Men from the Monastery (1974)

Posted in Reviews by - October 13, 2019
Men from the Monastery (1974)

Filmed simultaneously with Heroes Two, this stoic film forms part of the so-called ‘Shaolin cycle’ of films by director Chang Cheh, writer Ni Kuang, and fight choreographers Lau Kar-leung and Tong Gaai. Given its episodic nature, this is a more disjointed film than Heroes Two, which focused on the budding bromance between Shaolin rebels Hung Hei-kwan (Chen Kuan-tai) and Fong Sai-yuk (Fu Sheng) following the burning of the Shaolin Temple at the hands of the Manchu-backed Ching government. This film is split into four chapters and looks at the origin stories of three legendary resistance fighters. Spirited man-child Fong Sai-yuk is shown to bathe in strange oils at the behest of an overly protective mother which gives him an impenetrable body, apart from one singular weak spot (and no, it’s not there). Following three years at the temple, he dedicates his short life to fighting oppression, taking out rival Wu Tang master, ‘Tiger’ Lei, in a famous duel, and partnering with his Shaolin brothers to fight the Chings. Moody juvenile Wu Wei-kin (Chi Kuan-chun, who appeared in the opening titles of Heroes Two but not in the film itself) continually fails to avenge the death of his father, which is covered up by corrupt officials and his co-workers at a textile factory, until he bumps into Fong, who tells him to enrol at the Shaolin Temple. Wu becomes a hot-headed youth at the centre of an anti-governmental conflict, led by Hung Hei-kwan, who is introduced by way of a fight scene in which he declares, “I’m the one who kills Ching people”. Once the temple is set ablaze (the point where Heroes Two begins), the final chapter shows the men – and one woman, Li Chui-ping (Wu Hsueh-yan) – on their way to martyrdom, duelling to the death in a big bloody battle which shows Chang Cheh experimenting with colour grading – switching to black and white in parts, and flashes of red to suggest impending doom. It’s a strange idea, but quite effective. The film does well to further the myths surrounding the famous trio of Shaolin fighters, even if it does precious little to explain the wider political motives for their actions. Further Shaolin introspection, male-bonding and self-sacrifice continues in the next film in the cycle, Five Shaolin Masters.

AKA: Disciples of Death.

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