Return of the 18 Bronzemen may be stranger than its predecessor. The unrelated sequel follows the villainous prince of the Qing Dynasty. In order to improve his kung fu prowess, he infiltrates the Shaolin Temple. His ultimate goal is to learn what as much as he can and pass the final trial in order to become the best fighter in the land. At least, that seems to be the what is going on.
Aside from the lead, characters do not stick around for too long in the movie. The impetus that sends Yong Zhen to study under the Shaolin monks seems to be twofold. He meets a vendor who is selling trinkets that show the Shaolin fighting style and a random encounter with a woman. Before that, there is some backstory, but nothing that would explain where the film is headed.
The first meeting is not all that strange. The second is when Return of the 18 Bronzemen becomes a little confusing. Up until then, Young Zhen has proven himself to be a man whose ambition leads him to stealing power and framing his brother for murder before ordering him to be executed. In other words, he is one evil man. He seems like he is destined to be the one the hero kills at the end.
So it comes as something of a surprise when he saves a woman who is being harassed by a bunch of men. It even seems like Return of the 18 Bronzemen has its romantic subplot when Young Zhen seems to become jealous when he sees the woman he just saved talking to another man. It turns out it is just her brother, but it does not prevent a fight from breaking out.
The brother easily bests Young Zhen and it is revealed he is a student of Shaolin. Again, it seems like another major character has been introduced. There is finally a hero. Strangely, neither the brother or sister are seen or heard from again. The same thing happens at the end when an assassin attempts to take out the now Emperor Young Zhen. She runs off and her fate is left unresolved.
Return of the 18 Bronzemen is a film in which the villain takes center stage to the exclusion of any true hero. It is a strange story in which redemption is barely teased and never realized. Things also end on an odd note. There is not a climactic fight and no one gets there comeuppance. It is worth seeing as an oddity, but the whole thing is more strange than actually good.
Return of the 18 Bronzemen will be screening at the Old School Kung Fu Fest on December 11
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