- « Andromeda, Season Four. On DVD October 19th. (****4/10)
- A Mother’s Courage. On DVD October 26th. (********8/10) »
Genre: Action, Kung-fu
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Mandarin w/ English subtitles, English dubbing
Starring: Gordon Liu, Chang Chan-Peng, Chia Yung, Ching Chu, Alexander Fu-Sheng, Lily Li, Kara Hui, Ching-Ching Yeung, Lung Wei Wang
Directors: Lau Kar-Leung, Liu Chia-Leung
Run time: 97 minutes
DVD distributor: Alliance Films
There’s a really interesting story behind 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, out October 26th from Alliance Films in their ongoing Shaw Brothers re-release series. The off-camera story explains a lot of the movie, and I needed to do some research to find out why the movie was structured so strangely. This movie supposedly has a kernel of truth to it, in that it is based on the historic massacre of the Yang family by the double-crossing Mongol general Pan Mai.
Only two male members of the Yang clan survive the ambush, both of whom are referred to only by their numbers. Fifth Brother (Gordon Liu of the Kill Bill movies) and Sixth Brother (Alexander Fu-Sheng) return from the massacre demented, out of their minds crazy. Fifth Brother comes home, attacks his family in his delerium, then takes off. Then Sixth Brother returns as well, attacking his family in his delerium, but he stays. Then two simultaneous stories are told.
Sixth Brother remains at home, insane, while his sisters and mother try to come to grips with the tragedy. Fifth Brother goes off wandering, eventually bursting into a monastery and demanding to become a monk. The monks will not accept him, because the hatred and violence in his heart are clearly at odds with their Buddhist pacifism. But he stays anyway, shaving his own head and forcing his way into the monks’ training sessions, even though he is unwelcome.
This should really be the story of Fifth Brother, his transformation and his quest for revenge. But here’s where the outside story comes in. Alexander Fu-Sheng, who played Sixth Brother, actually died during the production of the movie. So the focus had to be shifted from Sixth Brother to Fifth Brother, and Gordon Liu did all the things Fu-Sheng was supposed to do. The movie is pretty seamless, given that huge development in the middle, and although it creates a continuity issue or two, that’s nothing new in a mid-80s kung-fu flick.
The best thing about these films is usually the cheesiness. And that is abundant here, also. I get the pole fighter bit. (Other names for this movie include Invincible Pole Fighter, Magnificent Pole Fighters, Cudgel Fighter and of course many more.) But the 8 diagrams? No mention of anything in the movie that has to do with eight diagrams and pole fighting. The English dubbing and the English subtitles don’t match up in any way, so if you watch with both on at the same time, it’s like you’re watching two entirely different movies. Which, in a sense, you are.
But despite all the glorious cheese, it’s the fights themselves that set 8 Diagram Pole Fighter apart from many other Shaw Brothers classics from the same era. Liu and Fu-Sheng are over-the-top and silly when they’re acting crazy, but Liu more than makes up for it with his pole fighting skills and his vengeful demeanor. The fight I included in the video at the beginning of this review is a great one, but the one that opens the movie, where the Yang family is massacred, is even better. This one is a real classic.