8 September 2001 | BrianDanaCamp
Shaolin burns again as Fong Si Yu takes on the Manchus
MEN FROM THE MONASTERY (aka DISCIPLES OF DEATH, 1974) is the second film in Chang Cheh's Shaolin cycle and features Fu Sheng and Chen Kuan Tai returning to the roles they played in HEROES TWO (1973), the legendary Shaolin fighters Fong Si Yu and Hung Si Kwan. They are joined here by Chi Kuan-Chun as Fong's partner, Hu Wei Chien. All three stars would play these roles in later films.
The story opens with Fong Si Yu's `graduation' from Shaolin Temple (i.e. his grueling run through Death Alley), and goes on to tell the story of Hu Wei Chien's troubles with a local kung fu school and Fong's sending him to Shaolin to learn kung fu so he can get revenge for the murder of his father. (The story of Hu Wei Chien would be restaged in a later film, THE INVINCIBLE KUNG FU BROTHERS, aka SHAOLIN AVENGERS, with the same actors.) Eventually the two heroes hook up with Hung Si Kwan to fight Manchu oppressors who burn down Shaolin (in shots taken from HEROES TWO) and square off in the spectacular final battle against the three stars plus six compatriots, including Hu Wei Chen's girlfriend. (In the tape reviewed, scenes of gore in the final battle are printed in black-and-white.)
Martial arts director Lau Kar Leung, himself a student of Shaolin-originated Hung-style Chinese boxing (named for Hung Si Kwan), directed the fight scenes here and sought to make them more authentic. Although there are few worthy villains in the cast, the fighting of the three stars and the attention to specific styles distinguished this film from most earlier kung fu films. It still pales, however, next to the unofficial Shaolin epic trilogy of SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS (listed on IMDB as SHAO LIN MARTIAL ARTS), FIVE MASTERS OF DEATH, and DEATH CHAMBER (aka SHAOLIN TEMPLE), all directed by Chang Cheh and all also starring Fu Sheng and Chi Kuan-Chun, who play their regular roles of Fong Si Yu and Hu Wei Chien only in the third film. Still, MEN FROM THE MONASTERY remains a seminal film in the kung fu pantheon. For the record, the end text (in English) describing the fate of Shaolin martial arts spells the main characters' names as follows: Hu Hueh-Chien, Fang Shih-Yu, and Hung Hsi-Kuan.