The Return of the 18 Bronzemen (1976)

Directed by
Rerun of The 18 Bronzemen
Reviewed by Simon on 2024-04-21

Kangxi Emperor dies, leaving the crown to his 14th son in his will - but the sneaky 4th Prince changes the text and steals the throne. However, after a chance encounter with a skilled martial artist he realises that what he really wants is to learn Shaolin Kung Fu, so he tricks his way into the temple and studies for 3 years. To leave, he must pass the trial of The 18 Bronzemen.

Despite having mostly the same cast, Return Of The 18 Bronzemen is not a sequel to The 18 Bronzemen at all - they all play different characters and the plots are only connected by the Shaolin Temple graduation trial. In some ways this is the film that The 18 Bronzemen should have been - it focusses firmly on Carter Wong and, after some largely unnecessary setup, spends most of its time on training and the Bronzemen challenge. The trials are lengthier and more elaborate, making them much more satisfying to follow - helped again by a ferociously physical performance from Wong.

Unfortunately the film fluffs the ending - to my mind there was an obvious ending... training in Shaolin for three years makes the 4th Prince a better man and he rights the wrongs he committed at the start of the film. That's the ending Lau Kar-Leung would have given it... It's not the ending Joseph Kuo provides.

Still, despite an unsatisfying conclusion this is definitely the better film, and finally delivers on the Bronzemen concept. Since there is no narrative continuity there is no particular reason to watch them in order, so I would in fact recommend starting with this one.

I just learned from Letterboxd that the entire Shaolin section is supposed to be a flashback to the 4th Prince's younger days... this makes way more sense!