The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

Not Rated   |    |  Action, Drama

The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (1984) Poster

The Yang family was the loyal strong-arm of the Imperial army. But a jealous General betrays the Eilte Spearman and their father to the opposing Mongol army. After an ambush of a battle, ... See full summary »


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25 January 2016 | dee.reid
| "Buddha's name be praised" - This was really, really good!
Allow me to back-track a bit, if you will, please...

A few years ago, I saw "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" (1978), which I consider to be the next greatest martial arts film after the Bruce Lee masterpiece that is "Enter the Dragon" (1973). I must say that "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" was the film to introduce me to what I call "straight-up old-school Shaw Brothers kung-fu." A year or so before I saw that, I had seen "Five Fingers of Death" (1972) (widely considered to be the first internationally successful martial arts film) and another Shaw Brothers classic, "Five Deadly Venoms" (1978).

Today, I had the pleasure to see yet another Shaw Brothers classic, "The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter," directed in 1984 by Hong Kong kung-fu master Liu Chia-Liang/Lau Kar-Leung (who also directed "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" just six years earlier). Like the "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" and many other martial arts classics, "The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter" is a story of revenge and retribution and redemption, with a strong Buddhist philosophical subtext warning against the evils of killing and taking lives under any circumstances.

Set during the Song Dynasty in China, the story concerns Fifth Yang (Gordon Liu, held over from "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin"), the only survivor along with Sixth Yang (the late Alexander Fu, who died in a car accident during filming and the film had to be extensively rewritten because of this) of the seven Yang sons, the loyal enforcers for the Song Dynasty. With the exceptions of Fifth Yang and Sixth Yang, all the Yang sons and their father were all either captured or killed by the Khitan-ruled Liao Dynasty army forces.

Sixth Yang makes it back home, but he's in a volatile deranged state that will make him unable to positively identify the primary culprit in the slaughter of his brothers and father, the traitorous Song Dynasty general, General Pun Mei (Ming Ku). Fifth Yang, however, now falsely labeled a fugitive and a traitor, makes it to a nearby Buddhist monastery in Mount Wutai, and insists that the monks take him in as their newest disciple. At first they are reluctant, due to his violent nature and revenge motives, but over time they grow impressed by his pole fighting skills and accept him as one of their own. But when he learns that his family is still in danger, he must join them - along with his sister Eighth Yang (Kara Hui, credited here by her birth name Ying Hung Wai) - despite the Buddhist vows of nonviolence that he has taken.

"The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter" is as exciting and action-packed as a Hong Kong-produced Shaw Brothers kung-fu classic can get. While the film does not approach the epic greatness of "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" (which this film can probably be considered a companion piece to), "The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter" stands on its own two feet as yet another worthy kung-fu classic.

One of my biggest gripes is that I expected to see Gordon Liu's Fifth Yang to actually change his ways, and eventually have his revenge motives tempered by some greater desire to help others in need. That doesn't really happen here. While his character does indeed take his Buddhist vows very seriously (or at least gives the appearance that he does), he doesn't become a better person and still retains his violent nature and revenge motives. The other problem is that the monks sort of accept this and realize that they cannot truly change him. And while the monks do accept him as one of their own, it seems, to me, that the only thing they can really do is to harness his anger and try to channel it into non-lethal means (the whole business with wolves and their teeth, which you'll see if you watch the training sequences at the Buddhist monastery). Liu's character San Te in "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" did not face these glaring ethical issues.

Maybe I'm reading things incorrectly here, so if anybody has any insight, feel free to correct me here.

On the plus side, "The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter" has some of the most extraordinary pole-fighting sequences ever filmed. I've never seen anything like it prior to this. And the film is also quite bloody, too, one of the most graphically violent martial arts films I've seen, in fact, since probably "Fists of Fury/The Big Boss" (1971) with Bruce Lee. And while the boys often get the most screen time, Kara Hui's Eighth Yang proves to be a formidable kung-fu presence and can more than handle her own against the legions of disposable of bad guys sent in her general direction. In short, she's no damsel in distress - she's far from it.

Gordon Liu also delivers a powerhouse performance here. To know that Alexander Fu was originally supposed to be the lead here and with his tragic passing, the film had to be extensively reworked due to his death. Gordon Liu admirably stepped in his place to finish the film. Admittedly, it would be great to see what would have become of this film had Alexander Fu lived to complete it.

"The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter" is one of the best martial arts films I've ever seen. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to bask myself in its 97 minutes of epic kung-fu craziness.


Critic Reviews

Did You Know?


This film is loosely based on actual historical figures of China; the Yang family, who defended the Northern borders of the Song Dynasty for generations. The movie's story was initially meant to follow the many tales that centered around one historical figure in particular, Yang Yanzhao. (The 6th son of Yang Ye.) According to history, Yang Ye and his 7 sons were betrayed by General Pan Mei and that he committed suicide in order to provide an escape for his remaining living sons. (The 5th, the 6th and the 7th. The film differs from the legend, in that number 7 dies and number 6 goes mad.) The film accurately depicts the fate of the 5th son, as he does desert the army and become a monk on Wu Tai Mountain. In the legend, the 6th son was depicted as the hero and fought in the last stand against Pan Mei and the Liao troops. Such was to be depicted in the film, but a re-write was necessitated with the untimely death of actor Fu Sheng, who portrayed the 6th son. Legend tells that the 6th son himself went to the Wu Tai temple to convince his older brother to join the fight, only to be refused as the 5th son would not break his vows to Buddha. Only after a messenger arrived with news of his younger sister's capture, did the 5th son choose to join his brother in the fight. The script was altered so that the only visit the 5th son received, was from a messenger that arrived with news of his sister. This motivates the 5th Yang to return to the fight, giving him the hero spotlight that was meant for 6th brother, Yang Yanzhao. In legend after Pan Mei's defeat, Yang Yanzhao went on to become a warrior of as fierce renown as his father. Eventually promoted to the rank of General, he continued fighting for the Dynasty until his death at age 57.


Yang Wu-lang: Sister?
Yang Ba-mei: Yes Brother!
Yang Wu-lang: Take this corpse with us; it will be a witness.


The film's story takes place during the Song Dynasty of China which lasted from year 960 to 1279. Yet when the 5th Yang insists on having his head shaved at the Temple, the monks are using a straight razor which was not invented until the 1700s.

Alternate Versions

Originally cut by the BBFC by around a minute for its original 18-rated 1984 cinema release and later on video. The cuts were waived by the BBFC for its 2020 Blu-ray release by 88 Films.


Plot Summary


Action | Drama


Release Date:

17 February 1984


Cantonese, Mandarin

Country of Origin

Hong Kong

Filming Locations

Hong Kong, China

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