As a young orphan, Shao Lung was raised in a Shaolin Temple after his grandmother abandons him there, fearing that an evil General will kill him after killing Lung’s father.
Lung spends countless years perfecting his kung fu in order to gain revenge against the cruel General. As he reaches adulthood, Shao Lung decides he must leave the temple to discover the truth about his past and get revenge.
But in order to do this he must he must pass the Shaolin monks most sternest test; the 18 Bronzemen.
The 18 bronze men is a collection of fighters, some of them wearing super thick armour which make them look like robots, others painted in Bronze/Gold paint and fight in different styles within a multi-chambered labyrinth filled with a mixture of deadly traps and deadly fighters.
Once Shao Lung passes the tests (with Carter Wong in exceptional form), the film becomes less entertaining and incredibly boring.
Whilst Tin Peng (Shao Lung) is cast as the leading man, it’s clear that Carter Wong is the main man and out-acts, outperforms and outfights Tin Peng at every turn. Indeed, Wong is enjoyable as the star pupil of the Shaolin monastery, barking insults and pushing students to their limit and beyond.
After Shao Lung and Tai Chung are out in the real world there’s no more bronze action – instead we have the discovery that Shao Lung is in fact the son of a Ming general who was slaughtered by Fei-Lung’s evil Ching General (realised in a blistering swordplay flashback).
There’s also a poorly developed love interest in the pretty form of Polly Shang Kwan. Polly gets to do some kung fu, and seems to be blessed with an amazing leaping ability.
In addition to this, there is a good sub-plot of a mole within the Shaolin monastery; who feeds the Evil Ching general with information – especially the styles of kung fu that the 18 bronze men use as well a super secret kung fu found by Shao Lung in a book.
When the mole is uncovered to be Lung’s childhood best friend, he is aghast and demands to know why his best friend betrayed him — then comes the most convoluted twist of the movie; the best friend explains that he is the child of a high-ranking Ching soldier and gave an oath to his father, and presumably the Ching empire, that he would kill the child who showed the most zeal for destroying the Ching empire (ie: Lung).
Adding to the twist, Carter Wong explains that he was raised by a bodyguard who saved Lung’s father and Wong, like the mole, gave an oath to protect Lung until he got revenge.
This plot twist I found to be confusing, it seemed like Lung’s destiny was to remove the General from power; sorta like Luke Skywalker. But it did seem a bit strange that Lung was predestined to do all this, and all the people surrounding him were predestined to help Lung achieve his goal. Maybe the scriptwriters wanted to portray Lung as a Prodigal Son — it didn’t really work out.
The end has an excellent, climatic four-way showdown with the Evil Ching General (and, for some reason, his many clones); who has learnt the skills of the Shaolin monks and constantly changes his style until Carter sacrifices himself, leaving the General open to be killed.
The 18 Bronzemen has impressive production values and looks pretty expensive in places, and although the outcome is never in much doubt, the climatic four-way showdown is well-staged by Kuo.
My issue with this movie is that that 18 bronze men do not offer any real threat to the heroes in this movie. They should have been the personal bodyguards of the Ching General, or at least try to kill the heroes; too many times you hear a voice boom “PASS!” as the Bronzemen stop fighting and let the heroes move to the next room.
Although a reasonable fun film, this 70’s kung fu movie lacks real danger and wasn’t the classic all-out kung fu movie I was lead to believe.