Ever wanted to see two heroes of cinema from different countries cross paths? Well when China’s Wang Gang (from the One Armed Swordsman) travels to Japan to find a more peaceful life but he also crosses paths with Zatoichi, the blind Japanese Swordsman!
It starts off by introducing Zatoichi and his skills as he fends off a group of attackers on his travels. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Wang Gang (Jimmy Wang Yu) as he arrives in Japan and meets a friendly young family.
During their travel together, Wang Gang and the family see a group of royal travellers who they must, by law, step off the road and let through. After stepping away, the son of the couple Shaolong drops something and runs out to get it, interrupting the parade.
That’s when one of the ruthless Samurai draws his sword to cut down the poor little fella, but the blade is intercepted by his mother and father.
This happens before Wang Gang has a chance to react, so he then jumps out and chops up most of the group with his short blade, saving Shaolong. The group of Samurai then kill all of the witnesses in the area and blame ‘the Chinese traveller’, so everyone is now after Wang Gang.
Inevitably Zatoichi and Wang Gang cross paths and befriend each other, yet cannot communicate due to the differences in their language. That’s when they start to travel to the temple that Wang Gang is heading for, but must evade capture and death from Samurai forces out for the ‘Chinese man’.
Little more Zatoichi then One Armed Swordsman
It was only natural that one of these characters would be put in a bad position, and Wang Gang’s ‘Wanted’ status makes for a good reason for both Zatoichi and himself to cross paths. Unfortunately though, the movie definitely seems to favor Zatoichi.
Zatoichi seems to have the most action scenes, plus the movie itself takes place in Japan so naturally he makes the smarter moves. But it’s the ending (spoilers) that seals the deal – with Zatoichi killing Wang Gang but walking away injured.
However I did read that the Japanese release ends and differs from the Chinese release, so I’m guessing I saw the Japanese version as Chinese audiences sure as hell don’t want to see more of a ‘Japanese’ character when their hero is the One Armed Swordsman!
The story is very simple to follow, and I found one of the most interesting aspects of the movie being the inability of Zatoichi and Wang Gang to communicate (speaking different languages), and it’s this lack of communication that leads to their inevitable rivalry toward the end. It’s poetic however that both men seem to realize this a little too late.
The Martial Arts and Action
Both men are introduced fantastically.
Zatoichi has a fight scene at the very beginning of the film showing off his tremendous skill, while shortly after we see Wang Gang chop up the Samurai almost effortlessly with his sword.
The quality of the action is a little mixed. The sword fights are pretty solid, but have a few weak points. You can notice this especially in a few parts where Wang Gang is fighting where he seems to turn his armless side toward his enemies and they seem to just circle and stare while he chops up their comrades – I couldn’t help but think they’d just step in and kill him during as it was just glaring them in the face!
The unarmed fights were a little loose but still not bad. Overall most of the sword work makes this film great – and there’s a lot of it sprinkled throughout the movie.
Whats most interesting to me is the difference in fighting style both men have. Staying true to their origins, Zatoichi keeps his sword fighting style which often sees him with the sword in an underhand grip. Meanwhile Wang Gang still has his short blade which is true to the ‘left handed’ movements he studied during the first ‘One Armed Swordsman’ film. His style is very similar – I imagine they can’t vary it too much with only one arm to work with!
The action is an authentic mix of Hong Kong and Japanese choreography that blends very well, making this a quality classic that is well balanced between both Chinese and Japanese film fighting styles.
Do I recommend it?
For lovers of the classics I do, and even for those who don’t appreciate older movies, you may enjoy it still. It’s a solid movie with two great cinematic martial arts characters. Check it out!
On DVD –
Region 1 (US & Canada)
Zatoichi Meets the One Armed Swordsman
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