Writer-director Wang Yu stars as Yu, a martial arts student who beats up some bad guys after a confrontation at a restaurant. The chief baddie, Shao, is thoroughly embarrassed by the ineptitude of his underlings. So, he hires a bunch of mercenaries to take revenge on Yu’s school. The fighters-for-hire, each an expert at a different martial arts discipline, consist of: a fanged karate master, a pair of Thai boxers, a judo expert, a taekwondo fighter, a Yoga teacher, and two Tibetan lamas. The latter two are the most fun. The Yoga teacher walks on his hands and fights with his feet. The lamas can “control their circulation” and inflate their bodies so weapons bounce off them.
“But first, we will have to kill every nerve in the arm, ”says the old man. “If even one nerve remains, it won’t work.” It does, of course, and you can pretty much guess the rest of the plot.
As a martial artist, Wang Yu lacked the fluid style that made Bruce Lee so much fun to watch. And, in this film anyway, he comes across as a little goofy (his blue-and-white outfit doesn’t help). But he directs with style, making excellent use of unusual settings like a brick factory and a mill. He certainly keeps the pace tight, too, devoting about 80% of the film’s running time to the fight scenes.
The One-Armed Boxer was produced by Golden Harvest, the same company that made Bruce Lee’s Asian movies. Wang Yu tried to establish himself as Lee’s successor, even changing his billing to Jimmy Wang Yu. Alas, the “Kung Fu Craze” was short-lived and Wang Yu lacked the charisma to sustain it.
My sister and I saw The One-Armed Boxer at a local theatre in 1974 and never forgot it. I finally found it on video in the mid-1990s (though the film quality was poor). At the same time, I bought the The One-Armed Boxer 2 (aka The Master of the Flying Guillotine), which also stars Wang Yu. It’s about an elaborate martial arts tournament and also features fighters with different styles. It’s more polished and entertaining than its predecessor and, thanks to Quentino Tarantino and others, has become a well-known cult film. Maybe someday, the original One-Armed Boxer will be rediscovered.