotional ballyhoo that promoted it as a combination of The Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven. Although the film got a VHS release in the U.K. in 1990, it was hard to see in the states apart from Japanese and German DVD imports with Fortune Star 5.1 remixes of the English track until Shout! Factory put out The Jimmy Wang Yu Collection in 2014. Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray debuts a new HD restoration from "original film elements" that greatly enhances one's appreciation of Wang Yu's use of camera movement and landscape (including some fluid Sergio Leone-esque crosscutting dolly shots during the final duel). The image appears free of almost any damage with a few spurts of blood and some forest foliage popping and revealing that the rather sedate color palette is a deliberate choice.
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Audio

Audio options include the original Mandarin dub, an alternate Mandarin track, and the English dub in LPCM 2.0 mono. Differences include some funkier music choices on the original Mandarin track including the instrumental version of the theme from Shaft and some John Barry Bond music while the alternate Mandarin and English tracks have another instrumental track that, combined with the stills and animation under the opening credits suggests a cut-rate version of Leone's Dollars title sequences. The alternate Mandarin track does not always correspond to the musical differences on the English dub, sometimes using no music at all where the English and original Mandarin track share cues. Optional English subtitles are available for the Mandarin track while a track that translates only text is enabled by default when the English dub is chosen.
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Extras

The feature is accompanied by a brand new audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng of the NY Asian Film Festival in which he covers Wang Yu's breakup with Shaw Brothers where he received a quarter of the monthly salary of other stars including details of his disagreements with Sir Run Run Shaw and mentor Cheh Cheng, and his early move away from swordplay to martial arts which would be overshadowed internationally by the posthumous output of Bruce Lee. He also notes that while the plot is revenge against mercenaries with different martial arts styles, the theme was actually nationalistic with the notion of which country's style is the best, and the shadow of Japanese occupation underlining conflict in a number of scenes (a la Fist of Fury). He also provides some humorous remarks about the economy of Wang Yu's storytelling including the reduction of the love interest to a "flower vase role" casting Hsin Tang as the "most useless female character in a martial arts film." The disc also includes an alternate English credits sequence (1:57) from the export version of the film with completely English titles rather than the bilingual ones of the feature presentation, as well as a trio of stills galleries, the film's theatrical trailer (4:11), and the amusing "The Chinese Professionals" U.S. TV Spot (0:55).
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Packaging

The first 2,000 copies come with a limited edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling, a reversible poster featuring new and original artwork, and a 19-page collector's booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver and archival writing. In "One Hand Clapping: Jimmy Wang Yu, The One Armed Boxer and the Birth of Kung Fu Movies", James Oliver rehabilitates the film and Wang Yu's position in the move from wuxia to martial arts movies while the booklet also includes the entry for the film in "The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded with Action, Weapons and Warriors" by Dr. Craig D. Reid.

Overall

With plotting so streamlined and spare as to reduce its villains to their battle cries and the love interest to a "flower vase", One-Armed Boxer nevertheless occupies an important place in the evolution of kung fu movies.

 


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