With one arm tied behind his back, Jimmy Wang Yu had already played the One-Armed Swordsman in two films for Shaw Brothers, One-Armed Swordsman and Return of the One-Armed Swordsman. He also became incredibly popular after The Chinese Boxer, the movie that kickstarted the unarmed combat genre. Then, he broke his contract with Shaw Brothers and lost the lawsuit that resulted, which meant he needed to go somewhere other than Hong Kong to work.
That’s where former Shaw Brothers executive Raymond Chow comes in. He started the rival studio Golden Harvest in 1970 and Wang Yu became his star, writing, directing and playing the main role in One-Armed Boxer.
Yu Tian Long (Wang) is the best fighter to come out of his local martial arts school. However, when he stops the Hook Gang from roughing up customers in a restaurant. The evildoers are part of the Ching Te school, which is the most prominent martial arts academy in town. Yet more than that, they run all sorts of businesses, legal and illegal.
After being defeated in combat twice, the Hook Gang return to their master Chao Liu (Yeh Tien) and tell him that Tien and others from the Ching Te school attacked them for no reason and insulted their group. Chao heads off to the school and is easily defeated by Master Han Tu (Ma Kei).
Chao has no honor and uses his money to get revenge, hiring a group of martial artists from Shanghai that includes Okinawa karate expert Erh Ku Da Leung (Wong Fei-lung) and his students Chang Ku Chua and Pan Tien-Ching, two lamas from Tibet (Ko Fu and Cho Lung, who are the disciples of the Fung Sheng Wu Chi from Master of the Flying Guillotine, which is about him trying to get revenge for his students against Yu Tian Long), Muat Thai fighters Mi Tsu (Blackie Ko, who went on to be a car stunt expert) and Ni Tsai, judo master Kao Chiao, Taekwondo master Chin Chi Yung and yoga fighter Mura Singh. They murder every single student in the Ching Te school, as well as the Master, leaving only Tien Lung alive yet only with one arm after Erh Ku Da Leung chops his arm clean off.
Hsiao Yu, a nurse, and her father bring our hero back to health and explain a special sklill that could help him get revenge, a method that will make his fighter super powerful even with just one arm. He only has to destroy all the nerves in his arm so he places his arm into an open flame in an incredible scene that shows just how devoted he is to avenging his master.
The end of the film is an example of why I love martial arts movies. Tien Lung fights every single one of the killers in a quarry while the Hook Gang throw bombs at him. There’s blood spraying everywhere and non-stop kicking, punching and violence.
When this was released in the U.S. by National General Pictures, it was called The Violent Professionals and used the theme from The Big Boss, a Bruce Lee film that was also made by Golden Harvest. As for the original film score, it outright takes the theme from Shaft — minus the talking about Shaft — over the opening credits, which is pretty much as outlandish an act of theft as it gets.
This movie is just magical. I was on the edge of my seat throughout and was astounded by how intense the fights were and I was beyond on the side of the hero, despite how brutal and cool Erh Ku Da Leung is, a man who takes an arm when someone breaks an arm. If you haven’t gotten into kung fu yet, this is a great place to get started.
Consider this movie highly recommended.
The Arrow blu ray of One-Armed Boxer has a 2K restoration from the original elements by Fortune Star. Extras include commentary by Frank Djeng from the NY Asian Film Festival, a never released career retrospective interview with Wang Yu, a trailer gallery that includes the Hong Kong theatrical trailer, The Chinese Professionals U.S. version and over half an hour of trailers for other Wang Yu classics including One-Armed Swordsman and Master of the Flying Guillotine, a gallery of images from the movie, a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ilan Sheady and an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Simon Abrams. You can get this movie from MVD.