Turner Classic Movies
8 Diagram Pole Fighter, The
Written by A.J. Hakari   

The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (1984) looks older than it is, and that's a good thing. Much of '80s cinema in particular ends up feeling terribly dated; even Akira Kurosawa's great Ran isn't as timeless as you may expect. But The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter -- featuring martial arts legends Gordon Liu and Alexander Fu -- seems ripped right from the golden age of kung fu films. Mild synth score aside, this saga of high drama and an even higher body count may just as well have been a product of the late '60s/early '70s fighting craze that swept through grindhouses near and far. Its stunts are incredible, its moves are fierce, and its combat packs a wallop that time hasn't weaked one bit. The movie's cast also includes Lily Li, Kara Hui, Phillip Ko, and Ming Ku.

eight_diagram_pole_girl_270.jpgProphecies are a tricky business. They have a habit of being misinterpreted, as the mighty Yang clan's matriarch (Lily Li) does when she assumes that six of her seven sons are to return home from battle. Instead, the opposite comes to pass; five are slain without mercy and a sixth (Fu) driven mad, in an ambush orchestrated by the power-hungry General Pan Mei (Ming Ku). Fortunately, another Yang (Liu) has lived to fight another day, which is just what he plans on when he takes shelter in a Shaolin monestary with vengeance on his mind. Thanks to Pan Mei's scheming, the surviving son has his work cut out for him in restoring the family's good name, which requires marrying Buddhist teachings with a bad temper to pull off.

The majority of kung fu movies are arguably viewed as chop-socky entertainment, and The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter isn't without its silliness. There's humor to go around (more intentional than not), so it's okay to chuckle when Liu's character barges into a peaceful temple and loudly declares his desire to become a monk. But in its own context, where emotions are worn on sleeves and costumes are as dramatic as the performances, The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter is really engaging.

While it might take a while to get a bearing with so much exposition cranked out so fast (Pan Mei's treachery goes down a mere four minutes in), viewers are still drawn in by the production's theatricality and the passion the cast brings to the table. With everyone giving it their all, there's no problem getting involved with Liu's hunt for revenge or Fu's fragile mental state (a subplot left half-finished due to Fu's death during production).

eight_diagram_pole_5_-270.jpgThe 8 Diagram Pole Fighter is that breed of martial arts cinema that dips its big toe ever so gently in the realm of fantasy. Warriors whip out impossible flips and jumps all around the joint, but it never becomes fakery on an overwhelming scale. These feats are balanced out by the picture's genuinely amazing fight choreography; without any hyperbole, I can safely say that these are some of the most intense battles the genre's ever seen. We start big with a skirmish between the seven Yang boys and some marauding barbarians, and the rumbles after that only grow more elaborate and nicely spaced out from one another with plot twists.

Things come to a head in the divinely violent climax, which incorporates coffin traps, wooden wolves, and plenty of the titular pole-related beatdowns, which just had to land countless stuntmen in the IC ward. This is one skillfully-shot flick, and while wires may be helping the actors pounce around the set, there's no doubting that it's their own fists doling out mile-a-minute punishment.

I suppose on could flip on The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter's English audio track and have a laugh at the dubbing, though you'd lose out on an expertly-made butt-kicker. The story is pure melodrama, but it's entertainingly so, with very few moments where we're tapping our feet and waiting for the next brawl to break out. The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter rules, and those who say otherwise have to answer to Gordon Liu's ten-foot spear.

Director: Liu Chia Liang

Writers: Ni Kuang and Liu Chia Liang

Cast: Gordon Liu, Alexander Fu, Lily Li, Kara Hui, Phillip Ko, Ming Ku

Rating: No MPAA Rating (blood, lots of martial arts violence)

Classic Movie Guide Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Run Time: 98 minutes

Studio: Shaw Brothers

Format: Color, widescreen




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