TEMPTATION OF A MONK (YOU SENG) (director: Clara Law; screenwriters: Eddie Fong Ling-ching/Lilian Lee/based on Ms. Lee’s novella; cinematographer: Andrew Lesnie; editor: Jill Bilcock; music: Tats Lau; cast: Joan Chen (Princess Scarlet; Violet), Wu Hsin-kuo (General Shi), Zhang Fengyi (Huo Da), Michael Lee (Old Abbot), Lisa Lu (Shi’s Mother); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Teddy Robin Kwan; Northern Arts Entertainment Ltd.; 1993-Hong Kong-in Mandarin with English subtitles)
“Visually sparkling as a period piece costume epic, but it emotionally fails to grab me.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
It’s set in the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, in 7th century China. Screenwriters Eddie Fong Ling-ching base it on Lilian Lee’s novella, with the author cowriting the script. Director Clara Law (“They Say The Moon is Fuller Here”/”Floating Life”/”Like A Dream”)keeps it visually sparkling as a period piece costume epic, but it emotionally fails to grab me and the plot seems difficult to follow when it shouldn’t be.The epic is filled with colorful costumes, questionable period detail and exciting pageantry.It fails in its attempt to be both an arthouse film and blockbuster actioner, as it unwisely mixes together the ancient with the contemporary and action-packed battle scenes with the austere life of a monk.
The plot has feared warrior General Shi Yan-sheng (Wu Hsin-kuo, Taiwanese Beijing Opera actor) tricked by a rival general, Huo Da (Zhang Fengyi), into leaving the crown prince unguarded when told it would be a bloodless coup. When the crown prince is instead murdered in a massacre by one of his two brothers and the coup results in his becoming emperor, General Shi, a man of honor, refuses to work for the new ruthless emperor and hides in a remote monastery. When tracked down by the emperor’s soldiers, five of General Shi’s loyal troops are slain along with the runaway princess (Joan Chen) he loves. General Shi then seeks refuge in a remote mountain-top abandoned monastery with an elderly wise abbot (Michael Lee), who becomes his teacher and steers him away from war to meditation and a spiritual awakening.This time Joan Chen plays the beautiful mysterious widow, looking like Princess Scarlet, who comes to the temple and asks that the abbot preside over the cremation of her husband and tempts General Shi with her sex appeal.
It ends in a Hollywood-like gory battle scene, which seemsto nullify the filmmaker’s aim to promote peace over war by telling us it’s almost impossible to change one’s nature.
REVIEWED ON 8/30/2011 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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