Shaolin vs. Lama (1983)
Director: Lee Tso Nam
Writers: Chang Hsin Yi
Starring: Alexander Lo, Chang Shan and Li Wei-Yun

The Plot: Our film begins with a young martial artist named Sun Yu Ting (Alexander Lo) approaching a martial arts school in order to test its master. If the master is able to beat the young man, he intends to become his student. However, it seems that this young man has traveled all over and is a very well accomplished martial artist. He beats the master, and soon continues his wandering. Soon after, he saves a young street urchin save from a group of rowdy troublemakers. The street urchin actually turns out to be a Shaolin monk, and this leads our protagonist to the Shaolin temple where he meets this young man’s rather bizarre master. A monk who both drinks alcohol and eats red meat, this master is quite out of the ordinary. However, the monk’s Kung Fu is amazing, and once he sees this Sun Yu Ting then begs the monk to take him in as a student. Unfortunately, the monk refuses to take on any new students after his experience with the last young man he adopted as his pupil. It turns out that his last student used his position to rob the Shaolin temple of a book that contained all of the secrets of Shaolin Kung Fu. Sun Yu Ting must now prove himself, and do everything that he can in order to gather the necessary skills from his master. As you can maybe guess, soon enough the former student of this monk wanders back into the picture. This leaves only Sun Yu Ting to defend the Shaolin way of life.

The Review
Shaolin has been the main subject of too many films to even dare try to count. We have seen numerous films dealing with protecting the Shaolin temple, the burning of the Shaolin temple and movies concerning monks who train inside of the temple. However, after the release of blockbuster The Shaolin Temple starring Jet Li in 1982, everyone wanted to capitalize on the rich history of Shaolin. Shaolin vs. Lama is another title that looks to showcase the training and dedication that it takes in order to master Shaolin Kung Fu. Although this is a film that initially acts as if it looks to present some sort of realistic portrayal of Shaolin, the reality of the situation quickly becomes obvious. Audiences looking for ironic fun should look no further than the introductory dialogue played during the credits of the movie. Although this dialogue looks to introduce its audience to the world of Shaolin, it doesn’t do the very best job. It instead looks to create a magical ideal of what Kung Fu really is, instead of delving into its rich history. Instead, the film plays it up as if cavemen were basically developing the style before they had even fully developed the wheel.

The narrative moves between the comedic and the dramatic without a moments hesitation, and it is handled with relative ease. Written by Chang Hsin Yee (Militant Eagle and The Hot, The Cool and The Vicious), the film follows a very linear story arc that manages to grab its audience right from the start. Part of this comes from Alexander Lo’s charismatic performance, but it also emanates from the writing of these characters who are very peculiar and yet engaging. Shaolin vs. Ninja showed me, as a viewer, that characterization is a great deal of what goes into a solid Kung Fu picture. The character of Sun Yu Ting is a figure that grabs the audience all because he demonstrates a great amount of power, but at no point seems to be arrogant. His trials that come later in the film, which are meant to teach him humility and mercy, almost seem futile because he really does already have the fundamentals of a hero.

Alexander Lo, who had parts in Shaolin vs. Ninja and Wu Tang vs. Ninja, steps out into the forefront. With a background as a Tae Kwan Do champion, the actor was first introduced into the world of Kung Fu cinema by Robert Tai. Although Lo is not a well-known talent, his work in this movie shows a tremendous wealth of potential from the actor. From the very first scene where he enters the frame, he has the stoic charm of a genuine superhero. His character is set apart from many that we run into in Kung Fu cinema, because his initial goal is simply to fulfill his lust for knowledge. He is a martial arts bookworm of sorts, and even after embarrassing the master of a Kung Fu school, he has such a proper attitude and respect that the teacher doesn’t even become furious like we would expect from most movies of this sort.

Shaolin vs. Lama can be broken into two very distinct halves. The first half of the movie essentially becomes a Kung Fu/comedy, for the most part. We follow Alexander Lo as he sort of stumbles from one silly plot device to the next; and during these scene we watch as Lo falls into some fairly ridiculous bits of over-the-top comedy. The sequence that shows Alexander Lo take the nastiest, dirtiest, Shaolin monk’s foot into his mouth may be one of the most disgusting scenes in any Kung Fu movie that I have ever seen. Never known for their subtlety, Kung Fu comedies more often than not push the boundaries of what audiences may expect. After the main villain is reintroduced into the plot, however, things get fairly serious pretty quick. The movie, which up until this point has remained fairly unique in its plot development, takes a turn for the generic when it introduces a revenge motif for Alexander Lo’s character. Before long, we are placed inside of a very by-the-books piece of serious martial arts cinema. While these two halves tend to compliment one another, one does wish that it had focused a little more on one side instead of the other.

The Conclusion
With a great start, and some interesting twists and turns, Shaolin vs. Lama turns out to be a really solid flick. Lee Tso-nam proves yet again that he may be one of the most underrated directors the genre ever produced. While not as spectacular as The Hot, The Cool and The Vicious, Shaolin vs. Lama is a fun movie that will keep audiences entertained throughout. I give the movie a solid rating of three out of five. This one bordered on a four, so that means it is definitely recommended for fans!