1980, 85 minutes, 16mm
Directed by: Cheung Gin-gat
Starring: Alexander Lo Rei, Chin Fei, Miu Ho, Lee Hoi-hing
Saturday, April 20th at 4pm
Sunday, April 21st at 7:15pm
Taiwan’s indie kung fu films eschewed slick sets and smooth camera movements to shoot on location with urgent handheld cameras wielded by operators who were constantly freaking out. They often don’t get as much respect as their slicker Hong Kong bretheren, but they possess an adrenaline-fueled madness that reaches peaks of ecstatic freakery their more sedate brothers across the strait rarely manage. And one of the brightest, and most influential stars in this surreal firmament is SHAOLIN TEMPLE AGAINST LAMA.
See, there are five color-coded factions of Tibetan lamas and the most evil of them all are the Black Lamas (you know they’re evil by the skulls in their hair and their double decker mustaches). Being evil, they decide to kill all the other lamas and it works! Except for one problem: the last two factions left are the Red Lamas and the Shaolin Temple. The Shaolin Temple is plenty badass, but the Red Lamas have Alexander Lo Rei on their side, playing a young prince who’s been stashed with the Reddies for training. He’s turned into their proxy facebreaker in the war of Lama vs. Shaolin with the Black Lamas hoping to pick off the survivors, but where a stud like Alexander Lo Rei is involved, that won’t be so easy.
Alexander Lo Rei was just becoming a big star thanks to his bulging muscles and his super-serious face that can stop a smile at 200 yards. He’s the ostensible star of this flick, but the real hero is Taiwan’s flamboyant martial arts maniac, Robert Tai, who handles the action choreography on this film, which means that he probably directed all the action scenes and since this is a non-stop tornado of martial arts mayhem that means he directed most of it. Tai had been trained at Taipei’s famous Fu Hsing opera school with Angela Mao and James Tien before Hong Kong’s Chang Cheh brought him to Shaw Brothers. Working as an action choreographer, he helped Chang develop the famous Five Venoms movies with their bright costumes, comic book plotting, exotic weapons, and bloody kung fu style, before returning to Taiwan to try to dominate the industry there. In Taiwan, he would slowly go totally insane, eventually turning in an 11-hour magnum opus (shot for just $200,000) called Ninja the Final Duel.
But in SHAOLIN TEMPLE AGAINST LAMA he’s at his best. With the Black Lamas decked out in clothes that would put funkadelic prince, Bootsy Collins, to shame, STAL is touched with a whiff of freaky incense, and it keeps upping the stakes, never content to show two men fighting when it could show 20, and constantly throwing one fight in your eyes, while holding another one behind its back to unleash it on you moments later. It’s a psychedelic throwback to a time when kung fu movies were allowed to pull out all the stops and do absolutely anything as long as they kept your eyes glued to the screen. And STAL doesn’t just glue your eyes to the screen, it nails them there.
Print provided courtesy of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office New York