One Armed Boxer is the movie you get when you go the Spinal Tap route and turn everything up to 11. Body count? Turn it to 11. Fight scenes? Crank it up to 11. Villains? You know what to do! GET THAT SHIT UP TO 11.
This movie is one of those where everyone in ancient China was a hairs-breadth away from announcing a vendetta against everyone else. At any moment your life could be taken by any one of the hundreds of kung-fu masters that inhabit every town, village and temple. There’s no law, no order, just rival schools ready to murder each other, and roaming bands of kung-fu thugs ready to throw down at the slightest provocation.
In this particular story everything that follows stems from an argument over a table and a caged bird in a tea shop. The members of the Hook Gang are throwing their weight around and beating a man up for having the temerity to sit at their table (though it does beg the question of why the owner sat him at that table if he knew it was the one the thugs normally sit at. Maybe he just had it in for this guy). Yu Tien Lung (played by writer/director Jimmy Wang Yu) and his fellow students can’t let this stand, and apply a beatdown to the Hook Gang, who then go back to their Master to complain about how they all got beaten up and how it was totally NOT their fault and it was actually these others who were being bullies!
The situation rapidly escalates from there, culminating in the leader of the Hook Gang, Chao Liu (played by Yeh Tien), enlisting all manner of mercenary fighters to help him. There’s a judo expert, a tae kwon do master, a pair of Thai kickboxers, two Tibetan monks, an “Indian” yoga master and even a trio of Okinawan karate masters led by what appears to be some kind of heavy metal karate vampire.
The craziness continues when our brave hero must overcome the loss of his arm and learn to fight again using the “Crippled Fighting” technique. Remember how in some kung-fu films there’s often scenes of people punching hot sand or gravel to strengthen their skin and hands? In this one he straight up plunges his remaining hand into burning coals and then smashes his hand with a boulder to make sure that all the nerves in it are dead. This coupled with some “special medicine” will somehow turn him into a prototype version of One Punch Man with an arm like steel, able to kill with a single blow. Not sure I entirely follow how that works, but this is just that kind of movie.
The fight choreography is decent enough, with special attention being paid to the different fighters, which is lovely to see. The Tibetan monks do weird things like blocking off their pressure points which somehow makes them expand like they’re wearing airbags. The yoga master runs around on his hands and makes people dizzy as well as occasionally stabbing himself without leaving a wound. The far more mundane judo fighter uses lots of throws and trips, and the kickboxers use their knees and feet. The fights are scrappy, nowhere near as near-ritualistic as some, and while they do sometimes drag out a bit, they’re still a fun watch.
For this new Blu-ray release Eureka have done their usual sterling job with the transfer, every spurt of blood, every torn piece of cloth, every horrific burn when you’ve been plunging your hands into a burning fire, everything is sharp and crisp, colours vibrant without being oversaturated. In terms of special features there are a few things to add to the movie.
There’s the usual Mandarin and English audio options. The English dub and the subtitles bear only a passing resemblance to each other and the English version has a whole lot more swearing. There’s a new audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng, a stills gallery, a US trailer (where it was released as The Chinese Professionals), and even an alternate version of the opening credits.
This film has been somewhat overshadowed by the ones that came before and after it. Preceding it was another film about a one-armed fighter – The One Armed Swordsman, while the sequel to One Armed Boxer, Master of the Flying Guillotine, has gone on to be regarded as a kung-fu classic. Is this film worth your time? Definitely. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s unapologetically over the top, it’s got some great set-piece fights and best of all it’s got the theme song to Shaft (yes really) playing over the opening credits. What’s not to like?
One Armed Boxer is out on Blu-ray on 24th May from Eureka Entertainment.