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Film / One-Armed Swordsman

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The One-Armed Swordsman is a series of Hong Kong martial arts films produced by the Shaw Brothers Studios 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 results 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 (Jimmy Wang Yu), while The New One-Armed Swordsman is completely unrelated to the previous installments, this time focusing on former mercenary and current waiter Lei Li (David Chiang).

A fourth movie, titled The One Armed Swordsmen (plural) was released nearly a decade after the original film. Reuniting the two original actors of the eponymous swordsmen, this movie stars Jimmy Wang-yu as Fong Ping and David Chiang as Li Hao, two swordsmen, each with one arm, stumbling into each other while on their respective quests for vengeance.

See also One Armed Swordswoman, a Taiwanese adaptation with a Gender Flipped protagonist.

The films in general apply the following tropes:

Tropes applying to One-Armed Swordsman:

  • Big Bad: Long-Armed Devil, who wants to wipe out the entire Golden Sword school to avenge his defeat against Qi decades ago.
  • Big Good: Qi Rufeng, master of the Golden Sword School
  • But Now I Must Go: After defeating all the villains, Fang Kang retires from martial arts to be a farmer with Xiaoman.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: The sword-lock that the Big Bad and his students use. Since it was made specifically to disable Qi Rufeng's Golden Sword, it is useless against any other weapon. Only Fang Kang exploits this with his broken sword. Upon realizing this, the Big Bad drops his sword-lock and switches to his other weapons.
  • Dual Wielding: To counter the Golden Sword style, the Big Bad's style utilizes his specialized sword-lock in the off-hand to trap the opponent's Golden Sword, then a dagger with the other hand to finish them off.
  • Easily Forgiven: Fang Kang makes a promise to Xiaoman that he wouldn't get involved any further in the martial arts world, but breaks it by going to the final battle. After he returns, she welcomes him back without further issue.
  • Evil Laugh: Long-armed Devil and Smiling Tiger are fond of this especially while scheming together.
    • This leads to the Big Bad's undoing. After one of his javelins hits Fang Kang, he gloats and laughs at his apparent victory, allowing Fang Kang to recover and catch him off-guard, ending him once and for all.
  • Exact Words: In preparation for the final battle, Long-Armed Devil forbids Smiling Tiger's sons from taking the sword-lock outside of their headquarters to prevent anyone else from knowing about it. So instead, they lure several Golden Sword disciples inside and use the sword-lock to kill them.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Smiling Tiger is always polite and smiling, putting on the charm when inviting Qi's daughter into his house before abducting her. He finally drops the act when confronting Fang Kang in revenge for his sons.
  • The Faceless: The Big Bad's face is only shown in final battle.
  • Hate Sink: Pei-er, the Spoiled Brat daughter of Qi who causes Fang Kang much pain and suffering, up to and including the loss of his arm. Everything she does makes her the least sympathetic character in the movie, and unlike her two fellow students who end up falling victim to the Big Bad's mooks, she doesn't get any comeuppance for her actions.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Xiaoman nurses Fang Kang back to health after he loses his arm. They later fall in love.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Fang Kang's former school bullies eventually regret how they treated him. Then get killed 2 scenes later.
  • Held Gaze: Multiple times between Fang Kang and Xiaoman.
  • I Owe You My Life: In the intro, Qi Rufeng 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 one of his students.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Smiling Tiger's sons attempt to have their way with Pei-er before Fang Kang interrupts and rescues her.
  • Jerkass:
    • Several students at Fang Kang's school belittle him because his father was a servant.
    • Smiling Tiger's sons, who harass girls and bully Fang Kang after he loses his arm.
  • Kung-Shui: The fight at the restaurant between Fang Kang and Smiling Tiger's Hired Guns ends with the whole place wrecked.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Fang Kang disarms Smiling Tiger's sons when rescuing Qi's daughter from their clutches. Lampshaded:
    Fang Kang: "You bullied me because I'm maimed. Now you know what it's like!"
  • Leave No Witnesses: To prevent Qi Rufeng from knowing about the sword-lock, the Big Bad and his disciples usually ambush Golden Sword students in remote areas and make sure they don't escape alive.
  • Mook Chivalry:
    • Averted by the villains who ambush wandering Golden Sword students when they are alone.
    • Played depressingly straight in the final battle. The Golden Sword students fight one-on-one duels with the Big Bad and his 2 disciples instead of swarming them with superior numbers. This gets most of them killed before Fang Kang arrives.
  • Multi-Ranged Master: Long-Armed Devil uses javelins and a whip alongside his sword-lock.
  • No Place for Me There: When the story begins, Fang Kang decides to leave the school to avoid causing trouble for his master due to his poor background. Unfortunately, his snobbish fellow students (and Qi's daughter, Pei-er) use this opportunity to 'teach him a lesson'.
  • The 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.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Fang Kang wears a mask to disguise himself while saving Pei-er from Smiling Tiger's sons. They all recognize him anyway; the missing arm doesn't help.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The bad guys are defeated, but the Golden Sword School is effectively lost, with most of its disciples dead and Fang Kang retiring, leaving no one succeed the school. Qi Rufeng breaks his own sword as a symbol of this.
  • Rank Scales with Asskicking: The masters on both sides put up a much better fight than their students do.
  • Retirony: Qi Rufeng planned to retire from martial arts after his 55th birthday. By the end, he doesn't die, but he has no one to succeed him.
  • Revenge: Long-armed Devil seeks vengeance on Qi Rufeng for defeating him decades ago, and plans to eliminate the entire school to prevent any retribution in turn. Later, Smiling Tiger wants revenge on Fang Kang after his sons lose their arms. In contrast, Xiaoman lives peacefully and doesn't try to avenge her father, knowing she'd only be killed.
  • Smug Smiler: Every villainous character. The Golden Sword students who mistreated Fang Kang fit this too (though they eventually grow out of it).
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Qi's 55th birthday celebration has a feast set out, but the entire school sits in silence without touching it, awaiting the arrival of the Big Bad.
  • Too Clever by Half: A pair of Golden Sword disciples figure out the method behind Big Bad's sword-lock, despite his attempts to keep it secret. They are killed only a short while later, but one of them is able to pass the news to Fang Kang before dying.
  • 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.
  • Woman Scorned: Qi's daughter chops off Fang Kang's arm after being rejected one too many times. Though she regrets it immediately afterwards.
  • Weapon Specialization: Qi Rufeng and his disciples use a distinctive, specially designed sword. Deconstructed since the Big Bad creates a specially made tool to counter it.
  • 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 main weapon.

Tropes applying to Return of the One-Armed Swordsman:

  • Asshole Victim: Shan Xiong, the student who kidnaps Xiaoman to coerce Fang Kang into fighting the Eight Kings. He gets a Cruel and Unusual Death from Ape's Arms.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: The Eight Sword Kings who have unique weapons and fighting styles:
  • Big Good: Fang Kang reluctantly becomes this.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Despite living in seclusion, everyone eventually finds out who and where Fang Kang is.
  • Captured on Purpose: Fang Kang poses as a sword student who's lost his arm in order to enter the Big Bad's fortress and break out the imprisoned masters inside while their students invade from the outside.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Some of the tactics used to counter the Eight Kings's unusual fighting styles, such as setting spike traps for Flying Fighter or throwing a net over Hercules before surrounding and finishing him off.
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": Fang Kang doesn't like being called "master", or by his moniker, "One-Armed Swordsman".
  • Evil Plan: The villains kidnap the masters of all the sword schools under the pretense of a tournament 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 quickly 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".
  • Heroic Sacrifice: One of the students gives in to the villains' demands and hacks off his sword-arm. This act finally convinces Fang Kang to help the students.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Ape's Arms and Spinning Wheels are killed by their own distinctive weapons.
  • Legendary in the Sequel: Fang Kang's victory over Long-Armed Devil has made him famous even after 2 years.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: By the end of the movie, all the villains are dead, but so are all the students (except the one who sacrificed his arm and withdrew from the rest of the conflict).
  • Sequel Escalation: Larger setpieces and battles with more characters fighting onscreen.
  • Starter Villain: The Black and White Swordsmen who "invite" other sword disciples to the Big Bad's tournament and kill whoever refuses, are easily curbstomped twice by Fang Kang.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: In the intro, Fang Kang only gets 2 bites of his meal, which disappears when another master visits his home to provide Exposition for the film.

Tropes applying to The New One-Armed Swordsman:
Lei Li and Feng Jun-jie sharing an intimate moment bonding together. Sorry Pao Chiao, but bros before hoes!

  • Almighty Janitor/Retired Badass: Lei Li three years after losing his arm, becomes the teaboy in a teahouse.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Elite Mook: Lung's acolytes, a dozen of his "best students and trainees", whom are clad entirely in black and red and are frequently shown following Lung. Although their skills are more of an Informed Ability, considering as they went up against Lei-li, they all die under a minute (or maybe Lei-li is just that good).
  • 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.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Feng was killed by bisection at the waist.
  • 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.
  • Mook Lieutenant: The four generals of Tiger Hall, whom are often seen leading the lesser mooks around and putting up a much better fight than the regular mooks. One of them gets killed by Feng during the night ambush to kidnap Pao Chiao, and later in the climax when Lei-li storms the Tiger Hall all by himself, he battles the remaining three generals and kills all of them, one at a time.
  • 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.
  • One-Man Army: Lei-li in the finale, where his bodycount skyrockets as he massacres his way through a graveyard, pagoda, bridge and the Tiger Hall's mansion, leaving behind a field of dead bodies from the Tiger Hall's mansion.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After Lei-li kills off Chief Chan, the leader of Tiger Hall, the remaining 15 or so mooks quickly scrams. Wise move, since they just witnessed Lei-li kill more than 80 of their members and they'll very likely fare no better than their dead comrades.
  • Take It to the Bridge: The climax have an extended battle scene on a bridge, where Lei fights off wave after wave of enemies while making his way across. He later confronts (and defeats) Lung on that very same bridge.
  • 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.

Tropes applying to The One-Armed Swordsmen:
The average troper has equal amount of arms as both of them combined. Hopefully.

  • Actor Allusion: Fong Ping and Li Hao are the titular swordsmen, respectively played by Jimmy Wang-yu and David Chiang - the titular stars of One Armed Swordsman and The New One Armed Swordsman.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: During the scene where Fong Ping and Li Hao fight each other, how do audiences tell them apart, considering they're both swordsmen short of an arm and using identical swords? Well, Fong Ping wears black and Li Hao wears white.
  • Die, Chair, Die!: Fong Ping, when confronted by a group of thugs during the tavern fight, simply draws his sword, makes a few flashy moves, and a second later a table near him collapses and falls apart.
  • Eye-Obscuring Hat: Fong Ping's wide-brimmed straw hat, which covers his forehead and eyes.
  • Gratuitous Ninja: Some of the enemy fighters in this installment are clad in ninja outfits, including face-obscuring masks.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Played straight during the tavern fight. The bandits attacking Fong Ping and Li Hao are armed with all kinds of weapons, including clubs, halberds, spears and chains, while Fong Ping and Li Hao use their trusty swords.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Fong Ping and Li Hao. in that order.
  • The Snack Is More Interesting: Fong Ping and Li Hao casually sip on their wine while nimbly dodging multiple mooks' unsuccessful attempts to attack them. After finishing off the last mook, both of them actually did a "cheers" toast with each other!

Alternative Title(s): The New One Armed Swordsman, Return Of The One Armed Swordsman, One Armed Swordsmen