All-star cast in average kung fu tale shot in Taiwan
THE EIGHT ESCORTS (1979, aka 8 PEERLESS TREASURES) offers a rather convoluted kung fu tale involving a case of precious jewels being transported by hired escorts and sought after by assorted thieves including a murderous "mystery bandit" lurking behind the scenes. It all benefits from a strong cast, frequent fight scenes and an engaging if sometimes confusing storyline. The negatives are a low budget, colorless direction, sloppy cinematography and some awkward edits.
Hsu Feng (TOUCH OF ZEN, THE VALIANT ONES) stars as Miss Wu, who takes over for her murdered brother, who was killed on an escort job, and is hired by a wealthy client to take a case of jade jewels and figurines to his new daughter-in-law. Hsu gets help, sometimes unexpected, from a group of intriguing characters all while coming under surprise attacks from at least four others seeking the jewels. As it turns out, several of the characters are not quite what they seem. The identity of the "mystery bandit" comes as quite a surprise.
The cast boasts a number of familiar, well-liked performers. Wang Chung (THE DELINQUENT, SHAOLIN TEMPLE) plays Hsu's loyal, mute partner. Ling Yun (DEATH DUEL, CLAN OF AMAZONS) plays a knife-thrower who helps out at crucial moments but is suspected of a hidden motive. Danny Lee (THE KILLER, CITY ON FIRE, INFRAMAN) plays a Sworn Brother of the murdered escort who offers to help Miss Wu. Kung fu diva Lily Li (EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN, DAGGERS 8, SLICE OF DEATH), looking quite beautiful and fashionably dressed and coiffed, plays a saucy would-be thief who fights each of the other major cast members at least once in the course of the action.
Tan Tao Liang, of high-kicking fame (FLASH LEGS, LEG FIGHTERS, CHALLENGE OF DEATH), plays a mysterious character who gets beaten up by bullies in his first major scene but later reveals it was all an act and delivers some of the film's best fight scenes. Wang Ching, a regular kung fu villain, plays a would-be thief and Mau Ging Shun plays Poison Blade, another would-be thief. Wu Ma (CHINESE GHOST STORY) plays an inn proprietor (with cheeks dabbed in rouge!) who teaches kung fu to four acrobatic boys who serve as his staff at the inn. Wu and the boys lend some welcome humor to the film and it's too bad more use wasn't made of them. One other major kung fu actor makes a surprise appearance late in the game.
The fights are all adequately choreographed (by Chan Muk-Chuen) and come at a steady pace. Most are staged outdoors on location in Taiwan but shot in uncertain light. None of this is helped by the full-frame DVD version commercially available in the U.S., which cuts off action on the sides of the frame. Director Pao Hsueh Li and co-scripter Ni Kuang were both better known for their considerable bodies of work at Shaw Bros. earlier in the 1970s. All the cast have been in much better films, but it's a rare treat to see such a large and skilled group come together in such a low-budget production.
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