The New One-Armed Swordsman (1971)

NewOneArmedSwordsman+1971-1-bThe New One-Armed Swordsman [新獨臂刀] (1971)
AKA Triple Irons

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Li Ching, Ku Feng, Chan Sing, Wong Chung, Lau Gong, Wong Pau-Gei, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wong Ching Ho, Shum Lo, Cheng Lui

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Super high. I imagine David Chiang can pull off a rather awesome One-Armed Swordsman movie, but we’ll see!


Going into The New One-Armed Swordsman, I was excited. I’m a big fan of the previous One-Armed Swordsman movies, so I expected this is be a retelling of the original with David Chiang in the lead instead of Wang Yu. But this thread of logic forgets one key bit about Chang Cheh: his desire to continue moving forward, specifically not redoing his old pictures time and time again. And The New One-Armed Swordsman is true to its name; it is a completely new character and origin story. While The One-Armed Swordsman is one of the most influential and iconic Hong Kong films of all time, and its sequel Return of the the One-Armed Swordsman is one of the funnest Shaw Brothers films of the 1960s, The New One-Armed Swordsman is easily my favorite of the three. It combines the serious tone of the original and the focus on exciting action that typified the sequel, making The New One-Armed Swordsman nothing but awesome.

The film opens with a rousing bit of music and Lei Li (David Chiang) riding through the hills slaughtering any who comes across his path. He is a young, cocky martial artist, famous for his use of the twin swords. Some devious men frame him for a robbery and this leads him into a fight with Lung Er Zi (Ku Feng). Lung is the man responsible for framing Lei, but he’s running a good front so everyone thinks he’s a paragon of virtue. Anyway, Lung challenges Lei to a duel and whoever loses must cut off their right arm and retire from the martial world. One guess who loses.

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King Eagle (1971)

KingEagle+1970-1-bKing Eagle [鷹王] (1971)

Starring Ti Lung, Li Ching, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Cheng Miu, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wong Chung, Cheng Lui, Lau Gong, Chan Sing, Yau Lung, Lee Sau Kei, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Tung Li, Hung Lau, Tang Chia, Chan Chuen

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderately high. I’m interested to see what Chang Cheh can bring to a wuxia film after his other films.

It’s never a surprise to enjoy a Chang Cheh movie thoroughly, and King Eagle is a great piece of work from the master. It’s definitely minor in his massive filmography, but King Eagle sets itself apart by focusing mostly on its story. Written by the illustrious and always dependable Ni Kuang, King Eagle is a wuxia film that focuses on a growing conflict within the Tien Yi Tong clan, and how a single, wandering swordsman known to the martial world as King Eagle (Ti Lung) is drawn into their business.

The headmaster of the Tien Yi Tong clan is murdered, and the call goes out across the land to assemble the chiefs so that a new headmaster can be named. What most of the chiefs don’t know is that the 1st Chief (Cheung Pooi-Saan) is the one responsible for their master’s death! King Eagle is informed of this by a dying soldier, and even though he has no stake in the matter and he’d rather just go about his own business, the 1st Chief and his minions antagonize him and try their best to kill him because of what he knows.

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The Singing Killer (1970)

The Singing Killer [小煞星] (1970)

Starring David Chiang, Wang Ping, Chan Sing, Tina Chin Fei, Dean Shek Tin, Ku Feng, Stanley Fung Sui-Fan, Yeung Chi Hing, Wong Chung, Lau Gong, Yip Bo-Kam, Lee Sau Kei

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderately high. I hope to have fun with it.

Chang Cheh’s The Singing Killer opens rather promisingly. David Chiang sits on-stage at the drums singing these choice lines (among others):

“I’m the singing killer
Fist is a fist, Knife is a knife
Kung fu, judo and karate, I specialize in all
If you dare, come and try me
The singing killer is me”

While Chiang definitely showcases his ability to kick some ass during the film’s brief but brutal fight scenes, and he’s also proven to be quite competent with a gun when he needs to be, the film just isn’t all that engaging. I mean, if David Chiang can’t even be bothered to move his mouth when he’s supposed to be singing, how am I supposed to dredge up enough excitement to be enthusiastic about this?

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The Heroic Ones (1970)

The Heroic Ones [十三太保] (1970)
AKA 13 Fighters, Shaolin Masters, Thirteen Princes

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ku Feng, Chan Sing, Chin Han, Pao Chia-Wen, Lo Wai, James Nam Gung-Fan, Lau Gong, Sung Tuan, Wong Pau-Gei, Wang Kuang-Yu, Chan Chuen, Lau Kar Wing, Wong Chung, Lily Li Li-Li, Hung Sing-Chung, Lan Wei-Lieh, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Lee Hoi-Lung, Bolo Yeung-Tze

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High. It’s Chang Cheh, and it warranted a US Blu-ray release, it’s gotta be good.

And here I am again, checking out a Chang Cheh movie and being completely blown away. At this point in the Shaw Brothers series, I feel like I know what’s coming my way, and I expected The Heroic Ones to be another take on the traditional swordplay genre by Chang Cheh. Instead it proved to be a historical epic, and completely unlike any previous film in the series. If there’s one thing to be learned from this, it’s that I should never expect a Chang Cheh film to be simply “another take on” whatever genre I suppose the film to be by the rather uninformative box art.

The film’s plot is complicated, but never hard to understand. It is hard to quickly explain, though, concerning itself more with the relationships between brothers than focusing on the actual beats of the plot. Ku Feng is a barbarian king who has 13 princes (seemingly gathered from varying places, not actual sons) and he finds himself up against a bad group of rebels who have taken over the Imperial capital city of Chang’an. The rebel general (played by a bald Bolo Yeung) stands guard at the gate, but 13th Brother (David Chiang) takes him out in a fun battle resembling the classic “David vs. Goliath” struggle. Bolo looks menacing with his head shaved, and he reminds me of Abobo from the video game Double Dragon. This is perhaps not a coincidence, as the other Abobo-like character in Double Dragon, Bolo, supposedly gets his name from Bolo Yeung’s character in Enter the Dragon, named… wait for it… Bolo. Anyway, this fight with Bolo is perhaps the film’s best moment of choreography, but its greatest moment of action is still yet to come.

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Vengeance! (1970)

Vengeance! [報仇] (1970)
AKA Kung Fu Vengeance

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Wang Ping, Alice Au Yin-Ching, Ku Feng, Yeung Chi Hing, Wong Ching Ho, Chuen Yuen, Hoh Ban, Chan Sing, Wang Kuang-Yu, Cheng Lui, Hung Lau, Lau Gong, Wong Chung, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Shum Lo, Chen Kuan-Tai

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Super high. I’ve wanted to see this forever.

In my review for Chang Cheh’s The One-Armed Swordsman, I mentioned that Chang had thrown down the gauntlet with that film, challenging the genre to step up to the plate and create meaningful action cinema. Vengeance! is another of these pinnacle moments in the history of the genre, with Chang Cheh thoroughly tired of the status quo and looking for new inspiration. He found it in a new time period, the 1920s early Republic era, and setting the film during this tumultuous period in Chinese history makes for the perfect setting of a martial arts film. As political struggles divided China into factions and eventually led to the Chinese Civil War (1927-1950) between the Republic and the Communist forces, Vengeance! is set in an unnamed Chinese city where criminals have banded together to control the land. I don’t claim to be a history scholar, but a general knowledge of this helps to inform the setting of the film in the viewer’s mind, even if these broad struggles don’t specifically come into play during the story.

Vengeance! opens with a Peking opera, echoing (and perhaps mocking) the used and reused traditional period setting of many Shaw Brothers films. Ti Lung is the lead actor, skillfully demonstrating his martial skill in a tragic play where he is assaulted by many combatants and is eventually killed rather violently. All the while, Ku Feng is upstairs hitting on Ti Lung’s wife, and when Ti finds out, he’s pissed. He travels to Ku Feng’s martial arts school, breaks their sign (is this perhaps the first sign-breaking in martial arts history?) and proceeds to school everyone that comes near him. The criminal bosses don’t like being fucked with though, so they plot an ambush for Ti Lung and violently murder him. This is roughly the opening fifteen minutes, and already we’ve had a finale quality fight scene. Where does Chang Cheh take it from here?

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The Wandering Swordsman (1970)

The Wandering Swordsman [遊俠兒] (1970)

Starring David Chiang, Lily Li Li-Li, Cheng Lui, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wu Ma, Chan Sing, Lau Gong, Hung Lau, Bolo Yeung-Tze, Tung Li, Nam Wai-Lit, Tung Choi-Bo

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high. After Have Sword, Will Travel this one should be pretty good.

After the wonderful and brilliant Have Sword, Will Travel, Chang Cheh made this film, but instead of using the fearsome duo of budding stars Ti Ling and David Chiang, he decided to make this one Chiang’s first starring role. Who knows what Ti Lung was off doing (his only films from 1970 are the ones that came after this and featured both Ti and Chiang), but regardless The Wandering Swordsman is an average, and fairly clichéd genre effort from the master Chang Cheh. I’d definitely rather see a somewhat lackluster effort from Chang than one from another director though, so The Wandering Swordsman does manage to entertain for the most part.

The film opens with David Chiang cleverly spying on two bandits. He plays with them from the grass, making them question if they’re alone. He’s so good that they don’t know he’s there, which he clearly gets off on. When the moment is right, Chiang strikes and takes the gold the men stole, in order to, y’know, give it to the poor. We got ourselves a regular Robin ‘ood! The first half continues along in this playful manner, but then it ditches the Robin Hood storyline for a more traditional wuxia “bandits vs. security company transporting treasure” story. It’s just that here David Chiang as Wandering Swordsman (Yes, that’s his name in the movie) gets caught up in the middle by being absolutely fucking stupid.

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Have Sword, Will Travel (1969)

Have Sword Will Travel [保鏢] (1969)
AKA The Bodyguard

Starring Ti Lung, Li Ching, David Chiang, Cheng Miu, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wong Ching Ho, Ku Feng, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Lau Gong, Hung Lau, Chan Sing, Wong Chung, Cheng Lui, Cheng Kang-Yeh

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high? The first martial arts film by Chang Cheh with Ti Lung and David Chang? This should be spectacular.

Oh man, this one might be a long one. I think I took more notes for this one than I ever have for any previous review. Have Sword, Will Travel is the first martial arts film to feature the duo of Ti Lung and David Chiang, and boy what a film to kick off their wuxia careers. Chang Cheh’s previous martial arts film was The Invincible Fist, and while this film doesn’t quite reach those heights, it comes damn close.

Written by noted martial arts scribe Ni Kuang (who had previously written The One-Armed Swordsman and The Invincible Fist for Chang Cheh), Have Sword, Will Travel is yet another example of the man’s stunning writing ability. No one looks to this genre for quality writing (in fact, most people regularly lambaste it for its shitty writing), but they clearly haven’t experienced a great Ni Kuang script.

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