The One-Armed Swordsman is a series of Hong Kong martial arts films produced by the Shaw Brothers Studio between 1967 and 1971. The films follow a somewhat Darker and Edgier take on the 'wuxia' genre (martial arts), where our lead is a male Anti-Hero who gets in violent sword fights, and are Bloodier and Gorier than previous wuxia films.The series focus on — guess what? — one-armed swordsmen who lose their arms in the aftermath of a fight, and eventually decide to take up revenge despite their handicap. Ironically, every sword fight against their enemies result in a Curb-Stomp Battle.
The first two movies, One-Armed Swordsman (1967) and Return of the One-Armed Swordsman (1969), tell the tale of Fang Kang, while The New One-Armed Swordsman is completely unrelated to the previous installments, this time focusing on former mercenary and current waiter Lei Li.
The films in general apply the following tropes:
Tropes applying to One-Armed Swordsman:
- Big Bad: Long-Armed Devil
- The Dragon: Smiling Tiger
- Big Good: Qi Rufeng, master of the Golden Sword School
- Bittersweet Ending: The bad guys are defeated, but the Golden Sword School is effectively lost, with most of its disciples dead or in Fang Kang's case, leaving. Qi Rufeng breaks his sword as a symbol of this.
- Call to Agriculture: At the end of the movie, Fang Kang quits martial arts to be a farmer.
- Crippling Overspecialization: The sword-lock that the Big Bad and his students use. Since it was made specifically to disable Qi Rufeng's sword, it is useless against any other weapon. Only Fang Kang actually exploits this.
- Faux Affably Evil: Smiling Tiger.
- Heroic Sacrifice: In the intro, Qi is poisoned by bandits but his servant gives his life to protect his weakened master. In gratitude, Qi takes the servant's son, Fang Kang, as his student.
- Honor Before Reason
- I Owe You My Life: Fang Kang to Xiaoman after he loses his arm and she nurses him back to health. They later fall in love.
- Jerkass: Some of the students at Fang Kang's school sneer at him because his father was a servant
- Smiling Tiger's students, who harass girls and bully Fang Kang after he loses his arm
- Kill 'Em All: The Big Bad's master plan is to wipe out the entire Golden Sword school
- Multi-Ranged Master: Long-armed Devil also uses javelins and a whip alongside his sword-lock
- Obstructive Love Interest: Xiaoman does not approve of Fang Kang practicing martial arts because her father died protecting a kung fu manual. Out of pity, she reluctantly gives it to Fang Kang.
- Retirony: Qi Rufeng planned to retire from martial arts after his 50th birthday. By the end, he doesn't die, but he has no student to succeed him.
- Took a Level in Badass: Fang Kang, after losing his arm, learns a new style of one-armed fighting from a manual given to him by Xiaoman
- Tragic Keepsake: Fang Kang keeps his father's broken sword. Also, Xiaoman and her father's kung fu manual
- Weapon of Choice: Qi Rufeng and his students use a distinctive, specially designed sword. Deconstructed since the Big Bad creates a specially made sword-lock to counter it.
- Woman Scorned: Master Qi's daughter chops off Fang Kang's arm after being rejected one too many times. Though she regrets it immediately afterwards
- Wrecked Weapon: Fang Kang's father's sword breaks when he is protecting his master. After losing his arm, the broken sword becomes Fang Kang's Weapon of Choice
Tropes applying to Return of the One-Armed Swordsman:
- Big-Bad Ensemble: The Eight Sword Kings who use unique weapons and fighting styles
- The Furtive King has an extendable sword which he hides under his sleeve
- Hercules uses a BFS and simple, brute strength
- Ape's Arms wields a bladed hook-and-chain
- Spinning Wheels and his disciples have bladed shields which they can also throw
- Flying Fighter and his Nine Flying Pupils can jump from great heights to take enemies by surprise
- Hell's Buddha and his Seven Earth Bullies hide underground to ambush their foes
- Poison Dragon has a sword that can release smokescreens and fire projectiles
- Thousand Hands Lady keeps many knives under her dress
- Big Good: Fang Kang reluctantly becomes this.
- The Call Knows Where You Live: Despite living in seclusion, everyone knows who and where he is.
- Bittersweet Ending: By the end of the movie, all the villains are dead, but so are all the students.
- Evil Plan: The villains kidnap the masters of all the sword schools and order the students to chop off their right arms or else they will kill the masters.
- Faux Action Girl: Aside from throwing knives, Thousand Hands Lady relies more on seduction and back-stabbing rather than any actual fighting skill and is easily dispatched after being exposed.
- For the Evulz: The Eight Kings have no real motive for their Evil Plan. Thousand Hands Lady even says "No reason. Just for fun".
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Some of the villains are killed by their own distinctive weapons.
- Legendary in the Sequel: Fang Kang's victory over the Long-armed Devil has made him famous.
- Sequel Escalation: Larger setpieces and battles with more characters fighting onscreen.
- You Look Familiar: Many actors from the previous film play different characters in this one. The most noticeable is Fang Kang's old master as this film's Big Bad.
Tropes Applying to The New One-Armed Swordsman:
- Almighty Janitor/Retired Badass: Lei Li three years after losing his arm, becomes the teaboy in a teahouse.
- Blood Brothers: Feng to Lei. Both being warrior swordsmen, they feel a bond between them, especially when they tried saving Pao from a few villains.
- Cool Old Guy: Hero Lung, who, while the Big Bad, is able to put up a hell of a good fight towards Lei in both their first and last battles.
- Designated Love Interest: Pao Chiao, who, before Feng's arrival, is the only person who is genuinely nice to Lei after loses his arm, even providing Pet the Dog moments for him. By the end, she makes her way to the school and hugs him upon seeing him, despite the amount of dead bodies littered across the area.
- Deuteragonist: Feng Cheng-Chung, who many people have also felt takes up the role of the Protagonist in the middle of the film before his death.
- Foreshadowing: Before Feng's death at the hands of Hero Lung, Feng tells him that if he had three swords, he'd be able to counter his three-way staff. In the final showdown against Lung, Lei uses two swords alongside his one to counter the staff by throwing the additional two up into the air and attacking Lung before grabbing them and incapacitating him. Even Lung points out that Lei inadvertently followed up on what Feng said.
- I Gave My Word: How Lei Li lost his arm. He and the Big Bad Hero Lung duel under the condition that the loser would have to chop their right arm off. After receiving a beat-down from the villain, Lei wishes to fulfill his end of the deal, but Lung tells him not to, saying that Lei is good but a bit too young and that they should forget about their deal. However, Lei, thinking of Honor Before Reason, explains that a warrior should never go back on their word and chops his arm off with his sword whilst also impaling the to a tree with said sword.
- Jerkass/Karma Houdini: The old man owning the teahouse where Lei works in. He always tells Lei to hurry up with the orders given by customers, despite, you know, only having one arm. Also, when Pao is being grabbed by two guys who intend on potentially hurting and raping her, but is saved by the intervention of Lei and Feng Chung-Cheng, the old man gets angry and says that it would have been better if they just let the villains have their way, even saying that they 'just wanted a bit of fun'. Not once through-out the movie does anyone call him out for his dickery.
- One-Hit Kill: The Curb-Stomp Battle in the beginning and the one in the end have Lei kill every single minion with one blow.
- Time Skip: After Lei impales his mutilated arm to a tree in the forest, we see the banners and arm, then the next shot is still in the area three years later, but we see it stormy and the arm now decomposed to the point where it's just bone. It's only through dialogue later on that we discover three years have passed.