‘The 8-Diagram Pole Fighter’ Brawls Its Way Into Our Pick of the Week

The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter


The 8-Diagram Pole Fighter [Arrow Video]

What is it? Two brothers struggle to avenge the slaughter of their family.

Why see it? The critically acclaimed The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter came late in the Shaw Brothers studio timeline, but that’s no mark against its quality or impact. Director/co-writer Liu Chia-liang crafts a compelling tale of revenge that touches on more emotionally resonant threads than some might expect. Part of that is no doubt due to the death of co-lead Alexander Fu Sheng who perished during the production in a car crash, and while any death of an actor/crew member during a film production is unfortunate, this one resulted in an alteration to the film’s third act. It’s a fairly somber movie, but action fans won’t be disappointed as some solidly thrilling fight sequences still punctuate the drama. Arrow’s new Blu-ray is their typically fantastic production pairing a strong picture with some terrific extras including an informative commentary and more.

[Extras: New 2K restoration, commentary, featurettes, interviews, booklet]


The Best

JockeyJockey

What is it? An aging jockey wants one last ride for glory.

Why see it? The specifics here involving a jockey makes for fresh territory, but the story, themes, and characters are more than a little familiar as we watch an old pro refusing to face his own mortality in pursuit of his life’s dream. It’s well-crafted, beautifully shot, and engaging enough. The secret weapon, though, is a career best performance by Clifton Collins Jr. in a rare lead role. He grabs viewers by the heart and refuses to let go, and his moves and choices pull us tighter and closer through to the very end. Carroll Ballard’s The Black Stallion (1979) remains the absolute best movie about a horse, but Jockey earns praise and attention for its look at the rider.

[Extras: Deleted scenes]


The Rest

Armageddon [KL Studio Classics]

What is it? A madman squares off against a psychologist.

Why see it? If Alain Delon stars in a movie it’s your obligation to give it a spin. This late 70s thriller isn’t among the legend’s more talked-about films, but as a thought-provoking thriller it’s well worth a watch. Delon plays a psychologist who’s brought in by Interpol to help track and catch a vocal terrorist calling himself Armageddon. Mind games ensue, character dramas unfold, and the film plays out an intriguing back and forth between them. It’s less about overt thrills than intriguing observations, but it lands on a solid sting of an ending.

[Extras: Commentary]

The Body of My Enemy [KL Studio Classics]

What is it? A man seeks revenge after being framed for murder.

Why see it? Jean-Paul Belmondo stars in this mid 70s dramatic thriller, and that alone is reason enough to watch. That said, it’s far from the man’s best as the structure doles out the tale in excessive fashion with flashbacks filling in details. Come into it expecting more of a drama than a thriller, though, and there’s an interesting commentary on class in proper French society. We don’t get to see Belmondo doing much in the way of action or stunts, but the guy remains a compelling and charismatic performer.

[Extras: Commentary]

Death on the Nile

What is it? Someone commits a murder on a boat!

Why see it? Hercule Poirot comes from the same school of detection as Jessica Fletcher — go where the murders are. This time around he’s enjoying a vacation in Egypt when old friends and new acquaintances land him on a cruise boat heading down the Nile. A suspicious ensemble, a mysterious murder, and another powerhouse performance by Kenneth Branagh as the brilliant detective (and as director) make for a good time at the movies, and while it can’t match its predecessor it’s a solid watch. The big issue here is the supporting cast as only a couple of the names (Annette Bening, Emma Mackey) bring anything resembling personality while most struggle to deliver even the slightest charisma (looking at you Gal Gadot). Luckily, Branagh absolutely kills it with a devilishly good performance seared with real emotion. The ending hits hard.

[Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]

The Long Night

What is it? A couple faces off against a cult.

Why see it? The horror/thriller premise pitting average folks against religious cultists is a well-worn one, and there are both great examples and absolute duds. This one falls a bit closer towards the latter end of the scale, unfortunately as the script leaves viewers with uninteresting, unlikable protagonists and cultists who are given far too much “mystery” to be entertaining or frightening. Onscreen chapter titles like “The Invitation” and “The Seduction” don’t help and serve only to remind viewers of other, better genre films they could be watching instead. There’s a bright side in the brief appearance of Jeff Fahey, but it’s over way too soon.

[Extras: Commentary, short film, featurettes]

Scream [4K UHD]

What is it? The fifth Scream film!

Why see it? You knew it was going to be trouble when the fifth Scream film forewent sequel identification in its titling, and the result lands somewhere between the lows of Halloween (2018) and the minor highs of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022). We still get some laughs, gory kills, and time with legacy characters, but the killer(s) identity is obvious from ten minutes in, and a death that should have been emotional is instead marred by the utter stupidity of its execution. Bottom line? It’s okay. The weakest of the sequels, but okay.

[Extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]

The Violent Breed [Code Red]

What is it? Vietnam veterans become mercenaries set against each other.

Why see it? The great Fernando Di Leo didn’t fare all that well in his final decade, and this penultimate feature is exhibit B. A pair of familiar faces in Henry Silva and Woody Strode appear in supporting turns while lead Harrison Muller struts and fights his way through the film. The story is basic but functional enough, but the action is curiously bloodless with multiple gunshot deaths leaving unmarked corpses. Some of the skirmishes find minor thrills en route to a big shootout and an unsatisfying ending.

[Extras: New 2K master]


Also out this week:

Desperate Riders, Parallel Mothers, Vicious Fun

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