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EIGHT MASTERS (aka 18 BRONZEMEN 3) is something of a follow-up, rather
than a sequel, to THE 18 BRONZEMEN (listed on IMDb as EIGHTEEN
BRONZEMEN) and THE RETURN OF THE 18 BRONZEMEN (aka 18 BRONZEMEN 2),
both of which were also directed by Joseph Kuo. It is a far better film
than the first two, with a stronger story, more intense fight scenes,
engaging characters, and a gripping emotional undertone.
Carter Wong returns in a starring role and stars as Chu Sao Chieh, the
son of a now-dead fighter who had run afoul of the notorious Eight
Masters. As a boy, Sao Chieh is rescued by his father's comrade and
taken to Shaolin Temple where he learns all the skills of the Shaolin
Masters and grows up to be Carter Wong, who then 'graduates' from
Shaolin by fighting and beating the assembled Bronze Men.
Back in the outside world, Carter reunites with his mother and Ming
Chu, the daughter of the comrade who rescued him. The Eight Masters
come looking for him and challenge him to a battle, but he refuses,
recalling the maxims of the Shaolin monks, 'keep the peace, have
patience and forgive offense.' He flees to the country with his mom and
Ming Chu and, after the masters track him down, the three flee again,
this time to a cave. It turns out that not all of the main characters
are exactly who they claim to be and there are enough twists and turns
to keep viewers hooked until Sao Chieh finally relents and agrees to
fight each of the Eight Masters in bouts that take up the last 20
minutes of the film.
The fighting is fast and furious and expertly photographed in a series
of outdoor Taiwan locations and beautifully appointed sets. Carter is
as good here as he's ever been and fights primarily with his hands,
even when his opponents use exotic weapons. The action is balanced by
an emphasis on family obligations, with Carter's attention to his
mother and fiancé providing a poignant subtext that strengthens and
deepens the story.
The acting is quite good and is matched by above-average voice dubbing.
Lung Chun Erh is the beautiful actress who plays Ming Chu and has some
moving dramatic scenes with Carter. The great fighting femme Chia Ling
(Judy Lee) is on hand in a small but important role as one of the Eight
Masters, with a surprising secret in her past, and she has one
particularly ferocious fight with Carter. The ending is quite
satisfying and provides a fitting, if bittersweet, resolution to the
entire Bronzemen series.
Release dates for the film are alternately given as 1974, 1976, 1977,
and 1982, with 1976 being the most likely year. The film features an
original Chinese music score rather than the patchwork soundtrack of
ripped-off music cues that most English-dubbed kung fu films are
saddled with. This unsung kung fu masterpiece marks a real discovery
that will delight and surprise the genre's many fans.
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