“Clearly one-up on The Magnificent Seven.”
This early Golden Harvest ensemble piece focuses on a plot for communal revenge against the evil General Hsiao (Han Ying Chieh), who was responsible for killing the fathers of the titular octet during his rise to power. However, he’s not all bad, as he raised a couple of his victims’ children as his own, who are now on his side, unaware of his involvement in their status as orphans. Three of the eight are women, a solidly respectable ratio given the 1971 provenance. They include both relative newcomer Mao as Kuei Chien Chin, who disguises herself as a man – as thoroughly unconvincingly as these things usually are in Hong Kong movies! – to infiltrate Hsiao’s camp, and the more established Miao as Chiang Yin, one of the previously mentioned surrogate offspring adopted by the general. The third is Lydia Shum, who is perhaps actually the most memorable, being loud, abrasive and larger than life in a very physical way.
While clearly not as gifted, she reminded me of Sammo Hung, which is interesting, since he was one of the action directors on this file; he and another well-known future face of Hong Kong cinema, Lam Ching-Ying of Mr. Vampire fame, are among the general’s nine whip-wielding bodyguards. This does at least allow for a touch of variety among the fights, since it makes a nice change to see whip vs. sword rather than an endless parade of sword vs. sword. However, it is still fairly limited in its own way, even if does force our heroes and heroines to come up with a special pair of double swords, which can be used to counter the menace. Hsiao is, as villains go, a bit less cartoonish than you’d expect, his killing having been for purely pragmatic reasons, and his desire to take care of some of the children indicates the acts were not entirely guilt-free. There’s a case his right-hand man, Wan Shun (Pai) is worse, though by the time the eight get past him and fight their way into his chambers, Hsiao is not exactly pleading for mercy.
It is a bit of a mixed bag, both in terms of action and in characters; this kind of thing has a tendency to feel over-stuffed, as if the makers are touting the quantity of characters more than their quality. This also has a negative impact on some of the fight sequences, particularly later on, when you have, literally, eight fights going on simultaneously, and as an early Golden Harvest film, they are still clearly finding their feet artistically. Lo Wei would go on to help more memorable movies such as The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, though how much of their success was down to him is, naturally, open to question. Certainly, they had something this film unquestionably lacks; a central star who can command the audience’s attention for the entire length, even if it’s passable enough, as a kung-fu version of Ocean’s 11.
Dir: Lo Wei
Star: Nora Miao, Tang Ching, Angela Mao, Pai Ying