The original "One-Armed Swordsman" was a epic tale of loyalty and martial arts drama that focused on expert storytelling and great character work. It's a classic Shaw Brothers film if there ever was one. That's what makes the sequel to such a film, this one being "Return Of The One-Armed Swordsman" such a strange and rather unique watch. It's almost NOTHING like the first one. It's got a lot of fun things about it, but rarely does it reach the merits of the original one in its depth.
Fang Gang (Wang) has been living very happily with his wife Xiaoman as simple farmers away from the world of martial arts and swordsmen until a couple of messengers deliver an invitation to the fabled One-Armed Swordsman. He is invited to compete against eight sword kings who look to champion the sword world. When he learns the rest of the sword masters have been captured by these diabolical and themed swordsmen he joins their students in leading an all out assault to overthrow the villains.
The first film was character driven and story heavy. "Return" is all action with just enough cheesy plot to link it all together into one cohesive chain of sword fighting sequences. Don't get me wrong though, this sequel is entertaining as hell. It's still a riot to watch the hardened Fang Gang tear shit up and the clever ways he beats all of the gimmicky villains (of which there seems to be an endless amount of), but the film certainly lacks the depth of its writing and the amount of time. Our hero has relatively no arc or none that wasn't already treaded in the first film and many of our supporting cast get little time to be worthy of a viewer's emotional investment. To this effect, the film simply works as a martial arts film and rarely goes beyond that.
Luckily, Chang Cheh delivers the goods as a director, even if his script is rather weak. The fight sequences are non-stop and each one memorable with distinct villains and their style of fighting (the winner though is the Spinning Wheels King with his bladed shields). The camera work blends with the cheesy style of the script to maximize the effort and despite the budget Cheh makes the ending feel quite epic. Matched with the various quality of acting from the cast, it works to relative effectiveness.
Although the original film was much stronger as a film, its hard not to enjoy "Return Of The One-Armed Swordsman" for all of its cheesy and non stop martial arts madness. Fang Gang is still a wonderful character to watch and its obvious to see why he became a cult favorite for the Shaw Brothers studio (with a few more sequels and a couple of spin-offs). Not a great film, but entertaining nonetheless.
Written By Matt Reifschneider
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