The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)
Reviewed by: Gaijin84 on 2009-03-30
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