Director: Lo Lieh
Starring: Suen Gin Ming, Meng Chuan Sheng, Lok Yun, Fang Hua, Diang Wing,
I have always been a great admirer of Lo Lieh. One of the best and most dependable screen villains in the history of Hong Kong cinema (he was afterall among many other things, the original white haired villain, Pai Mei), it is extremely ironic that most viewers here in the West were first introduced the intense Indonesia native in the classic King Boxer (5 Fingers of Death) where he played the righteous and chaste hero. His list of screen credits is astonishingly long and varied, nearly encapsulating the whole of the genre itself. Not nearly so impressive is his scant list of directing credts. Starting with 1973's 'Devil and Angel', Lo has a mere nine titles in a twenty year span. This includes the cult favorite, 'Clan of the White Lotus for the Shaw Bros. and the curious brain horror flick, 'The Black Magic With Buddha. In 1987 he delivered his best effort, 'Zen Master 6'; a Hong Kong/Mainland co-production that melds the best of both territories.
In the film, the Abbott of Shaolin is dying and must name a successor among his young disciples. The short-tempered San Sau (Meng Chuan Sheng) seems the favorite, but the Abbott chooses the more thoughtful Wai Nam (Suen Gin Ming) and sends his prized pupil out to find enlightenment. The furious San Sau recklessly sends his brothers out to track him down. Meranwhile on his travels, Wai meets a potential love interest (Lok Yun) and helps a small costal village fend off invading pirates.
I had very limited info on this rarity (what little I had heard was positive) so I approached it with cautious optimism. What I came away with was one of the best Shaolin films I'd ever had the pleasure of watching. While hardly original (it's basic story right down to the outcome of it's proposed love story was lifted wholesale from 'The Shaolin Temple' starring Jet Lee), never have all the familiar elements come together quite so sharply as here. From the strong, understated performances to the swift and assured pacing (particularly in the oddly placed, yet totally agreeable pirate segment) to the excellent, creative, state of the art fight choreography, there is nary a false note struck through any of it's economic 93 min running time. The finale in particular where Wai Nam and San Sau settle their differences once and for all, is one of the best and most satisfying one on one duels in all of kung fu cinema.
'Zen Master 6' was obviously a labor of love for Lo Lieh (he also produced the epic) and it payed off with a derivitaive, yet thunderously satisfying martial arts epic that has thus far gone criminally underseen.