Review Date: 3/23/03
Director: Joseph Kuo
Cast: Carter Wong, cameo by Judy Lee (Chia Ling)
More kung fu silliness from Joseph Kuo. This is probably the most tedious, melodramatic, and overwrought Shaolin epic I've ever seen. The tyrannical Ching emperor decides to kill his sister's (Judy Lee) family for some reason, and he becomes her sworn enemy. After failing to kill him herself, she goes to visit Shaolin Temple for help and disappears for the rest of the film. Getting wind of this, the emperor decides to destroy Shaolin Temple, and for the next forty-five minutes we get to see the temple burn and its students get massacred. Like any other silly religious cult, the Shaolin monks can't just escape or fight back, so they either martyr themselves by self immolation or face the deadly trials of the eighteen bronzemen to earn their passage to the secular world (one at a time and all while they're under siege, of course). Miraculously, a handful of monks survive including Carter Wong, and together they conspire to assassinate the emperor. But their plans run afoul and everyone is slaughtered except for Carter Wong, who is saved in the nick of time when Judy Lee drops by in the final thirty seconds of the film to deliver the finishing blow. What?!? With the emperor dead, Wong and Lee ride off into the sunset. Huh?!?
If nothing else, the film is just overflowing with angst and monologues of the cruel injustices of life under oppressive Ching rule. Yeah, it's really tough to be a monk, orphaned by your parents who were slain by the government thirty years ago, blah, blah, blah... It tries really hard to invoke some sort of patriotic sentimentality, but it all comes across as forced, unnatural, and downright silly. The story is tedious and disjointed, and the kung fu isn't even that good, save for Carter Wong's blaze of fury at the end. A delightfully tacky miniature model of Shaolin Temple takes the brunt of the Ching's attack, but like the rest of the film, it becomes tiresome to watch after a while. Holst's "Mars" is played gratuitously throughout the film, over and over in an attempt to instill some kind of triumphant fighting spirit. But it just becomes laughably lame. Too bad.