Return of the One-Armed Swordsman (1969)

Return of the One-Armed Swordsman [獨臂刀王] (1969)
AKA One-Armed Swordsman Return, Le Bras de la vengeance

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Essie Lin Chia, Chung Wa, Cheng Lui, Hoh Ban, Tien Feng, Ku Feng, Tung Li, Tang Chia, Lau Kar Wing, Lau Kar-Leung, Yuen Cheung Yan, Ti Lung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wu Ma, Fong Yau

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High!


With the original One-Armed Swordsman in 1967, Chang Cheh re-defined what the martial arts film genre was and would be. Over the next two years, countless other films sought to capture audiences as Chang’s film had, but few other directors were able to harness the sheer energy on display in a Chang Cheh film. With Return of the One-Armed Swordsman, Chang doesn’t look to create a direct sequel, or one that feels in any way similar to the original. Instead he goes a completely different and incredibly over-the-top direction, resulting in one of the most fun martial arts pictures of the early Shaw Brothers era, and one that would again help re-define the genre.

The story opens with the one-armed swordsman Fang Gang (Jimmy Wang Yu) being invited to participate in a tournament held by the self-proclaimed Eight Sword Kings. He’s trying to leave the martial lifestyle behind him and live out the rest of his days with his lovely wife as a farmer, but we all know how that works out in films such as this. Master Fang is later visited by a group of swordsman seeking his help, as they know the so-called tournament is just a ruse to call all the sword clans together so that the Eight Sword Kings can murder the masters and take control of the region by force. Where your martial arts soaked 2012 brain might expect something of a tournament film after this setup, instead we receive something closer to a journey film where our heroes are sequentially ambushed and assaulted at every turn on their way to the “tournament.”

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Killers Five (1969)

Killers Five [豪俠傳] (1969)

Starring Tang Ching, Li Ching, Ku Feng, Cheng Miu, Wang Kuang-Yu, Tang Ti, Yeung Chi Hing, Carrie Ku Mei, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Tien Feng, Lau Leung-Wa, Wong Ching-Wan, Poon Oi-Lun

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: High. Cheng Kang usually delivers.


The Duke’s daughter has been kidnapped by bandits! Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the duke’s daughter? That’s the question asked of our heroes in Killers Five and the answer is a resounding yes. Killers Five is debatably the best martial arts/action film to be produced by the Shaw Brothers up to this point. It includes everything I could want in a movie, providing entertainment at every turn. I went in expecting fights and intrigue, but I also got fun & charismatic characters, wonderful performances, awesome traps, suspenseful thrills, shocking double-crosses, over-the-top gore and absolute sophistication behind the camera. This movie is just flat-out awesome.

Unlike so many 60s Shaw Brothers martial arts films, Killers Five doesn’t fuck around with lengthy plot exposition and slow-moving narrative. The duke’s daughter is kidnapped and within a minute or so, our main hero played by Tang Ching is on a quest to create a martial team badass enough to take on the evil bandit lord Jin Tianlong (Tang Ti) who’s taken the duke daughter to his fortress on Mt. Jinlong. The film takes on something of a Western vibe, or even The Seven Samurai, during this section as the hero travels around the countryside collecting the best people for the job.

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The Sword of Swords (1968)

The Sword of Swords [神刀] (1968)

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Li Ching, Tien Feng, Wong Chung-Shun, Cheng Miu, Shu Pei-Pei, Yeung Chi Hing, Lam Jing, Lee Wan Chung, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Lee Ho, Tang Chia, Chan Wan-Wa, Poon Oi-Lun, Shum Lo

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: High. I’ve heard this is a good one.


The Sword of Swords is somewhat overlong and overly melodramatic, but it more than makes up for this with some of the best choreographed fights to come out of the Shaw Brothers studios up to this point. With the action directed by famous duo Tang Chia and Lau Kar-Leung, you know to expect something special and nearly every fight in the film delivers on that promise. The film is more than just fights though, and without the grounding that the drama provides, the fights wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying.

The sword of swords is a sword forged of the best metal and capable of turning the tide in any battle. It is such an incredible weapon that even a mere slice through the air creates a gale of wind to knock your opponent off-balance. The sword doesn’t get used much in the film, but when it does, director Cheng Kang does a great job of selling just how powerful it is with dutch angles and whooshing sound effects. Each swipe of the sword is meaningful and tense, and the fact that the characters choose not to use it when they could easily decimate their opponents is beside the point. Instead, the sword is the punctuation on the film, the object which everyone revolves around and something of its power would be lost if everyone was swinging it around willy-nilly.

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The Magnificent Swordsman (1968)

The Magnificent Swordsman [怪侠] (1968)
AKA Vagabond Swordsman

Starring Wong Chung-Shun, Shu Pei-Pei, Tien Feng, Cheng Miu, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ma Ying, Chiu Hung, Shum Lo, Chai No, Ng Wai, Lee Ka-Ting, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Yau Lung

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng & Cheng Kang

Expectations: Fairly high. Griffin Yueh Feng delivered a pretty good looking film before in Rape of the Sword.


While many martial arts films are influenced by Sergio Leone’s westerns, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one as deeply indebted to the genre like The Magnificent Swordsman is. The film is a mash-up of the stories from Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, resulting in a more Western-leaning Chinese version of Kurosawa’s Fistful of Dollars remake Yojimbo. Jesus, I need to take a moment after deciphering that one. For the most part it works, but because everything has been done before (and better), The Magnificent Swordsman isn’t as good or exciting as it should be. Don’t get me wrong, the film is entertaining and fun to watch, but the lack of originality really hurts this one from being the film it could have been for viewers that have seen the films mentioned. On the other hand, if you haven’t seen those (and why the hell haven’t you?), then you’re likely to get a lot more out of The Magnificent Swordsman than I did.

The direction from Griffin Yueh Feng and Cheng Kang is very good, filling the frame in interesting ways and with intriguing angles. Like Yueh Feng’s previous film Rape of the Sword, it exhibits a very defined style with all the snap zooms and whip pans you’d expect from a Shaw Bros. film. The difference is that I feel Yueh Feng was one of the influential guys in creating what would become that “standard Shaw Bros shooting style” as his films feature it throughout with confidence and passion, while other Shaw films of the era merely flirt with the techniques.

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The Silver Fox (1968)

The Silver Fox [玉面飛狐] (1968)

Starring Lily Ho Li Li, Chang Yi, Tien Feng, Wong Chung-Shun, Yue Wai, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Chiu Sam-Yin, Chiu Hung, Ma Ying, Lee Ho, Fan Mei-Sheng, Hung Lau, Goo Man-Chung, Wong Ching Ho, Lee Wan Chung

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low, Hsu Cheng Hung seems unwilling so far to try much else other than the Chinese opera melodramas that I’m not to fond of.


The Silver Fox is a film that showcases the shifting nature of the Shaw Studio in early 1968. Directed by the less than exciting Hsu Cheng Hung, who made Temple of the Red Lotus & King Cat among others reviewed here, The Silver Fox is equal parts old school Chinese melodrama and new school Chang Cheh style vengeful violence. What keeps it from being a bad (as in bad) kung-fu movie is its wonderful story of betrayal and deceit, but what keeps it from being a bad (as in good) movie is its lackluster middle section that focuses on budding romance and the conflicted melodramatic feelings of the main characters.

The film opens with a stunning sequence involving the brotherly betrayal of Wong Chung-Shun and Tien Feng, as Wong steals two secret kung-fu manuals and then blames the theft on Tien Feng. Tien’s kung-fu is crippled by their master and then Wong throws poison darts into his face, disfiguring him for life and sowing the seeds of revenge. This is something of a different role for Tien Feng, playing a young martial student, but he does a great job with it and looks the part. Many years pass and now the Silver Fox is on the loose, trying to steal a gold plaque from the Jun Wai Security Bureau headed by the evil Wong.

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The Black Butterfly (1968)

The Black Butterfly [女俠黑蝴蝶] (1968)

Starring Lisa Chiao Chiao, Yueh Hua, Tien Feng, Yeung Chi Hing, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ku Feng, Lo Wei, Ma Ying, Chen Hung Lieh, Cheung Yuk-Kam, Han Ying Chieh, Fang Mian, Lee Wan Chung

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Low, but hopeful, as Lo Wei is a notable director in later martial arts history.


The Black Butterfly is a movie with more potential than actual, quality goods. It starts off as a slight retelling of the classic Robin Hood tale, with the Black Butterfly stealing taels of gold and silver from the rich and then redistributing the wealth to the less fortunate. Some research uncovered that this is also a period remake of the 1965 Chor Yuen film, The Black Rose, but I haven’t seen that so I can’t specifically comment on the differences. Anyway, the entire first hour is concerned with this Hood storyline and frankly it’s pretty ho-hum and boring. Not a whole lot happens, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some interesting elements at work. The film is slick and professional in its direction, with Lo Wei composing beautifully constructed shots and moving the camera around with grace and purpose. Some of these lesser Shaw Brothers movies feel as low-budget & hasty as they probably all were, but The Black Butterfly definitely belongs to the group that transcends that quality and looks like a million bucks. It’s amazing what quality camerawork will do for a film.

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The Assassin (1967)

The Assassin [大刺客] (1967)

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Lee Heung-Gwan, Tien Feng, Wong Chung-Shun, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Lam Jing, Fang Mian, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Cheng Lui, Wang Kuang-Yu, Ma Ying

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High, it’s Chang Cheh’s next movie after The One-Armed Swordsman. I’m pumped!


Chang Cheh does it again with his third film of 1967, after the lackluster Trail of the Broken Blade and the genre-defining The One-Armed Swordsman. As soon as the film starts it’s clear that Chang’s intentions were different for this film. He didn’t go in hoping to directly capitalize on his past success, nor did he set out to make a traditional martial arts picture. Instead, The Assassin opens with a large block of story text about the warring states of China, accompanied by a bombastic, epic musical score. The first frame of footage is a sword graphically plunging through a human torso with a spray of deep red blood. Wow!

This opening betrays the film a bit as it sets up the modern viewer for an over-the-top, exaggerated display of wall-to-wall bloodshed and the film is very far from this expectation. In fact, it is a character-driven historical epic tragedy and it succeeds on every level. Martial arts films are not known for their quality stories and writing, but The Assassin bucks all trends and delivers one of the richest tales the genre has to offer. Instead of being a martial arts film with a few quality scenes of drama, this expectation is flipped on its head. The characters are deep and full of life, their decisions having ripple effects throughout the lives of everyone else in the story. It is all incredibly well told and is a testament to Chang Cheh’s writing ability in addition to his skill behind the camera. The Assassin sits high on top of the heap when it comes to well-written kung fu pictures.

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