25 October 2004 | BrianDanaCamp
Average kung fu movie with some good star performances
SHAOLIN MONK (1977, also titled KILLER PRIEST in one VHS edition) has at its core an unusual conflict between a Taoist priest and a Buddhist monk. Interestingly, the Taoist is the bad guy and has come to a Chinese town to exploit the townsfolk for reasons we don't learn until the final stage of the movie. The Buddhist monk, Tamo, has come from India to spread Buddhism and meets resistance from the local populace, or so we learn from a detailed bit of narration in the film's opening. Tamo seeks out Chi Yun, a young doctor-in-training working for his doctor father, and decides (for unexplained reasons) to make him his pupil and get him to Shaolin Temple as a monk. The young man's girlfriend, Yen Chi, eager to hold on to her doctor fiancé and not lose him to monkdom, puts up fierce opposition to the idea.
Eventually the Taoist and his minions go too far and the young doctor and his girlfriend go into hiding with the monk to learn his 18 Tamo techniques so they can confront the Taoist on an equal footing, leading to a nice set of extended battles at the end, including one between two great kung fu stars, Chen Sing and Phillip Ko.
Chen Sing was one of the most dependable kung fu heavies in a long career in these movies. Only on rare occasions did he play a heroic role and he was always very good when he did (see also THOU SHALL NOT KILL...BUT ONCE, aka FEROCIOUS MONK FROM SHAOLIN, and BRUCE AND SHAOLIN KUNG FU). In this film he plays the Buddhist monk and provides a solid presence at the heart of the film. Wen Chiang Long, who plays Chi Yun, was a familiar face in kung fu films but not often in lead roles. The third lead is kung fu diva Chia Ling (aka Judy Lee), who plays Yen Chi. Fans of this beautiful actress (and ferocious fighter) will be pleased to see that she looks absolutely gorgeous here and has a big part and plenty of fights. (For more Chia Ling films reviewed on this site, see QUEEN BOXER, IMPERIAL SWORD, and REVENGE OF THE PATRIOTS.) Chuen Yuen, another familiar face, plays the Taoist and Phillip Ko--another dependable villain in these films--plays the Taoist's elusive master.
The film's a little slow in parts and the fights are not always as well-staged as we'd like them, but the characters are compelling, there's enough action to keep it going, and the plot offers enough unique twists to keep even the most jaded kung fu fans engaged. And how often did Chen Sing and Chia Ling get such good parts?