Monday, February 17, 2014

Nick's Picks: The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter

Film: The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

This is the second in a monthly series of reviews suggested by Nick Jobe at YourFace.

Typically I do a summary of the films I review because I find that a convenient way to discuss many of the things that I’m most interested in talking about here. I like discussing aspects of plot and story and how these things work in the context of the film. With The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, I don’t have that luxury. Oh, I’m sure there’s a story here; I just don’t know what the hell that story is. There’s something about somebody betraying people and then hunting them down and a guy who escapes and becomes a monk. Or something. I don’t care. You don’t watch this movie for the scintillating wit of the dialogue or the intricacies of the storyline. You watch this because Gordon Liu kicks a significant amount of ass. I’ve watched this, and watched a couple of the fight sequences several times and I still don’t even know what an eight diagram pole fighter is. Again, I don’t care.

Still, even though I’m not sure I actually followed the story, some talk about it is probably a good idea. We have a family of spear fighters. These are the Yangs, who evidently don’t have names. The Yangs are the two parents, seven sons, and two daughters. Rather than having names, they have numbers. The second-oldest son, for instance, is Yang 2 or Second Brother. Anyway, the Yang males are sent to a battle which proves to be an ambush from barbarians who have devised a staff with a flexible end specifically to defeat their spear techniques. The Yang patriarch, Yangs 1-4 and Yang 7 all get capped. Yang 6 returns home, but is insane. Yang 5 (Gordon Liu) is lost and winds up at a monastery.

Here he wishes to become a monk, but he’s still too much in the world. He wishes to train with the monks, but they won’t let him. The monks are bedeviled by wolves, and rather than kill the wolves, they instead train to knock out their teeth. Eventually, 8th Sister Yang goes looking for her lost brother, is followed by the bad guys, and everyone finds each other. A massive fight ensues, and then the film ends.

I’m certain that I’m missing parts of this story here, but I don't think it matters. You won’t either if you watch this. As mentioned above, you go into The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter because you want to see Gordon Liu kick the shit out of people. You leave the film fully aware that you have seen some of the greatest, most intricate fight choreography you will ever see in your life. Seriously, this stuff is epic and there’s nothing else like it.

The last fight sequence, for instance, consists of Yangs 5 and 8 and a group of monks mixing it up with the bad guys. The monks, you may remember, trained for years to knock the teeth out of the marauding wolves. What that means is that as the monks start kicking ass, they don’t kill the bad guys, but repeatedly find different ways to use staves to knock out their choppers. They literally knock their teeth out, and some of the ways this happens are fantastic. This final battle also contains a moment that made me literally start clapping. One of the main bad guys gets stabbed with a broken staff. Yang 5 then hits the end of the staff, knocking it literally through the guy and impaling another guy on the far end. It’s one of the greatest moments I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Look, that’s all this movie is. It’s ignoring anything like story and watching the incredible fight sequences. This is the only way you can watch this. Otherwise, you have to try to make sense of the moments in which Yang 5 fights a bunch of ivy and then beats a pond into submission. Yes, he beats a pond into submission. I have no idea what that means, and yet I watched it happen.

Some people will watch The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter and walk away from it with complaints about story or the intense overacting or any number of things. Fair enough. If you also can’t walk away from it being in complete awe of the fight choreography and the skill needed to put this together, you don’t get to read this blog any more. Go away.

Nick, you’re 2 for 2.

Why to watch The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter: The best fight choreography you will ever see.
Why not to watch: A man beats up a pond, and that’s supposed to make sense.


  1. Haha, indeed! Honestly, as time went by, I forgot about the weirdness of it and just remembered the awesome. It wasn't until I re-read my own review a couple weeks ago that the truly bizarre things came back to me. The point is, you're 100% correct. The story doesn't matter. It's the fight scenes you come to see and you won't even care to remember the odd stuff when all is said and done.

    1. I think the weirdness adds to its charm. It's fun as hell to watch, and that's far more important in this case.

  2. Sounds like a winner. Fight choreography? I'm there.

    I wonder whether the title was mistranslated. "Eight Diagram" doesn't make much sense, but "Eight Trigram" does: that would be a reference to the "pa-kua" (or "bagua"), i.e., the eight trigrams often associated with the philosophy of the I-ching. (The Korean flag features four of the eight trigrams: earth, air/heaven, fire, water; Koreans pronounce the term "pal-gwae.") As you know, pa-kua is an actual fighting style, the cousin of hsing-i, and both of these styles are supposed to lead, spiritually speaking, to the most highly evolved art, which would be taiqi-quan (t'ai-chi chuan). These three arts are normally mentioned together. Meanwhile, I see you already got that "Pole Fighter" is likely a reference to "spear fighter."

    Gordon Liu kicks ass. Like Michael Parks, he played two very different roles in the "Kill Bill" movies—first as the masked fighter among the Crazy 88s in "Volume 1," then as Pai Mei in "Volume 2."

    1. In this case, "pole fighter" actually is pole fighter--he starts with a spear, but since the blade isn't allowed in the monastery, he adjusts his fighting style to using a staff.

      I can't imagine that you won't find this jaw-droppingly awesome in terms of the choreography. It's seriously amazing.

    2. That's possible with the mistranslation. I also had no idea what an 8-diagram pole fighter was by the time the movie ended, but I didn't care, either. (And Steve's correct--he starts with a spear and alters to a staff). I agree completely with Steve that it's really, REALLY hard not to think this movie is awesome due to the action and choreography. Definitely check it out.

  3. Whenever I see this kind of clever, intricate, endlessly inventive fight choreography, my instinctive reaction is immediate anger at George Lucas. Every single time.

    The characters in these movies fight as Jedi should have fought. Lucas had three prequel movies to show us what could have been the height of awesome fight choreography and all we got was Anakin and Dooku waving lightsabers at each other, Yoda bouncing off the walls, and Kenobi and Vader swinging and missing while floating on a lava river. The Darth Maul fight is good, but there's still a lot of silly swinging not to hit each other, but just to look cool. Watch the Geonosis Arena fight in Attack of the Clones and most of the Jedi are standing around in the background doing pretty much nothing.

    Disappointing. These guys with no budget were filming awesome fight sequences that put Lucas to shame.

    1. The thing I tend to like most about martial arts films isn't just the fight choreography but the way that fights are filmed. We tend to get a mid-long shot so we can see the entire person and actually see the fight happening. A lot of modern fight scenes are done with far too many cuts at far too close, making it nearly impossible to see what's going on. I want to actually follow the fight, not have a series of blindingly-fast edits that leave me confused.

      Not only is the fight choreography in this fantastic, it's filmed in a way that you actually get to see all of the fighting. Directors (and editors) should take a damn lesson.

  4. I couldn't agree more. I could try, but I would fail. Exactly.