THE INVINCIBLE EIGHT - Early Golden Harvest production with Angela Mao
THE INVINCIBLE EIGHT (1970) was one of the earliest releases from Golden Harvest Productions, a studio set up to compete with Hong Kong's reigning Shaw Bros. studio, and offers a Shaw-style swordplay adventure with a director and some actors hired away from Shaw, as well as some new faces recruited by Golden Harvest. It has its pleasures, but ultimately, it's not as good as the Shaw productions it was copying. The "invincible eight" of the title are the sons and daughters of eight generals who had been murdered by General Hsiao (Han Ying Chieh) in the course of his rise to power. The film chronicles the gradual assembling of the eight, some of whom first meet in General Hsiao's dungeon, and their campaign to avenge the deaths of their fathers. One of the eight is not a martial artist at all, but a cook, who learns to wield his meat cleaver to lethal advantage.
In the film's first three-quarters, the heroes do a rather poor job of taking on General Hsiao's top lieutenant, Wan Shun (Pai Ying) and his "Nine Whips," whip-wielding guards who always manage to subdue the heroes and either capture them or drive them away. As a result, the fight scenes lack the necessary suspense because the heroes never seem to have a chance. Only after they devise a method of neutralizing the whips are the "invincible eight" able to come back for a set of final battles in the last 15 minutes with lots of swordfighting and whip action. Even then, the film undercuts the excitement by having the eight fight the toughest and most formidable opponents first, ending with an anticlimactic bout with a single, less powerful villain. The fights aren't terribly well-staged either, and rely on too many impossible leaps and somersaults. No real skill seems to be involved on the part of the actors, several of whom rely on stunt doubles for the heavy lifting (or leaping).
Angela Mao plays one of the eight, but she doesn't have a starring role. This was only her second or third film and she was still a kung fu diva in training, a couple of years away from her triumphs in HAPKIDO, LADY WHIRLWIND, and WHEN TAEKWONDO STRIKES. Aside from the big ensemble fight scene at the end, she has only one solo fight midway through the film when she's surrounded by the Nine Whips, with only a metal fan as a weapon. The real surprise here is Shen Tien Sha, a heavyset young woman who later became known as Lydia Shum, famous for her comic roles in later waves of Hong Kong films (and who died in early 2008). She's quite a vigorous fighter here for someone her size (although she's doubled for the more strenuous bits) and plays the most impetuous of the eight. Also in the cast is Tang Ching, a seasoned lead who had excelled at Shaw in such films as INTERPOL and VENGEANCE IS A GOLDEN BLADE, both of which are also reviewed on this site. Li Kun, Tang Ching's sidekick in INTERPOL, plays the comic relief cook. James Tien, a frequent Golden Harvest player, is another of the eight. Sammo Hung plays one of the "Nine Whips," although I must confess I never counted more than eight whip-wielders in any scene they were in.
Nora Miao, a notable Golden Harvest discovery, plays Chiang Yin, a beautiful young woman at the general's villa who, along with officer Hai Tao (played by Hsieh Hsieh), had been raised by the general even though their fathers were among the murdered generals. When the two find out the truth, they turn against their adoptive father and join the other six seeking revenge. There was a chance here to develop some human drama based on a natural tension between the need for vengeance and a bond with the man who raised them, but the film has no time for such dramatics. There are too many walls to leap over.
Signs and written messages are not translated in the Fortune Star disc seen for this review. This is especially a problem at the very end when an important message is written in ink on the wall of General Hsiao's villa after the final fight. The words were clearly meant as a declaration of intent and explanation of what happened. It would have been nice for non-Chinese readers to know what was written.
The director, Lo Wei, had made several films at Shaw, including a few swordplay films with Cheng Pei Pei (who would come over to Golden Harvest a couple of seasons later), such as DRAGON SWAMP, THE SHADOW WHIP and BROTHERS FIVE, which bears many similarities to INVINCIBLE EIGHT but is a much better film.
As with so many Golden Harvest films, the score is a hodgepodge of themes from American westerns and cues from James Bond soundtracks, as well as familiar fanfares from a Chinese music library. The film is now out on DVD as part of the Fortune Star Legendary Collection line. It's a very nice widescreen print. The optional English subtitles are marred by various spelling and grammatical errors and frequent mis-timing. The film's original trailer is included as an extra and it calls the film a "top-budget production," which is something of an exaggeration. The trailer also offers glimpses of an outdoor fight scene between the eight and their pursuers that is missing from the film proper.
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