6/10 – This low-budget knockoff of about every other movie covering the destruction of Shaolin Temple gains points for its solid casting, but suffers in most other areas.
How many films have covered the destruction of Shaolin Temple? The answer is more than I can count on my fingers and toes. ABBOT OF SHAOLIN stars the charismatic David Chiang in one of his more subdued roles as devout monk Chi San who travels about in a very episodic narrative. He gathers pupils, who are at first skeptical of his skills and eventually awed by them. He also manages to impress several area business men who marvel at his piety after unsuccessfully tempting him with a woman. This leads to a substantial financial contribution to be used for the rebuilding of Shaolin.
Of course, Chiang will never succeed if veteran screen villain Lo Lieh has anything to say about it. He plays the infamous Pai Mei, a white-haired monk who according to legend, decided to help the Qing government destroy the temple and kill off many of the monks.
Other notable players include Lily Li who plays Wu Mei, a noble woman who keeps running into Chi San. Sorry, no sparks will fly here. Chi San’s a devout monk, remember? Norman Tsui of wuxia hit DUEL TO THE DEATH plays a naive martial artist who becomes Chi San’s student after he is soundly defeated, despite all his bluster.
Nothing that stands out in this film is anything to be proud of. The actors seem uncomfortable with their roles and therefore are stiff in their delivery. Its no wonder, the usually boisterous Chiang is forced to play the devout monk role with no creativity. Tsui, who went on to play darker, more complex roles, befitting his sinister looks, is wasted as a goofy wannabe martial artist while the beautiful and talented Lily Li only appears at the beginning and end of the film.
Likewise, the story is paced horribly in an episodic fashion where Chiang meets various people in seemingly unrelated scenarios. While many of the infamous Shaw sets are used here, along with a very few outdoor shots, they’ve never looked worse. The “blue sky” background buckles behind Chiang, revealing that the wallpaper is not as carefully adhered as it should have been. The costumes seem like they came straight from the cleaners after a thorough starching. Chiang, especially seems ill-fitted in his monk’s robes. The martial arts action is decent with Chiang performing well but nothing noteworthy is displayed.
Although the colors are pleasingly vivid, everything else about the film screams, “Who cares!” This sort of film is what put the nail in the lid of Shaw Brothers’ coffin, leading them to abandon feature film for television. Even more saddening is that this is also just the sort of film that continued to validate the low standards of Hong Kong cinema for many uninformed western audiences.REVIEW: Shaolin Abbot (1979),
David Chiang • Genre: Kung Fu • Lo Lieh • shaolin • Shaolin Abbot (1979) • Shaw Brothers