Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 1984 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 12th, 2010
It may not have the most exciting title ever devised for a kung fu action film, but 8 Diagram Pole Fighter cranks up the mayhem like few others.
When the legendary Wang clan is betrayed and slaughtered, 5th Brother (Gordon Liu) takes cover at a nearby monastery, where he learns the indescribable joy of beating a man to a pulp with a giant pole. The monks there have mastered the art of pole fighting, and, yes, likely have diagramed it out, allowing 5th Brother to transform into an unstoppable, staff-swinging, vengeance-seeking hurricane of destruction.
His target: the general that betrayed his family. And following some lengthy and gravity-defying training sequences, as well as some timely lessons in self-control and pacifism (which handily go right out the window when it's time to impale some bad guys), it's go time.
You know, I sort of prefer "8 Diagram Pole Fighter" to the avalanche of nondescript action flick titles like "Direct Impact" or "Maximum Threat" or "Direct Threat" or "Maximum Direct" that litter the video store shelves and online queues for modern-day beatdown outings. Here is a film that is confident in its ability to kick-ass and doesn't have to rely on a cheap marketing gimmick to draw in audiences.
Indeed, Gordon Liu and his 8 Diagram Pole Fighting are plenty enough to keep you engaged. This Shaw Brothers release sports the familiar themes of betrayal and revenge and the preservation of family honor and drapes it all in glorious helpings of pole-driven lunacy.
It's a tried-and-true Shaw formula: our hero is completely screwed over by a dickhead that was close to him, his family is dragged into it, he retreats to another location to bring his mind and spirit into balance, learns some snazzy new hand-to-hand moves and sets out to drop the iron fist of vengeance. I don't care how many times I see that in slap-happy imports, it works!
But really, all those character moments and political intrigue -- as simple as they are -- exist solely as the primer to get the turbo-charged Engine of Butt-Kicking started. And once it gets rolling, watch out.
Liu brings the pain with verve and his freak athleticism is evident in everything from the training montages (which are actually pretty cool here) to the final battle, a hugely impressive 15 minute sequence featuring thirty stunt guys wailing at each other and ripping out teeth (seriously). Even the credit sequence is balls-out, as the Wangs meet their fate in gruesome fashion, but not before unleashing some serious spear death on their opponents. In short, your patience for wading through plot turns that you are intimate with will be more than paid off with some gonzo pole action.
Dragon Dynasty's technical treatment is, as to be expected, top-shelf. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is beautiful, strong in detail and color and the original mono tracks (English and Mandarin) are effective. Unfortunately, no extras.
How bad-ass are the Wangs? Instead of allowing himself to be captured of killed, Papa Wang leaps ten feet in the air and smashes his head into a stone monument.
Not Guilty. Embrace the pole.
Review content copyright © 2010 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Mandarin)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Not Rated