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達摩祖師 (1994)
Master of Zen

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 08/08/2005
Summary: Flawed but passable

This is a generally nice movie about the Indian buddhist who spread philosophy in China and taught kung fu to Shaolin monks. Highly philosophical and spiritual, the movie is more of a fantasy folklore than a historical account, as Dharma is seen leaping over a river and reincarnating in front of many people, not to mention he lived over 150 years old at the end of the movie. It is certainly a bit funny to see wire-driven choreography all over this kind of movie, especially in scenes with Dharma in combat. This implies that the founder of Chinese kung fu is expert in leaping, flying, turning in air. But, considering the mythical nature of the film (it's obviously not trying to be realistic), the wire-driven fights work well part of the whole system.

My main beef is that like many HK movies, this one is rushed. Many scenes have no transition at all, which could be due to a bad cut on the VCD. Also, I find Dharma's decision to give up the throne to pursue spiritual enlightment hardly convincing. Apparently, he sees the phrase "Who am I before I was born?" and ponders for days, before he can't take it any more and must seek wisdom. But giving up the throne to do so? I just don't see what motivated him in this movie, since he was not really a believer of religion before.


Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 06/27/2001

MASTER OF ZEN tells the story of Bodhi Dharma's journey to China to preach Zen Buddhism, sitting in a cave for 9 years and spreading a little kung fu knowledge on the way. Fan Siu Wong crops up as a young buddhist plagued by nightmares in which he is a master swordsman who always ends up killing people. Wu Ma plays his mentor. The plot, although I don't think that's the best term, is basically composed of random incidents of Zen philosophy, with a couple of bits of OK wire fu thrown in on occasion. It was quite interesting hearing Brandy Yuen's interpretation of Zen Buddhism, which seems largely to consist of 'don't be so bloody philosophical' or something. The ultimate expression of Zen knowledge is apparently saying nothing :-)

The film doesn't have any particular story... it keeps suggesting it will have one, but then never follows through on the events that happen. There are some great locations, but the wardrobe/makeup department seemed to be having trouble finding appropriate clothing for an Indian monk, so they evidently just picked the most interesting bits out of the women's section. Hence, for the first half an hour Bodhi Dharma appears to be a transvestite. Time passes and he arrives in China, where they have less trouble with the wardrobe, but seem to have mistaken aging for turning into a Klingon. Maybe Bodhi Dharma did turn into a Klingon, I don't know.

All in all, I was expecting something absolutely awful given that it was a cheap and cheap looking World Video DVD that I picked up in Chinatown, and with those expectations I was quite happy with the result. There's some nice enough action scenes, and interesting snippets of philosophy to ponder on. Worth watching if you happen to find yourself sitting in front of a DVD player and it happens to be on, but don't worry too much if that never happens in your life.

Reviewed by: d_void
Date: 05/20/2001
Summary: Deep

This movie is based on a true story about the Bodhidharma. "An Enlightened Buddhist Master who is credited with reviving Buddhism in China and founding martial arts."


4/4 (please make it available on DVD)

Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 02/27/2001
Summary: Dull

I'm really puzzled as to whom this movie is aimed at. A big budget production with beautiful photography and a good cast. The story seems to have good intentions i.e. to inspire the audience to think about matters spiritual.

Trouble is, apart from the opening sequence, this film is so relentlessly DULL. The term "gently paced" doesn't begin to do it justice. The large cinema audience (mostly Chinese) didn't seem moved by it, nor was I.

I've heard several other people place this film in the same area as Clara Law's Temptation Of A Monk. I can heartily agree with this. Both films are artistically pretentious and great cures for insomnia.

For a completely different point of view, read the review at Link #1.

Previously published:
Awful ! Dull ! Starts off promisingly, with gorgeous colour and a great fight scene. Then quickly collapses into a tedium from which it never recovers. There's a big difference between a film which is carefully and slowly paced while still thoughtful, and one which is just badly written, poorly paced and with nothing to latch onto. This is the latter. Definitely miss it!

Reviewer Score: 2

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

This saga of Chinese Buddhism at the time of the South andNorth Dynasties is something like Siddhartha with scimitars. An Indian master visits China, and tries to correct monks who've begun to change Buddhism into a staid religion; a young master, Wei Ho, eventually develops kung-fu as a mental and physical discipline to counteract the trend. Koan-like dialog and Zen-like pacing is interrupted by a handful of fights, one or two of which have something to do with the plot.


[Reviewed by Steve Spinali]

Reviewer Score: 6