The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (19th May 2022).
The Film

In league with the invading Khitan forces – lead by Prince Lian (Five Deadly Venoms' Lung-Wei Wang) – and planning to betray his daughter the Empress (Bastard Swordsman's Leanne Lau), General Pan Mei (The Young Master's Ke-Ming Lin) advises his daughter to send the patriotic and loyal General Yang and his seven sons to Golden Beach to lead the war campaign, a suicide mission intended to punish the family for the supposed murder of the Empress' brother. When the worried Dowager Yang (Executioners from Shaolin's Lily Li) seeks advice in divination from the ancestors and receives the prophecy "Seven sons go forth. Six sons return," she believes that one of her sons will die in battle defeating the Khitan and wonders which one will sacrifice himself; however, Pan Mei and the Khitan – armed with special weapons designed to defeat the Yang spears – slaughter the general and five of his sons. Five sons return in coffins along with sixth son Liu-Lang (The Disciples of Shaolin's Alexander Fu Sheng) is in shock and subject to fits of violence in which he anyone he sees is Pan Mei and he must be physically subdued by his mother and sisters.

Since his body was not recovered, fifth son Wu-Lang (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin's Gordon Liu) has been charged along with Liu-Lang by the Empress upon Pan Mei's accusation of cowardice and even treason in deliberately losing the battle at Golden Beach to help the Khitan. It is a battle of wills when Pan Mei turns up at the Yang palace in search of the "traitors" but the Dowager exerts her moral authority while her daughters conceal her fifth son. Liu-Lang fortunately seeks shelter in the hut of hermit hunter (director Lau Kar-Leung) who was once in Pan Mei's army and knows the depths of the man's treachery. The hunter dissuades Liu-Lang from returning to Court to testify against the too powerful Pan Mei, and then dies in helping him escape when the Khitan surround them. Liu-Lang winds up at a Buddhist monastery on Mount Wutan where he demands to join as a means of laying low. In spite of the admiration of the abbot (Dreadnaught's Phillip Ko) of Liu-Lang's spear-fighting abilities and his potential to adapt to the monks' pole fighting, he also sees the violence in the man's heart and repeatedly refuses to accept him even when Liu-Lang tonsures and tattoos himself. After repeatedly refusing to leave and imposing himself on fighting lessons, Liu-Lang gradually starts to shed his concerns for the outer world and find inner peace; that is, until he learns that Zekhong was murdered after visiting the Dowager and that his eighth sister Ba-Mei (My Young Auntie's Kara Wai) who was sent to Mount Wutan to retrieve him has been captured by Pan Mei and the Khitan.

Intended as a joint vehicle for Liu and Fu Sheng, the undeservedly obscure The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter turned out to be a fateful work Liu had essayed supporting roles and stuntwork in Shaw pictures while his action choreographer brother Lau and star Fu Sheng worked on a string of hits for Cheng Cheh (among them Police Force and Five Shaolin Masters). Lau stepped into the director's chair in the mid-seventies with a series of primary and secondary leads for Liu like Challenge of the Masters and Heroes of the East, not getting the opportunity to direct Fu Sheng until the early eighties when Cheng Cheh started to work more in Taiwan. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter was the fourth and last of their collaborations. If Fu Sheng's role seems minor considering his decade plus of consistent stardom – he did not need the career boost Snake in the Eagle's Shadow would give Jackie Chan in what was intended to be a Fu Sheng vehicle – it is because this is the film that had to be rewritten in haste following Fu Sheng's death in a car accident during production. Taking its basis from the Song Dynasty folklore collection "The Generals of the Yang Family", there are a lot of familiar tropes including Court intrigues, hermits who are actually skilled martial artists, strong-willed and righteous elders, and the man of violence initially seeking sanctuary in a monastery and conflicting with the abbot over the utility of fighting: to kill or to instill self-discipline (the plot gets around the latter by having the abbot draw a parallel between the Khitan and the forest wolves that they use their poles to defang and render harmless).

The story arc of Liu-Lang recovering his wits to search for his brother never happens and he simply disappears from the picture. Fortunately, the film had already established both the Dowager and her daughters as formidable fighters in their own right; even if Kara Wai's "Eighth Daughter" must alternate between damsel in distress and badass throughout the chaotic climactic fight. The overtly "theatrical" opening feels almost Japanese in the arch staging of the Golden Beach confrontation – including the introduction with onscreen captions of all seven sons, five of whom will be slaughtered minutes later – on a sound-stage beach before a painted backdrop; however, the action choreography is exhilarating and the brutality and bloodshed rangers from grisly to hilariously macabre with a sequence involving teeth that will have viewers cringing and laughing hysterically. The original ending was more downbeat with a grim fulfillment of the divination while the rewritten one is as ambiguous as the English and Cantonese dubbing of the final line: "I have no home" versus "The world is now my home." Lau Kar-Wing (The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires), brother of Liu and Lau as well as a prolific actor and stunt performer – and later action choreographer on Once Upon a Time in China – has a cameo appearance as the second Yang son (and presumably doubled for several fighters elsewhere in the film).


The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter was unreleased theatrically in the United States – people seeking it out on the bootleg circuit were just as likely to end up with the similarly-sourced Bruce Leung film King of the Rod which had been retitled "8 Diagram Fighter" after Wu-Tang Clan put out an album called "8 Diagrams" – and had its first official release on DVD stateside in 2010 from Dragon Dynasty; however, while it featured the original Mandarin and English mono dubs, it also utilized the Celestial Pictures previously released as a PAL-to-NTSC conversion in Hong Kong from IVL (with only 5.1 Cantonese and Mandarin upmixes). The Dragon Dynasty edition was correctly converted to the 24fps timing but the master still ran short of the original running time because it was missing frames at every splice point (a common issue with Celestial's earlier Shaw restorations). Celestial's original high definition master also suffered from this issue as was discovered when it appeared in Germany's Koch Media Shaw Brothers Collection set – also featuring King Boxer, The Sentimental Swordsman, and The Kung Fu Instructor – in 2014, and it was not rectified when 88 Films put out their U.K. edition in 2020. Arrow Video's US-only release features a brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative, and their 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen runs 99:39 compared to 88 Films' 97:33 timing. We have not seen the UK edition, but Arrow's transfer is absolutely gorgeous from the theatrical Golden Beach scene and its saturated red bloodshed environs of the palaces and the temple. Colors in the clothes and dιcor pop vividly against burnished wood and craggy stone, giving the film the look of one of the better-budgeted later Shaw films.


Arrow's Blu-ray includes post-synched Cantonese, Mandarin, and English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono tracks while 88 Films only included the Cantonese and English tracks. While Jonathan Clements on the audio commentary track says that it is a Cantonese language film but they used transliterations of the Mandarin forms of names due to the source of the story, the interview subjects all state that Mandarin was spoken on the set. While all three tracks are dubbed, it is nice that Arrow included the Mandarin option. The same English subtitle track are provided for the Cantonese and Mandarin tracks while an English SDH option accompanies the English dub (the tracks can be toggled via remote).


The feature is accompanied by a new audio commentary by Jonathan Clements, author of "A Brief History of China" which is overflowing with information not only on the historical figures within the film but also the "Generals of the Yang Family" legends in their various forms (including the two-hundred-and-forty play cycle that took ten days to perform and has only been performed in full three times). While domestic audiences might be familiar with some of the background of the characters, Clements provides context for the foreign viewer for the enmity between various characters from the source texts. He also discusses the historical periods in which the tellings of the Yang stories flourished and how they were indirect critiques of their contemporary regimes, with the true patriotic heroes sacrificed as pawns in the machinations of the corrupt. He also notes that the English dub erroneously identifies the invaders as Mongols but they did not come until three centuries later than the film's 986 A.D. setting – as well as Shaw's English title translation using "diagram" rather than "trigram" – the film's use of Daoist divination, as well as suggesting that Shaw chose the atypical setting and story source in anticipation of 1997 handover of Hong Kong to mainland China.

There is some overlap between the commentary and "Tony Rayns on The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter" (22:54) but his discussion is more focused on the film rather than the source story and Chinese history. He discusses how the film is atypical in the filmography of Lau Kar-Leung in it more somber tone given the sense of humor evinced in his other films and that the tone might have turned off audiences in the wake of Fu Sheng's death. Rayns also reveals that the original ending involving Fu Sheng's character was going to be even grimmer. In discussing Lau's focus in his films on gender roles, he notes that the sections of the film's plot involving the women of the Yang family is not unprecedented in the Yang legends, citing a famous Peking Opera play titled "The Women Generals of the Yang Family."

"The 8 Diagram Tragedy" (20:06) is a 2004 interview with actor Liu who recalls the effect of Fu Sheng's death on the crew and himself and even suggests that both he and Lau were channeling rage over the actor's death into the violence of the film's climax (although he also reveals that that his favorite scenes in the film are the scene where he shaves his head and burns it with incense and his fight with Ko). In "Martial Mom" (32:43), actress Li recalls that she was barely thirty when she was asked to play the seventy-year-old Dowager but the role was an opportunity and a challenge in spite of the unpleasant make-up and wig. She also discusses her research into the Yang family and its females, as well as her memories of Fu Sheng, Liu, and Lau. "The Shadow Heroine" (32:09) is an interview with actress Yeung Ching-ching (Royal Tramp) who plays the ninth sister. She studied martial arts as a child and auditioned for Lau which lead to her first roles in Lo Leih's The Clan of the White Lotus followed by Lau's The Return to the 36th Chamber and The Treasure Hunters (directed by Lau's brother and also featuring Fu Sheng and Liu). She was more comfortable with martial arts than acting and observed her co-stars to learn. She also discusses the differences between working with Lau who was hands-on with the action choreography and Cheh Chang who left it to one of his many godsons, but also notes that Lau was more focused on Wai during the filming (the two were apparently romantically involved off camera).

The remainder of the extras includes "A Tribute to Fu Sheng" (6:12), a short film appended to the theatrical screenings of the film covering his stardom at Shaw and his death with shots of his crashed Porsche and shrines at the accident scene. The only surviving copy is a telecine of a copy in which the narration has dubbed in German, and Arrow has replaced the fuzzy Chinese and English subtitles with new English subtitles on black bars. There is also the Alternate "The Invincible Pole Fighters" opening credits (4:04) sequence, the original theatrical trailer (4:15), a digital release trailer (1:09) created for the Celestial DVD remaster, and an image gallery.


The disc is housed in a case with a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Aspinall while the first pressing also includes an illustrated collectors' booklet featuring new writing on the film by Terrence J. Brady (neither were supplied for review). The film is also available as an Arrow Video Store Exclusive with a limited edition slipcover.


While not intended as a tribute to the late Alexander Fu Sheng and overshadowed by his passing, The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter is an accomplished work that brought together some of Shaw Brothers' greatest on-screen and off-screen talents in the waning days of the studio.


Rewind DVDCompare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to,,,,, and . As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.