[The following review contains SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
When I first watched Master of the Flying Guillotine back in college, I was surprised to learn that it was, in fact, the sequel to a rarely discussed obscurity called One Armed Boxer. Although this lack of context hardly diminished my enjoyment of the beloved cult classic (kung fu cinema of the '70s was not, after all, known for its narrative complexity), I was still eager to experience the story in its entirety. Fortunately, thanks to the fine folks at Arrow Video, I was finally able to do just that.
The verdict: One Armed Boxer is about as simple and formulaic as the genre gets. After a rival martial arts school hires a motley crew of Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Tibetan mercenaries to slaughter his master and fellow students, a battered, humbled, and horribly maimed Jimmy Wang Yu (who built a career out of portraying vengeful amputees) must train his single remaining fist into a deadly weapon capable of crushing his bloodthirsty foes. There’s really not much more to it than that; the “plot” exists for the sole purpose of justifying the exquisitely choreographed action. And make no mistake: the fights are captivatingly beautiful in their relentless brutality, striking an elegant balance between the graceful, dancelike formal precision found in Shaw Brothers productions and the comparatively grounded, naturalistic, functional style popularized by Bruce Lee. Sure, the combatants occasionally pose melodramatically and hit obvious marks, but even the most traditional, disciplined bouts ultimately deteriorate into chaotic barroom brawls.
While it isn’t nearly as imaginative as Master of the Flying Guillotine, as visually accomplished as One-Armed Swordsman, or as thematically rich as Zatoichi and the One-Armed Swordsman (yes, seriously), One Armed Boxer is nevertheless perfectly entertaining despite (and, in many cases, because of) its status as grindhouse fodder. The colorful baddies are particularly fun. The primary antagonist, for example, is a delightfully campy coward that suffers an appropriately ignominious demise straight out of a Looney Tunes short (propelled sky-high when his own grenade detonates at his feet—a deliciously karmic fate for such a vile, disreputable character). The main henchman is equally absurd, sporting an unexplained pair of vampire fangs and the most ridiculous dishrag wig ever glued to a thoroughly embarrassed actor’s head (with the possible exception of the truly atrocious hairpiece draped cross Matt Hannon's scalp in Samurai Cop). Indeed, the villains are so integral to the movie's quality that it ends literally the second the last of them is slain.
One Armed Boxer is, in conclusion, the quintessential exploitation film: grimy, gory, and absolutely glorious!