A young orphan boy by the name of Shao Lung is placed in a Shaolin temple by his grandmother. Lung spends his childhood training in the art of kung fu, with few memories of his first few years or of how his parents died. As he reaches adulthood, Shao Lung decides he must leave the temple to discover the truth about his past – to do this he must fight his way past 18 deadly bronze warriors.
The concept of fighting bronzemen was one that Joseph Kuo used in a number of his 70s martial arts flicks – Return of the 18 Bronzemen, Blazing Temple and The 8 Masters all featured shiny metal kung fu fighters. In The 18 Bronzemen they are a mixture of clanking robot-like warriors and blokes in gold body paint; they look a bit silly but kick ass pretty conclusively.
Shao Lung’s attempts to pass the tests to leave the temple is only part of the film, and once he makes it out, the film becomes less interesting. But the first section is pretty entertaining – Tien Peng is a good leading man, and while his martial arts might not be amazing he acts well and has proper movie star looks. Carter Wong – one of Hong Kong’s biggest stars at the time – plays Shao Lung’s surly friend Tai Chung, who spends half the film insulting his pal (“You talk like a girl! I can’t stand it!”), the other defending his life. Wong’s a terrific fighter (he was once martial arts trainer for the Hong Kong police), and whether pummelling bronze butt or battering bad guy Wong Fei-Lung, he’s a powerful presence.
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 emporer (realised in a blistering swordplay flashback). There’s also a love interest in the pretty form of Polly Shang Kwan, first met disguised very poorly as a man. Polly gets to do some kung fu, and seems to be blessed with an amazing leaping ability.
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. No classic, but reasonable fun.
Prolific Hong Kong martial arts director who worked steadily throughout the 70s and early 80s. Operated independently from the powerful Shaw Brothers studio, turning out numerous no-frills, well-made kung fu period films that made the most of often limited budgets. Worked with actor Carter Wong in several films, such as The 18 Bronzemen, Born Invincible, Shaolin Brothers and The Blazing Temple. Kuo’s other films include The 36 Deadly Styles, Dragon's Claws, The Mystery of Chess Boxing and The World of Drunken Master.