8 Diagram Pole Fighter
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A heroic family is double crossed and massacred on the battle field and only two of the brothers (Gordon Liu- Yang #5 and Alexander Fu Sheng) survive the slaughter. A survivor (Gordon Liu- 36th Chamber of Shaolin) escapes to a Shaolin temple where his bloodlust and thirst for vengeance puts him at odds with the monks. When he discovers his sister is captured by the same villains who destroyed his family he leaves the monastery in an attempt to rescue her and avenge what has come upon his family.
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The plot? When the seven spear-wielding Yang brothers and their father march onto The Battle of Jinsha, they fall victim to a calculated ambush by the jealous General Pan Mei. The Yangs are slaughtered but for the fifth and sixth brothers, except that the sixth brother is promptly rendered brain-addled by what he'd endured. Which leaves the 5th brother, seething in his need for vengeance, and this p!ssed off fifth brother is played by the awesome Gordon Liu.
Back home, what remains of the now disgraced Yang family - basically, the womenfolk and the demented 6th brother (yep, crazy had come to the Yang household) - is planning to testify against General Pan Mei in front of the Emperor, but not if Pan Mei has anything to say about it.
Meanwhile, Fifth Brother makes his way to an isolated Shaolin temple, a place in which he thinks he can bide his time and be patient and revenge is a dish best served cold and whatnot. He informs the monks that he also wants to become a monk, but no one buys his fake sincerity. It finally falls on the angry 5th Brother to shave his own head and brand those scar dots on his own dome, and this is what we friggin' call resolve. He settles in. He maybe even finds a modicum of peace. We know it won't last.
Director Liu Chia Liang once again applies his inventiveness, and so we get moments like the ones which feature the Yang patriarch's unbelievable death scene, 5th Brother's self-branding, and 5th Brother's defanging of the wooden wolf. For imaginative set pieces, Liu Chia Liang throws in that pyramid of coffins and the bamboo poles of righteousness. It's a given that he'll choreograph a series of high quality fights, very much including 5th Brother's duel with the Abbot and the memorable climactic all-out brawl at the inn (in which the fiendish Tartars - or Mongols - lose a horrifying number of teeth). I like that the wire-work isn't overdone. As a bonus, the lovely Kara Hui impresses once more with her kung fu skills. Gordon Liu, man, what can I say about Gordon Liu? He's got screen presence. He can fight. He can even act. Although, it's not demonstrated here, he can handle comedy as well as the dramatic bits. His work with the pole is tremendous.
1983 and EIGHT DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER marked a dark time for the Shaw Brothers as the studio's golden boy, Alexander Fu Sheng, suffered a fatal accident early during the shooting of the film. Rumor has it that Fu Sheng had been slated for a larger role, but obviously things had to be switched up, and so Sixth Brother became relegated to staying at home being all deranged. This is also one of Liu Chia Liang's most violent movies, and I can't help but think that Fu Sheng's passing had brought about this bleak mood. I imagine Fu Sheng's death must've cast a hell of a gloomy shadow over cast & crew. And the last thing for me: I'm disappointed that this Dragon Dynasty DVD doesn't offer an audio commentary from Hong Kong action film expert Bey Logan (or any other bonus material, for that matter). What, did Bey Logan finally get a life?
On this DVD, the movie gives you the option of listening to it in either Mandarin or messed-up sounding English. Go with the Mandarin, and instead read the English sub-titles, friend.
What I was treated to was a super fast paced, superbly choreographed spear and pole movie that kept me absorbed until the last frame. The fights in this movie were like nothing I have seen. And it has a darker feel to it than most Shaw Bros. films (largely attributed to Fu Sheng's death during filming). It has battlefield spear fighting, fighting on a horse (that's two people, one horse), a fight on stacked coffins (has to be seen), and a one on one pole fight with the head monk that is among the best pole fights I have ever seen on film.
The acting is a bit melodramatic. Which works with Gordon Liu, but not some of the other characters. I think that is mainly because Liu has a great intense look, so he can pull off the quiet, intense, melodramatic. The particular edition I got (I believe a Red Sun edition) is ok, but not great. And it is in English dub only, even though it has an 'original language' option on the DVD. It's still English.
If you want this movie, have a bit more money to spend, and have a region free dvd player, expand your search. There are some remastered, original language versions out there. Otherwise, if you want to only spend a few bucks on this edition, go for it. It is definitely worth the money either route you go. This ranks as one of my favorite Shaw Bros., one of my favorite Gordon Liu, and heck, one of my favorite... period.