K (1984)
The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter


Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 10/03/2010

By the mid-1980's, the "old-school" subset of kung fu movies had fallen out of favor with local audiences and were on their way out from being a staple of the Hong Kong film studios' output. So, in many ways, Lau Kar-Leung's 1984 Shaw Brothers picture The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (aka Invincible Pole Fighter) can be considered a swan song of sorts for the genre, and, in that respect, it created a wonderful tribute to the style that still remains a vital and vivid movie, even after twenty-five years since its' initial release.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 03/30/2009
Summary: Quite possibly the best kung fu movie ever made...

I have a strange habit of leaving movies that are deemed classics on a shelf unwatched, not wanting to take a chance that the film might not be as good as I hoped it be. That was the case with 8 Diagram Pole Fighter. How it was that it had failed to come across my VCR or later my DVD player I'll never know, but I eventually picked up the Celestial release and it sat on the shelf for a couple years, tempting me. I would see it there and want to watch it, but I was afraid of disappointment, so it continued to sit. I'm not sure what made me get over that issue today, but I finally opened it, put it in the DVD player and hit play. I'm kicking myself now for not having seen it earlier. It lived up to every expectation I had and was even able to surpass it. From the unbelievably choreographed, ferocious and opera-like opening battle scene to the teeth-ripping finale, everything in this film worked.

Undoubtedly driven to a darker and more violent side by the death of Fu Sheng, Liu Chia-Liang's fights and direction are so well done that this is, in my opinion, his best work in all respects. Gordon Liu is brooding and menacing, a character that is bred on war and finds it hard to mesh with the peaceful monks in the Qingliang Temple at Mount Wutai, going as far as to rip the hair from his head and burn the incense tattoos into his head in a cringe-inducing scene. Fu Sheng, although in a tragically shortened role, is excellent as the 6th brother, slowly driven insane after witnessing his siblings ambushed and slaughtered. 9th sister Kara Hui is nimble and eye-catching in her determination to save 5th brother Liu. Lin Ke-Ming, usually a stuntman and bit-part actor, assumes what I believe was his biggest part to date as the traitor Pan Mei, and pulls it off with gusto. Phillip Ko Fei is in top form as the temple abbot, and participates with Gordon Liu in the best one-on-one staff fight scene I've ever seen. Their speed and precision is almost unworldly. To top it all off, the final fight scene with the pyramid of coffins is unbelievable. The level of violence is so severe, the intensity so ratcheted up, that I have no doubt that the tears that you see in Liu's eyes as he destroys his enemy are genuine. In some ways, I'm afraid that this film might damper the viewing of similar Shaw productions, since I'm not sure how anything can top it.

10/10

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 02/24/2007

A costume gung fu film that's often considered one of the Shaw Brothers' last great contributions to martial arts cinema.

Co-star Alexander Fu Sheng tragically died in a car accident during filming marginalizing his role and causing a noticeable continuity error in the process.

Depending on how you take your Shaw Brothers "The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter" features several explicit sequences of violence including a Shaolin technique designed to smash the gum line leaving the opponent's pearly whites in their bloody hands.

That aside, the martial arts choreography remains unrivaled among later day Shaw output.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 07/04/2006

“Eight Diagram Pole Fighter” has been the perfect movie to lend to those who think they might like Hong Kong action cinema. It has just about everything that such a movie should have: there is an evil queen, a traitorous general and a band of thuggish Tartars, opposed by a heroic family that is loyal to the emperor, a self-sacrificing abbot, a supremely skilled and dedicated hero with a spunky and tough little sister as a sidekick. Add to this already delicious stew a former general who has become a hermit like hunter, Mother Yang who might be handier with a spear than any of the men, and a brother driven insane by witnessing the slaughter of his family.

The action choreography is uniformly good throughout, the plot is simple and effective, the sets are opulent, the costumes are luxuriantly draped and there is enough weirdness, largely supplied by Yang #5, to make one forget any dull parts. I don’t know if there were any dull parts—I forget.

Gordon Lau is a smoldering, intense and charismatic leading man. He has the build of a center forward with the moves of Gene Kelly. His Yang #5 is either erupting into action or about to erupt—a contemplative moment for him is shaving his own head with a dangerous looking straight razor and burning the pattern of circles into his scalp (the cuts, gashes and blood on his head as he shaved it looked uncomfortably realistic, but not even Gordon Lau could slice himself up like that and not wince). He is the scion of a family of the most skilled spear fighters in China but is only another guy with a stick when he removes the blade from the end of his spear. Thus he appears at the monastery, looking for a place to rest and, as it happens, instruction in pole fighting from the monks who are as good at their discipline as the Yang family was at theirs. Yang #5 doesn’t qualify as a monk—not that much a chance of doing so, since he doesn’t desire a life of contemplation. His every waking moment is filled with thoughts of revenge on the scoundrels who slaughtered his family. This is not a run of the mill monastery, though; even if a postulant is unfitted for the cloistered life, even if he is unable to deal with the spiritual and intellectual rigor involved, in other words if he just doesn’t get what the spiritual life is all about, he can still be admitted to the brotherhood if he proves to be a better pole fighter than the abbot.

The Yang family died a noble death at the battle of Jingshi, seeming to kill one hundred Tartars for each of them that fell. But is was clear that their time was coming to an end—their mastery of the spear was no longer enough since a new technology had been introduced onto the battlefield, the flexible staff, here shown in dramatic black and gold. While the Yangs were able to make short work of enemies armed with spears, swords or poles, an untrained rabble with the spear-grasping flexible staff overwhelmed them and made them easy target for the archers. At the beginning of the final battle at the inn, Yang #5 showed that he had been working on solving the problem of this new weapon. He approached the inn with a wagonload of bamboo staves which, when they were wrapped up in by the jointed staff, shattered. This allowed the pole fighter to pull his weapon through the encircling staff and disembowel his enemy with the sharp ends of the broken bamboo.

The gorgeous Kara Hui was perfect as Sister #8. Tough, skilled and deadly as any man but by no means masculine, she was no less lethal than Nemesis or the Gorgons but much more attractive. Liu Chia Liang was wonderful in an extended cameo as a general, loyal to the emperor, who had been banished to the forest and lived as a hunter. The hunter paid the ultimate sacrifice for his loyalty, but not before dispatching entire battalions of bad guys. He was equally adept with two terrifying weapons, the battle axe and the trident. The battlefield was covered with heaps of corpses that Yang #5 had to climb over when he returned. It is hard to imagine anyone better than Lily Li Li-Li as Mom Yang. Imperious, able to face down thugs like Pun Mei, wielding her dragon headed staff (a gift from the emperor) when necessary, she was the archetypal matriarch for a warrior clan. It might be fun to take an extended look at the female characters in this movie, including the impetuous Sister #9. They are quite a group.

Themes of loyalty to nation and family run throughout this movie. Revenge is never far from the surface—Yang #5 wants nothing more than to kill those who killed his father and brothers and Sister #8 is in the same mold. The chaos of battle and its aftermath is also foregrounded. Yang #6 and Yang #5 fought shoulder to shoulder in the same hopeless skirmish; both saw the carnage visited upon their family and both experienced the helplessness of facing a type of military technology that was unfamiliar to them and that they were unable to counter. But #6 stumbled home insane while #5 made his way to the countryside to plan his vengeance.

“Eight Diagram Pole Fighter” is a masterpiece of its genre, a movie that is still entertaining and shocking 23 years after its first release and that still will be 23 years from now.

Very highly recommended

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 06/10/2006
Summary: De-fang the wolf!

“Seven gone, Six returned”.

And so begins Eight Diagram Pole Fighter – appropriately enough with a prophecy of ill omen. At the time, director Lau Kar-Leung’s relationship with co-star Kara Hui was in tatters, the film company for whom he’d worked for over a decade was crumbling all around him and his intended star, Alexander Fu Sheng, died in a car crash during filming.

The plot revolves around seven brothers, Generals in the Sung dynasty, who are betrayed by Pan Mei, who sides with the barbarous Tartars to overthrow the emperor. The brothers are killed in a highly stylised fight at the beginning, which plays somewhat like Chinese Opera. The only survivors are the Sixth Brother (Fu Sheng) and the Fifth Brother (Lau Kar-Fai). However, upon his return, Sixth Brother shows severe signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – basically, he’s reduced to a nervous wreck and is no use to anybody. Fifth Brother wanders the land, unable to go home after his defeat at the hands of Pan Mei’s treachery. He eventually comes to a Buddhist temple and begins training there, against the wishes of the monks.

The whole thing is unremittingly dark, and you could be forgiven at times for thinking you were watching a Chang Cheh film. This certainly isn’t HEROES OF THE EAST, MY YOUNG AUNTIE or LADY IS THE BOSS territory! I have heard rumours that this was once intended to be a comedy, but this seems unlikely given the opening scene and the footage that remains of Fu Sheng. It has to be said that although Fu Sheng was to be the lead in this film, his departure doesn’t make the piece seem particularly disjointed, and they did a fine job of changing the script to make Lau Kar-Fai the lead. This isn’t Fu Sheng’s “Game of Death” in other words, although at 56 minutes into the film he disappears from the story, never to be seen again.

Eight Diagram Pole Fighter was released to general apathy despite it containing Fu Sheng’s last true appearance. The bright and breezy productions of Cinema City and Golden Harvest (with such films as ACES GO PLACES and PROJECT A) were very much in favour, and there was no place for dark, depressing tales like this. The film was pretty much forgotten for most of the eighties before gaining cult interest during the mid-nineties, regardless of the fact that no decent print existed for the home market! My copy was widescreen and with English subs, but for some reason blanked out for about ten seconds before each reel change – meaning I missed the pivotal part where Lau Kar-Fai anoints his head. Very annoying. The international version (with the inevitable title change to “Invincible Pole Fighter”) wasn’t much better, being in fullscreen and with the standard lousy dubbing. When it was announced that the Shaw Brothers’ catalogue was being remastered and re-released my one question was, “when is Eight Diagram Pole Fighter coming out?!”.

One reason for the renewed interest in this film may have been the success of Drunken Master 2. Compare Lau Kar-Leung’s cameo in this to his appearance in Drunken Master 2. Discuss.

The remaster of Eight Diagram Pole Fighter does reveal some blemishes, however. It now becomes quite evident that much of it was filmed on sound stages. Nowhere is this more obvious than the opening scene, which is played against a rather unconvincing night sky. However, I have the feeling that this was intentional – in the same way that many kung fu films of the seventies had their opening against a red background during the title sequence. Besides, the studio-bound feeling adds to the claustrophobia. The audio is worth mentioning in this, too. I’ve never seen such a good job of voice synching in a Hong Kong film from this period (but remember to watch it in Cantonese!). The film’s score is also particularly stirring, and sounds like much of it was created especially for the film rather than relying on library music (as was the custom back then). However, a small portion has been remade on synthesizers for the Celestial release.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 01/17/2006
Summary: 9/10 - ferocious!

A ferocious martial arts film, incredibly intense from start to finish (partly because everyone seems to have been directed to shout all their lines). Gordon Liu proves once again that he is "the man". Fantastic pole fighting scenes - defang the wolf!

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: PAUL MARTINEZ
Date: 09/14/2004
Summary: Thank You Celestial Pictures

This is not just a review of the film but the dvd as well. This is my first viewing of the Celestial remastered series. I can tell you now,I will be replacing my entire Shaw collection with their Celestial counterparts. It was like seeing this movie for the first time. Thank You Celestial, for giving us these classics in a vibrant and clear fashion. Also thank you for taking away the dopey dubbing and showing it to us the way it was meant to be seen.

Now onto the film. This is one of my all-time favorite kung-fu movies. The reason is simple. Because of the tragic events that ocurred during filming, the story, acting, visuals and action sequences all had a much harder edge than anything else I've seen in the genre. There is no light-heartedness, no contrived romantic side plot. This story depicts a tragedy. It's about betrayal and loss. It shows how even the bravest of warriors reacts to these things. It mirrors the feelings of the actors as their characters must deal with pain and sorrow as well as their own true feelings over the loss of their friend, Fu Sheng.

The acting as I said before was raw, realistic and powerful. None more than Gordon Liu. This, in my opinion, is his greatest work to date as far as acting goes. Fu Sheng and Lilly Li-Li turned in great performances as well.

The plot left a little to be desired. The premise was fantastic, But it didn't carry out smoothly. This no doubt was due to Fu Sheng's death midway through shooting. One thing that always bothered me though. - WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO 4TH BROTHER? He was taken prisoner by the queen and we never hear of him again! Someone really should've written a line where they tell us he's been executed or something. The ending was very dark and matched the mood of the entire film.

Overall, It's a must-see for any fan of this genre. As there is truly no other film I've seen quite like it. Lastly I must implore you to see the subtitled, remastered version of this movie. I know the campy dubbed versions are what many of us westerners saw as children and thats what attracted many to them. But this is a serious film that needs to be seen in the truest form it can be.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: balstino
Date: 06/18/2004
Summary: Good, but not as great as everyone makes out.

I thought it was a fairly standard shaolin (I don't really like that style) affair. There was a lot of speeded up camera work and the choreography was good but not great (compare to the weapons fights in Magnificent Butcher). Having said that, the sisters where brilliant especially the one who goes after Gordon Liu. I just was disappointed on the whole and I think that 36th Chamber of Shaolin is a far superior film in every respect.


Reviewed by: SteelwireMantis
Date: 07/24/2003
Summary: Classic Old School Kung Fu Flick

I saw this movie yesterday when I rented it from my local video store as I was in the mood for an old school kung fu flick, what a great choice I had made.

Gordon Liu and Alexander Fu star as 5th and 6th Yang, two remaining brothers who are ambushed by mongoles and have their whole family massacred. 6th Yang returns home to his mother with losing his mind, where as 5th Yang retrieves to the Shaolin Temple as the abbot reluctantly accepts him as a monk. His younger sister 8th Yang gets news of his whereabouts and sets off to return home with her brother. Soon she is held hostage by Mongoles at an inn and 5th Yang is forced to disobey the Temple rules and rescue her.

Truly, I have never been exhilerated by an old school flick the way I have after watching this movie. The dubbing was pretty bad but that didn't spoil it for me. It includes some of the best fight scenes I have ever seen and some very impressive Shaolin-pole fighting was displayed in the finale. This film also has some very good cameo appearances by Wang Yu, Lau Kar Wing and Liu Chia Liang throughout the film. If you're looking for a movie with beautifully shot and choreographed fight scenes, this is the one for you.

*****/*****

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 06/03/2003
Summary: Great old school kung fu movies

For a old kung fu movie, you can not believe how well the kung fu fight scenes are choregraphed.IT has withstood the test of time.The action is well paced unlike some older movies where each move seems to go in slo mo.The fight scenes remind me of Jet Li style movies and the standard is the same. Yet this movie is far ahead of its time. I dont know why there weren't more movies like this made in the 1980's!!

A bloody begininng where one brother SPOILER is turned into a tree of arrows!!

Gordan Liu and Alexander Fu survive the massacre but you dont see much of Alexander Fu's character after that. The REASON, read battlemonkey review.This is the main plot gap in the movie along with a SPOILER missing brother who apparently survives but is never seen again.Apart from this, there is nothing bad you can say about this movie.

Gordan Liu carries the movie on his back. One of the most dramatic scenes i have ever seen SPOILER is when is he rejected from the Shaolin temple so he makes the dots on his head HIMSELF!!

Great old school kung fu which really entertains to even todays standards!!
A must watch, my Favourtie Shaw Brother movie made!!

9.5/10

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: CaptainAmerica
Date: 06/02/2002
Summary: Absolute intensity.

One of the best directiorial efforts from the legendary Liu Chia Liang (aka Lau Kar Leung) and perhaps the last great Shaw Brothers film. This film is intensity given image...even after one viewing, it's dark tone and brutal battles will stick with you for a VERY long time. Absolutely required viewing for any Hong Kong cinema lover.

It's a truism that those involved in the Hong Kong film industry are tight-knit...close friends and family work together to produce their films. The themes and story of EIGHT DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER are bleak enough; when Alexander Fu Sheng (THE CHINATOWN KID) died in an automobile accident during the filming of this movie, it's said that his death hit virtually everyone involved in this movie very hard, from Liang on down, and the atmosphere of this film's themes of loss, loyalty and revenge gained a new context as the director and actors carried on with filming. There was genuine grief here, I have no doubt of that, and that makes the performances reach a power that literally grab you by the throat.

Gordon Liu is Fifth Brother (of seven brothers and two sisters) of the Yang family. The Yangs hold a well-renowned loyalty to China, which is threatened by the Mongols. Pun Mei (Ke Ming) -- the Yang's right general -- with jealousy and ambition, lures the father and his seven sons into an unwinnable battle against the Mongol hordes. They all die except for Fifth Brother and Sixth Brother (Fu Sheng), who both escape...but circumstances force them to take separate paths. Sixth Brother returns home, driven insane from watching his brothers die, to bring the bloody news to his mother (Lily Li Li-Li), Eighth Sister (Kara Hui Ying-Hung) and Ninth Sister (Yeung Jing Jing). Fifth Brother, narrowly escaping a second attack with the help of a hunter (director Liu Chia Liang in a blistering cameo), finds refuge in a Shaolin temple where he must bide his time, hone his skills, and wait for the right moment to seek vengeance.

The action scenes, virtually all of which involve pole fighting (one exception involves Kara Hui gracefully using a sword against her adversaries), are spectacular. From the bloody opening battle to the defanging of the wolves (you have to see it to believe it) to the equally bloody finale (where some REAL wolves get defanged!), no holds are barred in what can only be described as the best pole-fighting movie ever made. (It sounds dumb, I know, but someone had to say it.)

And did I mention the emotional intensity? Gordon Liu, Fu Sheng, Lily Li, Yeung and especially Kara Hui give their very best. This is especially true after the most critical scenes had to be rewritten after Fu Sheng's untimely death. In fact, in the climax, when Kara Hui gives the traitor Pun Mei a hellstare that literally blows away equivalent looks that could kill from both Brigitte Lin and Yukari Oshima, you know damn well there's real pain and rage behind it. Try not to hide under your sofa.


Reviewed by: 5elementninja
Date: 12/31/2001
Summary: One of my favorite movies EVER!

This movie is phenominal! Gordon Liu stars in another Master Killer like performance as he plays one of the two only surviving brothers of a invincible pole fighting clan. He is bent on revenge and seeks solitude in a Shaolin Temple. Sound familiar? The fight scenes are spectacular. Alexander Fu Sheng is also outstanding in what I believe is his last film before his death. He plays Liu's remaining brother gone mad because of the massacre.

[9.8/10]

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 12/21/2001
Summary: Classic

8 Diagram Pole Fighter owns a reputation of superiority in all aspects. It's a different kind of movie than I expected from Gordon Liu and Liu Chia Liang. The film is, in fact, about the famous Yang family in the Song dynasty. All but 2 of the honorable brothers are killed by a traitor/evildoer. One of the brothers, Gordon Liu, becomes a monk (or at least tries) and eventually gets his revenge. The melodramatic music brings sadness to the air, while the breathtaking and solid fight scenes never cease to amaze me, especially those with Hui Ying Hong - see what incredible stuff she can do with that sword. There are not enough fight scenes, but they are all good. Great film with a little bit of everything, not just another kung fu movie. Highly recommended! GET THE SUBTITLED VERSION

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: battlemonkey
Date: 12/21/1999

A heroic family is double-crossed and massacred on the battlefield. Only two brothers--Gordon Liu and Alexander Fu Sheng-- survive the slaughter. Alexander Fu Sheng returns home to his mother and sisters, but has been driven insane by witnessing the slaughter of all his brothers and father. Chia-hui escapes to a monastery where his bloodlust and warlike demeanor put him at odds with the monks. The family mother (Li Li Li) sends the elder daughter (Hui Ying Hung) to look for the lost brother, but she is captured by the villains. Chia-hui eventually leaves the monastery to rescue her. This may very well be my favorite kung fu film. The fights are brilliant. The mood is bleak, angry, and depressing due to the fact that Alexander Fu Sheng was killed in a car accident during the filming of the movie. The final battle is spectacular, not to mention a bit disturbing, as monks rip out whole sets of people's teeth. A must-see.


Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

I thought it was one of the best martial arts films ever (and my favorite pre-new wave HK martial arts movie). It was directed by Liu-Chi Liang (sp?) the guy who directed part of DRUNKEN MASTER 2 (before being fired by JC) and it shows. The scene where the villains attack the surviving brother (Liu Hui) and the skinner (Liu Liang?) is almost exactly the same as the ax men attacking the tea house in DM2. My favorite part is the finale where the hero shows up to rescue his sister with the cart loaded with the wooden poles of death.

[Reviewed by John Robert Dodd]