The 8 Masters/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Before we get into the meat of this review I should probably explain a couple of things first. The version I have of 8 Masters is dubbed and appears to be missing about 5 minutes of footage which you think really wouldn't matter that much but anyone who owns these sort of films will tell you a new or even poor translation and a few missing reel moments can make all the difference between a coherent masterpiece or a jumbled piece of garbage.
The movie opens with two gentlemen, one of whom is Carter Wong's dad (in the film that is). The two are meeting in a forest to have a good old fashioned Kung-Fu duel and though one of the participants seems less than eager, "I wish to postpone our fight for 3 months", "But why?", "None of your business!!", they soon get round to trying to kick each other's head's off. This fight rumbles on while the opening credits roll and ends on top of a hillside with both men dead.
We are then escorted to a random house in a random village where a random stranger enters to tell a random woman that he is there to protect a random boy from The 8 Masters who are heading there for random revenge. The random woman agrees and the random bo (who will all know is going to grow up into Carter Wong) is taken away by the random stranger. Note to any parents reading this: do NOT let random people take your children away no matter how much they claim it is all in the name of Kung-Fu.
True to his word (and fighting off many baddies along the way) the random man (who the child is now calling "Uncle" for some reason) manages to get the boy to the local Shaolin Temple before dropping dead. We then watch as time moves on and the young boy is showing off the skills that he has learned at the Temple. He is reminded by his teacher that he made a promise to his "Uncle" that he has to keep, which is to search for his mother and his "Uncle's" daughter and to kick some booty along the way. The young boy agrees and when he has fully grown into Carter Wong, then it's night-time and the Temple is being attacked by Ninjas.... Er...wait...what??? Yes I'm afraid so. The problem with a lot of the martial arts movies from the 70's is that unless they were flown under Shaw Brothers banner they were usually edited together to keep up a high pace. The theory being that people didn't want to sit through any more plot than they had to. So when these films made their way out of their home markets they were cobbled together to keep the ass kicking high and the plot just about understandable. Unfortunately most of the time these are the only versions that are available today. Which is a shame as this isn't a bad film by a long shot and is one of Carter Wong's best. But I digress.
After the Ninjas have been banished a now fully grown Carter Wong is reminded of the promise he made and how he'll have to see it through. So, after he's taken the Shaolin Trial (which basically revolves around him balancing across some sliding poles, blowing out some candles and kicking the snot out of a lot of gold painted men) he's off out into the big wide world. His first human contact outside the Temple walls is in a Teahouse where he saves a young woman and her father from a local gang (look for comedy bad guy pissing himself in the middle of the fight) before he continues on with his quest to find his mother and his "Uncle's" daughter Ming-Chu.
Eventually after returning home he finds his mother, now blind, living with Ming-Chu (played by Doris Lung Chun-Erh) which kind of works out nice as his mother has decided that they should be married. Meanwhile news of Carter Wong's return has reached the evil lair of The 8 Masters where they decide to keep it old skool and challenge him to a duel, which they do that very night only to find that Carter isn't up for a ruck. This doesn't go down well with The 8 Masters so they slap him about a bit, leaving no doubt in anyone's mind that they're going to kill him one way or another. Having decided that discretion is the best part of valour, Carter takes his mum and Ming-Chu, who keeps getting visits from a her Uncle To-Lung (played by Wong Fei-Lung) and tells her to get our boy to except the challenge, and buggers off into the hills. But even here there's no rest as The 8 Masters hunt him down and try to force him to except the duel and even though he sticks to his guns, in the process getting another bitch slapping for his troubles. He's informed he has 3 days to agree to the challenge and just like that a big piece of plot falls straight into our laps.
It turns out that the man who wanted to delay the fight at the beginning of the film was one of The 8 Masters who was ill and in no shape to fight and it was Carter's dad who told him to go to hell and because of this Carter has to pay his old man's debt. Having now moved his family to a cave, Carter spends his days being a coward..er...I mean a Man Of Peace while frolicking with Ming-Chu, whose mysterious Uncle To-Lung, we've discovered,wants to kill our boy. Peaceful that is until more assassins show up to kill him. At first it seems this fight is going to go the way of the last few, you know the "Man Of Peace" schtick that ends up with him taking a whupping, until one of the assassins threaten's Ming-Chu. Finally this sparks Carter into action and he quickly and brutally dispatches his would-be assailants before fleeing to safety. Unfortunately this act of violence doesn't set Carter on the path of righteous butt kicking just yet, as we learn when he returns to his cave to find The 8 Masters have kidnapped his mother. He confronts them and demands her release to which they say,"Sure, ut you have you fight us first". Carter refuses and get's his ass kicked once more.
The next day, as Carter recovers in the cave, Ming-Chu heads out to meet her Uncle To-Lung who tells her that if she can't make him except the challenge then she must kill him. Ming-Chu refuses on the grounds that she now loves Carter, leading her Uncle To-Lung to claim that he'll kill him as he's been waiting 10 years for his revenge. He heads to the cave where a fight breaks out, well I say fight but it's just Uncle To-Lung trying to chop Carter up with a bloody big sword while Carter rolls around on the floor trying not to get skewered. Eventually,through a lot of crying and blubbing, Ming-Chu convinces her Uncle To-Lung to spare our lad which leads to a very awkward cave scene as Carter figures out she obviously isn't who she claims to be: "Miiiiiiiiiing-Chu!!!! You got some 'splainin to dooooooooooo". Having been replaced for the real Ming-Chu by her Uncle To-Lung as a child, who it turns out is the head Master of the 8, she was told to wait for Carter's mother to show up looking for her, after that she was to keep an eye on him and kill him if necessary and we all know how well that turned out. Well being the good Buddhist he is he forgives her and set's about trying to free his mother from The 8 Masters lair by dressing up in a fake beard and smuggling her out in a coffin. Yeah,that doesn't work. Cue more black eyes and broken ribs for our boy but while he is being beaten this time his mother climbs out of the coffin, begs God to save her son and then commits suicide by banging her head violently against a wooden cart wheel.
Finally spur'd into action, Carter buries his mother and sets off in search of vengeance. What follows next is 35 minutes of Carter Wong kicking ass, cutting a swath through the Masters and their lackeys until he finally comes face to face with Ming-Chu's Uncle To-Lung. After fighting his way through 8 demons (of whom there is no mention of through-out the film, they just show up out of nowhere at the end) he finally gets his hands on To-Lung who refuses to leave well enough alone and ends up getting his ass kicked from pillar to post but, like the previous 7 Master's, is left alive. This insult is too much for To-Lung to bare and he kills himself after telling Carter that the real Ming-Chu was the woman who thought that his dad had killed her father at the start of the film which Carter informs her of after she staggers into her palace dying of a poison dart. With me? Good. Well she saves Carter and he returns to the Shaolin Temple where he says goodbye to the real Ming-Chu and the fake Ming-Chu and returns to his worship, leaving the real Ming-Chu to promise the fake Ming-Chu that she will look after her from here on out.
OK, I'll admit it's not up to the standards of a Shaw Brothers film but not a lot of movies are, even in this day and age. It is however another good effort from Hong Hwa International Films (H.K.) Ltd. Joseph Kuo does a bang up job as director, the fight scenes are of his usual high quality and the story keeps you interested enough that even if you have the sort of copy I have you don't lose your way, and Carter Wong is always worth watching, especially when he's kicking ass. Sure, the editing occasionally jumps from scene to scene and when fake Ming-Chu starts crying she doesn't bloody stop but I can think of worse ways to wile away an afternoon. Have you ever tried watching the Karate Kid remake?