Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Chen Kuan-Tai, Deng Tak-Cheung, Feng Yi, Feng Hak-On, Kong Do
Directed By Chang Cheh
Men from the Monastery continues the “Shaolin Cycle” of films that Chang Cheh kicked off with Silver Emulsion favorite, Heroes Two in 1974. More or less a direct sequel of sorts to Heroes Two, Alexander Fu Sheng and Chen Kuan-Tai return as legendary folk heroes Fong Sai-Yuk and Hung Si-Kwan. Except this time they are joined by the revenge driven powerhouse Hu Huei-Chien, played by the sleek Chi Kuan-Chun in what I assume is his acting début. Men from the Monastery is a pretty apt title, but I am hoping that in some alternate reality this film goes under the much cooler moniker of Heroes Three. It just makes so much sense.
To my surprise this film actually manages to outdo its prequel despite some really strange narrative devices that eventually end up growing on you the further you get into the film. The movie is divided up into segments, each focusing on a particular character. These segments overlap each other well enough before finally unifying themselves in the film’s absolutely stellar fourth and final act. It sounds great on paper, but if you don’t know that (as I didn’t) before going in, you will wonder what the hell has happened to Chen Kuan-Tai, who isn’t even mentioned by name until 41 minutes into the film.
Segment two ups the drama both in terms of action and intrigue. After Hu Huei-Chien’s father is murdered in a gambling hall dispute with members of the Manchu-backed Jin Lun gang, the poor guy attempts to extract his revenge from them over and over again, getting the living shit kicked out of him each time. It isn’t until he stumbles across a wandering Fong Sai-Yuk that he gets some decent advice. Sai-Yuk gives him an eager pep-talk which can be summed up as follows: Just go to Shaolin Temple and train, then you can get your revenge! Hell, It worked for me! After a short sequence of Huei-Chien training on the temple grounds, we are instantly fast-forwarded to three years later where he is now a well-oiled revenge machine.
When the two are finished with the gang, they finally decide that it’s time for a more pointed attack at the Manchu power structure. They suggest seeking out Hung Si-Kwan for their triple pronged assault. Segment three begins with a gradual build-up to a bad ass entrance by Chen Kuan-Tai, who has been hiding out from the Manchu army following the events of Heroes Two, organizing a guerrilla band of rebels to fight the oppressors. In the years since the previous film Si-Kwan has turned from simple freedom fighter to a completely unhinged Manchu killing machine. In a brutal display of his power he silently stalks a couple of patrolling officers before whispering the immortal line “My name is Hung Si-Kwan, and I kill Qings!” into their ears and killing them. He proceeds to drop the dead bodies over a wall, right on the front door of Manchu headquarters.
As the three heroes and a handful of rebels hide in a derelict temple, the Manchus get wind of their whereabouts and plan an all out assault. The final battle plays out like a kung fu tinged battle of the Alamo with archers, swords, and an army of end-of-their-rope Manchus swarming the place. The battle provides plenty of shocking moments and manages to justify the massive build-up provided by the preceding three acts. As in Heroes Two, Cheh laces the carnage with heavy doses of blood and some wacky camera tricks. The red tints of the previous film make their return here, as does an extended battle in black and white. This particular moment is probably the best in the film, as Huei-Chien makes his final stand, taking out dozens of Manchu in an absolute rampage of a showdown that only makes me wish that the Shaw Bros Studios decided to shoot more of their films in gorgeous black and white.