Du bei chuan wang, aka The One Armed Boxer takes its sweet time getting to the point where Tien Lung, the titular hero, loses his arm. As stories go, the plot is a mish-mash of formulaic kung-fu elements. There is the disgraced school of martial arts fighting for its honor. Causing trouble is a sinister school running a corrupt racket of drugs and extortion. Then mix in a slew of ringers from exotic locations like India and Thailand, each with their own fighting styles. Finally, introduce the defeated hero, sans one arm, forced to adapt and re-learn his martial arts technique if he hopes to avenge the death of his master. It’s all there, each element given a personal touch by diretor Yu Wang the same man behind Master of the Flying Guillotine.
From the opening sequence in a tea house, where an argument breaks out over rare birds to a final show down set against amongst a smoldering waste land, the chop-socky is non-stop. Pushed along by a kinetic fuzzy guitar that rips through the sound track the film throws in a few interesting cinematic flourishes, such as a still image montage and jovially old-fashioned camera tricks.
To accuse a film like this of being formulaic is both honest and simplistic. While many of the plot elements reoccur in various kung-fu films their occurrence is no different than the number of action films or crime shows that recycle the same plots over and over, only slightly tweaking the details to create differences. As the saying goes, the devil is in the detail. Here the details are devilishly good.
While other people can spend hours watching shows like CSI or Law & Order I would far prefer to indulge in kung-fu marathons with films like The One Armed Boxer. It is the lack of politics that make this more enjoyable. Such a statement is not to say that I don’t want politics in my art. That, I enjoy. However, when it comes to entertainment, something meant to simply bide the time and provide a small visceral response, I would far prefer to watch something that does not pretend to solve the problems of my modern times. Instead, it solves its problems with iron-fisted fury!