Release Date(s)1984 (April 5, 2022)
Studio(s)Shaw Brothers Studio (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: A-
Alexander Fu Sheng (which was how he was known to Western audiences and beyond) was an up and coming Hong Kong star in the early 1980s, later being labeled the “Asian James Dean” after dying in a car accident during the making of a film. That film was The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (released internationally as The Invisible Pole Fighters), which was based upon The Generals of the Yang Family, a collection of Chinese folklore used as the basis for many plays, novels, and films. Unfortunately, Fu Sheng’s death had a significant impact on the final film as the story had to be altered in order to finish it. The result was not successful initially, but is now considered a Shaw Brothers classic amongst aficionados.
General Yeung Yip and his seven sons are lured into battle by rival Khitan general Pun Mei and his army. In the aftermath, Yeung Yip and all but two of his sons are mercilessly killed, one returning home with a form of post traumatic stress order, and the other pursued into the mountains. There he comes upon a monastery occupied by a group of Buddhist monks. He begs for their acceptance, and despite their initial reluctance, they allow him to stay. He eventually trains with them in the art of pole fighting, and though he learns to control his anger, he still longs for revenge against the Khitans. He eventually has his wish, leaving the monastery to find the Khitans who are still looking for him and threatening what remains of his surviving family.
Like many great Shaw Brothers films, the battle scenes in The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter are outstanding, perhaps more than most. The story may be slightly lopsided due to the fact that it had to be reworked while shooting to accommodate the loss of Fu Sheng (whose character simply disappears from the narrative), but the extraordinarily choreographed and photographed scenes during various battles, particularly at the end, are exquisite. Little else need be said.
The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter was shot by An-Sung Tsao on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Arrow Video brings the film to Blu-ray utilizing a new 2K scan and restoration of the original camera negative. As per usual with their in-house restorations, the picture quality is quite good, with mostly minimal grain that's tightly-encoded. Detail, especially in the shadows, is often excellent. Saturation is impressive with strong swatches of red, green, and blue, as well as accurate flesh tones. Everything appears stable and clean with good contrast and solid black levels. It’s a fine presentation.
Audio is presented in Cantonese, Mandarin, or English 1.0 LPCM with optional English subtitles. The English audio is full of sibilance and has been heavily cleaned up to try and hide the hiss, but score and sound effects are weighty. The Cantonese track is a little hollow, but the Mandarin track is much fuller with improved sibilance, but more obvious hiss. Your mileage may vary on this one.
The Blu-ray disc of The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter sits in a clear amaray case with a double-sided insert, featuring new artwork by Marc Aspinall on the front and the original poster artwork on the reverse. Tucked away inside is a 24-page insert booklet containing cast and crew information, the essay Wolves at the Door by Terrence J. Brady, and restoration details. Everything is housed in a slipcover featuring the same new artwork. The following extras are included on the disc:
- Audio Commentary by Jonathan Clements
- Tony Rayns on The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (HD – 22:54)
- The 8 Diagram Tragedy: An Interview with Gordon Liu (HD – 20:06)
- Martial Mom: An Interview with Lily Li (HD – 32:43)
- The Shadow Heroine: An Interview with Yeung Ching-Ching (HD – 32:09)
- A Tribute to Fu Sheng (SD – 6:12)
- Alternate Opening Credits (Upscaled SD – 4:04)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 4:15)
- Digital Reissue Trailer (HD – 1:09)
- Image Gallery (HD – 54 in all)
In the audio commentary with author Jonathan Clements, he breathlessly talks about many facets of the film, including its cast, its title, the history of the legend behind the story, the various versions of the story on film and on the stage, the set design, various plot points, and costume design. It’s a fascinating commentary if you’re interested in not just the making of the film, but the original legends from which it was sourced. Film critic and historian Tony Rayns talks about Taoism and how it relates to culture and fiction, Fu Sheng’s passing and how it affected the film, the other actors, and the director’s previous career. Next are a series of interviews shot in 2004. In the interview with actor Gordon Liu, he discusses the impact that the film had on him, the death of Fu Sheng during filming, the scene of burning himself with incense, shooting on sets, heroism vs realism, making The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, his favorite scenes, and the original script. In the interview with Lily Li, she talks about her role in the film, the experience of filming, researching the role, Fu Sheng, the film industry today, the rest of the cast, her various roles and training, learning from directors, gender politics on the set, and her hope that people like the film. In the interview with actress Yeung Ching-Ching, she talks about her career up to and during her time at Shaw Brothers Studio, fighting styles, not being able to speak Cantonese during filming, other films that she worked on, having few scenes in the film, Fu Sheng’s death, leaving Shaw Brothers, becoming a director, being regretful of mostly being used for stunts, and introducing the film to new audiences.
A Tribute to Fu Sheng was put together by Shaw Brothers after the film finished and was played priors to screenings, but this version is a German-dubbed telecine copy, which is all that could be found. However, English subtitles have been added. The Alternate Opening Credits feature the film under its international title The Invisible Pole Fighters. The Image Gallery contains promotional photos, on-set stills, posters, lobby cards, programs, behind-the-scenes stills, other promotional items, and home video artwork. The rest of the extras consist of two trailers for the film.
Arrow Video provides another great Blu-ray release in The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, which long-time fans of Shaw Brothers’ brand of martial arts cinema will be more than happy with.
- Tim Salmons