th anniversary edition of “One Armed Swordsman”, now is the perfect time to rediscover the work of Jimmy Wang-Yu
For those who are not familiar with Wuxia, it may come as a surprise to learn that Jimmy Wang-Yu was a huge star before Bruce Lee became famous. He rose to fame for his roles as the “One Armed Swordsman” and in his self-directed film “One Armed Boxer,” making him one of the pioneers of martial arts movies. Although his career declined in the 1970s, he left behind a collection of films that are worth revisiting. The 50th anniversary edition of “One Armed Swordsman” by Eureka Entertainment presents an ideal opportunity to rediscover the talent of Jimmy Wang-Yu.th
As we celebrate the anniversary release of the famous novel “Beach of the War Gods”, it is a fitting opportunity to reflect on the author’s impact.
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A Chinese coastal town is in danger as Japanese forces invade. Hsia Feng (Jimmy Wang-Yu) arrives in the town right as the first wave of invaders approaches. With most wealthy residents having already left, the remaining townspeople are unable to provide the demanded tribute. Unable to defend themselves, they seek help from Yu, who agrees to gather a team of warriors to protect them. He assembles a Swordsman, Spearman, Knife thrower, and shield expert. Together, they train the locals to fight against Shinobi Hashimoto (Wong Chi-hok) and his invading forces. A fierce battle ensues and the ultimate fate of the town will be decided in a final duel on the Beach of the War Gods.
The film industry, particularly in the action genre, is international. A successful movie will be modified and revised to suit the culture of its intended viewers. “Beach of the War Gods” can be compared to Six Degrees of Separation in terms of its cinematic impact. Essentially, it is a reworking of Kurosawa’s renowned “Seven Samurai”. However, Kurosawa’s influence can also be seen in the Spaghetti western genre, with his “Yojimbo” inspiring “A Fistful of Dollars”. The visual aesthetic of this movie is heavily influenced by these westerns, with a constant wind and a dusty town setting. Wang Yu also appeared in “Zatoichi vs The One-Armed Swordsman” in 1971, indicating his exposure to the Chanbara films being released in Japan during that time period. Even his attire in the opening scene reflects the style often seen in these films. All of these various styles and approaches come together in what is likely his most visually polished work.
Also, be sure to take a look at this interview.
The choreography for “Beach of the War Gods” is noteworthy because it is both 50 years old and a Jimmy Wang Yu film. Wang Yu, a director at Golden Harvest, was known for his creativity but the action scenes in this film were fairly basic in terms of style. Instead, the characters were visually distinct rather than well-developed. For example, there was a knife thrower, a spear fighter, and one who used two shields. The slow motion and trampoline effects were well-executed, adding to the visual appeal. However, Wang Yu’s signature swirly arm style was still prominent. Despite this, there was a unique atmosphere to the film that made it stand out. The final scene on the beach was visually stunning and provided an epic conclusion to the story.
During this time period, the Japanese were often portrayed as completely evil, with a clear distinction between good and bad. Even the one Chinese fighter who initially prioritized material possessions ultimately succumbed to a sense of duty to their country. Like many other works from this era, there is minimal character development. The Chinese warriors are portrayed as honorable men fighting for their country’s honor, while the villagers are patriotic but unable to defend themselves. The Japanese are depicted as ruthless, with only one notable exception being the notoriously violent general. While this may seem simplistic to modern audiences, it was reflective of the attitudes of the time. Interestingly, there has been a resurgence of this mindset in recent Chinese films, possibly due to a rise in patriotism.
At this particular time in the past, Wang Yu was arguably at the peak of his career. His acting was often stiff and he tended to portray characters who were on the verge of nihilism and frequently missing a limb. Many of these characters would undergo rigorous training that could explain their mindset. Yu is introduced as a traditional hero who saves the day and would typically ride off into the sunset at the end. Almost everyone accepts him as their leader and continues on without much conflict. This results in a lack of dramatic tension in the story, with archetypes taking its place. However, the action scenes make up for this and can be quite exhausting to watch as they dominate the second half of the film.
Jimmy Wang Yu definitely goes for the epic approach with “Beach of the War Gods” and for the most part succeeds. Whilst the narrative is cut and paste, there is more visual flair and polish than normally seen in his work and the influences clearly on display. Arguably it is his greatest achievement as a director. Certainly one to rediscover and enjoy.