Jimmy Wang Yu: Essential Martial Arts Films

Zatoichi and the One-Armed Swordsman (1971)

Among the one-armed swordsman films, this one is the most cited because it represented the crossover of two franchises, Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman (Shintaro Katsu) and Wang’s One-armed Swordsman, renamed Wang Kang, maybe to avoid copyright issues. For fans of Kung Fu movies, it’s a clash of mega-titans like Godzilla vs. Kong. A cooperative effort between Japanese Katsu Productions and Chinese company Wing Luen Movie Film, it leans more into classic Kung Fu choreography than samurai chanbara. Even the sound effects sound more like a Kung Fu movie. Communication issues between Zatoichi and Wang, as both speak their native languages, provide most of the comedy.

Zatoichi and the One-Armed Swordsman features tasty ultraviolence: toothpick in eyeball, ear ectomy, cut sword holding echoing hand star wars. However, it’s not a standout example of Zatoichi’s films, which is such an incredible franchise that it’s part of the Criterion Collection. Rather, it’s a failed attempt to crossover into the Kung Fu market, a deviant side note.

There is a prevailing rumor that there were two versions of the film. In the Japanese version, Zatoichi wins the final duel. In the Chinese version, both heroes die. However, the Chinese version has disappeared. Maybe he never existed.

By the way, the soundtrack is by Isao Tomita, or as many know him, Tomita. Tomita was a pioneer of electronic and space music in the 70s that covered many classical arrangements with synthesizers.

The Hong Kong Man (1975)

In a departure from his typical vintage martial arts films, Wang has embraced this modern twist of vigilantes and spies in the spirit of James Bond, so much so that he stars former Bond George Lazenby. After leaving Bond, Lazenby attempted to gain traction in Chinese cinema with this film and Ripper (1974) with Angela Mao Ying. Hong Kong man was a more successful endeavor – a self-aware satirical film that aspires only to entertain with solid action and humor.

Australia had its own unique brand of grindhouse actioners, dubbed Ozsploitation. This film was a first cooperation between Golden Harvest studios in Hong Kong and The Movie Company in Australia and Hong Kong man is a fun mix of Ozploitation and Kung Fu genres.

Wang stars as Inspector Fang Sing Leng of the Royal Hong Kong Police sent to Sydney to help the Australian Federal Narcotics Bureau when a Chinese drug smuggler shows up. Lazenby plays Jack Wilton, a drug lord who runs a martial arts school. As neither Wang nor Lazenby were martial artists, the fight scenes are less polished than when Wang was on his own turf. Nonetheless, the fights get a boost from veteran Sammo Hung, who served as a martial arts choreographer.

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