When I was watching The Return of the One-Armed Swordsman (Chang Cheh, 1969) on DVD the other night, I began to re-evaluate the meaning of a “sequel.” In dollars-and-cents, it can be a great idea for a creative entity and its financial backers. If made well, it’s equally swell for a supportive audience. But what about the characters in the story world of the film (or book or video game for that matter)? Do they want to come back for more?
As the narrative premise of the sequel to The One-Armed Swordsman (1967) was being established, I couldn’t help but think, “Why would they want to come back for more?” To me, a sequel indicates that the hero’s first attempt had failed. The lessons of his vengeance or dignified violence were not internalized amongst other antagonistic forces; the confidence and esteem instilled in the “victims” of the first incident were ephemeral (How many times can Super Man save the day? How many people need Jessica Fletcher‘s sleuthing skills over and over and over again?) Unless, of course, the protagonist had to redeem himself — he would come back again and again to right wrongs, clear his name, or nail the uber-villain for the last time.
In Dirty Harry‘s case, he came back four times.
An athlete may not regard a “sequel” as such an unappetizing experience. In fact, he may cherish and define it as a second chance to excel or reclaim a lost championship. Winning every trial, region, division, and semi-final gets him one step closer to gold. Then again, if he started out on top, how long does he want to stay there? How many times would he want to come back?