|Reviews & Columns|
TV on DVD
Reviews by Studio
Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
The M.O.D. Squad
DVD Talk Forum
DVD Price Search|
Customer Service #'s
8 Diagram Pole Fighter, The
Directed by the great Lau Kar-leung and released by the legendary Shaw Brothers in 1984, The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter opens with a dramatic scene where the eight Yang brothers and their father square off against an opposing horde only to be ambushed by General Pan Mei (Lin Ke-Ming). Only two brothers survive. The sixth brother (Alexander Fu Sheng), who has gone completely insane, and the fifth brother (Gordon Liu), who has gone into hiding what he assumed to be the abandoned home of a hermit. When the hermit discovers him, they fight, but not for long as Pan Mei's crew has come looking for him. The eight brother escapes through a back entrance and winds up taking solace at a nearby monastery.
Initially the monks do not want to let him join them, they sense he has anger and violence in his heart. Of course, eventually he convinces them that he's got the right stuff, and soon he's practicing his pole fighting technique, designed by the monks to combat the wolves that prowl the area, specifically to remove their teeth without killing them. Pan Mei, however, wants to finish off the Yang clan for good. When the fifth brother's sister (Ching-Ching Yeung) and mother (Lily Li) get pulled into all of this, the fifth brother leaves the monastery, pole in hand, prepared to set things right by any means necessary…
Originally intended to have Fu Sheng as its leading man, the film had to be retooled after his sudden death, which led to Gordon Liu taking the lead role, explaining why the (at the time) better known Fu Sheng has what amounts to a supporting role in the film. Loosely based upon the Yang story from Chinese folklore, the hour and forty minute picture starts off with a bloody bang as we witness the Yang men almost completely eliminated. From there, the film slows down a bit but still offers up pretty frequent fight scenes. During these slower stretches, the story does a good job of evolving the fifth brother's character and setting up the big finale that, let's be honest, we all saw coming after the first ten minutes or the movie. The story might not be all that original, but the film succeeds in spades thanks to Lau Kar-leung's stalwart direction, some absolutely fantastic fight choreography and stunt work and Liu's insanely dedicated and intense performance.
Production values are pretty solid. The film benefits from some solid cinematography and a good score that does a fine job of highlighting the drama, tension and action inherent in the storyline. Most of the film appears to have been shot on the familiar looking Shaw lot, but if some of the backdrops in the film look familiar, so be it.
The performances in the film are more than solid. Fu Sheng is great when he's on screen, but for reasons explained above, he doesn't get that much screen time. Still, he makes quite an impression when he is used, and he's very good here. Lin Ke-Ming makes for a great bad guy, he does a nice job of throwing his weight around in the film. Ching-Ching Yeung is a lot of fun as the combative Yang sister, and Lily Li, clearing wearing a white-haired wig, does a nice job as the matron of the family. This is, however, Gordon Liu's show through and through. He brings a noble intensity to the part that makes his character one that the audience wants to root for, and couples this with some seriously impressive ass-kicking abilities.
Arrow Video brings The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter to Region A Blu-ray framed in 2.35.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition with the feature taking up 30.3GBS of space on a 50GB disc. Taken from a 2k scan of the original negative and nicely restored, this transfer is stronger than those seen on most of the other Shaw Brothers Blu-ray releases that have come out in the last couple of years. Detail is quite strong and there's good depth and texture. Aside from some minor crush in a few of the darker, indoor sequence things shape up quite nicely. Colors look great and skin tones appear lifelike and natural throughout. There aren't any obvious issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement problems.
24-bit DTS-HD Mono options are provided in both the both Cantonese and Mandarin options with English subtitles and in an English dubbed track option. The default Cantonese track plays best, despite some noticeable sibilance present throughout, it suits the film more and it sounds quite clean with no audible issues. The English track is fun in the goofy sort of way that dubbed tracks tend to be for older Shaw Brothers movies.
Extras start off with a brand new audio commentary by Jonathan Clements who rushes through the first few minute of the film, because half the cast is dead by the ten minute mark. He goes over the different cast and crew members involved with the film, covering their backgrounds and significance, the trickiness of the film's title, the folk stories that inspired the film, the impact that the death of Fu Shung had on the production and changes that needed to be made after it happened, Gordon Liu's life and career, the different training techniques that the film shows off and lots more. It's a very detailed, well-researched and informative track, quite worth listening to.
As far as the featurettes go, Tony Rayns On The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter is a twenty-three minute examination of the film by Rayns. He speaks here about Lau Kar-leung's work in various aspects in the film industry, his importance in martial arts cinema, his broad comic sensibility, how the film was received upon its release, the impact of Fu Shung's death on its box office, some of the themes that the film explores, the different characters that populate the movie and the actors that played them, and the somber, serious and tragic elements of the film.
The twenty minute Interview With Gordon Liu from 2004, filmed by Frederic Ambroisine, covers how the script had to be rewritten after Fu Shung passed away, the impact that the movie had on him personally, his thoughts on the story that inspired it, thoughts on his co-stars in the film, shooting the opening sequence, the different weapons used in the fight scenes, what it was like working with the film's director, the specifics of some of the death scenes in the opening sequence, how this film different from The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, the influence of Chang Cheh evident in the film and thoughts on his character arc in the movie.
Ambroisine also supplies a thirty-three minute Interview With Lily Li, also shot in 2004. She talks about being thirty when she played the seventy year old character in the movie, how she wound up being cast in the movie, how the movie was a good opportunity for her, the costume and makeup that was required for the part, doing research on her character, working with the different co-stars that she shared the screen with including Fu Sheng and Gordon Liu, Lau Kar-leung's directing style, the influence of Cheng Pei Pei on her work, the tough shooting schedule that was required, having to learn different fighting techniques, and what it was like entering the film industry at a very young age.
A third piece from Ambroisine, the thirty-two minute Interview With Yeung Ching-Ching, again shot in 2004, covers how she got into martial arts, joining the Shaw Brothers studio, training in wushu, working with Lau Kar-leung as well as her co-stars on the production, the though shooting conditions under which the film was made, the specifics of some of the fight choreography, her feelings on how the film turned out, going on to work with Chu Yuan, going on to do TV work and stunt work when the Shaw Studios closed down and how she's now passing down what she's learned to the younger generation.
The disc also includes a six minute piece called A Tribute To Fu Sheng taken from a German dubbed source (the only one available) that was made by Shaw Brothers in 1984 as a tribute to the actor after he passed away in a car accident.
Finishing up the extras are a four minute alternate opening credits sequence (that looks to be tape sourced) under The Invincible Pole Fighters alternate title, an original theatrical trailer, a digital reissue trailer as well as an image gallery, menus and chapter selection. It's also worth noting that Arrow has done a really nice job with the packaging on this release, giving it a slipcover and a reversible cover sleeve. Additionally, the first pressing will include a color insert booklet that contains an essay on the film by Terrance J. Brady as well as cast and crew credits and credits for the Blu-ray release itself.
The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter is a classic, an intense and exciting martial arts picture made by some of the best that The Shaw Brothers had to offer in the eighties and a film that has lost none of its power over the years. Arrow Video has done a really nice job bringing this film to Blu-ray with a nice presentation and some solid extras as well. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.