It’s so difficult not to fall in love with the one-armed swordman as he exhibits all the masculine traits on what it means to be a man. Ideally, he really is the perfect man. I watched this film several times–not just for the poetic concept of masculinity, but for the cinematography. It’s a visually attractive and soothing film to watch in the evening, just when the sun is about to set.
The story is about an orphan, the son of a servant belonging to a prestigious martial arts school that is famous for its swordsmanship. In the opening of the film, the assassins attempt to assassinate the headmaster, teacher Qi, but failed. Instead the protagonist’s father dies in his place. At the mercy of the protagonist’s father, the headmaster promises to train the orphan like one of his nephews as his disciple.
Even though the orphan is treated well by the headmaster, our hero, the orphan, never sees himself above a servant and continues to accept his social status as a servant. This hard headed “arrogant” personality irritates the headmaster daughter because she has taken a liking to him but he refuses to acknowledge her by her name, suggesting that he is aware of his social status. The protagonist remains distant from her, not because he finds her repulsive because he is a true gentleman.
Rejecting the headmaster’s daughter who resembles a spoiled brat princess causes lethal consequence. They say, a woman’s wrath is quick tempered, unforeseen and unpredictable like the changing weather–one moment it’s sunny and then in a flick of an eye, it’s pouring rain (I hear this generalized statement often in martial art films and I have to disagree with this statement, but I will use anyway because the story is told from a heterosexual male perspective). Out of anger from losing in a duel using just bare hands, she chops off the hero’s right arm, leaving him maimed.
Time and again, being a gentleman, the hero will not lay a hand on the headmaster’s daughter even though he just got his arm chopped off. Instead he flees and falls into a boat that belongs to a beautiful woman, who happens to be an orphan herself. This is one of my favorite scenes. Fate is kind enough to bring him to a kind-heart maiden who not only nurses the hero back to life, but who is able to help him gain his strength.
Humiliated at the fact, the hero cannot defend the maiden when they were harassed by two martial arts disciples, the maiden offers him a powerful martial arts book which contains only the left-handed portion. We learned the martial arts book was thrown into fire because the maiden’s mother blamed the book for taking her husband’s life. Magically, it seems that it is fated that this book is meant for the hero. Ironically, he becomes stronger with the new martial arts technique than he was when he still has his right arm.
This new technique not only helps the hero defend himself, but also came in handy when he learned the headmaster’s daughter has been captured by the dangerous martial artist named Smiling Tiger. To make the story short, the headmaster’s daughter is saved, and the bad guys are eliminated. The hero is then given the praise for being a true martial artist worthy to become the headmaster’s successor. But this recognition and leadership got turned down. His father died because of martial arts. The maiden’s father died because of martial arts. The hero chooses to abandon the martial arts world and become a farmer, living a peaceful life with the country girl, who saved him.
How noble, isn’t it? Willing to die for your fellow brothers and deny the recognition and the leadership role offered to him. The hero, is a farmer, maimed, and a simple man. What I find so admirable about the protagonist is how he sticks to his true self. He has always identified himself as a servant, and he continues to fight like a servant. It’s hard not to fall in love with such a character. You use your strength to protect and not use it to harm other. He really is a true leader. I realized from watching the film that sometimes the most manliest of men is the one who lives a quiet, simple life.