Movie Review

Shaolin vs. Lama

Distributed by Video Asia

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            I'm a huge fan of the 1970s/1980s karate films - the kind you used to be able to watch every Saturday afternoon on Black Belt Theater.  Some were campy, some were downright stupid, but most were a whole lot of fun to watch and emulate.  That was why I purchased the Shaolin Vs. DVD from Video Asia - to recapture the feeling I had when watching those films in my youth.  I had already seen an old favorite in Shaolin vs. Wu Tang.  this time around, I decided to watch the 1983 classic, Shaolin vs. Lama.

            Some versions of the old karate films cut out the beginning sequences to move into the action of the film.  This is a grave mistake.  There are often times a great deal to be learned in the opening moments of a martial arts film.  It may have nothing to do with the movie itself, but the film intro may still offer up some interesting tidbits.  The opening sequence of Shaolin vs. Lama reveals how the various styles of kung fu came about; how they emulate animal movements.  Thus, we learn how styles like snake, monkey, tiger, etc. came into existence.  Many of these styles make an appearance in the film.

            As the main story opens, we meet Sung Li Ting (Alexander Lo Rei), a young man interested in martial arts who is looking for a master to train him.  Whoever can beat him and the numerous styles he has picked up in his travels would surely be the one teacher he could learn the most from.  Sung Li Ting begins to believe that his search is in vain when he rescues a monk disguised as a beggar.  when Sung Li Ting explains his plight to the monk, Hsu Shi (William Yen) offers to take him to see the Grand Master of the Shaolin Temple, Pu Chi Eh (Sun Jung-Chi).  Sung Li Ting and Hsu Shi attempt to get the Grand Master to take Sung Li Ting as a pupil, but the temple has not taken on students in quite some time because of a past betrayal.  Long ago, a former student, Yao Feng Lin (Chen Shan), betrayed the temple, stealing the sacred Lichen Style Book in an act of revenge for the death of his Lama master. 

            When the traitor returns to the area, killing the leader of the Skyhawk Clan in his first attempt to take over all of the fighting schools in the area, Sung Li Ting rescues Su, the former Skywhawk leader's daughter (Lee Wai-Wan).  They eventually end up back at the Shaolin Temple and, once the monks are told of the re-emergence of Yao Feng Lin, Pu Chi Eh agrees to train Sung Li Ting as a Shaolin monk.  Will Sung Li Ting ever become strong enough to defeat such a deadly enemy or will a heart bent on revenge cloud the warrior's judgment, opening up the Shaolin Temple to one of their greatest enemies?

            Shaolin vs. Lama has a fairly decent storyline with some decent acting.  Quite a few of the older karate flicks tended to be melodramatic, but this one really didn't seem too overly done in the acting department.  The comedic moments in the midst of the fighting, a trademark of any decent martial arts film of the era, are actually pretty funny...even the disgusting moment which involves a foot inserted in a mouth.  Yuck!  And yet...funny!

            The battles were plentiful and rather brutal, but there were some annoying traits to the fights.  Like the spewing of spit or blood when hit particularly hard.  This is where the creators of the Mortal Kombat video games got their ideas.  Really, I think we can figure out that a hit was particularly painful when the character is thrown across the area the fight takes place in.  When people crash into walls or fly ten feet away from where they were last standing, we naturally assume that it hurt.  How many towels did these guys go through just to wipe the water spit on them each time they landed a nasty blow? 

            Another issue with this film, at least the copy I was watching anyway, was that some of the fight scenes were dark, either owning to being filmed in shadow or on particularly bad film.  That means I sometimes couldn't see the spit flying...or the really cool moves that the use of multiple fighting styles afforded this movie.  This did the film a great disservice as the use of multiple styles offered up a diversity between the fighters that made the film fun.  You never knew what move to expect next.

            Shaolin vs. Lama was not just a fight flick, but a teaching of the "tao" of the Buddhist monk.  Mercy is the key to strength among the monks at the Shaolin Temple.  It is something that Sung Li Ting finds very difficult to learn, being so steeped in his need for vengeance and yet, once he learns the strength of will needed to be merciful to one's enemy, he discovers that he is twice the fighter he could ever be without it.

            All-in-all, Shaolin vs. Lama is an excellent martial arts film from the 80s.  With all the martial arts films I have watched over the years, I can't believe that I never saw this film before!  I'm especially happy to have purchased the Shaolin Vs. DVD from Video Asia.  Thus far, I have watched two excellent martial arts films, one an old favorite and an old film that has become a new favorite for me.


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