Temptation of a Monk (1993)

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 02/21/2010

Adapted from a Lillian Lee novel by the same name, a Tang era general (Wu Hsing Guo making his feature film debut) renounces war and the woman he loves (Sino-Hollywood actress Joan Chen) after fleeing to a monastery where he accepts Buddhist dogma and begins to confront the soul simmering inside him. Boring has never been so beautiful looking and love making never so listless. Lee shares screenwriting credit with Eddie Fong whose wife Clara Law directs.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: Mikestar*
Date: 11/16/2002
Summary: Potential unrealised

Clara Law's final production made in her native Hong Kong, 'Temptation of a Monk' is a lyrical and effusive, but at times obscure drama.

The direction itself demonstrates Law's unique and tempered cinematic eye, but, the major downfall in this film is the script and its fludity. Although Law's past co-productions with Eddie Fong have been highly inventive (Autumn Moon, Farewell China) and Lillian Lee has proved herself a capable scriptwriter (Rouge, Farewell My Concubine), in this film the narrative is muddled and incongruous.

The performances here demonstrate the best of formal and experienced Chinese acting, with Wu Hsing-kuo as a solid centrepiece and an excellent cameo from industry veteran Lisa Lu, as his mother.

The film's style is highly engaging where Law utilises colour, costume and make-up to its maximum effect. The cinematography is equally impressive, imbued with a sensitive and eloquent subtlety. Two scenes are particualrly impressive here - the first as the central character is captured against windblown leaves, and the second (an erotically charged montage) as he is seduced by a bald Tibetan nun.

'Temptation of a Monk' is a film that demonstrates real artistic potential and possibility. However, due to its faulty script the final result is somewhat surreal at points and alienating at others.

Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 09/16/2000
Summary: Relentlessly dull

I rented this movie amidst high expectations and glowing reviews. Which makes my disappointment with this film all the greater.

Basically, nothing much happens, and takes an awfully long time about it. And for anyone wondering why on earth it was rated Cat III, you have to wait until right near the end. The scene isn't erotic though, to be fair, it isn't meant to be. More like surreal.

Much has been made of the gorgeous photography, but this is grossly over-rated. Even many otherwise-dull HK art are more pleasing to the eye than TOAM.

Even the fast-forward button cannot save you from this head-shakingly dull yawnfest.

And it's a real pity. At the risk of being disloyal to a fellow citizen (director Clara Law now operates from Melbourne), this is one of the films which began to turn me off Ms Law's work.

Clearly, I cannot recommend this one !

Previously published:
Three words describe this film : dull, dull and dull. The direction lacks any sense of pace, the characters do not involve and the story does not make sense. There are occasional outbreaks of action, but even these do nothing to lift the interest, and they are not allowed to go on too long or be too exciting. The Cat III rating is a puzzle. Although the battle scenes are gory, they aren't sufficiently so. There is one only erotic/sex, 17 minutes before the end of this two-hour yawnfest, but even this is still within the IIb classification. Overall, very disappointing. Resist any temptation to see it, especially in a cinema, where the essential option to fast-forward button is unavailable.

Reviewer Score: 1

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/21/1999

Clara Law's most ambitious film to date is an opulent but austere character drama set against power struggles during the Tang dynasty (a seeming fixation of screenwriter Fong Ling-Ching, director of AMOROUS WOMAN OF TANG DYNASTY). The breathtaking scenery vividly contrasts with the main character's repressed emotions. He is well-played by Wu Hsin-Kuo as a stiff-upper-lip military hero who is a lonely and depressed man at the same time. Joan Chen, the only name performer, plays two roles for no good reason, as both parts -a Tang princess and a lustful but murderous widow- are shallow and underwritten. The film has a certain Japanese visual style (static panorama shots, little camera movement) and pace (slow, solemn, almost stoical), but it's certainly not an outright copy of Kurosawa as some people believe. TEMPTATION is decently artful, dignified ... and slightly dull.

[Reviewed by Thomas Muething]

Reviewed by: pablo
Date: 12/09/1999

General Shi, betrayed by more cunning general Huo Da, finds his family disgraced and his life in danger. He and his small band of loyal men hide up as monks, and Shi goes through a process of self realization. With cinematography and pacing that borrows greatly from Akira Kurosawa's _Ran_, this film is fun to look at, but (unlike _Ran_) ultimately boring. Joan Chen, for no reason, plays two roles in this film.

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Set during the Tang dynasty over a thousand years ago, Clara Lawhas fashioned a voluptuous and spellbinding epic of betrayal, temptation, war, sex, and beauty. As two princes fight for succession of the kingdom, the film opens with the first of many battles, a massacre worthy of Kurosawa or Peckinpah. The central character, General Shi, is disgraced by this act and thus begins a long, hard road to redemption. But what surprises await on this road, including a Buddhist temple debauched by music, drink and erotic pleasures, and the bald, weirdly seductive assassin played by Joan Chen.

[Reviewed by Rim Films Catalog]

Reviewed by: spinali
Date: 12/08/1999
Summary: NULL

If you saw The Great Emperor's Concubine, the monstrously costly HK historical epic from 1994 (and if you didn't, no loss), you can get a better feeling of how good Temptation of a Monk really is. Concubine had all the requisite violence and a plot as thick as soup, but ended up a cross between Quo Vadis and any Steve Reeves sword-and-sandal epic. Clara Law's Temptation is (aside from one or two deliberate lapses) closer to an austere samurai drama. Also unlike Concubine, it has a clearly defined plot line. In the 7th century Tang Dynasty, General Shi Yang-Sheng (Wu Hsin-Kuo) is tricked by his superior General Huo (Zhang Fengyi -- Leslie Cheung's Peking Opera partner in Farewell My Concubine) into relaxing defenses on the royal travellers he's protecting. Gen. Shi, now labelled a traitor, must evade waves of monarchal search-and-destroy parties. Shi and the remnants of his men join a Buddhist monastary with more of a religious than a spiritual bent; there, they're able to plan a way to kill the man who has now usurped the throne. Joan Chen plays the two major female roles: the deposed Princess Scarlet and seductress Violet. No "flying-people" fu here; in fact, there's no fu, period. The heroes fight with swords. Limbs are severed. There's blood, and lots of it. Most other HK actioners advertise their own brand of swaggering heroism, but here it's deflated. In fact, aside from the incongruous whorehouse scene, the film looks remarkably credible. It hinges on its magnificent set design and two stars. On one hand, Joan Chen is relaxed, naturalistic -- an anomaly in most any HK period epic. Then there's Wu Hsin-Kuo, who, whether in battle make-up or spattered with blood, looks as if he might explode under the pressure of his controlled rage. Set design and Chen make the film seem real; Wu gives the drive. Just about every scene works. Lots of comparisons come to mind just after seeing Temptation of a Monk; it's only af ter a while that you realize how many HK film conventions it leaves behind.


[Reviewed by Steve Spinali]

Reviewer Score: 8