The 18 Bronzemen
This reasonably entertaining film doesn’t have
much of a plot beyond the basic “you killed my father and I must take revenge”
motif, but it does have some very interesting scenes of training that take
place before that revenge can be meted out. In fact, the training portion
takes up the vast majority of the film and the aftermath is nearly a footnote.
The film revolves around the training at the Shaolin Temple and the 36
tests that must be passed. I had initially assumed that this film was a
by product of the popular 36th Chamber of Shaolin, but upon further reading
I realized that 18 Bronzemen was made a full two years before 36th Chamber
(1976 vs. 1978).
When the Qing dynasty comes to power they send
killers to do away with a Ming General and his family. Only the baby boy,
Shaolung, escapes and he is placed with the Shaolin monks at the age of
five. Another young boy, Tianjun, also joins the Shaolin Temple and the
two of them eventually become friends over the years. Shaolung grows up
to be Tien Peng, while Tianjun becomes the morose Carter Wong. Both have
been told from a young age that they have a special mission to perform
when they leave the temple - Shaolung to kill his father’s murderer, but
Tianjun’s remains a mystery.
When they enter their early 20’s both men feel
it is time to attempt to pass the 36th tests. These tests must have been
devised in part by the Marquis de Sade. In fact, from watching this film
and its sequel, the tests must have killed more Shaolin monks than the
Manchus ever did. They are brutal and dangerous in which one misstep or
momentary loss of concentration will likely end in death. The first 35
are relatively easy – being trapped in a room with knives, arrows, needles
and tiny iron balls being shot or thrown at the person from hidden slits
in the walls or having to walk through two converging walls with needle
sharp spikes embedded in them or being placed within a giant bell and having
it struck until a stream of blood pours out of your nose and ears. Finally
comes the 36th test – passing the 18 Bronzemen.
In a labyrinth of rooms and narrow corridors,
18 Bronzemen (monks either painted in bronze or enclosed within bronze
robot like armor) try to stop the testee from passing even to the point
of killing them. The 18 Bronzemen are quite nifty – not so much the ones
encased in metal that look to have escaped from the Forbidden Planet, but
the painted ones are lean and swift and look very fashionable.
After a few failures, both men pass the final
test – burnt with the dragon symbol into their forearms - and are allowed
to leave the temple. Shaolung goes to meet his destiny and Tianjun tags
along. What is his true mission? Along the way they bump into Polly Shang
Kwan (initially disguised as a man) and she too begins to travel with them.
Up ahead their target knows that they are coming and prepares for them.
This isn’t really my kind of film – not enough
fighting (if you discount the 18 Bronzemen) for a kung fu film and not
nearly enough Polly (she is in only two fights), but it has some nice visuals,
some effective scenes and moves along quickly. The film did quite well
at the box office though - the highest ranked kung fu film in that year
(thanks to Yves for this information) - and so a sequel was quickly thrown
My rating for this film: 6.5
Return of the 18 Bronzemen
Though the same three co-stars appear in this
sequel made in the same year, their characters are completely different
and both Tien Peng and Polly are in it only for a few minutes. The film
takes an unusual viewpoint as it completely focuses on Carter Wong, but
Wong is the villain in this piece. There really is no hero at all in the
film. If you are not a fan of Carter, this might be a tough film to get
through. He gives a surly but very physical performance, but at no time
in the film does he gain your sympathy.
He is a Prince in the Qing dynasty and when the
Emperor dies he changes the will to make himself the successor. Soon news
comes to him that the Shaolin Temple is in revolt against him and this
sends him into a flashback that takes up nearly the remainder of the film.
He goes back ten years when he chanced upon an attractive maiden being
attacked and comes to her rescue. He attempts to court her in his gruff
manner, but she is engaged to Tien Peng. Carter challenges Tien, but is
easily defeated and when Carter learns that Tien was trained at the Shaolin
Temple, he decides that he must do the same.
Though he is much too old to begin training,
his perseverance impresses the monks and they finally take him in – though
they have no inkling of his true identity. While most monks don’t attempt
to pass the 36 tests until after a decade of training, Carter attempts
to do so after only one year. He fails – and nearly dies but he continues
to come back. Finally he is forced to leave the temple when his real identity
is revealed. Back to the present. Now the Emperor, Carter plans his revenge
on the monks when Polly attempts to assassinate him. As we have only seen
her once before in his flashback, we have no idea why. She is rebuffed
and escapes. End of movie.
Huh? I suppose that there is either a sequel to
this or at least there was one planned because otherwise it all makes little
sense. The entire film is taken up with the training and there are many
loose ends left unexplained. Polly has this final fight and one earlier
in the flashback but is wasted other than that. There seems to be a slapdash
feel to the film in which the producers used the sets of the first to quickly
make the second. Some of the training scenes are interesting but lots of
it feels like a repeat of the first film.
My rating for this film: 4.5