Review: Eight Diagram Pole Fighter
After a betrayal sees all but two members of the Yang family massacred (thanks to duplicitous Ku Ming and his Mongol allies), Son no. 5 (Gordon Liu) has gone AWOL, and Son no. 6 (Alexander Fu Sheng) returns home a tormented and deranged shadow of his former self. No. 5 has actually sought refuge with Buddhist monks, and despite the leader’s (Phillip Ko) suspicions that anger and ideas of revenge consume him, No. 5 is undeterred by the rejection, even painfully shaving his head at one point (really hard to watch, actually). Meanwhile, the Yang family’s matriarch and seven daughters receive word that No. 5 still lives (Johnny 5 is alive!... um...no, wait...wrong movie...sorry!), and so daughter No. 8 (Kara Hui Ting-hung) is sent to locate him.
Perhaps the finest martial-arts epic of all-time (I said it, now deal!), this thematically interesting, and entertainingly violent 1983 Lau Kar-Leung (“The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”) film for the Shaw Brothers studio has a sombre, mature tone for the most part, but when the action kicks into gear- it’s pretty awesome stuff.
The only flaw comes in the performance of the late Alexander Fu Sheng, who died in a car wreck during filming, and his character, which seems to be the main one at first, all but disappears due to the star’s death. The change in importance from his character to Gordon Liu’s is jarring, as is Fu Sheng’s rather hammy performance. Liu is outstanding, but even better is Phillip Ko as the teeth-smashing chief monk (forget that Grasshopper Master shit, if you mess with these holy guys, they’re gonna fuck you up real good!), who refuses to teach the wayward Liu, but ends up helping the guy out anyway (for murky reasons, but who cares? He’s an arse-kicking monk, damnit!).
Supremely violent at times (whether this is a plus or minus for you, is up to you to decide), and definitely not a film to watch if you’re about to visit the dentist. Great stuff for all others, though, with at least two action standouts; a fight between Ko and Liu, and the final, gruesome battle. Might’ve been nice to see the sisters get in on the arse-kicking, but why carp? A must for martial arts movie fans, and hopefully a lot of other people too. The screenplay is by the director and Ni Kuang (two other entertaining Shaw Brothers flicks, “Blood Brothers” and “The Magic Blade”).