The 18 Bronzemen (1976)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-08-23
Summary: Excellent action
“The 18 Bronzemen” has most of what we looked for in mid-1970s kung fu movies including plenty of fights, lots of heroism, bad guys who are really evil, monks with great eyebrows. The fight choreography is well planned and executed so that even the robot-like bronzemen seem, after a while, to have recognizable personalities. The three leads are very attractive although it is asking a lot for the audience to believe, as do the characters, that Miss Lu, played by the beautiful Polly Kuan, is a man when she is first introduced. Carter Wong spends a lot of time with his shirt off and more time looking demented. Tin Peng, despite having to wear an atrocious wig has matinee idol looks.

It is hard to follow which child has been sent to the Shaolin Temple and for what reason, a difficulty that the filmmaker must have realized since the action stopped twice for a summary of who did what to whom. The movie opens with the always evil officials of the Qing dynasty sending masked killers to slaughter the families of rebel Ming generals. Tang Siu Lung, the infant son of one of the families, is hidden in his grandmother’s house and then sent to Shaolin when he is five years old. There he connects with two other young men, Brother Wan a very determined monk and another aspirant who doesn’t quite have the same commitment, athletic skill, heroic deportment or ripped physique—or, as we discover much later the same commitment to the Tang family as does Brother Wan. We follow their progress through twenty years of training at Shaolin where we see too many scenes of the child actor who plays the very young Tang Siu Lung learning and performing kung fu. A little of that goes a long way and more than a little is boring.

The 18 Bronzemen themselves are an intriguing addition to the 36 Chambers of Shaolin. The first three are guys in odd looking helmets and armor while most of the rest are kung fu monks covered with bronze makeup. There is the usual quest through difficulties leading to redemption/victory/escape. In the last test the monk has to pick up a flaming cauldron and move it to one side so he can get through the gate it stands in front of. The only way to garb it is by using one’s forearms on the blistering hot rim and since this is decorated with a dragon those who finish the final task also pick up a dragon brand on each arm to show they are part of the brotherhood.

Carter Wong is a superb martial artist, as fit and skilled as any. Tin Peng does a decent job of impersonating someone who has had 20 years of kung fu training but obviously isn’t in the same class. The movie makes good use of this contrast—Tang fails to complete the course in his first attempt with the Bronzemen and barely makes it the second time while Wan has much less difficulty. Polly Kuan is energetic and very active—she kicks quite well but most of her action scenes involve jumping up to rooftops or are long shots using a double.

One very long shot is during the final confrontation, a battle that doesn’t seem to have much riding on it. Hei Chu Ying (Yee Yeun) the corrupt Qing official decides to take the field against the three Ming warriors. He arrives in a sedan chair with a gimmick—he has four more fighters made up and costumed to look like him. This conceit is abandoned almost immediately as the fight breaks into to parts—Miss Lu fights the four imposters while Wan and Tang try to deal with Hei. It is in keeping with one of the tenets of martial arts movies that the leader of a group of fighters, however old or enfeebled he me seem, is still the fiercest combatant. It is only when the good guys have fought their way to the emperor/minister/eunuch that the real battle starts. In this case Hei isn’t a good opponent since he has been shown as a brutal dictator but not a fighter as such. However it still takes every bit of cunning, strength and skill that Tang and especially Wan have in order to defeat him, with Wan making the ultimate sacrifice for the Tang family.

Reviewer Score: 7