THE TEMPTATION OF A MONK, Hong Kong director Clara Law's ambitious potboiler about a 7th-century Chinese warrior in search of redemption, has ample dollops of history, romance, sexual abandon, and humor--not to mention martial arts.
General Shi (Wu Hsin-kuo), leader of the crown prince's army, is visited by General Huo, the leader of a rival force, who convinces him to remain neutral during what he promises will be a bloodless coup. Unwittingly, Shi has agreed to sit back while his prince is assassinated and his soldiers
are butchered. The disgraced Shi visits his mother, who forces him to swear that he will leave the palace and wander the countryside, rather than seek vengeance for his betrayal.
Shi leaves, only to be attacked by his former soldiers. He convinces them that he never meant to betray their prince, and the band retreat to a Buddhist monastery, where they take instruction from a 10-year-old monk. Despite Shi's vow, they set about plotting revenge, but the plans don't get
very far (neither does their religious training). When Shi's lover, Princess Scarlet (Joan Chen), arrives, the men go out for a night of revelry. On their return, they're attacked by a troop of Huo's men; when Princess Scarlet tries to intercede, she's murdered. Shi's men are also killed, but the
master fighter manages to wipe out the rival battalion.
He runs away to a remote, crumbling temple in the mountains, where old crotchety priests tutor him in Buddhist ways. As the priests warm to him, he begins repairing the broken-down temple. Eventually, a young widow (also played by Chen) arrives at the temple and asks to have her soldier-husband
cremated there. After the ceremony, the widow begs leave to stay and become a monk. The priests agree, and Shi shaves her head. That night, the widow seduces Shi. While they have sex, she ties him up, intending to have him arrested, but is killed by one of the old monks. Soon Huo and his army
descend upon the monastery. Shi refuses to fight, ducking Huo's every assault. Flaming arrows ignite the temple and the two men are engulfed in flames.
THE TEMPTATION OF A MONK is filled with striking images--the bald Shi and the freshly shaven nun making love in the darkness, General Shi chasing a roly-poly 10-year-old past a row of stone Buddhas, elegantly horrifying scenes of slo-mo violence. But while director Law has a deft visual
vocabulary, her storytelling technique could use some streamlining (as could the screenplay by Eddie Fong and Lilian Lee, who wrote FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE). The plot is confusing, especially in the early going, and the backstory that would explain the hostility between Huo and Shi is never
supplied. Though the film is concerned with portentous themes of redemption, and includes graphic scenes of death, effective comic relief is provided by the ornery monks, a welcome addition to a striking, if somewhat unfulfilled, historical melodrama. (Violence, sexual situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: THE TEMPTATION OF A MONK, Hong Kong director Clara Law's ambitious potboiler about a 7th-century Chinese warrior in search of redemption, has ample dollops of history, romance, sexual abandon, and humor--not to mention martial arts. General Shi (Wu Hsin… (more)