Comparison between the Japanese Recut (HD main version + several previous DVDs in e.g. Hongkong) and the reconstructed original theatrical release, both available on the UK Blu-ray by Eureka!
Mutilated bronzemen and a happy ending in Great Britain
The 18 Bronzemen (Taiwan, 1976) is certainly the magnum opus of budget filmmaker Joseph Kuo, who delivered any number of entertainingly trashy Easterns in the '70s. Carter Wong and Tien Peng fight their way through a typical revenge story with lots of confusing twists and above all: training montages as well as the titular test against "golden" painted actors in cardboard costumes. The film, shortened by 21 minutes in Germany, was a huge success at the time and is still a coveted title among Asia fans today.
Unfortunately, however, availability is a sad case: similar to Chinatown Kid, a massively recut version has replaced the original version of the film. For years, the theatrical release was found primarily only on obscure VHS releases. But as of November 15, 2021, a Blu-ray box set of 8 films from the cult Hong Kong director is available in the UK from Eureka Entertainment.
In addition to the familiar recut version in HD throughout, you'll find a reconstructed original version as a bonus. Here, material from the HD master has been supplemented with a German print in widescreen. As mentioned before, this was heavily cut separately though, so other sources needed to be used as well - some of them only available in heavily zoomed 1.33:1. So the picture quality is variable, but at least it's a very thoroughly done project with surprisingly smooth transitions between the different sources. This kung-fu classic has never looked so well in its legendary uncut original version. We took this highly recommendable UK Blu-ray release as an opportunity to document the massive amount of the changes between these two versions of the film in more detail.
The differences in the widely known recut
Of course, the alternative beginning with a completely different frame story is striking. It should be said that the recut originally goes back to the release of this movie in Japan. On the one hand, Kuo was not yet so successful in this market at the time and therefore used the film to present a small "best-of" of his previous works. At the same time, a number of productions had previously been successful in Japan, in which children played an essential role. These two aspects are also cited in the audio commentary of the British Blu-ray as an attempt to explain the rather confusing 20 minutes at the beginning of the film, where the recut includes a kind of prequel to the main plot with other child actors.
The film itself, however, still has approximately the same running time and thus it is self-explanatory that, conversely, extensive cuts to tighten up the pacing were also made. On the one hand, this concerns many dialogues and small filler shots here and there. So the recut sometimes seems a bit more dynamic, but also a bit choppy compared to the original version. However, it is kind of a recurring thing in Kuo's films that some quick plot jumps are not really explained for the viewer. It surely is questionable for genre fans that several fight scenes have been shortened at the same time. This alone is a clear argument for preferring the original version over the recut.
Several changes in the order of scenes (rearrangements) are rather strange. On the one hand, this goes along with the new frame story. On the positive side, the child abduction can be mentioned here, which in the recut was actually woven into the plot a bit more comprehensibly while it feels a bit out of place in the original cut. On the other hand, many things seem rather arbitrary. When there are deviations within scene blocks that were moved to other places in the film, we have highlighted this with a coloured box. Quite often it was rather messy to keep track of some questionable decisions in the editing room.
Last but not least, there are a few moments where the recut is longer. This includes, of course, the alternative beginning with scenes recycled from other films. However, there are also a few instances where seemlingly deleted scenes from the actual film or from the sequel have made it in. Occasionally, therefore, the recut can also be quite interesting after having seen the original version - which, as said, remains the preferred film version in any case.
Both versions start with the logo of Mei Ah. The reconstructed original version has a logo of Hohwa Scope afterwards.
The first text differs.
Alternative / Rearranged scene / Additional scene in recut
00:23-19:09 resp. 19:43-22:14 + 22:29-24:37 / 00:40-10:21
Then, however, the versions already deviate seriously. Only during the meeting with the prince does the film run halfway synchronously. For the time being, there is a difference of 545 sec (= 9:05 min) in favor of the recut. However, this is a bit more complicated in detail due to a few cuts. Here, then, is a chronological rundown of what occurs in both versions, starting with the more important original version.