Is that your dad’s sword or are you just happy to see me?

In 2011 I enjoyed reading the catalog of the 2003 UCLA film event Heroic Grace: The Chinese Martial Arts Film.  It’s good stuff, and I thank Mark Arnold for sharing it. 

The articles about wuxia and kung fu cinema are intelligent and interesting.  There is one article by Berenice Reynaud that really stands out:  “The Book, The Goddess and the Hero: Sexual Aesthetics in the Chinese Martial Arts Film” [pp 19-23].  In it, Professor Reynaud asserts that wuxia and kung fu films are chock full of sexual symbols, mostly of repressed homosexuality and castration.   Oh really?  I never knew that. 

Her analysis of Chang Cheh’s 1967 classic “One Armed Swordsman” is pretty darn fascinating.  I won’t recap the film here but I will share a couple excerpts from Reynaud’s analysis, just to show how impressive it is.  

First, on the girl who chops Fan Gang (Wang Yu)’s arm off:

Her repressed attraction for the young man may be read as a tragic metaphor for unrequited homosexual desire; she pines for him, but, dismayed at his “arrogance,” refuses to admit it.

And then, when Fang gets his arm chopped off,

…[his] wound becomes the equivalent of the female’s “castrated genitals” and has to be carefully hidden.

Oh really?  I’ve watched “One Armed Swordsman” a couple times and never noticed that. Now here’s the most interesting excerpt:

…the villains’ secret weapon – a two-pronged “sword-clamp” device that captures the opponent’s blade – brings to mind one’s worst fantasies of the mythical vagina indentata (“tooth-lined vagina”, a metaphor for the castrating female). It is because the hero is “castrated” (and forced to fight with a shorter sword) that he won’t be “caught” by the feminine device.

Really?  …Wow, all these years I have been so blind.

One Armed Swordsman Sword Clamp
Honestly, my initial reaction to the sword-clamp was that it looks like a little alligator.

I see now that I have been entirely missing the point of weapons in martial arts films.  So has Tong Gaai, who invented this clamp per script specifications as well as many other repressed homosexual movie weapons.  I guess the truth is, weapons aren’t just for killing and hurting people.  They’re not just there in movies to be fun and bad ass or to display raw power. No, they are there to make you feel uncomfortable about sex.

I don’t want to be ignorant. And I don’t want to not feel uncomfortable when I watch martial arts flicks. So I decided to study Ms. Reynaud’s hypotheses. I decided to take a closer look at ALL the sexy weapons used in “One Armed Swordsman”.


One Armed Swordsman Wang Yu Broken Sword

Jimmy’s broken sword in all its symbolic glory. According to the professor, it is his castrated (murdered) father. That’s obvious, so now let’s turn to the other weapons that Ms. Reynaud didn’t mention.

First, my fave masters Lau Kar Leung and Tong Gaai, the action choreographers who also appear in the film as bad ass assassins. 

Lau Kar Leung - Tong Gaai - One Armed Swordsman

They spend all their screen time clamping the crap out of  good guys’ swords with mythical vaginas, then stabbing them in the belly with little daggers, which are about 6″ long and 1″ or so around.  Hmmmm.

But these daggers are puny compared to:

One Armed Swordsman Cheng Lei pole
Cheng Lei’s enormous pole.

 Cheng gets penetrated several times by small daggers then his pole is castrated to death. Obviously repressed mother-goddess issues.

One Armed Swordsman whip
A whip is usually a feminine weapon, so what’s that saying about this guy?

And the claw-cord whip below is also wielded by a man.

One Armed Swordsman whip claw weapon

I suspect there are some castration issues going on with these two.

The symbolism gets more complex now. In the picture below, we find an axe, a three-section staff, a saber, a table, a bowl on the table, and a jug.  Jimmy is in the act of yanking out his castrated father to open a can of one-armed whoop-ass.

One Armed Swordsman Axe Three section staff Saber Bowl Jug Table
Axe = Cleavage = Breasts.
Three-section staff = swings three ways = Poysexual.
Jimmy’s Sword = already castrated.
Saber = about to be castrated, big time.
Bowl and Jug = Round = The Womb = Pedophilia.
Table = I can’t think of a damn thing.

The teahouse fight weapons are just too numerous and varied to show here but I think Professor Reynaud would agree that they all symbolize something sexually uncomfortable. Here are a couple more examples of her “sexy weapons” hypothesis:

One Armed Swordsman faai ji porcupine
Chopsticks = Castrated Porcupine = Mother.
One Armed Swordsman bench
Wooden Bench = Banging Into Walls Really Hard = Father.
One Armed Swordsman Wine Jug
Flying Wine Jug = I can’t think of a anything for this one either.

Ms. Reynaud did not mention Tien Feng’s role as a surrogate repressed homosexual father to Fang Gang but I’m pretty she’d agree with me on the symbolic castration role the following weapons play:

Poison Letter = Sublimated Homosexual Desire for Paper.
One Armed Swordsman Chang Cheh Wang Shaw Brothers Yu Tien Feng hairpin
Small Curved Sharp Hairpin
= Fingernails
= Your Sister or the Lady at the DMV
= You’re Gay.


Other sexy weapons in the film are the crutch, lances, and a curved dagger that belongs to a guy who gets his hand chopped off.  Now that you see how obviously present sexual asthetics are in martial arts films, you can come up with some uncomfortable ideas for those weapons on your own and get back to me.
…and just in case you’re still not convinced that “One Armed Swordsman” is crammed with uncomfortable homosexual castration symbols, I give you  this image:
One Armed Swordsman Dart
Come on people, he’s wearing his mom’s eyeliner.
If this doesn’t convince you then nothing will.





One Armed Swordsman broken sword
Dad? Can you hear me?




May 2011

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